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Cold and Flu Season: Self-Care

Updated: Jan 31

What can you do you do if you start to get sick? First: stop, rest and take care of yourself. If that feels selfish, think of your co-workers who don’t want to you to share this with them! A sore throat is often the first sign of a cold or flu. To soothe that:

  • A slice of lemon and small spoon of honey in a mug of hot water

  • Zinc lozenges. You get more out of them if you break them into 4 pieces and suck them one at a time for prolonged benefit to your throat

  • 4 thieves vinegar: 1 tablespoonful in a cup of hot water

  • Health food stores sell herbal formulas to spray directly on your throat, which may contain herbs like licorice, marshmallow, sage or calendula

Echinacea is well known for boosting the immune system. It increases the number and activity of immune cells, and can be started at the first sign of a cold or flu. It used to be thought that echinacea was only helpful at the start of a cold or flu, and that it should only be taken for 10 days. We are happy to bust both of those myths! Research shows it works throughout the illness and can be taken longer term. It is more effective to take it several times throughout the day than to take it in one big dose. You can tell good quality echinacea tincture by the way it makes your tongue tingle. It also comes in capsules and pills for those who don’t like the tingle or the taste. L-Lysine is an amino acid: one of the building blocks for proteins in our bodies. And it slows the rate that viruses replicate. You can take 500 mg twice a day as part of your prevention strategy. Chicken soup really does support you during a cold or flu. It is hydrating, warming, and includes lots of anti-microbial garlic and onions, as well as healthy carotenoids, and easily digested protein. Remember you can make it with a herbal base of Change of Season Soup for extra benefit. It’s great to have chicken broth in the freezer for times like this. If you are frugal, you can save the bones of roast chicken in the freezer and use those to make broth, instead of the whole chicken. Chicken necks and backs can also be used. If you feel achy try an Epsom salts bath. Dissolve 2-4 cups of Epsom salts in a hot bath. Soak for 20 minutes, then tuck back into bed to stay warm. If you don’t have Epsom salts, a hot bath is still helpful. The homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum is available in many health food stores and some pharmacies. Sometimes one dose, taken at the first sign (usually a sore throat) can nip it in the bud, so you don’t get sick. Most people find that, once they have become sick, it addresses their flu-like symptoms, speeding recovery. A mild fever is your friend. A raised temperature helps your body fight microbes because you can withstand the extra heat better than those germs can. You don’t have to bring a fever down as long as it is below 103 Fahrenheit or 39.5 Celsius, and not rising. Of course this only goes so far. A fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius needs medical care, especially if it is still rising. Applying cold wet socks, and cool packs to the armpits can help keep someone cool on the way to medical attention. Sweating helps: Drink diaphoretic teas to help you sweat it out: peppermint, elderflower and yarrow makes a nice mix. You can also add ginger. Steam inhalations of essential oils, are good for opening nasal passages and airways. Eucalyptus, sage, rosemary and pine are good choices. Or just use plain steam, if you haven’t any oils in the house. NB if you are using homeopathic remedies, eucalyptus will antidote them. There are so many herbs that have traditional use to support the immune system. All of the herbs and mushrooms in the list below can help, and they often are combined for their complementary functions.

You can use them to boost your resilience to avoid illness, for example if you are feeling tired and susceptible, if your co-worker has come to work with a cold, or your child has brought one home. Some of our favourites are:

  • Echinacea

  • Astragalus

  • Andrographis

  • Codonopsis

  • Elderberry

  • Mushroom immune support including Reishi, Cordyceps, Maitake, Shiitake

Garlic is antimicrobial, but also a bit anti-social, so use it judiciously, or feed it to the whole family! You can also find it in capsules or tablets in health food stores. Goldenseal is helpful if a bacterial infection follows the virus, for example sinusitis or bronchitis. If mucus goes from being clear to yellow or green, you probably have a bacterial infection. For lingering coughs, look for herbal formulas containing Platycodon, Elecampane, and/or Elderberry. To break up mucus you can use NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine), up to 1,000 mg three times a day, or try some onion honey syrup.

ONION HONEY SYRUP Chop up 2 yellow onions. No need to peel them: the skins contain helpful Quercetin. Put the chopped onions in a glass jar and cover them with honey. To allow the honey to extract the onion juice leave the jar sitting on the counter for at least 8 hours. Take a teaspoonful of the syrup as often as you need to.

All of these are great to help you through a cold or a mild flu. Stronger treatments are available in a naturopath’s office, including immune support injections, IV nutrient therapy, nebulizer treatments, and remedies individualized to your specific symptoms. Of course if you are on medications you should check with your naturopath or pharmacist before you add any herbal medicine. Here’s what to have on hand to use at the first sign of a cold or flu:

  • 4 thieves vinegar

  • Honey, lemon and ginger

  • Vitamin C

  • L-Lysine

  • Zinc lozenges

  • Chicken broth in the freezer

  • Echinacea, or your favourite immune boosting mix

  • Oscillococcinum

  • Epsom salts

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