We’re all familiar with the first signs – the itchy throat, the runny nose, the mounting sinus pressure. But before running to your nearest CVS or Walgreens for over-the-counter relief, consider turning to some time-tested tricks to stop the onset of a cold, or to shorten a bug that’s already begun. Natural remedies generally have fewer side effects than OTC drugs, and can more directly address root issues than typical OTC remedies, which only target symptoms like cough, cold & headache, and sometimes further depress the immune system. For instance, antihistamines may dry up drainage in the short term but then lead to sinus or ear infections as the drainage gets thicker and harder to expel.
Here are five easy tips for warding off colds and flu this winter:
Boost your consumption of immune-strengthening herbs and foods
As soon as you notice symptoms, make hydration, rest and a filling, nutritious diet your priorities. Drinking enough water—64 ounces of fluid per day, adding six to eight ounces for every additional cup of dehydrating coffee or alcohol—is essential for getting rid of a bug. Increasing your intake of garlic, lemon, and immune-boosting manuka honey can help, as can incorporating astragalus and reishi, both revered healing and longevity herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Astragalus increases the production of white blood cells and protective proteins called immunoglobulins, promoting immune resilience, and has been linked to higher telomerase activity and DNA repair. Reishi is the most extensively studied medicinal mushroom in the world and is traditionally used as a first line of defense in TCM for its immune-stimulating properties. Numerous studies have shown reishi to possess measurable antioxidant and life-extending properties, as well as the ability to increase Nerve Growth Factor levels in the brain. Astragalus and reishi are tonic herbs that are beneficial to use regularly, but as soon as you begin feeling cold symptoms, make sure you’re consuming immune boosting foods regularly throughout the day.
Draw Out Nasal Congestion
Whether in the steam room or the shower, use essential oils of eucalyptus, rosemary or lemongrass to gently loosen any blockages. Eucalyptus has a relaxing effect on most people and is ideal for evening, while rosemary and lemongrass tend to be more reviving.
Soothe Your Sore Throat
A traditional Native American remedy, slippery elm is a demulcent, or an herb that relieves irritation of mucous membranes. Mix up to one tablespoon with water or tea to form a mucilage that coats the throat & gastrointestinal tract and alleviates pain. Marshmallow root can be used similarly. The simplest trick in the book? Gargling hot salt water for three to five minutes, three times a day, will usually erase a sore throat in 24 hours.
Rest and Treat Symptoms as Soon as They Surface
Taking action immediately can significantly decrease the duration and severity of an infection. This includes taking steps like those described above, but it also includes accepting that you may not be as productive for a few days and scheduling extra time for rest and sleep. The fatigue associated with colds and flu are a signal that your immune system needs regeneration, and jumping back into work or travel too quickly can end up prolonging a cold for days.
Use Antibiotics as Sparingly as Possible
Antibiotic resistance is becoming a significant problem, and there’s no need to use up exposure on a cold or even flu, as antibiotics are not even a direct fix (unless you’re dealing with pneumonia or ear infections). Instead, they can depress the immune system by putting a greater burden on your gut microbiome. That being said, if symptoms including vomiting, painful congestion, or intense headaches persist, see a doctor to be sure something more serious isn’t going on.