Colds & Flus - what to do?
Updated: Mar 8
Keep this as your resource to support resilient immune systems for the whole family through changing seasons - and especially during our current pandemic [updated January 2022]
The flip-flopping of the seasonal weather changes (made more erratic thanks to climate change) can leave you at greater risk of runny noses, coughs, colds and flus. No doubt our pre-COVID days were a little more relaxed when this season rolled around and it was easier to accept that our kids’ immune systems needed these exposures.
We have so many more and better tools available to handle "cold and flu" like symptoms than relying on ibuprofen (ie. Advil) and acetaminophen (ie. Tylenol) to get you through - remember both these medications are toxic to your liver and should not be used beyond the dosing recommendations and then only the shortest time. Tylenol can bring down a fever, but lower grade fevers can be monitored and supported as part of the process your body actually uses to kill invading pathogens - fevers that get too high can lead to seizures and brain damage so there is definitely a place for antipyretic medications, but if your fever is safely under 40 degrees celsius, or if you notice the onset of any cold and flu symptoms, here are some tips you can try at home:
1) Hydrate with clear fluids:
Teas: especially with the medicinal herbs in the options below!
Soups – and bone broths: make excellent breakfast drinks anytime in the cooler weather, or meals when sick – opt for soup that’s homemade or from glass jars in the fridge section of the grocery store! Stick to simple, easy-to-digest foods and follow your (child’s) appetite – you can also add plain toast or rice/rice crackers.
A recipe for home made neo "citron": add to 1-2 cups of boiled filtered water:
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice,
1 clove of garlic sliced,
3 slices fresh ginger the size of a thumbprint;
steep 15 minutes (or more),
*when cool enough to drink: add 1 teaspoon raw honey (*only add the honey when the tea has cooled enough to drink – you don’t want to kill off the natural antimicrobial activity)
2) Avoid dairy when sick: to prevent increased mucus production, avoid all animal milk-based products when sick (ie. no milk, yogurt, cheese – even avoid lactose-free) – if you tend to have a lot of mucus production with dairy – or if your bowels regulate better while off dairy, you may be sensitive to something in dairy – this could be caused by the lactose, the casein or other proteins. Some people have trouble with too much fatty food in one meal and this can be a sign of sluggish gallbladder function.
3) Medicinal Herbal Tea: create a blend of herbs like elderberries (antiviral and very tasty), holy basil (antiviral, support energy and digestion), licorice root (antiviral, sweet, soothing to irritated throats) ginger (warming, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, anti-cough), fennel seed (antimicrobial, digestive), lemon balm (antiviral, calming), catnip (antiviral, calming), oregano (antiviral), and mullein (soothes coughs)
I recommend having a blend of these herbs on hand – you can stock up at a health food store – or try pre-made blends like Throat Coat or Belly Comfort by Traditional Medicinals. In my clinic, I also prepare custom teas.
When you need to up the intensity of your herbal support, I've got custom Cold & Flu herbal tinctures for adults & kids! Book in a 15 min appointment and we'll get you set!
4) Raw honey as a natural cough remedy: have you tried a teaspoon of raw honey for a coughing child? (or adult) It's safe for anyone over 1 year old. The raw part adds the natural antimicrobial properties from the pollen. For best effect, take the honey directly on a spoon and if you do want to mix it into tea, make sure the tea is already cooled to drinking temperature before adding the honey or it will neutralize the antimicrobial benefits. For an added boost, you can infuse honey with garlic cloves by covering whole garlic cloves with honey and storing in a jar with a lid for about 3 months. Elderberries are also antiviral and some companies offer a honey-elderberry blend you can try.
5) Neti-pots and saltwater gargles (for age 5+) – these simple saltwater rinses are a great way of soothing irritated mucus membranes. The neti-pot rinses the nasal passages and can reduce post-nasal drip and help to clear blocked passages and even headaches. Chronic allergies and sinusitis can be soothed with regular neti-pot use too. The gargle is ideal for a sore throat or ears. You may find rinsing both ways is helpful. The neti-pot can be purchased at a health food store – I like the little ceramic ones. You’ll need to warm the water to a bit warmer than body temperature, but make sure you don’t burn the delicate membranes in the mouth and throat. Add about ½ tsp sea salt per cup of warm water and mix until dissolved. To use the pot, lean your head over the sink and tip your head to one side so your nostrils are stacked one on top of the other, then put the spout of the pot into the top nostril and tip until the water flows in. The water should flow through and out the other nostril. You may need to adjust your head a bit to get this to work. Then switch to the other side. Repeat each side a few times, until the pot is empty. Have a box of tissues nearby so you can blow mucus out to clear your nostrils after each round.
6) "Magic socks" / wet socks (for any age) - another tool that harnesses the wonderful power of water therapy. These socks "magically" change from cool and wet to warm and dry after sleeping in them overnight (at least 3 hours - so not for nap time). Gather 2 pairs of socks, one thin cotton (or other natural fiber) and one thick wool (or other natural/breathable fiber) pair. Run the tap to the coldest water and then soak the thin pair of socks and wring out gently so they are not dripping. Put these wet socks on feet that are warm to touch (cold feet need to be warmed first - try putting the socks on after a warm bath or shower if your feet are cold). Then add the wooly dry socks over top and hop into bed to let the "magic" happen!
7) Throat spray with echinacea – the most powerful effects of echinacea seem to be locally in the throat – so I love using echinacea in an herbal throat spray application any time kids have a runny nose (the mucus draining down the back of the throat can be quite irritating – especially at night, even if kids can’t describe a ‘sore throat’ as a symptom). You could also gargle with an echinacea tincture. For the younger kids, try a blend with licorice (also antiviral) and marshmallow herbs for a more soothing effect that is a little gentler.
8) Anti-inflammatory support: in general, when we are sick our bodies are already in a pro-inflammatory state, trying to mobilize action to the areas in need. If you already have higher levels of inflammation in your body when you get sick, this can rapidly increase the inflammation too much and make you much sicker. Anti-inflammatory support starts with your diet (when sick, you may not be taking in much, but please limit processed/packaged foods and stick to simple whole ingredients - see below). Then, try adding powerful anti-inflammatory herbs (supplements or food sources) - like turmeric (curcumin is the best known active ingredient), ginger, Chinese skullcap and ashwagandha. If anxious also - try adding feverfew or lemon balm. Supporting gut health will also help reduce inflammatory cytokine productions - a diversity of high quality probiotic species, including lactobacillus (if you have asthma, allergies or eczema) and bifidobacterium seem to be a great start. Sometimes herbal antimicrobials are needed to reset digestive health - and herbs like goldenseal can be quite effective even at the first onset of symptoms.
Should I eat the “banana-rice-applesauce-toast/tea” diet?
Although not an optimal diet nutritionally, this diet is useful for anyone with a fever/low appetite to help get a few calories in and basic electrolytes. Staying hydrated (with clear fluids) is #1. Remember that coffee is dehydrating. Try eating vegetable soups with clear broth (no dairy), possibly with a little chicken stock, bone broth or meat added. In addition, egg yolks tend to be well tolerated and are very nutritious. A watery rice or oatmeal porridge (like congee - again, avoid dairy) can also be soothing. You can add fresh ginger or turmeric powder when preparing these foods.
9) Vitamins!? For prevention, I look to food sources of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, and zinc as well as a good quality fish oil with vitamin D. I recommend you test to make sure vitamin D levels are optimal (it is worth the small fee to know how well you are absorbing and converting vitamin D to it's active D3 form). Vitamin D is correlated with immune system function. And antioxidants support energy production.
If sick, consider adding some items from this list:
buffered vitamin C (with bioflavonoids) - no more than 1000mg per hour, possibly better absorbed at a max of 300-500mg per dose for adults
vitamin D3 liquid drops at 2000 IU for adults - also available in some high quality omega 3 fish oils (for added immune and anti-inflammatory benefits) - aim for a combined 2g of EPA & DHA - cod liver oil also contains vitamin A (avoid if pregnant)
eat lots of onion and garlic (anti-microbial & antioxidant!)- onion can be cut in half and steamed face down in a pot with a little water and then eaten whole (it gets very sweet!)
cook with antiviral shiitake mushrooms (soups, broths or any other way!)
for intense fatigue: CoQ10, reishi mushroom
for anti-histamine support (nasal symptoms): quercetin - eat lots of onion daily (cooked/steamed) or add a supplement with bromelain
for sore throat: zinc lozenges, goldenseal (& echinacea-based herbal throat spray)
for cough: raw honey, mullein & hyssop (in a tea or tincture),
for stomach issues or mood changes: ginger, goldenseal, probiotics with bifidobacteria (at opposite times in the day from goldenseal)
for lots of mucus (in lungs): N-acetyl cysteine (also a good antioxidant, and beneficial if you've been taking a lot of acetaminophen) - safe for kids!
for muscle/joint aches: curcumin, ginger
for multi-symptoms and general support: I offer a cold & flu elixir syrup made of a number of the wonderful herbs, including some of the ones mentioned above - please reach out if you'd like this customized support
Always follow appropriate dosing based on age/weight.
10) Prevention reminders: reduce sources of inflammation in your body - get enough sleep, reduce stressors (anxiety & depression can both cause inflammation - as well as be symptoms of it!), reduce inflammatory foods like sugar/alcohol, get moderate exercise to support circulation (daily walking is enough - you may need to sleep more if you exercise a lot), have any chronic fatigue or other conditions investigated and add anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant support (in diet or supplements). Also, try drinking a little of my bone broth recipe with added TCM herbs to support lung and stomach energy.
As always, please note that this content is shared for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat a condition. I always recommend individual appointments to make sure a product is safe for you. For the use of stronger antiviral herbs, I recommend individual appointments, to ensure safety in dosing!