My best advice to avoiding seasonal colds and flus is to take prevention seriously. When that first coworker or patient shows up with a cold, that is when I double check am I doing my basic self care of adequate sleep, hydration, and eating well? The holidays are an easy time to slack of on keeping the good stuff in our regular diet. Extra sugar and alcohol can lower our immune system just enough for those pesky cold and flu bugs to gain a foothold. Because of our holiday treats and travel, it is extra important to make sure to get plenty of rest, be diligent about washing hands (especially in the airport/train station and airplane/train).
Colds have a way of working their way through an office, school, and family. When the first person in my close home or working environment succumbs to a bacterium or virus, I start the wet sock treatment, and start doing some working with the herbs and supplements below. If that is not enough, then I go for some Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. I’ll be writing about when and why to get Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture for cold and flu symptoms in a later post.
If you are traveling on a plane or other public transportation for the holidays, consider stocking up on some supplements to take with you and definitely consider the wet sock treatment.
Besides the herbal medicine and acupuncture, here is my home remedy list:
1. Wash Your Hands:
diligently. Enough said.
2. Get Plenty of Rest:
If you start to feel extra tired suddenly, listen to your body and get some sleep. Getting plenty of sleep is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, and especially for your immune system.
3. Keep Hydrated.
4. Add more Garlic, Oregano, and Ginger to your diet:
These three common kitchen spices have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. You can make a pretty darn tasty chicken soup with a ton of garlic with either oregano or ginger. When fighting off a cold, I usually make soups with at least 6-8 cloves of garlic. If you are hardcore about fighting this off, and your stomach can handle it, you can even try eating 1-2 raw cloves of garlic throughout the day. Start small. Raw garlic can definitely make your stomach unhappy. And don’t breath too heavily on your coworkers or family.
5. Do the Wet Sock Treatment:
Either right when a close family member or coworker gets sick, or the moment you start asking yourself if you are getting sick. Check out my previous post on the how-to’s of the Wet Sock Treatment here: https://stickoutyourtongue.org/2013/09/09/the-wet-sock-treatment-to-stop-a-cold-in-its-tracks/
6. Chinese herbal medicine, Vitamins and Other Supplements:
Chinese herbal medicine is older than the use of acupuncture. Back in the day when Chinese herbal medicine was the medicine of the times, people did not have homes with heating and cooling systems that offered temperature control. Drafts, dampness, and cold weather infiltrated shelters, and it made colds and flus truly dangerous to humans. As a result, Chinese herbal medicine devotes a large percentage of its focus to correctly treating colds and flus with herbs.
To learn how to choose the correct herbs to treat your cold or flu symptoms, it is important to pay attention to the symptoms you are developing. Colds and flus are divided into cold patterns or heat patterns.
Cold patterns have these symptoms:
- feeling chilled or slight fever, but doesn’t want to get cold
- little to no sweating
- tight, achy muscles
- heavy feeling muscles
- feeling tired
- clear or white mucus
Heat pattern symptoms:
- feeling feverish, feeling too hot
- sore throat
- yellow mucus
Common culinary herbs to treat cold pattern colds and flus are warming:
These include cinnamon, fresh ginger, and green onion. While not in the Chinese medicine materia medica, I also find that elderberry tincture or elderberry syrup and echinacea are useful for cold pattern colds and flus. Use raw honey in teas.
A great strategy when coming down with a cold pattern cold is at the very first hint of feeling sick start taking an elderberry tincture or tea, cook with garlic and ginger in large quantities. This could look like a vegetable stir-fry with double the usual amount of garlic and ginger, or a garlic, ginger, sesame oil flavored chicken soup with plenty of vegetables.I also will use citrus in my teas or water, and take some extra Vitamin C.
I will also use one of the two main cold pattern herbal formulas from Chinese medicine: Gui Zhi Tang, or if you have a great deal of neck and shoulder tension, Ge Gen Wan. You can acquire these from any of your local acupuncturists.
What I have on hand at all times at home in the medicine cabinet in case I start to get sick:
- elderberry tincture, syrup, or tea
- a bottle of Gui Zhi Tang and/or Ge Gen Wan
- I almost always have garlic and ginger in my pantry
Common culinary herbs to treat heat pattern colds and flus:
For heat patterns, these colds come on fast and furious. These require stronger herbs that can tax the body if overused. It is pretty clear when a heat pattern cold is happening, you sweat and you have sore throat, plus the other signs listed above. For these instances, I’ll use oregano oil tincture 4-6x a day, and I may eat some raw garlic cloves or simply cook with very large amounts of garlic. I’ll also use one of the cooling herbal formulas from Chinese medicine: Gan Mao Ling or if the symptoms are really strong, then I’ll use Yin Qiao San.
Note: citrus and vitamin C is good for any type of cold or flu.
Tincture of Oregano Oil (heat pattern): add 20-30 drops to 4 ounces of water 3-4 times a day when you first get exposed to a cold, or are starting to feel cold symptoms. Oregano is a pretty darn powerful antiviral and antibacterial. Note: antibiotics only fight bacteria.
Tincture of Elderberry (cold pattern): add 20-30 drops to 4 ounces of water 3-4 times a day when you first get exposed to a cold, or are starting to feel cold symptoms. Elderberry is also a powerful antiviral and antibacterial. Note: antibiotics only fight bacteria.
Zinc (any pattern): zinc lozenges or zinc supplements are both a great way to go when you get exposed or start to feel sick
Vitamin C (any pattern): When cold and flu season hits the office or home, I start taking 2,000 mg every few hours and keep it up for a few days. If I don’t get sick, then I can back off. If I start to get sick, I will continue. Remember to watch for bowel tolerance of Vitamin C. Everyone has a different bowel tolerance, meaning, at some point (usually between 8,000-10,000 mg) people start to get diarrhea from vitamin C. Your bowel tolerance can be much lower than the average or even higher. Just pay attention to your poo and listen stop taking the vitamin C, if your get the runs.
Vitamin D (any pattern): Research shows that low Vitamin D levels lead to a lowered immunity. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, then you are almost guaranteed to have low Vitamin D levels. Taking a Vitamin D3 supplement of 2000 IUs daily is generally safe in the PNW. If you are considering taking more Vitamin D, it is important to get a blood test to assess where your serum Vitamin D levels are currently. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means you can actually overdose on it. Sometimes more is not better.