Colds and winter go hand-in-hand – even during a time of physical distancing! No one likes being sick, especially when you’re a busy Mum. But suppressing symptoms and soldiering on isn’t the best option for your body and immune system. Enter natural cold remedies, which can help you feel better, while supporting and enabling your immune system to do its thing.
To help you feel better soon, here are my top 8 immune-boosting, natural cold remedies. No fancy ingredients or expensive superfoods – in fact, you probably have most of these natural cold remedies at home already!
Ummm, immune system?
Before I get into the nitty gritty of natural cold remedies, let’s start with a brief overview of your immune system and how it works. When you understand how your immune system works, it’s easier to embrace resting and convalescence so your immune system and body can get on with battling the invaders!
Your immune system has two main parts or arms to it:
- The first responders (or innate immunity)
- The long-term, memory cells (adaptive immunity)
The first responder cells are your innate immunity- meaning you’re born with it. It doesn’t need any learning or adaptation, it just does its job when signalled to.
Then you have your long-term memory cells or adaptive immunity. These cells learn the ‘baddies’ (invaders, pathogens) over time and maintain this memory through your life.
When you have a cold or flu, you need the first responders to get on with the job of keeping the virus from growing in numbers and taking over the joint. But you also want cells with a memory or antibody of the virus, in case you get infected again. That way, you can respond more quickly because your immune cells recognise the virus and know to eliminate it.
Skin, mucous membranes, and the chemicals they produce – like tears, saliva and digestive secretions – are all part of your immune system too! They form a chemical barrier to pathogens.
Built-in personal protective equipment
There are different types of white blood cells that make up your immune system. Think of them as your own personal army with the sole job of keeping you alive and well.
They thrive when you are healthy & fit, and love dining on wholefoods. Sugar makes them sluggish – so look after them, and they’ll look after you!
- Neutrophils: Healthy people have up to 5000 of these in every drop of blood! They’re the workhorses of the immune system and first on site if there is an injury or infection.
- Lymphocytes: Think of these as the ‘assassins’ of your immune system. Some produce antibody molecules to recognise & remove viruses & bacteria from the bloodstream. There are different types: B Cells, T Cells and Natural Killer Cells (this is their actual name, how cool is that?!)
- Monocytes and Macrophages: These are both the same type of cells. Monocytes cruise around in our blood and turn into macrophages when they take up residence in various tissues like lungs or liver. They digest bacteria, viruses and old cellular debris.
- Eosinophils: These tend to increase in the circulation if you have allergies or a parasite infection.
- Basophils and Mast Cells: These cells are present with inflammation, especially in an allergic response. Basophils circulate and mast cells settle down in the tissues and both release histamine.
It’s good to get sick. Really!
Did you just think, “Haha, good one Sarah, funny joke”? Except I’m serious.
It’s good for your body and immune system to get a few colds each year? Really.
It helps keep your immune system busy and focused on what it should be (invading bugs – pathogens) and not what it shouldn’t be (your own cells and tissues).
However, many Mums tell me they don’t have time for their kids or them to be sick. Fair enough, I get it. It can be super inconvenient, missing work, school or other activities – especially if you’re running low on sick leave, or just need to get sh*t done. Juggling everyone’s needs and activities when you’re sick, or nursing sick family members, can be overwhelming, exhausting and plain old tricky!
So while I think it’s good for you to get sick a few times a year, and have your body exposed to germs at other times throughout the year… The other part of the equation is that I want you to get over your cold or other virus relatively quickly. You don’t want that cold hanging around past a week. Or feeling like you just got over something and then next minute, you’re sick again. And that’s not what I want for you either!
So here are some natural cold remedies that will help you feel better sooner. Psst – they’re also great throughout the year to keep you fighting fit and your immune system primed and ready for robust action when you need it.
Natural cold remedies (that don’t cost a fortune)
First up, let’s touch on nutrition when you’re unwell. Eating a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet benefits your body and overall health.
There are some nutrients that the immune system chews through when you’re under the weather. You may choose to supplement some of these when you’re sick, because it can be hard to meet demand if your appetite is suppressed.
Please always talk with a health professional who has experience and training in nutritional medicine before supplementing. Choose high quality, low excipient formulations, with nutrients in an appropriate form to optimise their absorption and effect.
Here are the main nutrients your immune system loves to gobble up:
- Vitamin C and other bioflavonoids like quercetin, rutin
- Vitamin A, beta-carotene
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Minerals like zinc, iron, selenium
- The building blocks for cells, tissues and energy in your body – protein, healthy fats and B vitamins.
Many foods have immune-stimulating properties, mainly because they’re rich in the nutrients I’ve mentioned above. Antioxidants and other plant chemicals help your immune system to make the cells it needs to function and fight invading pathogens.
1. Drink some Water
Keep your fluids up to help remove waste that’s generated from the battle between good and bad.
Water also helps transport minerals in and out of the cells, as well as thinning mucous. When you don’t drink enough liquids, then your body has to work much harder to get oxygen around the body.
Less water = less blood volume to ship that oxygen to the cells. The result is you feel more tired and lethargic. Warm or room temperature fluids can feel nicer – they’re easier on the body, as it doesn’t have to warm them up to your internal temperature. Warm fluids = energy savers!
2. Go for easy to digest food
Soups, broths, stews, casseroles help with your fluid intake too. But the real beauty of cooked, warm foods is that they are easier on the body when your digestion may not be as strong. They are easy to digest sources of protein, vitamin A, zinc and more.
There are many pre-made bone broths and soups around, but remember to check the ingredients. It should just be meat, veg, spice and herbs and water really – no need for weird stuff.
3. Use your herbs
Of all of the natural cold remedies around, herbal teas are probably my favourite. I love using teas like YEEP (yarrow, elderflower, echinacea and peppermint) and Immune glow (with echinacea, Siberian ginseng and ginger).
These help boost fluid intake, reduce mucous congestion, modulate fever, increase white blood cells, and are anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory… I could talk forever about herbs and how awesome they are. But hopefully you get my drift.
It’s important to check any interactions between medicines and herbs. They are natural, but effective – meaning they can change the way medications are metabolised by the body. So please check the label of your tea, and the info sheet of your medication, or ask a qualified naturopath for guidance.
4. Go for colour
I wonder if there’s any state of the mind or body that isn’t helped by eating a plant-based diet, rich in vegetables, fruit and spices?
How do they help support your immune system and as a natural cold remedy? There’s a wide variety of nutrients in them. Especially brassica/cruciferous vegetables, kiwi, blueberries, citrus, avocado, leafy greens, onions/leeks. Nutrient-dense is their middle name.
Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, and antioxidants like quercetin – these are great for reducing itchy throat, runny nose and eyes.
Onions, garlic and brassicas contain sulphur that helps with liver function too. You need your liver working well to help support your immune system. Your liver makes the master antioxidant glutathione (and others) to help protect your cells from damage from the waste products produced from your metabolism and the dying pathogens.
5. Mushrooms – the humble superfood
Mushrooms are the quiet achiever when it comes to natural cold remedies and supporting your immune system. They don’t muck around, they get in there and increase the activity of your natural killer cells to say see ya later to that virus.
Mushrooms literally make your Natural Killer cells be more aggressive against invading pathogens. Even humble button mushrooms will have this effect, but you can enjoy a variety of mushroom types for different nutrients. Don’t mess with the ‘shroom!
6. Smells bad, does good
Garlic is the pathogen assassin. It has traditionally been used for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity. For best results, use fresh garlic and crush it to activate all the good stuff before you cook or swallow it.
A hint: if you’re using garlic as medicine, make sure everyone in the house is eating garlic too! That way no one notices your garlic breath.
7. A little sweetness
Yes, ok, so sugar’s bad for the immune system, except when it isn’t! Honey – raw or manuka – has superpowers as a natural cold remedy
It knocks off bacteria and viruses while offering TLC and support to your immune system. Manuka honey has been revered for its anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory actions. So it helps soothe a sore throat and shush tickly coughs.
Manuka describes the plant that the bees get their pollen from. If you can’t get manuka honey, raw, local honey is also effective in soothing sore throats, lovely added to a cup of warm water with the juice of half a lemon.
8. Pass the bacteria
Probiotic and prebiotic foods rich foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut (or other ferments) help support your immune system by strengthening your microbiome and therefore your mucous membrane barriers. Microbiomes are not just in your gut! Any part of your body with a mucous membrane – mouth, sinuses, lungs, bladder – has a microbiome.
Using probiotics can help crowd out the baddies by making conditions right for your crew. Remember that a large part of your immune system is in and around your gut. So a happy gut = a happy and strong immune system.
Get the most from your food
Choosing local and seasonal increases the nutrient levels in your food. Nature has a way of making sure we get what we need, when we need it, by providing fruits and vegetables in the season there most useful for us.
It can be hard to buy seasonally now when the supermarket stocks mostly the same things all year round. Supporting your local greengrocer or market is a great way to get back in touch with what’s in season.
If all else fails, try and buy Australian grown, and be guided by the price. For example, I saw cherries the other day at the grocer’s. Their season in Australia is early Summer. During Summer when they’re in season, they’re about $10-20/kg. This time they were $50/kg!
Are natural cold remedies enough – or is it something going on underneath?
While getting sick is not necessarily a bad thing for your health, remember that ideally, you want a robust response from your immune system. That means you get over the virus and on with life within a week or so. You also don’t want to get sick too much – you’re not aiming to catch every bug that comes to town.
So, for symptomatic relief, use these natural cold remedies to help yourself feel better. But if you keep catching everything that goes around, it might be time to start asking why.
For many women in their 40s, a sluggish immune system is just one of the signs of an imbalance. You might also notice issues such as mood swings, feeling irritated and anxious, hot flushes, weight gain and more!
Want to learn more about making it through menopause without it ruining your mood, hormones, immunity and life in general? Make sure you join my FREE Facebook group – The Chaos To Calm Community.