Treating Colds and Flu Naturally

North Americans spend over $ 3.5 billion dollars every year on over-the-counter cough and cold remedies. Despite this, many people still suffer miserably when cold and flu season hits. It seems an old physician saying still rings true—a cold lasts seven days, but if you treat it, it’ll go away in a week.

The truth is that medications won’t cure the cold or flu; they just ease pain and suffering. But modern medicine isn’t the only treatment option. There’s plenty of evidence that certain foods and nutrients can help fight infections. Ample rest and “TLC” can also make a world of difference.

Get Natural to Fight Colds and Flu

Instead of (or in addition to) the traditional over-the-counter remedies, add some natural immune boosters to your “medicine chest” this winter:

Chicken Soup—The ultimate comfort food. When the cold or flu strikes, most people crave comfort foods. Whether your favorite is a grilled cheese sandwich, tomato soup, lasagna, pho (the classic Vietnamese comfort food), or grandma’s chicken soup, these creations make people feel better. Is this just emotional medicine? Not in the case of chicken soup, where the benefits extend far beyond the placebo effect. Research has demonstrated that inhaling the soup’s warm vapors loosens thickened mucus, and that sipping hot chicken soup clears congestion and lessens cold symptoms. The soup broth also replenishes the body with fluid, sodium and minerals—substances that are typically lost during illness. One study identified an ideal chicken soup recipe that included celery, onions, carrots, parsley, mushrooms, parsnips and thyme—all ingredients with immune-boosting properties. Add garlic to your chicken soup and add even more muscle to the cold remedy that has been used by generations of cold and flu sufferers.

Breathe easier with hot & spicy foods. Don’t think you are limited to bland and boring foods when suffering from cold or flu symptoms. Hot peppers and hot sauce assist in opening up the sinuses and clearing congestion. So add some salsa, curry or hot sauce to those comfort foods!

Get your Vitamin C! Most research shows that Vitamin C may lessen the symptoms of a cold but won’t prevent it. For symptom relief, many experts recommend between 200 to 1000 milligrams of Vitamin C daily. While this is generally a safe amount to supplement, it’s smart and quite possible to get your Vitamin C from foods instead. A wonderful benefit of eating Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables is that they contain a wealth of additional vitamins, minerals and immune-boosting phytochemicals. Rich Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, sweet peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes.

Keep on drinking. Every time you cough or blow your nose, you lose some fluids. Diarrhea, vomiting and fever also increase the risk of dehydration. To assist in recovery, drink plenty of fluids. Fluids keep mucous membranes moist and help to thin lung and nasal secretions. Hot liquids such as tea or broth work especially well. Water, juice, popsicles, jello or sports drinks are also good choices. To keep mucous membranes moist, a steamy hot shower, warm bubble bath, or gargling with warm salt water will also help.

A dose of Echinacea? Most experts agree that Echinacea kicks the immune system into gear and gives the body a better defense when faced with the common cold. While it is not believed to prevent colds, taking this supplement at the onset of a cold may lessen the symptoms. In general, short-term use is considered safe unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have HIV/AIDS, or if you have an autoimmune disorder where stimulating the immune system isn’t a good idea. Of note, a recent study showed this supplement offered no benefit in treating colds in young children.

Is it a Cold, or Is It the Flu?

While the terms cold and flu are often used interchangeably, they are very different illnesses. Typical symptoms of a cold include sneezing, sore throat, cough, runny nose and nasal congestion. Influenza (the flu) has more severe symptoms such as high fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, cough and headache. Since both are viral infections, antibiotics will not alter their course. Secondary infections from a cold (ear or sinus infections) or the flu (pneumonia) may require antibiotic therapy.

When to Call Your Doctor

While the misery of a cold or flu may seem like an eternity, symptoms generally subside after 7 to 10 days. The flu sometimes lasts a bit longer. Although most people do not need medical intervention for the cold or flu, some serious conditions can start out feeling like these illnesses. Warning signs include a temperature over 102, severe headaches, stiff neck, sinus pain, ear ache, shortness of breath, wheezing or chest pains. If you have severe symptoms, or feel sicker with each passing day, call your doctor.