It's that sniffley cold time of year, where we have less sun exposure (and thus lower Vitamin D), often hydrate less, and spend more time inside, where the bugs gather. Having some health-promoting tricks in your back pocket can only help defeat most little cold bugs that come your way. Stock your cabinets now, so you have what you need on hand BEFORE you need it!
The following is a rather extensive list of things known and shown to help with cold-like symptoms. Pick a few from the list to try, and start developing your own favorites. Don't get overwhelmed - you really just need a few of these things, not All Of The Things.
Some things are best to take daily to prevent the yucks from settling in. As always, it starts with your dinner plate, your self-talk, your movement/exercise and how much love and self-care you gift yourself daily. Having daily bone broth and fermented foods, a quality multivitamin, and a good probiotic to strength immune system [I love Prescript Assist, which is incredible and somewhat expensive, and Jarrodophilus AF (no dairy) which is more affordable and a great product that does not need refrigeration] all support overall wellness.
Don't forget the power of daily movement, sunshine, nature, laughter, sex or touch, filtered water, rest and play - these are vital to good health! If you're getting frequent colds, consider cutting refined sugars and processed foods from your diet, taking a look at the role of dairy in your life, and connecting with a holistic coach/health consultant like me or someone in person locally to start to figure out what is going on with your immune system.
Help... I feel YUCKY...
Start with the basics: rest, warm epsom salt bath, gargling warm salty water, lozenges, hydratehydratehydrate, warm tea, chicken broth - Grandma was right! Below, a list of my favorite cold and respiratory illness busting gems*^.
If you're not already on them, start Probiotics: 2 caps/day when sick, orally. This may change your stools - its a wild card as to whether they will make you more regular or give you a day or two of softer stool. If only I had a crystal ball... And yes, its worth the minor risk for most folk.
- Sovereign Silver: 1 dropperful under the tongue 3-4 times/day. Hold for 10-20 seconds and swallow. Can also gargle with this as antibacterial, antimicrobial and immune booster. Use for 3-4 days or as needed.
- Counter Attack by Rainbow Light: Can take up to 8 pills/day, best if spaced. Andrographis, berberine and other anti-virals provide great cold fighting power. This is my personal go-to.
o If you cant find Counter Attack then Source Naturals 'Wellness Formula' is a good, widely available supplement that combines many of the best herbs, vitamins and minerals for colds. Take at a higher dose when ill than per package directions.
- Elderberry Syrup: wonderful immune system booster, great for helping reduce duration and severity of the common cold. Excellent for children and folks with delicate palates because its delicious! Can easily make at home before cold season and take 1-2 tsp/day as prevention. Take ½-1 tbsp 3-4x/day when ill – best if taken at Start of illness.
- Andrographis 400mg 3x/day for 3-4 days reduces symptoms at 2 days, with even more dramatic difference by 4 days and is also effective in sore throat. Taste is Super bitter - avoid liquid andrographis for reasons of yuck (though our Ayurvedic friends would say that bitter is healthy and healing... do with that what you will). If you can’t find this herb alone, look for a formula called Loviral or my favorite Counter Attack (above), which is excellent.
- Pelargonium (Umcka Cold Care): decreases how many days you feel sick and makes symptoms milder. And its seriously delicious, which is definitely a vote in its yummy favor! You can buy a bottle of this for about $15 and take as directed for duration of symptoms.
- Oscillococcinum by Boiron: this is a homeopathic compound that is super effective and so easy to carry around, as the vials are very small and have no taste. This is one to take the second you start to feel run down, so I carry it all winter! Follow package directions, and empty 1 tube under your tongue every 6 hours, up to 3 times/day. This is safe in pregnancy and while breastfeeding, and can be used with kiddos!
- Yin Chiao: This Chinese medicine for colds and flu has more than 2000 years of recorded use and success. That's not a lousy track record.
- Vitamin C: 1 gram daily is great for antioxidants, cold prevention, immune boosting and on and on (Vitamin C is magic in my eyes). When you start feeling sick, increase thatto2-5 grams or more, spread throughout the day. Clinical trails showed that Vit C decreased days with symptoms by 9% - 37%. The best forms are acerola, camu camu, lemon water, hibiscus tea or rose hips tea.
Vit C in excess softens the stool, so start low, go slow and add a bit of C throughout your day. That said, a lot of integrative folks love a good Vitamin C Flush... I'll leave you to google that on your own.
- Zinc acetate lozenges are yummy, and can shorten the course of most colds. Let one melt in your mouth every 2-3 hours for the first few days. Know that some folks get a little nausea, so take Zinc with a snack.
For symptom relief:
Cough syrups: GAIA Bronchial Wellness or Planetary Herbals Indian Wild Cherry, Chestal Homeopathic is also phenomenal
Thayer’s Slippery Elm lozenges: one of my go-to demulcent herbs, this creates a mucus-like barrier in the mouth and throat, helping it to heal. It’s tasty too! Try to suck on these or let them melt versus biting/chewing
Steam inhalations: Two great options
-- Heat a pan of filtered water and put a drop of essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint or Thieves Oil in the water. Put your head over the pan, put a towel over your head and inhale the steam. Please dont burn yourself! Steam is hot! Be careful ;)
-- Another easy way is to steam up the bathroom by running the hot shower or tub. Add a few drops of essential oil to the water, breathe in the steam. Try to hang out in the there for 15-30 minutes, or whatever feels good for you. I'm not gonna say I've Never brought a bunch of pillows into the bathroom and made a Healing Nest on the bathroom floor...
Neti pots, nasal rinses: This is one of my favorites because it makes so much sense - if there are buggies in your nose that wind up in your throat and make you feel bad, then wash them out! It works great both as prevention and once you feel sick. If your sinuses are super congested, consider doing a steam first before using your neti pot, or it can hurt like heck (which makes sense, right?)
-- To Neti: Mix 1/4 tsp sea salt with 1 C warm filtered water with a small pinch of baking soda (this is optional, salt isn't). Watch videos online to make sure you understand what you're doing. The first time can feel like drowning... but then it gets WAY easy. I do it in the shower! No muss, no fuss!
-- Saline nasal spray and kits like NeilMed are available at pharmacies and are great. I always travel with one.
Sinus pain/pressure: the homeopathic remedy Antimonium tart 30c strength, 5 pellets under your tongue (just tip the cap under your tongue, dont handle the pills) every 2 hours the first two days and then as needed.
Viral Sore throat: Echinacea tincture is the boss here. The taste is gross, and it's SO crazy effective that it's worth it for me. Gargle and swallow 2-3 dropperfulls every 2-3hrs.
Epsom Bath: Take a warm bath for 20 minutes (set a timer) with 2 cups Epsom salt, 1 cup baking soda and ½ cup apple cider vinegar, adding 1-2 drops of essential oils such as eucalyptus, Thieves oil, lavender, etc. (remember that these might sting delicate skin). This helps with drainage and is soothing to sore muscles. This may raise body temperature, provoking a light fever, which is the body’s way of fighting infection.
Tea: I'm a fan of having bulk loose herbs and chunks of ginger root (I keep back up in the freezer!) available to use when I need them. I love to use a french press to make big batches so I can use tea to stay hydrated. A great option for when you're traveling or just don't feel like making a vat of tea is to use Traditional Medicinals, which is an amazing brand that I really trust. The teas are formulated by the incredible herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. My favorites are Throat Coat, Gypsy cold care, Breathe Easy and Elderberry. Add a little spoon of raw local honey for immune boosting and to help kids and grown-ups with cough and sore throats.
What doesn't work:
Cold are usually viral, so antibiotics just won't help, since they are made to battle bacteria. Taking antibiotics for colds can lead to bacterial resistance (when the bugs mutate and can't be killed by common drugs any more), so they may not work when you actually need them and can affect the gut microbiome for up to a year per recent medical studies.
Raw Herbs in capsules: I am not a big fan of taking raw herbs in capsules - most herbs need to be extracted into a liquid, either alcohol, glycerine or water. Take your herbs as teas, tinctures, vinegars, etc - it's how they work best. And yes, those little gel caps with the liquid tincture in them are fine, but remember that the taste of the herb is part of its functionality. Nature doesn't waste energy - why would she make that herb bitter if the bitter didn't serve a purpose, right?
Fruit Juices: Processed juice is loaded with sugar - I like to think that nature built smart redundancies in to keep us from sugar-overload -- how many oranges can you eat at once, fiber/pulp and all before you feel barfy? Maybe 4-5 if you were reallllly pushing it... meanwhile, think of how much little juice you would get if you squeezed that many oranges. It's not much. When we drink a big glass of store-bought juice, we're pouring a Lot of sugar into our systems, which lowers overall immune function as our blood sugar levels spike.
- What about the Vitamin c?! I drink fruit juice for the Vitamin C! Broccoli, kale and other vegetables have more vitamin C per serving, while skipping the high fructose corn syrup and flavor packs -- artificial orange flavoring added to most processed and packaged juice. The natural sugar (fructose) in orange juice is detrimental to the immune system, and is not a great thing when sick (or otherwise!). I'm a big fan of juicing greens and have some berries in a smoothie (with all their fiber), but haven't touched fruit juices for years.
When to contact your health care provider: You need to be seen by your licensed health care provider if you develop chest pain or shortness of breath, intense sore throat on just one side (if you can point with one finger to an intensely painful spot, that's often strep or another bacterial infection and you should have a clinician take a look), if fevers are high or persist more than 3-4 days, or if you are not improving after 2 weeks of illness. Trust your gut. Better to get care than not!
M. Victoria Albina, FNP-C, MPH. Health Coach Extraordinaire.
* I have no financial connection to these brands, these are just my favorites from the evidence base and my own lived experience. You do you. Please don't take anything you are known to have a sensitivity or allergy to or even suspect might not work for your body! Please take good care of you.
^ Disclaimer/reminder: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article is informational/educational only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Results may vary. Please dont take any supplements, herbs or over the counter supplements while pregnant without talking to your midwife or other pregnancy-care clinicians first. Supplements may interact with pharmaceuticals - check with your clinicians before taking any supplements/herbs. Do not take any supplements, food or substances that you are sensitive or allergic to. If you have an allergic or other reaction to anything, call 911 or proceed to the nearest Emergency Department.