Cold & Flu: Prevention & Natural Therapies
It’s important to strengthen and maintain a healthy immune system all year round so that your body can adequately fight influenza viruses and the viruses that cause the common cold. Though many people believe it’s not possible to ward off a cold or the flu, with the exception of the flu vaccine, the truth is we actually have a great deal of control over our health during the cold and flu season. Scientific studies support the effectiveness of cold and flu prevention strategies and natural therapies. By following these measures, we can exert some control over whether we get sick, the duration of recovery time, and the severity of symptoms.
WFP’s Take-Home Advice
8 Preventive Strategies To help you maintain a healthy immune system, incorporate these 8 strategies into your daily routine:
- Get enough sleep: Inadequate sleep weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to viruses and illness. Your body needs 7–9 hours of sleep every night. To help improve sleep, read our 12 tips for better sleep here.
- Maintain a healthy diet: Consume a diet based on whole foods. Decrease sugar (< 30 grams a day), grains, artificial sweeteners, and all processed foods.
- Get regular exercise: Consistent physical activity is an excellent way to maintain a strong immune system. For the greatest impact, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at a minimum of 3–4 times per week.
- Get your vitamin D level checked: Vitamin D deficiency weakens your immune system, so ask your medical provider about monitoring your vitamin D level and vitamin D supplementation. Ideal levels are between 50–90. Most adults need to supplement with 5,000 to 10,000 IUs during the fall and winter months due to the seasonal decrease in UVB-rays. For children below the age of five, the recommended vitamin D dosage is 20–35 units per pound, per day. The dosage guideline for children ages 5–10 is 700–2,000 units per day. For a high-quality formula, see our WFP Vitamin D3. Though it can be challenging to get enough sunlight in the fall and winter months, try to get weekly exposure to sunlight. Read more about our WFP approach to sunlight and vitamin D here.
- Take vitamin C: Take 1,000 to 3,000 mg daily to help strengthen your body’s natural defenses. Overly loose stools or diarrhea can be a side effect of too much vitamin C. If this occurs, decrease the daily dosage. The optimal individual dose is when you have normal stools. Try our WFP Vitamin C Complete formula, with a potent blend of vitamin C and bioflavonoids.
- Manage emotional stressors: Stress can predispose you to infection and worsen the symptoms of an illness. Physical activity, breathing exercises, yoga/other stretching exercises, and meditation are all excellent ways to relieve stress. To learn how to meditate through guided meditation, try these smartphone apps: Waking Up, Calm, and Headspace.
- Spend time outside in nature and in sunlight on a regular basis: Not only does exposure to natural sunlight facilitate vitamin D production, which helps enhance immunity, it can also help improve our sleep patterns and our moods. For more information about the connection between sunlight and the health benefits of safe sun exposure, read our 11 tips for sunlight, vitamin D, and sunscreen here.
- Optimize your health: For more ways to strengthen your immune system, see our Preventive 10 strategies.
15 Natural Therapies If you’re sick with a cold, the flu, or have flu-like symptoms, these natural therapies can help you feel more comfortable and reduce your recovery time. However, if your symptoms are moderate to severe, please contact your medical provider.
- Listen to your body’s decreased appetite when sick: When you’re sick, a decreased appetite is the body’s natural response to fight infection. Listen to your body, and when eating, focus on a lower daily calorie intake and lighter, liquid meals such as broth. Give your gut a rest so that you can better fight the infection, and remember, when sick: Eliminate all sugar, grains, dairy, and processed foods.
- Drink purified water and herbal teas: Getting plenty of these liquids can help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.
- Use raw honey: If you have a sore throat, gargle with a warm solution of water and honey. Children under the age of one year should not consume honey products, including honey in water or formula.
- Consume bone broth soup: This soup has been proven to shorten the duration of a cold and boost the immune system. We recommend bone broth soup made with pasture-raised chicken and/or grass-fed beef bones. Read how to make bone broth here. Pre-made organic bone broth can also be purchased at natural food stores or conventional grocery stores.
- Eat garlic: When sick with a cold, eating garlic can help reduce the severity of symptoms. To get the beneficial effects of garlic, consume 2–3 garlic cloves a day and ensure that they are crushed or sliced prior to cooking or consuming.
- Take vitamin C: This is a key factor in shortening the duration of a cold but not all vitamin C supplements are equal. Our WFP Vitamin C Complete formula is a unique blend of vitamin C and bioflavonoids that provide powerful antioxidant protection and support optimal immune function. Taking 6,000–10,000 mg of vitamin C daily at the early onset of cold symptoms has been shown to reduce recovery time. To maximize absorption and minimize an upset stomach, take 1,000–2,000 mg every 2–3 hours. Taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea. If you experience gastrointestinal issues, cut your dose in half. The optimal individual dose when sick is the dose that creates minimally loose stools. For children, follow these vitamin C dosage guidelines at the first sign of a cold: children weighing 20–29 pounds, give 125 mg three times a day; 250 mg three times a day for children weighing 30–59 pounds; and 500 mg three times a day for those weighing more than 60 pounds. Avoid products that contain artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.
- Take vitamin D: For adults, while you are sick, double your daily vitamin D3 dose (up to 10,000 IUs daily) to improve your immune system. For a high-quality formula, see our WFP Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2.
- Get fresh air and sunlight: Weather permitting, try to get natural light and nature exposure outdoors, but be sure to limit strenuous outdoor activity while you are recovering.
- Take a natural immune modulator: Beta-glucans help optimize the body’s immune function. Our WFP Immune Support formula combines powerful natural ingredients that work together to help regulate the immune response as needed.
- Take Elderberry extract (sambucus): Research shows this supplement can reduce the severity of flu symptoms and the duration by about four days. Nature’s Way Sambucus (sugar free) is a standardized dose extract—it’s more concentrated and therefore, most effective.
- Take zinc acetate lozenges: To help reduce the duration of a cold, take zinc acetate lozenges every 2 hours at the first sign of cold symptoms. Use the zinc lozenges for a short period of time. When taking a lozenge, allow at least 20 minutes for the lozenge to dissolve completely in your mouth.
- Take cod liver oil: Boost immune function with cod liver oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D.
- Use steam, humidifiers, and nasal rinses: Steam from a shower/bath loosens mucus and prevents bacterial growth. After 10–15 minutes of steam exposure, gently blow your nose until all the mucus is expelled. A humidifier helps to alleviate symptoms caused by dry and irritated membranes. Clean the humidifier according to manufacturer instructions and change the water daily. Nasal rinses can help clear thick mucus out of sinus cavities and prevent infection.
- Take probiotics: A daily probiotic is an excellent preventive and natural therapy. If you are having symptoms of illness, it is best to double the probiotic. It’s also best to do this when taking antibiotics—take a probiotic twice daily, both during treatment and for two weeks after. Our WFP Probiotic Complete is a comprehensive multi-strain formula that includes Saccharomyces boulardii (SB), Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium.
- Get proper rest: Adequate rest helps the body heal and recover.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November of 2016 and has since been updated.
Sources and References:
Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, et al. (August 2009). Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/124/2/e172.
Alternatives to Kids’ Cold Medicines. Retrieved February 20, 2017 https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/colds-flu/alternatives-to-kids-cold-medicines/
Chubak, J., et al. (2006) Study: Moderate-Intensity Exercise Reduces the Incidence of Colds Among Postmenopausal Women.
Vitamin D Council. What Is Vitamin D? vitamindcouncil.org. Retrieved October 31, 2016 from http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/what-is-vitamin-d/
Vitamin C Benefits. (2016, June 22). huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved on November 2, 2016 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thrive-market/vitamin-c-benefits_b_10341228.html
Elderberry significantly reduces the duration of infection from influenza in a safe manner. greenmedinfo.com. Retrieved November 2, 2016 from http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/elderberry-significantly-reduces-duration-infection-influenza-safe-manner