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’s my top 8 immune-boosting, natural cold remedies. No fancy ingredients or expensive super foods. 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. Say hello to the first responder cells that are your innate immunity. Innate meaning your born with it, or natural. It doesn’t need any learning or adaptation, it just does it’s job when signalled to. And you have a long-term memory component toyour immune system – 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 (that’s you!). But you also want cells with a memory or antibody of the virus, in case you get infected again. Then 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 through 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. That’s not what I want for you either!
So here’s some natural cold rememdies that will help you feel better sooner. 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.
Nutrients for the immune system
Eating a nutrient dense, whole foods diet benefits your body and overall health. There’s 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 forumlations, with nutrients in an appropriate form to optimise their absorption and effect. If that’s just left you feeling bamboozled, don’t worry, I can help you with this via an acute consult. Acute consults are free, so don’t be shy.
Here’s the 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.
Immune stimulating foods
Many foods have immune stimulating properties, mainly because they’re rich in the nutrients I’ve mentioned above. Anti-oxidants and other plant chemicals that help your immune system make the cells it needs to function and fight any 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/out of the cells and thins 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 exhausted. 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’re an easy to digest source of protein, vitamin A, zinc.
There’s many pre-made bone broths and soups around, remember to check the ingredients, it should just be meat, veg, spice and herbs and water really. No need for weird stuff. I have some Best of the Bone pastes winging their way to me, so check them out in my shop. Wholesome and nourishing.
3. Use your herbs
Herbal teas – like YEEP (yarrow, elder flower, echinacea and peppermint) and Immune glow (with echinacea, siberian ginseng and ginger), help boost fluid intake, reduce mucous congestion, modulate fever, increase white blood cells, and are anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, 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 and 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 get in touch and ask me. Find your tea match in my store. Or send me an email and I’ll help you work out which one is right for you and your symptoms.
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 anti-oxidants like quercetin, 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 mushroom 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, the pathogen assassin has traditionally been used for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity. Best if you 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 super powers as a natural cold remedy, because it knowcks of the bacteria and viruses, but also offers 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 shoosh 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 warm water with 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! But any part of your body with a mucous membrane – mouth, sinuses, lungs, bladder.
Using probiotics can help crowd out the baddies, make conditions right for your crew, not the invaders. Remember that a large part of your immune system is in and around your gut/intestines. So a happy gut = 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 green grocer 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. I saw cherries the other day at the grocers, now their season in Australia is early Summer. Now they’re expensive normally, but during Summer when they’re in season, they’re about $10-20/kg. This time they were $50/kg!
While getting sick is not necessarily a bad thing for your health, remember that ideally you want a robust response from your immune system so 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 tips to help yourself feel better. But if you keep catching everything that goes around, then you may like some extra support and attention to help balance out your immune system. I love supporting clients to find out what’s making their immune system ‘jumpy’ and over-react. I develop a personalised plan for them to get back to optimal health and enjoy less days feeling sick and lying on the couch! If you’d like to know more, please book a free 15-minute discovery call so we can chat about what’s been going on for you and how naturopathy may support your health goals.