It feels like every time you go online there’s another blog post vying for your attention as you flick through the mass of sites available to you. No search for “immune system”, “cold remedies”, or “natural remedies” can occur without being overwhelmed with stories of ‘miracle treatments’, ‘the new virus’, ‘10 things to stear clear of’, ‘10 things you must do’...and the mind is spinning. So when looking for ways to protect you and your family naturally from the dreaded lurgie this winter, how do you know what to treat as fact or fiction? In order to make a good judgement call, it is useful to understand a bit about what a cold and flu is and what is going on in the body when the cold and flu attack.

What is the common cold and what is the difference between cold and flu?

The common cold is a viral infection that affects your respiratory tract, felt differently by everyone, but generally results in lethargy, runny or sore nose, maybe a cough and the throat from hell. Cold symptoms can pass in a day or last for several. A flu, or influenza, is the more severe and acute virus ‘relative’ of the cold, it comes with all the same symptoms as a cold but flu symptoms are usually more severe and accompanied by fever and sometimes muscular and joint soreness. How long does a flu last? Well depends alot on how well you look after yourself, but generally several days.

How are cold and flu transmitted?

The cold and flu is transmitted in a number of ways:

  • Direct person to person contact
  • Direct contact with a contaminated surface
  • Through airborne particles; think cough or sneeze.
Once a cold of flu infiltrates the body it can start attacking our cells, once a healthy cell is infected it can begin to produce more viral protein and virus material from within the body. Basically it grows and replicates within the body, this is where our immune system will kick in.  

How does this help prevent a cold and flu?

Firstly we know how a cold and flu are transmitted, by direct contact with a person, or by contact with an infected item.  Next, we know the immune system will attempt to fight against it.

We could spend the whole winter in a plastic bubble, not see anybody and not touch anything; which may look like fun or be be a very valid approach for some, but generally not really in tune with most peoples lifestyles and may be a bit unrealistic to achieve. We could try powering through and gobble down some antibiotics, but that isn't an ideal solution either for many reasons (super bugs, drug resistant strains etc), and should really only be used as a last resort. Or we could take a holistic, multi faceted approach, and support our bodies naturally. 

How to protect against cold and flu naturally

The best way to protect against cold and flu is to avoid contact.

  1. Hand sanitiser, keep this little bad boy close at hand at all times, see something suspicious or someone, pump some into the hand, and keep moving. If you're worried about drying out your hands with chemicals, there are natural, gentler options available.
  2. Your skin is one of your first lines of defence! Look after it, cover cuts, moisturise dry spots, and keep your hands away from your face, your eyes, nose, and mouth these are all your vulnerable spots.
  3. Wash your face and hands regularly!

These are simple straightforward precautions that help minimise risk of infection. But what about that dreaded sneeze or cough that you can’t dodge fast enough? How do you stop the cold or flu taking hold?

How to defend against the cold and flu

This is where your immune system is "boss"!  Obiously the immune system is part of your body, and like everything else in your body, it works best when it's healthy, well fueled and full of the nutrition your immune system needs to function optimally.  

So here are some tips for keeping your immune system on top of things, maybe seemingly obvious, but there are some pretty agressive colds out there this season so maybe a reminder is in order;

  1. Keep your body rested! Everyone is busy, everyone has that one hundred and one things to do, but it is a decision to prioritise yourself and your health. So go to bed at a reasonable hour, take that “me time” you keep promising yourself, and look after your health.  Try some meditation to help relax.  Some say that 30 minutes of yoga nidra (a relaxation exercise) is equivalent to about 3 hours of sleep!
  2. Eat healthy! I’m not going to say the ‘d’ word (...diet), just try to add some extra veg and fruit, a few legumes and a couple whole grains will go a long way. Try organic where you can to cut down on the toxins and pesticides, make what you put in your body counts. You are what you eat and if you really can't get all the right nutrition from food then consider a quality supplement.
  3. Look after your guts! Keep your gut healthy and functioning optimally.  Eat some probiotics, you don't necessarily need a probiotic supplement, consider some saurkraut, kefir, yogurt or probiotic drink such as kombucha or kefir. 
  4. Stay fit! It’s cold, it’s dark, and going to the gym or outside is the last thing on many people's minds. Staying active though is a sure fire way to keep the immune system at its peak. Try something different this winter, just a brisk fresh walk outside, or if you have a treadmill then maybe inside. Do some yoga, if it's the cold that's getting you down, try bikram, or if you dread even leaving the house then buy an instructional dvd, setup in your living room and get your tree pose on. Another option spoken about in hushed tones is sex, it can be a great indoor (or outdoor) winter exercise and benefits in many different ways! 
  5. Try Acupuncture or Massage. Not only do both these therapies force you to take a little ‘me time’ they encourage blood circulation, natural lymphatic flow (think mucus clearing), help naturally clear blockages, tensions, toxins...and they just feel good!

Doing all of the above and finding the right balance should put you in good stead, but sometimes our best efforts just aren't quite enough, or more commonly let's face it sometimes we slack off, have other priorities, and get complacent. What can we do if we get cold and flu anyway?

Recovering from cold and flu

Your immune system, the body’s very complex and diverse response to disease and infection will kick in. Your immunity to a cold or flu involves many parts of your body, different organs, cells, and employs multiple tactics to return you to health.

It is important not to delay when you feel a cold or flu coming on, during early stages is the best time to address symptoms. It is obviously best to be prepared with a healthy body and healthy immune system but if you do think you are coming down with something then give your immune system eveything you can to assist, rest, nutrition etc.

Some colds and flus just insist on being had and sticking around, and sometimes our immune system struggles a bit to get on top of it. In this case what do you do? What remedy works, which one doesn't, what’s a waste of money and what is a guaranteed bang for the buck? Unfortunately it isn't all that simple, it varies from person to person and virus to virus, all we can do is remember our basics, defend as well as we can and keep the immune system as healthy as possible to attack quickly when it happens.

The immune system has a very complex and diverse response, as such it has made it hard for science to determine exactly what impacts the immune system and how, since it is not one single thing, but rather a process followed by multiple bodily functions. There are so many players in the game that by attempting to help one, or analyse another sometimes you miss the big picture.

Remember, often the best remedies come from within. Our immune system is just so amazing and keeping it strong will help us to live happy, healthy lives.

Natural remedies for cold and flu

Here are some of the best supported and followed, natural preventatives and treatments for the common cold and flu;

  1. Spirulina is yielding interesting results in reducing severity and length of flus. Very promising in preventing viral replication at the start of a flu. *1
  2. Quercetin and Chlorogenic Acid (also known as CGA; found in coffee, onions and other plant compounds) are showing promising results to becoming a anti­influenza drug. Based on TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) these ingredients are being investigated to address the growing concern around drug resistant flu strains.*2
  3. Probiotic gut health is very important when talking about almost any immune related disorder. There is a good amount of evidence out there to support its effectiveness shortening and protecting against viral infection. *3
  4. Vitamin C, long since touted as the key vitamin at keeping cold and flu at bay but there is not a lot scientific support to back this up, however it is a key vitamin in a lot of general immune functions, and a relative safe vitamin at high dosages, and with it's wide spread anecdotal support you would think that it may have something going for it.
  5. Echinacea has a long traditional place as a key herb for fighting of cold and flus. There is a bit of conflicting case studies and individual reports about its effectiveness. Generally deemed safe.
  6. Ginseng, Garlic and Turmeric not only add flavour to any dish but each have their own unique properties to assist immune boosting and fight a cold, all the while addressing inflammation concerns as well.

A note of caution

Don’t be so focused on the cure of the disease that you suffer from the cure itself.

Anything in excess, medications, herbs, even vitamins and minerals, can cause strain or harm to your body. It is important to seek professional advice when formulating any treatment plan.

Let’s be healthy, let’s be self aware, and let’s be cold and flu free this year. 


References:

*1 {Chen, Y, Chang, G, Kuo, S, Huang, S, Hu, I, Lo, Y, & Shih, S. 2016. ‘Well­tolerated Spirulina extract inhibits influenza virus replication and reduces virus­induced mortality’, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24253. doi:10.1038/srep24253}

*2 {Liu, Z. et al. Computational screen and experimental validation of anti­influenza effects of quercetin and chlorogenic acid from traditional Chinese medicine. Sci. Rep. 6, 19095; doi: 10.1038/srep19095 (2016).}

*3 {Goto, H. et al. Anti­influenza virus effects of both live and non­live Lactobacillus acidophilus L­92 accompanied by the activation of innate immunity. Br. J. Nutr. 110, 1810–1818 (2013).}