Naturopathic Approaches to Cold & Flu
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Grab your scarves, mitts and a hot cup of tea - the cold & flu viruses are out and about.
As a naturopathic doctor, I see cold & flu concerns and immunity issues quite frequently. I promote patients to eat a healthy diet, reduce processed sugars/foods and also exercise and reduce stress.
Aside from lifestyle, and other public health practices (sanitation, and other COVID measures), there are various supplements and herbs that have been researched to be helpful for both cold and flu prevention and symptom reduction.
Certain supplements can be taken preventatively to prevent how often you get sick, for instance, getting sick once a season versus three times. They may also reduce the amount of days off sick from school or work. Other supplements are better to take when you actually are sick, as they are better at boosting your immune system during the infection due to their anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.
COLD AND FLU PREVENTION
What can you do to prevent coming down with a cold or flu in the first place? Vitamin C, D, probiotics and echinacea all have been found to reduce colds and flu frequency.
A five year trial found that 500mg of Vitamin C daily, taken preventatively, reduced the frequency of the common cold (1)
Eat more red bell peppers, broccoli and fruits like kiwi and orange for Vitamin C. Avoid juices for this source as they are high in sugar.
Supplementing Vitamin D-deficient patients with adequate Vitamin D resulted in reduced frequency of cold-related work absences - less sick days! (2) . Many individuals are Vitamin D deficient and could benefit from this. Research suggests that lower vitamin D levels may increase the risk of hospitalizations and fatalities from COVID-19.
The ideal level of Vitamin D in serum should be at least 75 nmol/L of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for therapeutic immune effects (3)
Vitamin D levels are important for immune health, mood regulation and disease prevention – check in with your MD or Naturopathic doctor to see where your levels are at.
Food sources are: mushrooms, salmon, eggs and fortified foods
Probiotics were shown to be superior to placebo in reducing the episodes of acute upper respiratory tract infections per season
Probiotics decreased the need for antibiotics from cold and flu complications, along with school absences (4)
Probiotics are a very important adjunct to your health regime, and may also reduce the need for antibiotics and reduce sick days
Probiotic foods: Yogurt, Kefir, Kimchi, Sauerkraut and Komboucha
Feed your probiotics with prebiotics which are a type of starch found in chicory root, artichokes, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, oats and bran
This herb has been used for many years and is a strong immunostimulant herb added to many custom herbal blends
Echinacea has shown to reduce the incidence of common colds and therefore is great to use as prevention, however may not be as effective if you are already sick (5)
COLD AND FLU TREATMENT
Despite our efforts sometimes we do get sick, and having severe or long-lasting symptoms can be both uncomfortable and inconvenient. What can we do to to prevent the severity of symptoms or reduce complications (ex. bronchitis, pneumonia, other infections)? Probiotics and Echinacea seem to be better at cold and flu prevention, whereas Vitamin C, Zinc and herbal medicine/mushrooms can help with actual cold and flu treatment.
This vitamin does double duty when it comes to preventing and treating colds
A large trial found that 1g/day taken prophylactically during cold and flu season prevented the drop in leukocytes (white blood cells) that occurs and decreased the severity of common cold symptoms (6). So if you do get sick the symptoms aren't as intense. This can be continued while under the weather as well.
Vitamin C is found in bell peppers, kiwis, oranges, strawberries and cruciferous vegetables
Zinc supplementation was shown to decrease the symptom duration and severity score of the common cold (7) . Cold and flus are shorter and have less symptoms.
Up your dietary zinc intake by eating more red meat, seafood, pumpkin seeds, beans and lentils
There are many botanical herbs that are effective in both preventing and treating a cold or flu. Some common herbs used are: Echinacea, Astragalus, Reishi, Licorice and Andrographis.
Tip: A naturopath can prescribe an individualized tincture for you that matches your unique immune needs or your cold symptoms (eg. viral bronchitis versus a bacterial infection like strep throat)
At-Home Remedies for Cold and Flu
Immune-boosting shower – If you don’t have enough time to do a full steam inhalation try adding a few drops of antimicrobial essential oils to your shower for an invigorating experience. Eucalyptus and rosemary are great oils to use. The heat in the shower will diffuse the scent.
Steam Inhalation – Add a few drops of Eucalyptus or Lavendar essential oil to a large bowl of boiled water (I use a large metal bowl). Put your face over top of the bowl to inhale the aromas. Caution: This will be hot and the vapours may be initially strong. While doing this, drape a towel over top of your head to create a steam chamber. With eyes closed, inhale the vapours for 5-10 minutes. Added benefit: This feels like a skin facial as well!
Bone broth - Add meat bones to a crock pot (chicken, turkey or beef). Add in chopped celery, carrots, garlic cloves and onions. Season with salt and pepper and any other herbs. Add 1 tsp of vinegar. Fill pot with water to cover the contents. Slow cook for atleast 8 hours to get the most collagen. Once finished remove vegetables and bones. Pour broth into mason jars and store in fridge. Heat broth in microwave-safe mug or warm over the stove.
Garlic, Oregano and Thyme - Use garlic, oregano and thyme in cooking for antimicrobial effects
Herbal honey - Add 1 tsp or garlic to cooked foods, or even to a tsp of honey. For a milder honey elixir, sprinkle with cinammon or honey. This can also help with sore throats.
Would you like to make a customized cold and flu prevention or treatment plan this season? Book in with Dr. Kaitlyn by clicking below the "Book Appointment" button below. Alternatively, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for a Free 15 Minute Discovery call.
Yours in health & wellbeing,
1. Sasazuki et al (2006). Effect of vitamin C on common cold: randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr.
2. Schmidt & Zirkler (2011). Dietary efficacy of a micronutrient combination in patients with recurrent upper respiratory tract infections. Results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study. MMW Fortschr Med
3. Sirbe et al (2022). An Update on the Effects of Vitamin D on the Immune System and Autoimmune Diseases. Review. Int J Mol Sci.
4. Quick (2015). Cochrane Commentary: Probiotics for Prevention of Acute Upper Respiratory Infection. Explore (NY).
5. Karsch-Volk et al (2015). Echinacea for preventing and treating common cold. JAMA
6. Anderson et al (1972). Vitamin C and the common cold: a double blind trial. Can Med Assoc J.
7. Al-Nakib et al (1987). Prophylaxis and treatment of rhinovirus colds with zinc gluconate lozenges. J Antimicrob Chemother.