Natural Ways to Combat Cold & Flu Season
You wake up with a familiar tickle at the back of your throat. Your head begins to pound and your body feels achy all over. It suddenly dawns on you that these are the undeniable signs of a cold……or could it be the flu?!?!?
Why is it important to know the difference between the cold and the flu? Not only does distinguishing the two allow for appropriate treatment and management, but while the cold is a milder respiratory illness, the flu can lead to serious health complications such as pneumonia. This is particularly true for young children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with immunocompromising health conditions.
So just how do you tell the difference between the cold and the flu? Here are some distinguishing symptoms:
|· Slight fever (uncommon)||· Fever (common)|
|· Headache (occasional)||· Headache (common)|
|· Runny nose and congestion||· Muscle aches/soreness (myalgia)|
|· Sneezing||· Cough|
|· Sore throat||· Sore throat (uncommon)|
|· No chills||· Chills|
|· Mild fatigue (uncommon)||· Fatigue|
If you are determined to be healthy and pro-active this season, you may be wondering what measures you can take to fight the cold or flu naturally.
Here are some healthy habits to help reduce the risk of infection:
- Practice hand hygiene. Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%. This is as simple as washing your hands regularly with soap and water or using an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. Proper hand-washing involves lathering with soap for at least 20 seconds, and is recommended in the following instances; before, during, and after preparing food, before eating food, before and after caring for someone who is sick, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, as well as other exposures such as animals or garbage, to help avoid the spread of germs and reduce the risk of infection.
- Eat immune-boosting foods. We all know that fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals that are good for us, but did you know that eating more of these nutrient-dense foods can actually help to keep bacteria at bay? Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C such as oranges, lemons, lime, grapefruit, papaya, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower which help boost your immune system. If you are trying to avoid getting sick, it is also advisable to limit or avoid processed foods with zero nutritional value that would weaken the immune system. Certain culinary herbs such as garlic and ginger also possess anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that can help arm your body’s natural defence system. My go-to naturopathic home remedy; a syrup of crushed ginger, grated garlic, honey (preferably Manuka honey), and a freshly squeezed lemon. Whenever I feel that familiar tickle at the back of my throat, I take a teaspoon of this syrup every couple of hours throughout the day.
- Avoid sugar. It might seem like a crazy idea to avoid sweets and other foods that make you feel good when you’re feeling under the weather, but sugar feeds bacteria and depresses your body’s natural defence. Avoiding sweets or refined sugar, especially during the times that you are sick, can help prevent the growth of bacteria and keep your immune system armed. It is also important to avoid dairy products when you are sick, to avoid excess mucous production.
- Supplement. Getting sick regularly is a sign that your immune system is susceptible and weak, and indicates that you may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. Vitamins such as C and D and minerals such as zinc can help keep the immune system healthy and strong. Consult your naturopathic doctor for a proper assessment to find out what you may be deficient in, or to find out more information on recommended daily allowance (RDA).
- Take herbs. Whether you are trying to avoid getting sick, or you have come down with something, there are a number of immune-stimulating herbs that can help boost your immune system. These include Echinacea, Astragalus, Hydrastis, or Andrographis, which can be taken in pill, capsule, or tincture form. If you’re particularly stressed out with work or meeting deadlines, it may also be beneficial to take herbs that support the adrenal glands, which are the glands responsible for producing the stress hormone cortisol. Stress can also depress the immune system, as discussed below. Consult your Naturopathic doctor to find out what herbs are right for you.
- Hydrotherapy. This might be unheard of and warning; the thought of it may make you cringe, but taking a contrast shower by alternating hot and cold water for a few minutes (specifically 2-3 minutes hot: 1 minute cold), can actually stimulate the immune system. The theory behind this is that cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict, while hot water causes them to dilate, stimulating more blood circulation. The greater the contrast in temperature of the water, the greater the effect on the body. If you don’t believe it, try it! It will only rev up your immune system and leave you feeling invigorated!
- Sweat it out. Being physically active not only increases your body’s serotonin or happy hormone, but also promotes circulation, detoxification through perspiration, and boosts the immune system. However, it is important to note that over-doing it can also place added stress on your body, leaving you more vulnerable to getting sick. It has been recommended that individuals engage in 150 minutes of mild to moderate aerobic exercise a week for greater health benefits.
- Get proper rest. Sleep is not only essential for growth but for our immune system. If you are not getting adequate or restorative sleep, you will be at increased risk for pathogens invading your immune system. So just how much sleep should you be getting? According to the National Sleep Foundation, individuals between the ages of 18-65 should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- Practice stress reduction. Along with exercise, stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, or even journelling can serve as an outlet and help prevent the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which would otherwise depress the immune system and leave you vulnerable to getting sick.
- Be proactive. The best way to fight the cold and flu, is to prevent it. This means keeping your body and immune system strong by following the simple steps outlined above 🙂 It also means avoiding close contact with others who may be sick.
If you are sick and are still unsure whether it’s the cold or flu, it is important to seek the professional opinion and care of healthcare provider for an appropriate diagnosis and guide to proper treatment and management.
The advice contained in this blog is intended to provide information on healthy living and alternative treatment options. Talk to your ND prior to any use of the above mentioned herbs or supplements to find out what is appropriate for you.
Have a happy and healthy holiday season,
Cold or Fly Symptoms? (2016). Retrieved on November 2, 2016 from http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/flu-cold-symptoms#1.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wash Your Hands. Updated April 11, 2016. Retrieved on October 30, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing/.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hygiene Fast Facts; Information on Water-related Hygiene. Page last reviewed July 8, 2013. Retrieved on November 13, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/fast_facts.html.
National Sleep Foundation; How much sleep do we really need? (2016). Retrieved on November 5, 2016 from https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.