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28 Natural Ways to Prevent and Treat the Common Cold and Flu

photo @ Telegraph

Being sick  is no fun, and the doctors’ visits that accompany illnesses are even worse. As someone who honest to God has never-ending sinus infections, I know all too well the toils of stuffed noses, runny noses, sinus pressure, pounding headaches, fatigue, and just generally not feeling well. After several years of trying to get relief through medication and far too many doctor visits, I’ve given into natural treatments that have done more than any over-the-counter pill has. In light of my discoveries for naturally treating sinus infections, I’m all for searching for natural cures for all common ailment before considering a pill. As we enter the cold season when everyone is at risk of developing illnesses, I’ve compiled a few of my favorite natural ways to prevent and treat the common cold and flu help keep you healthy, doctor-free and on budget.

1.) Wash Your Hands

Sounds very basic, and it is. Think about all the door handles you touch throughout the day, and who has been touching the gas pump or crosswalk button before you. During the cold season, these can become focal points for picking up germs, especially when you touch your face afterwards. So, when colds are rampant, wash your hands regularly. And, when you leave the bathroom, use the paper towel to touch the doorknob rather than your hands. If you can’t wash your hands often, carry some alcohol-based sanitizer with you. You don’t have to be a germaphobe, just be aware of what you’re touching and clean your hands accordingly.

2.) Blow Your Nose

This is another very simple yet crucial tip. The necessity comes from the fact that when stuffed up, most people sniffle in the mucus that is trying to drain. This will only build the mucus and worsen the pressure and the cold. It’s an especially bad problem with children. Bonnie’s son sniffled his congested nose instead of blowing it so much so that the sinus pressure became too great in his nasal mucous membrane causing the mucus to spread to his eye. It swelled one shut rushing him to the emergency room to save him from doing long term damage. Hopefully your sinus congestion will never get this severe, but blow your nose and save yourself many headaches.

3.) Drink Lots of Water

When your body is fighting off a cold, it needs lots of water to replenish. This is especially true when you have a lot of mucus. In order for mucus to drain, it must be thinned which requires lots of hydration. If you feel dizzy or have a headache, try drinking a big glass of water quickly. No need to chug, just don’t sip it slowly. You should see a considerable difference almost immediately after you finish drinking.

4.) Sleep With an Extra Pillow

This may be a bit simple, but sleeping with an extra pillow under your head can help your mucus drain. Resting your head on an incline can help it drain more quickly than if it were laying flat. So, steal an extra pillow and enjoy it while you’re sick.

5.) Don’t share towels

While you or anyone in your home is sick, use separate towels in the bathroom. This will cut down the spread of germs, as the bathroom is a hotbed for germs during the cold season.

6.) Get Some Sleep

Your body needs to be energized to fight off a virus, so sleep during a cold is vital. Skimping on sleep will only prolong and possibly worsen your cold. Just accept the fact that you are sick and that it is better to rest rather than to get everything done. Get a full night of sleep and possibly even a few extra hours.

7.) Get Some Exercise

This only works if your cold and workout are not severe. Moderate exercise can actually boost your immune system helping you fight off a cold more quickly. If you push yourself too hard, though, you can worsen your cold and weaken your body. If you’re starting to get sick, try to get your heart rate going with some extra walking or slow jogging, but don’t push yourself much harder than that.

8.) Eat Sparingly

This might sound odd, but it is true. When sick, especially with the flu, only eat healthy foods and only eat as much as necessary. Digestion requires quite a bit of energy which your body needs to use to fight off an infection while sick. This is one reason why soups are highly recommended during sickness. The less complex and bulky foods your body needs to break down, the better.

9.) Don’t Eat Sugar

Going hand in hand with the one above, sugar is a bad idea. Refined sugar is complex and therefore difficult for your to process. When sick, it’s even harder for your body to process, because it is devoting its energy to fighting off an infection. And, as it does not provide anything nutritionally for your body, it’s best to stay away from it altogether.

10.) Take Hot Showers for Sinus Decongestion

Steam works wonders to alleviate sinus pressure when your nose is clogged. It’s a great way to get moisture and heat into your nose to help it drain. Steam will moisturizes your mucus membranes and help thin the mucus so it may drain. Humidifiers can be a big help throughout the day and night, but they can’t compare to a hot shower where steams envelops the entire room. If you are feeling dizzy or have a horrible headache that won’t go away with drinking water, try a hot shower. The pain may be from intense sinus pressure. So, take a long shower and enjoy the heat. Stretching while you are in the shower may help as well.

11.) Take a Detox Bath for Cold

A bath does not only relax your body, it can also help detoxify it during a cold. First, add one cup of baking soda to a full tub of hot water to help clean the water and the tub of any impurities and neutralize chemicals found in tap water. Once dissolved, add two cups of epsom salt and a half cup of hydrogen peroxide. The epsom salt will relieve pain while the hydroren peroxide oxygenates and detoxes your skin. The baking soda will also neutralize toxins as they leave the body. Soak in the water for at least 30 minutes and bring a tall glass of water to drink. The detox process and the steam will cause you to dehydrate a bit, and you must stay hydrated for the detox to work. You can also add dry ginger or ginger tea bags to the bath to intensify the detox process. Ginger promotes blood circulation, which can help you sweat out more toxins during the bath. Be sure not to use any chemicals in the bath such as those found in soaps or shampoos, because they can clog the pores. Be careful not to dip your hair into the water, because hydrogen peroxide can lighten your hair color if exposed to it for too long. Once you’re out of bath, it’s best to apply a natural moisturizer (such as shea butter) to your skin to keep impurities from clogging the pores. Avoid using creams with chemicals (scents, color dyes), though.

12.) Use a Warm Cloth for Sinus Decongestion

When your sinuses are congested, place a hot washcloth on over your nose and/or forehead. The warmth and moisture will help with decongestion. You can do this along with or instead of using a humidifier. Just place a damp washcloth in the microwave for about 45 seconds and then place it over your nose or face. It will also help you relax and fall asleep as well.

13.) Drink Ginger Tea for Everything

In general, drinking hot fluids will help your congested sinuses drain, relieve the inflamed membranes in your sinuses and keep you hydrated. Ginger is a particularly great though, because it relieves sinus pain by acting as an antibacterial anti-inflammatory agent as well as a decongestant. It will also help soothe your sore throat providing further relief. It can also help calm your stomach ache and relieve vomiting. You can make tea from fresh ginger or simply use ginger tea bags. If you don’t like ginger, you can use other teas. Black teas also help with decongestion and sore throat relief. Peppermint tea helps promote circulation to rid your body of toxins as well. For night time, you can try the age old hot toddy black tea drink if you need help falling asleep.

14.) Gargle for Sore Throat

Gargling salt water helps moisten an irritated, sore throat. Dissolve a teaspoon of sea salt into warm water and gargle it for 30 seconds four times per day. This will help keep your throat soothed reducing your pain while speeding up its healing. For a somewhat better taste with the same effect, try an equal parts mixture of honey and apple cider vinegar.

15.) Eat Echinacea for Cold

There’s still some debate as to the empirical evidence for the health benefits of echinacea, but that doesn’t stop this from being one of the most recommended cold treatments out there. It has been shown to lessen the severity and length of a cold. Take echinacea twice a day when you feel a cold coming on and continue for seven to ten days to fully stave off the worst of the cold. The fresher the echinacea the better, but capsules will suffice as well.

16.) Eat Zinc for Cold

Zinc has been shown to shorten the duration of a cold by preventing the reproduction of the virus in the nose and throat. When taken regularly at the first sign of a cold, zinc can help lessen the intensity and length of a cold. You can take zinc  lozenges every three hours during the day or eat foods high in zinc. Foods such as nut, yogurt, milk, spinach, asparagus, pork, crab are great sources for zinc. The recommended daily dosage of zinc when healthy is 8 to 11 mg. When sick, it’s recommended to consume 15 to 30 mg of zinc, but not to exceed 40 mg, because high doses for an extended period of time can become toxic. Stay away from zinc nasal sprays as well, because they can damage nerves resulting in permanent loss of smell.

17.) Use Mustard Seed for Cold and Fever

There are many home remedies involving mustard plaster and mustard seeds that have been passed down throughout the years. For a fever, mix mashed mustard seeds/mustard seed powder in a warm water for a foot bath to help speed healing. For a cold, mix one tablespoon of mashed mustard seeds/mustard seed powder into a cup of hot water and to drink. This will help relieve congestion and soothe sore throats. Horse radish can be substituted if necessary.

18.) Eat Cyenne Powder/Horseradish/Wasabi for Sinus Decongestion

If you’ve ever eaten spicy foods with a stuffed up nose, you can attest how quickly and effectively this can cause your sinuses to drain. The ingested mustard treatment mentioned above has the same effect just to a lesser degree and without pain. If you want the full effect though, you can try spicy foods, but dense foods should be avoided when sick. Fried foods should not be eaten at all as well. To get the full effect without the full meal, try eating cayenne pepper, horse radish or wasabi. Depending on your tolerance for pain and the severity of your cold, you may only need half a teaspoon or a full tablespoon. I personally love the wasabi treatment when I have a severe sinus infection, because it is the fastest (yet most painful) way to clear my nose. It is a temporary solution though, that won’t cure the problem. It will simply clean out the mucus present at the moment. When you are sick though, sometimes you just want your nose to be unclogged for a bit.

19.) Eat Vitamin C for Cold

There’s still some scientific uncertainty to the benefits of vitamin C in terms of fighting the common cold and the flu, but it’s still highly recommended. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of a cold. The recommended daily dose when healthy is 75 to 90 mg. When sick, you can take up to 2000 mg daily to boost your immune system. This is why products such as Emergen-C and Airborne as so widely used. You can either take lozenges or eat foods high in vitamin C such as oranges, strawberries, black currants, kiwis, lemons, pineapple, bell peppers, brocoli, brussel sprouts, and tomatoes. Vitamin C has been shown to be most beneficial to those who engage in lots of physical activity. Revving up your dosage when sick can help fight off an existing cold and possibly fend off a new one. Do not exceed 2000 mg daily though, especially for extended periods of time as internal problems such as kidney stones can develop.

20.) Eat Vitamin D for Cold

Although it hasn’t been conclusively proven that vitamin D helps prevents colds, people with higher levels of vitamin D have been shown to be less likely to catch a cold. It may be due to the fact that most vitamin D we consume is from the sun and winter is not a season spent outdoors in the sunshine. It’s best to keep your levels of vitamin D high all year round, as it does help the immune system. It can be found in salmon, sardine, mackerel, many other fishes, milk and orange juice. Vitamin D capsules and fish oil capsules may be the best choice for daily consumption. You can take 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily, but do not exceed 2,000 UI daily as liver problems may develop after prolonged use.

21.) Eat Garlic for Cold and Flu

Garlic has been used as a home remedy around the world for centuries. Garlic contains allicin which has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory  and antiviral properties which can you help you in your daily life and while sick. Garlic can help you fend off a cold and reduce the length and severity of an existing cold. It’s best to use fresh garlic to get the most benefits, but garlic capsules can work as well. Just add some garlic to your soup to make it more savory and healthy.

22.) Eat Plantains for Stomach Illness

Plantains are full of potassium and vitamins A and C, which help boost the immune system during colds. They are particularly beneficial, though, in regards to stomach problems. Plantains contains loads of insoluble fiber which helps guard your stomach lining from hurtful bacteria. It’s been shown to reduce the presence of E. coli in the digestive track by 80%. Some alternative medicine advocates even recommend plantains to help treat ulcers.

23.) Use Peppermint for Sinus Decongestion

Peppermint is a very potent cold and flu aid. It is toxic in large doses, though, and therefore must always be used in a dilluted form. Peppermint contains menthol which is a powerful decongestant and expectorant. It helps to thin mucus, which causes the sinuses to drain quickly. It can also help soothe coughing. To use, boil two cups of water and pour into a bowl. Add three drops of peppermint oil into the bowl. Place your head over the bowl, and drape a towel over your head and cover the bowl as well. With your eyes closed, breathe in deeply for one minute. The steam and the oil will cause your sinuses to drain prompting you to expectorate. After the minute is over, expectorate into the trash can. This is an intense treatment and should not be overdone. Too much use can cause a burning in your breathing, so do not try to achieve a greater decongestant effect by intensifying the amount of oil used. For a pre-measured dosage, you can buy an inhaler that is infused with eucalyptus and peppermint oil. You can also buy or create your own menthol-infused chest rubs.

24.) Eat Honey for Cold and Sore Throat

There are many, many homecold remedies and the vast majority involve honey (some of which I’ll share in another post). This is because honey is naturally antibacterial, antiviral and rich with antioxidants, which help when healthy or sick. Top this all off with a delicious taste and it’s an ingredient that can’t be avoided. Honey is best used to soothe sore throats and coughing. It’s thick texture relieves strained throats while its health benefits fight off the infection. It’s been shown to be especially helpful in relieving coughing among children. Mixing honey and lemon into tea is a basic and effective cough and sinus reliever for kids and adults. Honey can only be used by kids one year old and up due to the fact that children under one have not developed a strong enough immune system to handle the spores that may be present. As many manufactured cold medicines have warnings for small kids though, honey is most likely the best option to help treat their cough and sore throats.

25.) Eat Elderberry for Cold and Flu

Elder flowers and berries have been used for hundreds of years going back to the beginning of medical science itself. The plant is being scientifically studied nowadays and the results are promising. Elderberries contain anthocyanins, very powerful antioxidants, which have been shown to fight off and even prevent the flu. It comes in the form of elderberry extract, because the real thing contains cyanide which is deadly in large amounts. You can find elderberry juice extract in the form or a juice, syrup or capsule at most health food stores.

26.) Eat Antioxidants for Cold

As you can see with honey and elderberry, foods rich in antioxidants help your body fight off infections. Antioxidants help your immune system fight off free radicals which are damaging to the body. Berries and leafy greens are rich in antioxidants. Try foods such acai berries, black currants, pomegranates, strawberries, blueberries, brussel sprouts, kale, spinach and nuts. Cocoa is also one of the best sources, so hot cocoa is actually healthy in this instance, but only when in pure form. So, make some homemade cocoa with cocoa powder and milk.

27.) Eat Omega 3 Fatty Acids for Cold

Omega 3 Fatty Acids help your immune system by boosting phagocyte cells, which absorb bacteria. Phagocyte cells also help protect your respiratory system from infections. It’s also been shown infants of nursing mothers who consume omega 3 fatty acids have fewer and shorter colds. It’s very beneficial to eat these fatty acids throughout the year whether healthy or sick, but definitely don’t skimp when ill. Try eating salmon, mackerel, walnuts, basil or broccoli. Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are also chalk full of omega 3′s and can be found at nearly every health food store.

28.) Eat Ginseng for Cold

There are many kinds of ginseng, but the popular North American type (Panax quinquefolius) is commonly used to stave off colds. It can be taken daily to help prevent colds at the first sign. Ginseng boosts your immune system and your white blood cell count. It’s been shown in many studies that those who take ginseng daily are less prone to catching colds, and those who take it at the onset of a cold have shorter and less severe sicknesses. Ginseng comes in many forms including capsules and teas, which can be found at most stores.

There you have it! Get some rest, eat healthy and enjoy the Christmas season. Stay tuned for natural cold remedy recipes as well where I’ll let you know how to mix these ingredients and a few others into cold-curing concoctions! Check out our other natural beauty posts as well.


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Claire - March 8, 2013 - 12:02 am

Thank you, Bekah! I’ve had the same experience with doctors, especially when it came to sinus infections, so I’ve found natural remedies to help. Glad to see others thinking the same way!

Bekah - March 7, 2013 - 11:00 pm

I really can’t believe there aren’t more comments on these articles! They are VERY helpful in finding natural remedies for common things. I know that “going green”, “going natural” and becoming more “environmentally aware” are all terms that make people automatically think of pretentiousness, but I for one, never believed in natural remedies until I noticed growing up that most of the stuff doctors would prescribe for me didn’t work. I am and continue to be amazed at the simplicity of using natural remedies, and that they seem to trump prescriptions and over the counter chemicals nearly, if not every, single time! Granted, I would never advise anyone to get off of medication or to quit seeing a doctor, but for stuff like acne? beauty products? cold remedies? sinus remedies? absolutely. nothing works like mother earth. and the best part is, it’s usually CHEAP, and it comes with little to no side effects, so long as you use everything the right way and study up. It’s awesome. Keep up the awesome work, ladies!

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