Tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season

It's that time of year: runny noses and puffy eyes abound, as cold and flu season takes hold. Here are a few suggestions for staying healthy.

Consult with a doctor before taking any new supplements or medications, especially if you are taking blood thinners or have a preexisting health condition such as asthma or high blood pressure. If you have asthma, it's best to see your doctor when you have a cold or flu because your medications may need to be adjusted and your respiratory capacity monitored more closely as asthma can be a life-threatening condition. During pregnancy, most herbs are contraindicated.


First, the basics: Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of cold and flu germs both to you and to others. This means rubbing your hands together in warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Hand washing is the single best way to prevent the spread of illness.

If you have a fever, try to stay home from work or school and/or go to see your physician.

Bundle up. Staying warm, or even a little bit of sweating, may enhance your immune system while it's trying to get you through your cold/flu.

Avoid excessive sugars and simple carbohydrates because they weaken our immune systems. Besides, bacteria and other germs thrive in sugary locations.

Live a balanced life that does not include too much stress. Get adequate sleep. Sleep is when our bodies regenerate. Overextending ourselves or not getting enough sleep makes us vulnerable to diseases.

Exercise and breathing fresh air are essential, but do not exercise if the cold or flu is making you fatigued or if you have a fever. You may want to do a shorter version of your usual exercise routine.

Adequate fluid intake is essential. When the nose and throat become dry, they are more susceptible to viruses and bacteria. The normal moisture of the nose and throat is a natural barrier against germs. It's best to drink warm fluids during a cold or flu.


Coughing for a few days during a cold is good because it helps to bring mucus and organisms out of the respiratory tract. However, prolonged, chronic or recurrent coughing may be associated with more significant health conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, even cancer-so see a doctor if it doesn't improve in a few days.

With the recent news that cough syrups really don't help (American College of Chest Physicians), families are looking for safe and effective alternatives for treating the common cold. Most mild upper-respiratory infections can be treated in the home using a variety of natural preparations.

20 suggestion to help you get over your cold quickly

Warming vapor rub: rubbing something on the chest to relax it (example, thyme or eucalyptus essential oil diluted in olive oil used as a chest rub). Caution: essential oils cannot be ingested without specific supervision of a naturopathic physician.


Saltwater gargle or nasal lavage (in a neti lota pot). Use saline or a teaspoon of salt per cup of warm water.

Vitamin C: try to find one that also contains bioflavanoids, as this is how it is found in nature. Buffered vitamin C is good to prevent stomach upset. For kids, try the dose of 50mgs times the child's age in years, twice a day. For adults, try 3,000 to 5,000 mg of vitamin C per day for a few days. Reduce if stool become loose.

Avoid mucus-producing foods, including dairy and refined carbohydrates. Even bananas and oranges can cause some people to produce more mucus.

Essential fatty acids (e.g., flax or fish oil), taken regularly, can help support the immune system. As with most supplements, do not take if on blood-thinning medications (check with your doctor).

The following 10 botanical medicines can be kept on hand in your home and used for a variety of conditions (listed here are only how they apply to cold and flu management). Talk to a naturopathic physician about this and other ways of using these herbs.

Elderberry (berries or flowers): Take as a tea. Pleasant tasting, good in all respiratory complaints, mildly antiviral.

German chamomile: Taken as a tea, it relieves anxiety, nervousness and insomnia. Works best as a tea (due to steam extraction of gamma azulene). It is an excellent children's remedy due to its pleasant taste, significant anti-inflammatory, calming effect and aiding in digestive function.

Cinnamon: The sticks can be made into a tea and used for colds and influenza. It is warming, stimulates circulation and clears congestion, and is mildly antimicrobial.

Yarrow: relieves respiratory congestion, headache, digestive upsets and diarrhea, treats fevers by promoting a little bit of sweating.

Garlic: antimicrobial, increases circulation promoting perspiration, also digestive tonic and carminative. Can be used as a tea or cooking spice.

Chives: actions are similar to garlic.

Horseradish: mildly antimicrobial. Use as wasabi with sushi or as in a sauce or dressing. Useful for nasal congestion.

Ginger: can be sliced and added to tea for colds, including nasal congestion, nausea and indigestion.

Turmeric: Immune enhancing, anti-inflammatory. Add to food.

Peppermint: (tea) Helps to ease the discomfort of fevers, relieves nasal discharge.

Thyme: Use in cooking for irritated throats, coughs; boosts the immune system.

Slippery elm: Taken as a tea for gastrointestinal disorders, sore throats and respiratory conditions

Marshmallow root: Taken as a tea to soothe mucous membrane irritation

Eucalyptus: vapor of oil inhaled to relieve nasal congestion and coughing. Use a few drops in steam inhalation. Do not ingest essential oils (talk to your doctor).

Herbal combinations

Generic cold and flu tea:
You can mix some of the above herbs to make a specific formula for your cold and flu relief needs. For example, you can mix yarrow 3 parts, peppermint 1 part and 3 parts elderberry flowers or berry together for a generic cold and flu tea. Steep 1 tablespoon per cup of water for 15-20 minutes.

Other combinations include: cinnamon, ginger, marshmallow root to relieve throat irritation. A small amount of orange peel can also be added.

Immune stimulating soup

1/3 cup ginger, diced

6 scallions/chives, whole

4 (or more) cups water

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 blocks of tofu or 2 cups cooked bite-size chicken pieces

2 carrots, chopped

10 shiitake mushrooms (soaked for few hours)

Add canola oil to pan, add garlic, scallions and ginger and sauté for two minutes.

Then add other ingredients, bring to a boil and cook under low heat for 20-30 minutes.

Phoebe Yin is a naturopath working in the Seattle area. Write her at[[In-content Ad]]