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My Favorite Remedies for Cold & Flu Season

Introduction

It’s that time of year! And it’s inevitable: cold and flu viruses are likely floating around you at this very moment. What can you do to protect yourself this season? Let’s take a look at a few of the strategies I like to implement to prepare your immune system for battle!

Before we get to a few of the actual remedies I suggest, I’m want to address a few basic lifestyle considerations that can dramatically affect how well your immune system can fight off viruses during this cold and flu season.

Adequate and Restful Sleep

It seems like a simple solution, but the first strategy I always recommend is getting adequate and restful sleep!

Studies show that people are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus if they aren’t getting enough sleep. When you get adequate and restful sleep your body is better able to fight off infection (1).

What do I mean by adequate and restful sleep? Adequate sleep is generally 8 hours of rest a night, uninterrupted.

Have a routine in the evening where you allow your mind to wind down.

Avoid using and cell phones, computers, ipads, or television for at least one hour before bedtime. Instead, read a book, take a hot bath, or try some deep breathing exercises. Keep any unnecessary light from shining in your bedroom from cell phones, alarm clocks and windows.

Manage Stress

Again, it seems like another basic solution but chronic stress (real or perceived) makes it hard for your immune system to ward off invading viruses.

If you’re under chronic stress from juggling too many things at once, your body reacts by increasing the output of a hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol, though touted as a negative hormone, does have an important and positive role in stressful situations–it keeps inflammation from getting out of hand, it regulates your metabolism of macronutrients, and it regulates the responsiveness of your immune system.

The problem becomes when high cortisol output is triggered from long-term stress. When cortisol output is high over the long term, it can suppress your immune system and leave you vulnerable to cold and flu viruses (2).

What can you do to de-stress? Some simple things you can do are: meditate, practice deep breathing, have a simple yoga routine, socialize with friends or loved ones, move more and get physical activity, schedule routine breaks from your computer screen, get outside for fresh air, turn on some music, or journal.

Other (more challenging) ways to de-stress would be to really dig deep and investigate what’s not working for you in your life and what can you do to change it. Making yourself and your health a priority is paramount in managing stress.

Proper Nutrition

This can mean a lot of things and could be a whole blog post of its own. In general, proper nutrition means getting adequate vitamins, minerals, macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs), and hydration your body needs to function optimally.

These recommendations will vary depending on your age, activity level, medical history and genetics. You also want to take extra care to avoid any food allergies or sensitivities that could send your immune system into overdrive.

This is where a Registered Dietitian comes in handy. A Registered Dietitian (That’s me!) can help you navigate what optimal nutrition is for your particular scenario. If you’re interested in learning more about what optimal nutrition is for you, you can schedule a free call with me here.

Ok, so now for the actual remedies I suggest when you find yourself coming down with something…

Please note: you ALWAYS want to consult with your healthcare provider before implementing any kind of supplementation. It is especially important to consider the interplay of current medications and supplements you are taking before incorporating any of these suggestions.

The remedies discussed here are for general education purposes only and should not be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional. It is wise to seek medical attention if you have worsening symptoms or symptoms that don’t improve within 5-10 days of a typical cold.

Zinc

Zinc is important in immunity because it assists in the normal development of your immune cells. Those who are already deficient in zinc could potentially see the most benefit with supplementation (3).

A 42% reduction in cold duration was seen in 3 different trials that used zinc acetate lozenges in doses of >75 mg/day (4). Lower levels of zinc supplementation do not show consistent reduction in cold duration (3).

At the first sign of a cold, sucking on a few zinc lozenges throughout your day is an easy and convenient way to boost your zinc intake. Life extension zinc lozenges are a great choice. Each lozenge is 18 mg, so you would need about 4-5 lozenges a day for no more than 3 days.

Taking large quantities of zinc (>50mg/day) over a period of weeks can interfere with your copper levels. Therefore, it is prudent to avoid over-supplementation.

In addition to supplementation, you can also focus on diet. Foods highest in zinc are seafood (6 cooked oysters have up to 50mg), beef, lamb, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cocoa and chocolate, pork, chicken, and beans (3).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has long been touted for its ability to fight the common cold. But is it effective for everyone?

The role of vitamin C in common cold treatment is conflicting and not entirely clear. Vitamin C works by activating your immune system by stimulating the production and function of white blood cells (important for fighting off viruses) and it is a natural antioxidant that protects your immune cells from oxidative damage (5).

The scientific consensus is that regular supplementation with vitamin C for the general population does NOT appear to reduce the number of colds BUT may shorten the duration of colds (5,6).

On average, 1,000 mg/day of vitamin C can shorten the duration of colds in adults by about 6% and ≥2,000mg/day vitamin C can shorten duration by 21%. Thus, higher doses could be associated with greater effects (6).

For endurance type athletes, however, vitamin C has actually been shown to reduce the number of colds, in half. This is likely due to the ability of vitamin C to decrease levels of free radicals generated through intense exercise (6).

Finally, those that may already be borderline deficient in vitamin C may see the greatest effects with supplementation (5). For those that are faced with chronic stress, it is likely your adrenal glands are using up vitamin C at a higher rate than normal. The adrenal glands have among the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body and their secretion of vitamin C is an integral part of the stress response (7).

Again, you can focus on boosting your vitamin C intake from diet (though these are not therapeutic doses you’d typically see with supplementation). Highest vitamin C foods include: citrus fruit and juices, kiwi, strawberries, papaya, cantaloupe, pineapple, sweet red pepper, greens, parsley, cruciferous veggies, carrots, and squash (5).

If you want to supplement, Buffered or liposomal vitamin C are great options at a dose of 1,000-2,000mg/day used preventatively during cold and flu season. Dividing the dose into 2-3 doses a day could increase absorption (8).

Sensitive people could experience GI upset so it’s important to start at a low dose and go slow. Those predisposed to kidney stones or those with iron overload (such as in hemochromatosis) will want to avoid high dose vitamin C supplementation (8).

A final consideration: vitamin C can become oxidized easily which would create more harm than benefit. It’s important to check expiration dates, buy small containers of only what you’ll use immediately, refrigerate liquid versions, and keep containers tightly closed.

Echinacea

Echinacea makes our immune cells more efficient at attacking viruses and reduces inflammation in the body.

Studies show that echinacea can increase phagocytosis (the consumption of invading organisms by our white blood cells) by 20-40%. Echinacea has been used for preventing and treating upper respiratory infections, the common cold, and flu. Echinacea is not as effective when used as a preventative treatment for colds and flu (9).

I recommend Echinacea in tincture form. You will want to take 1/2 of a teaspoon (2-3 dropperfuls) mixed with a small amount of water (in a shot glass) 3 times per day when you feel symptoms coming on.

My favorite brands of tincture are Red Moon Herbs (local brand) and Herb Pharm.

If you like tea, then Traditional Medicinals echinacea plus is a great brand to have handy.

Note: there are no studies confirming the long term use of this herb. I would advise to limiting use to 8 weeks at a time at most. Though information is conflicting, it is also not advised for use in those on immunosuppressants or those with an autoimmune disease (9).

Elderberry

Elderberry has been widely used for hundreds of years in the treatment of cold and flu symptoms. It acts as an antiviral by inhibiting virus replication, enhancing cytokine production (which regulates your immune response), and delivering a high dose of antioxidants from flavonoids (10).

If you’re a frequent flier, you know how stressful airline travel can be. Not to mention, the chances of you coming down with a cold or flu virus are exponential. One study looking at air travelers found that Elderberry Syrup when used preventatively (taken before onset of symptoms) can reduce cold duration and severity (11).

Typical recommended use of elderberry however, is starting at the first sign of symptoms, for 3-5 days. Dosage of elderberry syrup is 1-2 tablespoons mixed with hot water daily (9). My favorite brand of Elderberry Syrup is from Gaia Herbs.

Another option is in tincture form which can be easier to carry around with you while traveling. Dosage recommendation is about 30 drops, 3 times per day. My favorite is a Black Elderberry Elixir from Gaia Herbs or Red Moon Herbs

Fire Cider

Fire cider, as the name suggests, packs heat from raw alliums (onion & garlic), ginger, horseradish and chile peppers in a cider-vinegar tonic. It is a traditional folk recipe designed to kick start your immune system when onset of symptoms arise.

This anti-inflammatory elixir of immune boosting herbs and foods are fermented together and act as an anti-viral and decongesting agent.

Fire Cider as a whole has not been studied in science for immune modulating qualities but if you break apart the components of this elixir you will see that each of the foods, herbs, and nutrients can act on the immune system in various ways.

For example, garlic appears to boost the functioning of the immune system by enhancing macrophage, lymphocyte, and natural killer cell action in the body and may help prevent colds (12, 13, 14).

Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which is the main phytochemical component of the rhizome. Curcumin has shown anti-influenza activity in cell cultures (15).

Also, did you know that 70-80% of our immune tissue is found in the gut? Incorporating fermented foods such as fire cider can provide support by diversifying and boosting your gut bacteria. This, in turn, enhances your ability to fight off infection by stimulating immune tissue in your gut (16).

I love this fire cider recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs. The recipe requires you let it sit in a cool dark place for one month before it’s ready to be consumed.

If you need something sooner or don’t have time to make your own, Pure Fire is a local brand to try out.

A typical dose is a teaspoon at a time (it is very potent) used daily preventatively or in a few doses spread out in the day when you feel symptoms coming on.

Note: I would not recommend fire cider for those with sensitive digestive tracts or those with GERD or reflux. It is a potent and spicy beverage that could aggravate some individuals. Also, long term use of these concentrated products has not been studied.

Conclusion

There are a few lifestyle considerations you can focus on to boost your immunity: adequate and restful sleep, management of stress, and proper nutrition.

If you are looking to boost your immune system beyond that, zinc, vitamin C, Echinacea, Elderberry, and Fire cider could be additional tools you add to your arsenal.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of the supplements I link to in the article, at a reduced price, you can visit my online dispensary and click on “Immune Support.

Wishing you a healthy and happy winter season!

If you’re a woman looking to super-charge your health and learn what optimal nutrition is for you, then I’ve got you covered! To learn more about my 12 week all-inclusive programs, get started here!

Note: I am NOT affiliated nor do I receive a commission for any of the products I link to in the article.

Sarah Neumann Haske, MS, RDN is a Women’s Health Functional Dietitian and owner of Neumann Nutrition & Wellness, LLC. Her practice helps women heal their gut, regulate their hormones and balance their thyroid using a root-cause approach to their health. As a result of her program her clients are able to come off medications, feel more energized, and be more confident in their bodies again. If you’re interested in being a partner in your own health journey and finding the direction and accountability you need to reach your health goals, then schedule your complimentary call with Sarah now.

References:

1.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/

2.) Book: The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution by Aviva Romm, MD.

3.) http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc#reference67

4.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136969/

5.) http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C

6.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409678

7.)http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/1/145.full

8.) Book: Nutritional Medicine 2nd Edition by Alan Gaby, MD

9.) Book: Herbal Medicine by the American Botanical Council.

10.) http://cms.herbalgram.org/press/files/elderberry-scr.pdf

11.) http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/4/182

12.)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417560/

13.) https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/garlic

14.)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417560/#B5

15.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022204/

16.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24499072