I’m sharing some of my top tips to help you and your kids fight cold and flu naturally, including foods, supplements, essential oils, and other products to help boost your immune system and stay healthy!
Cold and flu season is upon us again.
Today I’m passing along my top tips to help you fight cold and flu naturally, including foods, supplements, essential oils, and other products to help boost your immune system.
18 Ways to Fight Cold and Flu Naturally
1. Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry syrup is loaded with immune boosting antioxidants and has been shown in human studies to shorten the duration of colds and flu by a few days, and to lessen their severity. We start taking it at the first sign of symptoms and continue until a few days after symptoms subside. We’ve tried the store bought, but the homemade stuff seems to work a lot better and is much cheaper!
2. Cut out sugar
We know that sugar increases inflammation and a host of other problems that can detract from immune function. A preliminary study conducted by Loma Linda University in the 1970’s showed suppressed immune activity for several hours after ingestion of 100 grams of sugar, compared to increased immune activity with fasting.
More study is needed to confirm these findings but, since sugary foods aren’t usually contributing much nutritional benefit, I’m all for withholding them while we’re trying to support immune function as best we can!
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3. Nasal Spray
Adults and kids both can use saline nasal sprays to help reduce swelling, lubricate dried-out nasal passages, and get more antibacterial salt into the area to help stifle out bacteria. Choose from basic saline sprays like Simply Saline (water + salt), or saline with antimicrobial ingredients like Xlear Nasal Spray (salt, water, grapefruit seed extract, and xylitol).
4. Nasal Irrigation
The Neilmed Sinus Rinse has been one of the best $10 I ever spent! It’s like a Neti Pot on steroids, using gentle pressure to flush out the sinuses with salt water. They only provide a few saline packets with the kit, so we just use iodized salt once those run out (sea salt tends to burn a little – I’m assuming due to the other minerals present). Just go easy if your ears are clogged since the added pressure can cause ear pain.
I’d also urge caution using the Neilmed with young children due to the pressure, but the Nose Frida (aka: Snot Sucker) is a fantastic alternative and can even be used on newborns! I’m certain it saved our kids from countless infections before they were able to blow their own noses!
This one isn’t at the top of the list of immune boosting supplements we usually hear about, but it should be! A 2007 study of 144 individuals showed that taking 400 mg of colostrum daily for two months was four times more effective than the flu shot at preventing flu like episodes! Since learning this, you better believe my family and I have taken it daily as part of our immune boosting efforts! I mostly use the powder because it can easily be stirred into coffee, matcha lattes, oatmeal, and smoothies. But the capsules are a convenient back up on busy days.
6. Vitamin C
This is probably the most well known nutrient for fighting cold and flu naturally. Studies show that 200 mg/day of vitamin C may decrease the duration of colds by about a day. Higher doses of 6,000-8,000 mg/day seem to decrease the duration by up to a few days. Vitamin C is a very inexpensive supplement to add into your immune boosting routine. This is a great summary of the vitamin C literature to date.
At our house, I add about 1,000 mg of Perque Potent C Guard powder into each “dose” of elderberry syrup the kids take throughout the day. My husband and I just take it in 1,000 mg capsules throughout the day.
Be aware that higher doses of vitamin C will almost certainly cause loose stools so be sure to drink plenty of liquids to replace losses.
Vitamin C Capsules for Adults:
Vitamin C Powder for Kids:
7. Vitamin D
Some studies have suggested that vitamin D supplementation could help the body fight certain strains of flu and protect against respiratory tract infections commonly associated with cold and flu, especially among those who were vitamin D deficient (blood levels below 25 nmol/L). More study is needed to confirm this and clarify optimal dosage.
Vitamin D for Adults:
Vitamin D Drops for Kids:
While probiotics have only been shown to be marginally beneficial for preventing colds, we know that they enhance immune activity. A recent meta-analysis (a summary of studies) showed that both traditional probiotics and prebiotics significantly increased effectiveness of the flu vaccine by stimulating the immune system to produce flu antibodies more quickly. Another study i mice found that Bacillus subtilis – a spore forming probiotic strain – had anti-flu activity comparable to Tamiflu. It will be exciting to see how the research develops in this area!
We’re pretty faithful to get these into our daily routine year round via probiotic rich foods like fermented vegetables, and probiotic supplements. But, if cold symptoms arise, I double up on our doses.
9. Boost Nutrition
Obviously, a dietitian is going to say you should eat healthy, right? 😉 I try to make our nutrition count when we’re sick – I aim for simple, nourishing meals like homemade chicken soup (did you know it has actually been shown to have medicinal benefits?).
Of course, there are those times where someone doesn’t feel like eating and I believe it’s best to respect that and let the body focus on healing rather than digestion.
Hydration is the only thing I push for throughout any illness, regardless of whether the patient feels like drinking or not. Our bodies can go a lot longer without food than without fluids so, even if you don’t feel like eating much, be sure you’re sipping on fluids throughout the day. Homemade Gatorade, popsicles, and broth are all great!
Dehydration is a higher risk for those with fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. But it is also more common in the elderly and young children, even without these symptoms. Parents, keep your sick kids sipping on homemade Gatorade, popsicles, broth, or whatever you can get into them! Dehydration in babies, toddlers, and young kids can happen scary-fast.
11. Essential Oils
I don’t claim to be an essential oil expert and my experiences with them have admittedly been very hit or miss. But here are a few ways we’ve used them when fighting off cold and flu:
- Diffusing: Eucalyptus*, Tea Tree, Lemongrass, Lavender, Oregano, Clove
- Chest Rub for Congestion: Peppermint*, Eucalyptus* (dilute 2 drops of each in carrier oil)
- Drops to soothe ear pain and fight ear infection: Mullein Garlic, Basil (I use a dropper to place 1-3 drops inside the ear – this is controversial but, after researching it and discussing with our pediatrician, I feel confident that there’s very little risk unless the ear drum has ruptured)
* May not be safe for children under 6 years old
11. Wash Hands
The CDC recommends scrubbing with soap and water for 20 seconds (singing through Row, Row, Row Your Boat twice should be about the right amount of time). Nontoxic hand sanitizers and essential oil based hand purifiers are a good alternative when soap and water are unavailable.
Adequate sleep reduces your risk for getting sick. Sleep is also important if you have an illness since much of the body’s self-healing activity takes place during sleep.
13. Be Patient with Fevers
In our home, we embrace fever up to 103-104 degrees as one of the body’s ways of fighting off an illness. Significant sleep disruption is just about the only time I give medication solely to bring down a fever less than 104.
A little extra holding and lots of extra fluids can help a child ride out a fever up to 103-104 for a day or two. Accompanying symptoms that would alert me to call the doctor sooner include lethargy, dehydration, confusion, vomiting/diarrhea, difficulty breathing, or pain.
Clearly, extra caution should be taken with babies, younger children, or those with underlying illnesses or compromised immune function, since even a lower grade fever may be of concern in these individuals.
Remember, this is simply what has worked for my family. It’s not medical advice. You must do what you determine your own family member needs in each situation. When in doubt, call the doctor!
14. Consider Homeopathic Remedies
For now, I put homeopathic remedies in the “might help, won’t hurt” category. I don’t routinely use them but, if someone gets hit hard with the flu I’ll buy some in an effort to throw everything at them I can.
Dr. Elisa Song, MD recommends one or more of the following homeopathic remedies for cold and flu and notes that homeopathy is most effective when begun at the first sign of symptoms (Learn more about sources and Dr. Song’s recommended doses here):
- Windbreaker – for cold, flu, fever, or allergies
- Esberitox – for cold and flu
- Pelargonium Sidoides (sold as Umcka Syrup by Nature’s Way) – cold, bronchitis, sinusitis, and throat infections
- Oscillococcinum – for flu
- SyImmune or SyInfect – for acute infection or fever
15. Infrared Sauna
Saunas have become trendy in the U.S. recently, but they’ve been used in Europe and other parts of the world to support immune function and overall health for hundreds of years.
Regular sauna use (at least 4 times weekly) has been linked to significantly lower death rates, but very little research has evaluated whether using a sauna when you have a cold helps you get over it more quickly. All I can share is my family’s experience, which is that using an infrared sauna daily at the first sign of cold or flu seems to have improved our outcomes. It makes since that intentionally raising your core body temperature – which mimics a fever – would stimulate the immune system and help fight off the virus.
In Europe, it’s common for older children to use the sauna or for families to go in together. As a precaution, our family has stuck to sauna for adults only. I’d also discourage pregnant and breastfeeding women from using a sauna. Purchasing your own infrared sauna is quite an investment and takes up a considerable amount of space, but you can Google for local gyms, spas, and wellness clinics that offer sauna sessions for a fee.
16. Taking Cold Showers
We’ve all seen images of “ice-swimmers” in Nordic countries who claim that the age old tradition of dipping in freezing cold water improves blood flow, boosts their immune system, and even brings about a little euphoria. Many alternate between the cold water and sauna for added benefits. I don’t doubt it works, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be ice swimming any time soon.
Fortunately, hot-to-cold showering is a less intimidating way to get similar benefits. This study found that individuals who switched from their usual shower temperature to the coldest possible water for at least 30 seconds daily took 29% fewer sick days off of work. How this works has yet to be understood, but researchers suspect it involves increased circulation and stimulation of immune cells.
17. Salt Therapy (Halotherapy)
This is one of the most underappreciated natural therapies, but breathing in the antimicrobial salt can be so effective for respiratory issues, including cold symptoms! Halotherapy – like sauna and ice swimming – originated in Europe nearly 200 years ago when a doctor saw improvements in asthma and other lung conditions in his patients who were salt miners, so he began “prescribing” other patients with lung conditions sit in the mines to breath in the salt-rich air.
Only a few human studies have evaluated halotherapy in asthma and other lung conditions, but with promising results, like this study that showed significant improvement in asthmatics after only two weeks of halotherapy! You can learn more about salt therapy here.
On a personal note, I had never heard of halotherapy until my mother in law saw a miraculous turnaround in her chronic, degenerative lung condition when she started going to sit in a halotherapy room with finely micronized salt blowing through the air. In a matter of weeks, her near-constant lung infections resolved, she could carry on conversation without labored breathing, and she was able to wean off of antibiotics and daily steroid inhalers. In fact my father-in-law was so convinced, he made an addition onto their house, and bought a special salt machine so she could have a “salt room” of her own! She has more energy now and her health is better than it has been in years, thanks to something as simple as salt!
So, back to fighting off cold and flu…We and our kids try to sit in my mother-in-law’s salt room daily at the first sign of upper respiratory symptoms. But, if you don’t have such easy access, here are two other options.
How to Incorporate Salt Therapy:
- Google “salt room near me”
- Buy this small salt machine for bedside or desktop use at the first sign of symptoms (not as strong an effect as sitting in the salt room but, in our experience, overnight use really does seem to reduce congestion)
18. Consider Chiropractic Adjustment
I’ve seen great benefit from chiropractic care for my own neck and back issues, but I haven’t had any personal experience using it to help fight off a cold or the flu. That said, I know many people who swear by it and the next time I’m coming down with something, I just might try it! This article summarizes some of the ways chiropractic care can help strengthen the immune system and help relieve drainage.