It’s that season again. The time when you are frantically looking for cold and flu remedies. Yep, it’s cold and flu season.
Of course, it all starts with a nutrient-dense, immune-supporting diet, quality sleep, regular exercise, stress reduction, and other lifestyle strategies that help to support your immune system and reduce the risk of respiratory infections. However, even with the healthiest diet and lifestyle, we all get sick from time to time.
In this article, I want to share my top strategies for the cold and flu. Let’s get into it.
Chicken Soup and Hot Beverages
Chicken soup and hot tea are common recommendations for colds and the cold. Chances are, chicken soup is the first thing your mom or grandma brought you every time you got sick. It may be the first thing you make your kids or spouse at the first sign of illness.
It is not just folklore, as there is some evidence that chicken soup may be helpful for respiratory issues. It may offer anti-inflammatory benefits. The nutrients in chicken soup may help to slow neutrophils, which are white blood cells that help to protect you from infection and illness (1, 2). When the movement of neutrophils slows down, they become more concentrated in areas of your body that need more support.
Chicken broth is also rich in electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium, and helps to reduce dehydration. It’s also usually rich in vegetables that are high in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that may support recovery. Moreover, warm chicken soup can be incredibly soothing to a sore throat and may help to break up mucous.
Hot beverages can also help to reduce sore throat. Hot beverages help to increase mucus flow and aid your body in getting rid of viruses by preventing their replication. Depending on the hot beverage of your choice, they may offer immune-supporting nutrients. Ginger tea, for example, has powerful antimicrobial benefits (3). Echinacea tea is full of flavonoids, may help to reduce inflammation, and may support the speed of your recovery from respiratory issues (4). Adding some lemon or lime to your tea is a great way to add some extra vitamin C with immune-boosting and recovery-supporting benefits (5).
Rest, Rest, and More Rest
I can’t emphasize the importance of rest enough. Pushing your body too much and not allowing rest may slow recovery. Enough sleep is important even if you are not sick. According to a 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who sleep only 7 hours or less per night are more likely to get colds than those who get 8 hours of sleep or more (6).
If sleep is so important even when you are healthy, imagine how much you need it when your body is fighting a virus. Aim to get 8 – 9 hours of sleep or more if needed. Take naps as needed. Take it easy on exercise. If you are feeling up for it, a short walk or easy stretching can be appropriate. But listen to your body.
Take time off from work, if you are able. If it’s not possible, honour your body the rest of the day. Embrace this time to watch your favourite movies or TV shows, read, or listen to music. Choose activities that are relaxing and uplifting to support recovery.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for your bone health, immune health, cellular function, brain health, and other areas of your health. Your body can make vitamin D, and it’s also found in certain foods, including fatty fish, liver, and egg yolk. Due to our indoor lifestyle and colder climates, most people don’t meet their need for vitamin D through sunshine and food alone.
Supplementation may be beneficial for most people, and it may be particularly important if you have a cold or the flu. Research has shown that vitamin D may help to decrease the symptoms and length of a cold (7). It may also help to reduce your risk of respiratory illness (8). If you want to support your recovery from a cold or the flu, I recommend taking a larger dose of vitamin D for a short period of time of 5,000 IU or more per day. When I feel something coming on, I dose 10,000 IU per day for a week, but check with your health provider to see if this makes sense for you.
Vitamin A is an essential vitamin for immune health, vision, reproduction, growth, and development. Food sources of vitamin A may include carrots, pumpkin, spinach, broccoli, red peppers, apricots, chicken liver, beef liver, eggs, fish, shrimp, and yogurt. Eating these foods on a regular basis may help to support your immune health.
However, if you are recovering from a respiratory illness, you may benefit from large doses of vitamin A supplementation for a short period. Along with other immune-supporting micronutrients, vitamin A may help to reduce the length of a respiratory illness (9). Note that the upper safety limit for vitamin A is 3,000 mcg per day (10). What do I do? For myself I’ll take 100,000 IU for 2 days only, then back off.
Zinc is an important mineral for your immune health and over 300 enzymes in your body. It’s found in turkey, beef, pork, lentils, oatmeal, shitake mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds. In addition to diet, supplementing with zinc may be beneficial for your immune health, especially if you are sick.
Research has shown that zinc may help to decrease the severity and duration of symptoms of cold and respiratory issues (11). You may use zinc supplements as capsules or tablets. You may also try zinc lozenges to help viral particles spread in your respiratory tract and soothe symptoms, including sore throat and congestion. Again, if a flu virus is gripping me, I’ll take 100 mg for a few days in a row.
Bee Propolis Throat Spray
Honey is full of antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits. Adding honey to a hot tea may help to reduce inflammation, sore throat, coughing, and other symptoms (12). In addition to honey, you may also benefit from another bee product, bee propolis.
Bee propolis is a resin-like substance created by bees from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees. It may offer anti-inflammatory effects. Using a bee propolis throat spray may help to relieve upper-respiratory symptoms (13). At the start of a sore throat I’ll grab my favourite bottle and dose multiple sprays to the back of my throat to hopefully keep the virus count down. During COVID, this was a must for me.
You may also support your recovery from a cold or the flu with some herbal remedies. Oil of oregano is an extract derived from the leaves of the oregano plant. Using the oil of oregano may help to reduce symptoms, such as a sore throat. You can add 2 to 3 drops of oil of oregano to water and gargle with it or drink it. There are also oil of oregano drops you can use sublingually. Make sure to use oil of oregano, not oregano essential oil. Oregano essential oil is a much more concentrated form, which should not be consumed. You may use oregano essential oil as aroma therapy or dilute with a carrier oil, on your skin. You may also try a blend of oregano essential oil with other essential oil herbal remedies, including thyme, rosemary, peppermint, and eucalyptus to improve symptoms of a cold or the flu (14, 15).
Andrographis is a plant native to South Asian countries, commonly used as an herbal remedy in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. It can help to improve immune function and reduce inflammation. It may help to reduce your risk of getting a respiratory infection and support your recovery if you get sick. You may use andrographis as droplets or as a capsule (16).
Elderberry supplements may also help to support your immune health, decrease your risk of getting sick, and improve your symptoms. You might try using elderberry tea, elderberry liquid supplements, or elderberry gummies (17).
Quercetin is a plant flavonol rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. It may help to support your immune health when you are sick. I recommend eating quercetin-rich foods, such as apples, grapes, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, cruciferous vegetables, kale, lettuce, cabbage, sprouts, red onions, peppers, snap peas, and many herbs, and taking quercetin supplements (18, 19).
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant with immune-supporting benefits. Adding lemon or lime to hot tea or making a warm lemonade may help to break up mucus and relieve symptoms of a cold. Vitamin C in your diet and vitamin C supplementation may also help to shorten the length of colds (20, 21).
Eating citrus, red peppers, and green leafy vegetables, and other vitamin C-rich foods may help to support your immune health. Additionally, I recommend taking a vitamin C supplement. Even better, getting vitamin C IV drips if possible, which is what I do at the start of a viral illness, can potentially make a big difference.
If you want to reduce your risk of getting a respiratory infection and improve your recovery speed if you get sick, you need to support your immune and overall health every day with a whole foods diet, healthy lifestyle strategies, and low stress. To support your recovery from cold and flu, follow my recommendations in this article. If you want to improve your immune health and reduce your risk of respiratory infections, I invite you to schedule a consultation with me here to see if you can benefit from the strategies listed in this article.
If you are dealing with any chronic health issues, for advice on how to improve your nutrition and health, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance. You may book your consultation here.