In the previous post – 6 Immune Boosting Foods You May Be Missing – we discussed how to strengthen your body with real food to create true and deep resilience to illness. But the fact of the matter is that even perfectly robust folks get sick sometimes, and it's smart to have a few tricks up your sleeve. These common cold remedies can help you fend off a cold or the flu before it takes hold.
And while conventional medicine claims that there is no cure for the common cold, it doesn't mean your body isn't perfectly capable of fending off illness when given the right ammunition – the right common cold remedies at the right time.
In Chinese medicine, we say that “Wind” invades from the “Exterior,” entering our bodies and taking up residence between the skin and the muscles. This creates chills, fever, body aches, and sore throat – the beginnings of a cold or flu. While talk of weather patterns may seem too poetic to accurately define medical illness, “wind invasion” is actually quite parallel to what happens when free radicals invade healthy cells. The body is left more vulnerable to inflammation from allergens and infection from viruses and other pathogens. That's where these common cold remedies come in.
Antioxidants are the good guys that escort the riff raff out.
Antioxidants do not directly act against viruses, but greatly reduce cell damage by neutralizing free radicals. When cells are not being damaged by free radicals the body has more fortitude to defend against illness.
Antioxidants are a daily, essential part of good health, but the trick with using antioxidants to fend off cold or flu is to be sure to catch it early. Once you have a full-blown cold, you may slow or reduce your symptoms but you can't “cure” your illness by taking antioxidants.
Many common foods, especially fruits, vegetables, spices, and oils are rich sources of antioxidants (vitamins C, E, carotenoids, and polyphenoids), each having their own special way of functioning. (source) The best way to make sure your body has the antioxidant support it needs is to consume a variety of antioxidant rich foods and – when necessary – antioxidant supplements.
Here are the common cold remedies in my arsenal and how I use them so they actually really work:
#1 – Fermented cod liver oil
Fermented cod liver oil (or FCLO as it is often abbreviated) is probably the most valuable immune boosting supplement that is often overlooked in a world of hyper-marketed common cold remedies. FLCO is an essential daily supplement – you can read more about the benefits of fermented cod liver oil here. But the daily dose can be double or tripled when your body in need of extra immune support.
The omega 3's in fermented cod liver oil reduce inflammation in all cells of the body (an antioxidant effect). While the rich, naturally occurring vitamins D and A are essential for optimal immune health.
Currently there is only one company that produces this nutrient dense super food, and you can find fermented cod liver oil here. I prefer the orange flavor.
#2 – Vitamin D
Since my family takes fermented cod liver oil on a regular basis and gets plenty of California sunshine, we don't supplement with vitamin D daily. However, I keep a bottle of 2000 IU Vitamin D3 (like this one) on hand for the occasion when one of us starts to feel chills, fever, or sore throat.
A high dose of vitamin D3 for no more than three days has been shown to actually halt or at least greatly reduce the symptoms of flu or stomach bug. The Vitamin D council recommends 900IU per pound of body weight (2000IU per kg) for therapeutic flu treatment. (source)
#3 – Vitamin C (elderberry syrup & acerola)
Vitamin C is an antioxidant powerhouse. Nearly anyone you ask will say a glass of orange juice is among their go-to common cold remedies, and I have even seen gas stations selling individual packets of fizzy Vitamin C.
It's been recently brought to my attention that all Vitamin C is not equally beneficial to the body, and in fact may be detrimental. In a bind, a few powdered Vitamin C packets are not going to kill you, but I wouldn't suggest downing these on a daily basis.
When taking synthetic vitamin C, you will often need a high dose for efficacy – 500-1000mg for children (depending on their size) and 2-4 grams for adults – spread throughout the day.
Better yet, opt for food-based sources of C every day, including whatever fresh seasonal fruit that your farmer is growing at this time of year. When you use Real food to get your nutrients, you not only get the nutrient itself but also lots of co-factors (such as bioflavonoids) that make the nutrients more effective.
When you're deep in cold and flu season, around sick kids, or just starting to feel under the weather, take an extra boost of vitamin C using a natural supplement such as acerola or pure elderberry syrup (recipe for homemade version here). Experiment to find the best one that works for your family's taste.
#4 – Probiotics
Because we tend to eat probiotic foods every day at my house, including raw milk, homemade raw yogurt and cheese, sauerkraut, kombucha, and cultured condiments, I don't go out of my way to take or give my family probiotic supplements unless it seems like our tummies or immune systems could use some extra support.
That said, whenever we are under the weather or a cold or flu seems to be “going around”, I make sure to give everyone a high potency probiotic supplement at breakfast time and during the recovery period from any illness. You can read more about probiotics here.
#5 – Herbal Blends:
If you walk into a health food store and ask for an immune boosting supplement, you will probably be presented with an entire shelf or aisle. These natural common cold remedies are not snake oil – many can be extremely helpful when used for the correct symptoms during the appropriate progression of an illness. Here are some of my favorites:
- Yin Qiao San – This classic Chinese medicine formula is extremely effective in treating early cold and flu that presents with a sore throat, IF you catch it in the early stages. At my office I carry a version of this formula for adults and kids and go through cases of it each winter.
- Ginger shots topped with cayenne & oil of oregano – My new favorite, over-priced juice shop sells immune boosting shots of this concoction bringing together the antioxidant properties of these 3 ingredients. Try this at home by juicing the ginger, topping with a squirt of oil of oregano, and a sprinkle of cayenne. In addition its antioxidant benefits, ginger is a powerful digestive tonic. This combo is particularly effective in warding off an impending head cold.
- Echinacea & goldenseal – A classic immune tonic combo. The tricks to taking these extracts is to use a potent form (I prefer tinctures) and to use the herbs at the first sign of illness. Once you have a full blown cold, echinacea and goldenseal won't do much to help you get better.
#6 – Nasal Wash
When you have a sinus congestion from a cold or allergies, the inside of your nose and sinuses become inflamed. Excess mucous production is unable to drain and bacteria and irritants can build up creating more inflammation, swelling, stuffiness, and pain.
Some amount of mucus production from the nasal and sinus lining is normal, but rinsing your nasal passages using a Neti Pot or similar tool (this is my family's favorite) helps to rinse away excess phlegm, trapped pollens, dust, pollutants, and bacteria. Normal mucosa will then fight infections and allergies better and symptoms will be reduced.
Using a saline solution for the rinse also restores moisture and eases inflammation of the mucous membranes. Be sure to use filtered water to avoid infection from strange bacteria found in tap or well water.
By the way, I still encourage you to drink plenty of broth and homemade soups, stay hydrated, and eat real food as your appetite permits when you're sick. But when you use these common cold remedies properly, you will fend off most bugs with ease.
What common cold remedies do you use to stay well?