November 19, 2019 // by Laura Malone
We are one month into our annual cold and flu season and as we all know, it can be a stressful time of washing and rewashing hands, holding our breath when the lady on the elevator coughs, staying up all night with a feverish child and then determining who has enough sick days left at work to stay home with them. And if you have a large family like we do, one little cold turns into a month-long battle as it slowly passes from one person to another.
Adults average two to four colds per year and children average six to ten colds per year. With hundreds of different cold viruses, three strains of the flu virus that change throughout the season and the amount of people and public places we have to come into contact with throughout our week such as airports, buses, subways, busy workplaces, grocery stores and schools, it’s nearly impossible to stay well.
The very best way to stay well during this season is to start building our immunity with a micronutrient-dense diet the year before. Since we’re already in the thick of it and there’s not much time to build immunity (I’ll post about achieving super immunity in January), today I’ll share some proven tips of what is helpful in fighting the cold and flu and what is not.
We all have rituals we’ve been taught from childhood that we believe or hope will give us some relief or shorten the length of our illness. In Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Super Immunity, he says we have the ability to self-heal and we possess self-protective properties that are built into our human genome. It’s best to let our body’s immune system do its job, even if it’s uncomfortable, because when we suppress its natural fighting methods, we slow down our healing and enable an environment where bacteria easily grows. Giving our bodies the necessary ingredients to do its job will enable us to heal quicker and build a stronger immune system. Super Immunity lists tactics that are a waste our time and energy, so we can focus our efforts on the ones that have been proven to really work.
What Doesn’t Speed Recovery
Studies show that medicines such as NyQuil, Robitussin and Dimetapp do not reduce coughing and people who use them actually sleep worse due to medicine-induced insomnia. More importantly, coughing is your body’s natural way of trying to heal itself by moving mucus and virus particles, keeping them from settling down into your lungs and turning into bacterial pneumonia. I’ve listed a few natural ways to soothe a coughing attack later in this post, but completely preventing coughs will only lengthen your illness and could worsen it.
These do not enhance recovery and could prolong the illness by not allowing your body to do it’s job. Fever is your body’s natural response to fighting a virus. Studies show that as your fever goes up, the virus decreases. If you have fever during the day, it’s best to ride it out. However, at nighttime, sleep is vital for a quicker recovery. So, if you find yourself or your child tossing and turning at night, I’ll mention a few natural alternatives in the next section that provide relief. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not a wise option for adults or children because it has been proven to cause liver damage even when taken in recommended doses. It can be very dangerous to someone who is dehydrated because it has the potential to be toxic to the liver and has also been shown to cause damage to the digestive track.
“Fevers generally do not need to be treated with medication unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions . . . If he is eating and sleeping well and has periods of playfulness, he probably doesn’t need any treatment.”The American Academy of Pediatrics website
I know this is going to hurt a lot of feelings because we all have fond memories of our moms or grandmothers serving up warm chicken soup as they weaned us back to health, but studies show that it has almost no effect on improving the common cold or flu virus. Hot soup can lessen nasal symptoms, but a better choice would be a vegetable soup. It’s best to avoid animal products while sick because they are more difficult to digest. The goal is to lessen the stress on the body as much as possible so it can use its energy to fight the illness.
Increase Fluid Intake
Drinking excess fluid does not help your body fight viruses or shorten the length of it. Dehydration can cause the respiratory mucosal surfaces to be dry and uncomfortable, but if you drink when you’re thirsty, you’ll be hydrated enough for your body to heal. Too much fluid intake can put too much stress on the body during an illness and lengthen your recovery time.
In the past, when our family has come down with a virus, we immediately stock up on EmergenC (a vitamin C powder) from our local drugstore believing that it would magically shorten the length of the virus. However, research shows that once you are sick, vitamin C has no effect on fighting the virus. It’s important to boost your vitamin C throughout the year by consuming fruits and vegetables so that your levels are already high going into the cold and flu season. It can’t do it’s magic once you’re already sick unless your levels are significantly low, so save your money.
What Does Speed Recovery
So what can we do to help our immune systems once the bug has got us down? Here are a few things that studies have proven to help our immune systems fight and shorten the length and severity of our illness.
An adult’s recommended daily intake is 15 mg and for children ages 1-8 years old is 3-5 mg, ages 9-13 is 8 mg and age 14+ is 11 mg. This is a mineral that most people are borderline deficient in. Studies show that consuming foods high in zinc or using a zinc supplement improves immune function and fights off infections and even cancer. Dr. Fuhrman states that, “The Cochrane meta-analysis concluded that once a person had a cold or flu, zinc supplements significantly reduced the severity of cold symptoms as well as the length of the illness.” The study also showed that when someone took zinc within the first twenty-four hours of getting sick, the risk of the illness lasting seven days was about half that of those not taking zinc. It also decreases the incidences of pneumonia and the need for antibiotics. He recommends that adults increase their zinc intake to 30 mg at the onset of sickness. Foods high in zinc are listed below or you can buy a zinc supplement like this one.
The recommended daily intake is 600 IU for ages 1-70 years old, 800 IU for adults over 70 years old and 400 IU for babies younger than one year old. Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, it is created when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Our bodies absorb the UVB rays and change them into vitamin D. When children were exposed to the flu virus and given vitamin D, a study done in 2006 showed that the children were less likely to get the virus. Studies have also shown an increased incidence of lower-respiratory illness in people with low vitamin D levels and increased risk for flu. For children and adults, you can buy a gummy supplement like this one that provides an effective boost for quicker healing.
Black Elderberry Extract
An adult’s recommended daily intake is 2-3 tbsp daily and 1-4 tsp for children daily. These berries have properties that stop the growth of the flu virus, shortens the length of the infection and enhances the antibody levels for the virus. Healthline.com states, “One study of 64 people found that taking 175 mg of elderberry extract lozenges for two days resulted in significant improvement in flu symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches and nasal congestion, after just 24 hours.” Another study showed that people with the flu who took 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times a day improved in two to four days while the control group took seven to eight days to improve. Since the beginning of cold and flu season this year, I make a weekly batch and we drink it every morning. I buy these elderberries and make my own. See my recipe below. You can also buy an already-made supplement like this one.
Reduce Food Intake
Dr. Fuhrman recommends reducing your food intake to eat primarily vegetable soup, raw salads and drinking vegetable juice and water to reduce stress on your body’s digestive system and focus its energy on getting well.
Natural Cold/Flu Remedies
These remedies don’t necessarily speed recovery but they will minimize your discomfort without negative side effects while you wait for your immune system to defeat the virus.
If your cough is exhausting you or keeping you up at night, honey and herbal tea have been shown to be more effective at relieving a cough than over-the-counter medicines with dextromethorphan (DM). You can also eat a slice of pineapple or drink pineapple juice three times a day until the cough subsides. It can suppress coughs and loosen mucus in your throat. My favorite cough suppressant is mixing one drop of peppermint essential oil with several drops of almond oil and rubbing it on my chest and then cupping my hands over my nose and inhaling for a couple of minutes. It’s also beneficial to diffuse lemon, lavender and peppermint essential oils at night while you’re sleeping.
Nasal Congestion and Runny Nose
Apple Cider Vinegar contains potassium, which has been shown to thin mucus. Mix one teaspoon with a glass of water and drink. We use Bragg’s Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar. Cold mist humidifiers add moisture to the air and loosen up mucus trapped in nasal passages. Eating spicy foods, such as horseradish, chili peppers or garlic is another natural way to get relief from nasal congestion. Again, rubbing the peppermint essential oil and almond oil blend mentioned above works best for nasal congestion for our family. Eating slices of pineapple or drinking pineapple juice is beneficial here as well and drinking and inhaling herbal teas, such as chamomile, ginger and mint, can also reduce drainage. Tazo Zen Lemongrass and Spearmint Tea is my favorite for congestion.
Remember fever is one of the ways your immune system is fighting off the virus, so you don’t want to suppress it unless it’s keeping you up at night. Again, the peppermint essential oil blend wins here as well. Rub it on your spine and the bottoms of your feet. If you don’t have this, I recommend using ibuprofen, not Tylenol.
Many prayers for you and your family staying well this cold and flu season! If a virus does get you down, I hope these tips will help you be a little more comfortable and enable your immune system to recover as quickly as possible.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you use them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. I link to these companies and their products because of their quality.