It’s that time of year again. Cold season. We all know it, because most everyone during the fall or winter season has succumbed to the viral malady that can last 1-2 weeks and cause sneezing, scratchy throat, low energy, stuffy head, and a runny nose. In fact, according to the CDC, it’s still the number one reason for lost days at school and at work (1). With no cures on the horizon due to these numerous (over 200 types), ever-changing viruses, we focus on ways to prevent colds by improving our host defense mechanisms and shortening the duration and severity in the event of ‘catching the cold’.
Before addressing effective strategies to prevent a cold and elaborating on natural cold remedies, we need to understand why and how we become so susceptible during the ‘cold season’. Three main reasons come to mind:
1. Reduced Activity. When it’s cold outside we spend more time indoors. This typically means less activity and movement. Movement is what drives the circulation of our lymphatic system – the bodies’ immune vessel network. Less movement means less immune efficiency to get to any foreign bug.
2. Less Sunlight. Because we’re spending more time indoors, days are shorter, and the sun follows a lower daily path in the sky (unless you live near the equator), we get less vitamin D. This vitamin has been shown in numerous human studies to be a remarkable immune regulator (2, 3).
3. More time Indoors. Because of the dry air from forced air heating in our homes and workplace, our mucus membranes – those delicate immune barriers in our sinuses, eyes, respiratory system, and gut – become dry, weakened, and susceptible to invaders. Let’s not forget one more component: the holidays. For some, this is a time of celebrating with multiple social festivities and family gatherings where we eat too much, drink too much, and consume more sweets. Throw in some stress with year-end work deadlines, gift shopping, family quarrels or other elements and regardless of whether you’ve partied like a rock star or not, the combinations can be a ‘perfect storm’ of weakening our host defense.
Given these factors, it’s no surprise that is becomes more difficult to prevent colds in the winter.
So what are some natural cold remedies? Here is the first step: Protect your barriers!
This means mucus membranes. According to Ayurveda, the ancient traditional healing system from India, Fall and Winter are times of kapha-vata disorders, where congestion and stagnation can build up. For our sinuses, this is bad news, as it’s a common entry point for cold bugs to invade and set up shop. Keeping them flushed out can reduce congestion tendency as well as flush out debris, viral particles and toxins.
1. Use a Neti Pot to clear Sinuses – To prevent colds or reduce sinus congestion, I recommend to all my patients to buy a neti pot, or sinus irrigation cup. These can be found online or at health food stores. Simply fill the cup with pure, slightly warm water, and add a couple pinches of sea salt. Then occlude one side of your nose with the nozzle, tilt your head forward and to the side, breathe out your mouth, and tip the cup so that the contents start flowing into the nasal cavity and come out the other side of your nose. Do this for about 1/2 of the pot, then repeat for the other side. It can be repeated several times a day as a severe nasal congestion remedy. It’s easy, cheap, and effective for sinus health and clearing.
2. Use essential oils to help Respiratory system- I often suggest a cool-mist humidifier to be run in your bedroom at night while sleeping. For extra support, find a unit with a medicine cup or reservoir that can be used to place essential oils into. My favorites for chest congestion are lavender, pine and eucalyptus. Add some oregano if there’s any sign of possible infection. (Note: do not use instead of seeking medical advice!) A good mix is 5-10 drops of these oils into the cup/reservoir (NOT THE WATER – it will destroy the humidifier distillation unit). Alternatively, another option is to buy an essential oil diffuser. Either system may be purchased at various online retailers, and the oils are at most health food stores.
3. Eat fermented foods to replenish Gastrointestinal tract- This is the major immune regulation system in the body. Various authorities claim that the gut makes up anywhere from 70-80% of our immune system. In fact, our entire gut ecosystem (microbiome) contains many TRILLIONS of bacteria, more than our human cell population! The goal is to balance and enhance the beneficial population of friendly bacteria. Why? Because of the myriad of far-reaching beneficial effects the bacteria do for our immune system (not to mention brain). A recent article in the June 2012 Scientific American highlighted the importance of our gut ecosystem, and how ignored it is regarding our health.
So how do we do this? Probiotic capsules are a start but typically inadequate for immune health. What I’m referring to is real, cultured and fermented foods! All traditional populations have always consumed a variety of cultured and fermented foods for good health and immunity. Foods like kimchee, sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, and many other fermented vegetables are literally PACKED WITH TRILLIONS of beneficial bacteria in each serving. Compare this to the average ‘high-potency’ probiotic, which may have 30-100 billion per serving. You’d literally have to consume an entire bottle of probiotics to equal a single serving (hand-size) of cultured/fermented foods. A great resource to find out more on fermented foods is www.culturesforhealth.com.
Note: some people will need to stay away from dairy sources of fermented foods, as they can be mucus forming. The bottom line is eat fermented foods often. I have my patients aim for a goal of 2 servings a day of whatever they like or tolerate. Ramp up slowly if there’s any gas formation.
9 Additional Natural Cold Remedies
4) Reduce all sweets and white flour products. Elevated insulin and glycemic imbalance are some of the greatest immune destroyers. Replace all flours with whole, organic grains. Anything that’s a flake, noodle or cookie is probably a flour product. Put the bread down. Opt for warm, nourishing soups or stews. Take advantage of cooked millet, organic wild rice or quinoa instead of pasta for a side dish.
5) Reduce all dairy products if you have congestion or phlegm.
6) Eat lots of shitake and maitake mushrooms. The polysaccharides (beta-glucans) are tremendous immune supportive compounds for cold season. If you can’t buy fresh, get them dried and soak in water for 1 hour before using in a stir-fry or baking. Adding to salads is a wonderful addition.
7) Take vitamin D. I like my patients to stay in the ‘sweet spot’ of blood vitamin D level, which is around 50-70 ng/ml (4). If you don’t get blood testing, then a good suggestion is 2,000 I.U. a day for the average adult during fall and winter seasons. Since both vitamin D and vitamin A compete for the RXR gene receptor, it’s a good idea to take a balanced vitamin D with a little vitamin A. Vitamin A is especially helpful during cold season for mucus membrane immunity, as it helps balance the main antibody in those tissues called secretory IgA, which is necessary if one hopes to prevent a cold. Cod liver oil is too high in Vitamin A, according to some studies, so I recommend around 500-1,000 I.U. a day. No more.
Herbal teas. According to Dr. Vasant Lad, a prominent Ayurvedic doctor, drinking equal parts of ginger, cinnamon, and lemongrass (optional: a pinch of cardamom) is a great tea to drink for both supportive and remedial measures. Steep the herbs for 10 minutes or more and drink when it’s warm (5).
9) Elderberry, echinacea, astragalus and garlic are all good immune supportive herbs and may be taken through the entire cold season. Elderberry is particularly good tasting in a liquid form (important for children) and high in flavonoids, which strengthen the immune barriers (6).
10) Take warm baths. Consider 2 cups of Epsom or Dead Sea salts per tub of hot water, and soak for 10-20 minutes. This can be tremendously purifying and reduce coldness in the body. In addition, you may add lavender, pine and eucalyptus oils (5 drops of each) into the tub, once a week or more as desired.
11) Reduce stress. For those with holiday stress contributors, consider ashwaganda and holy basil (tulsi) to reduce cortisol, a major stress hormone. These can be taken as a warm tea, or in capsule form daily.
12) Get a good sleep! Lastly, place a priority on getting good sleep. Keep the bedroom dark, without electric blankets, cell phones or cordless phones next to you. Put all electronic devices away (computers, tablets, phones, games, TV) at least 1 hour before bed. Yes, you can do this. Read a mellow book or listen to relaxing music. Best of all, take a hot bath.
These natural cold remedies and prevention measures can help you sail through the cold season with little to no down time.
3) The Vitamin D Solution, by Michael Holick, PhD, MD.
5) The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, by Vasant Lad.
6) Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy – Modern Herbal Medicine, by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone.
This post was written by: Greg Barsten, DC, MS, RH (AHG) www.HealthQuestForMe.com
Have any tips on how to prevent a cold, or any natural cold remedies?
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