'Tis the season of runny noses, hacking coughs, and spiking temperatures--but what if there were simple ways to reduce the intensity of a cold, to shorten its duration, and to keep you feeling ready to take on the day while you're in the heat of battle? Naturopathic medicine may be the answer.
I wouldn't be doing my job as a naturopathic doctor if I didn't first mention prevention. Getting adequate rest, eating nutritious meals chock-full of high quality proteins, fiber, and antioxidants, supplementing vitamins and minerals, drinking fresh filtered water, and squeezing in plenty of movement and stress-relieving activities make for a solid foundation upon which to rest your health. Oh, and don't forget to wash your hands!
Unfortunately, consistently sticking to this uber-healthy routine may not be realistic. Most folks only begin thinking about supporting their health once illness has started to settle in, and sometimes, it's just a little too late. Still, naturopathic medicine offers ideas at every stage of illness, from prevention to recovery. The following are a few of my favorites.
At the Onset
A study from 1997 showed the benefits of n-acetylcysteine, an amino acid that is widely available and not-too-expensive, on shortening the duration and severity of colds and flus. Naturopathic doctors often recommend a preventive dose of NAC to be taken throughout the cold and flu season, around 500 mg/day, and will bump it up to 2000 mg/day when experiencing congestion. Take it in divided doses, away from food, and find out more here.
Truth be told, this next remedy can be used for prevention as well, but I rarely use it that way. Introducing: Magic Socks! This old-school remedy from the 1800s is a hydrotherapy technique which utilizes the application of hot and cold temperatures to stimulate an immune response. Here's how to do it:
Without fail, every time I've done Magic Socks in my household, especially at the onset of symptoms, colds and flus are significantly improved, if not completely resolved, by morning. This technique is safe for little ones (who rather like the idea of using "magic" socks!), for the elderly, and for anyone in between, and can be used multiple nights in a row. Just use caution in folks with decreased feeling in the extremities, such as the elderly, diabetics, etc., so as not to burn the skin when doing the hot foot bath.
Vitamin D3 is another go-to remedy in my house, as it's so affordable, safe, and powerful! While most conventional docs recommend 2000 IU/day if you're low, naturopathic docs tend to err a bit higher at 5,000 IU/day. Short term high doses around 10,000 or 15,000 IU/day, administered for a week, are not uncommon when the immune system needs a hand, and have been used for centuries (unknowingly) as treatments for illness! Learn more here.
Recruiting Herbal Help
Elderberry is one of my favorite herbs of all time, because of its widely documented ability to reduce the duration and severity of illness, low allergic potential, and incredibly high compliance from its great taste. Even my incredibly picky four-year-old nephew sipped on some elderberry last week, furrowed his brow, and said, "ooh, yummy!"
An incredibly safe herb, elderberry glycerite (a sugar extraction, without any alcohol) is appropriate to use with infants as young as six months, albeit in small doses. For these little ones, I'd recommend five drops every few hours, and be more liberal with older children. With adults, I usually say take a tablespoon of the glycerite whenever you remember throughout the day--because I realize how unrealistic regimented supplement-taking can be, especially when you don't feel well! More on the goodness of the elderberry can be found here.
To Move, or Not to Move?
So many people have questions on whether or not they should exercise when they're under the weather. The answer, of course, is: it depends! One very basic rule of thumb is to use the shoulders as your guide. Above the collarbone, i.e. with a head cold, sinus infection, etc., the answer is YES! Increased movement may help to open up airways and sweat out toxins. Below the collarbone, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, etc., I'd say NO. These are more serious conditions which require rest to remedy. But don't just take my word for it, read more from the experts here.
The Bottom Line
No matter where you are around the world, the realities of a very severe cold and flu season this year can be very scary. Arm yourself with information and natural remedies, and take this health challenge head on! Mother nature has your back.
To your health!
About the Author
Sarah Ouano is a naturopathic doctor and writer. A fierce advocate for health equity and rights of the marginalized, she frequently writes about the intersection of naturopathic medicine and public health, throwing in personal anecdotes and tasty (and practical) recipes along the way.