Dr. Martha Calihan

| 12/15/2016

Natural Remedies for Cold & Flu Season

Natural Remedies for Cold & Flu Season

This time of year, there are lots of viruses and “bugs” that circulate, and lots of people get sick. You may be wondering about natural remedies to keep yourself healthy and avoid catching something. The good news is, there are actually a number of things that can help strengthen the immune system, which is ultimately the key to staying well.

Some of them, although seemingly obvious, are worth remembering; including getting adequate sleep and trying not to overextend ourselves too much. Rest is actually an important factor in immune health and strength.

When we are stressed, there can be a direct and negative impact on the immune system, often mediated through the effect of stress on the adrenal glands and the secretion of adrenalin and cortisol. Under the effect of recurrent or chronic stress, the immune system can be compromised making it easier to get sick, catch colds and other viruses going around.

If there is a lot of illness in the community, as often occurs in the winter months, it is helpful to be careful in large crowds of people, making sure to wash hands with soap and water (not using hand sanitizer!) after contact and trying to avoid people who are coughing and sneezing.

Eating a well-balanced diet and one that is low in sugars, simple carbs, and processed foods is a great strategy for staying healthy. Excess sugar is also a stress on the immune system so it is best to minimize our consumption of sugary foods. That can be difficult during the holiday season, but there are plenty of healthy, less sugar-laden foods that can be enjoyed for celebrations.

A healthy vitamin D level is a benefit to the immune system, so if your vitamin D level has been tested and is low, you might want to consider supplementation to bring your level to a therapeutic range. Vitamin D3 is available in capsules and in drops, and as it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is best to take it with a meal that contains some fat (which isn’t generally difficult!).

But, what if you do get a cold or the flu? What can you do? Do you have to just suffer and wait it out? It turns out that there are good natural remedies that are options to treat the symptoms and try to minimize the impact.

First and foremost, once again, rest and adequate hydration top the list of essential components in your strategy to deal with a cold or flu. While essential, they are all too often overlooked, so make sure that you don’t skip these! Then, in addition, you can consider these 8 remedies….

1. Vitamin C. There is good evidence of the effectiveness of Vitamin C in fighting cold and other “bugs”. The recommended dose varies widely, as our need for Vitamin C changes with our health. It would be easy and safe to start with 1000 mg and increase from there. A word of caution; take too high a dose of vitamin C and you are likely to have very loose stools, so start at 1000 mg/day and see what you tolerate; it’s very individualized.

2. Elderberry is one of my favorite remedies for viruses, as its effectiveness in a variety of viruses has been well documented. Elderberry is available in a number of products and various forms and combinations. 250-300 mg is a reasonable dosage range. As mentioned, it is often found in combination products which can include other immune support herbs like Andrographis and astragalus.

3. Bromelain (the active ingredient in pineapple) has marvelous anti-inflammatory properties, and in combination with turmeric, thyme extract, Andrographis and N-Acetyl-Cystiene makes a great product for congestion relief.

4. Echinacea is a plant that provides support to the immune system and is often very effectively used when people are dealing with viruses, such as the common cold. It can be taken alone or in a combination product like the one mentioned above.

5. Zinc. Some studies have shown good evidence for taking zinc at the onset of a cold; lozenges are probably best as some people have developed a loss of smell using the nasal preparations.

6. Probiotics are a mainstay for keeping a strong immune system and I will often include a good dose of probiotic in a protocol for someone fighting a cold.

7. Essential Oils. The use of essential oils both to treat the symptoms of a cold, as well as to support the immune system can be very beneficial; either applied topically or diffused. They smell great too!

8. Hot Tea. You can make a soothing tea of hot water, lemon juice and honey, and perhaps add a slice of fresh ginger, to help soothe congestion and a cough.

So…..these are some basic tips for keeping your immune system strong during the winter months and some suggestions for using some natural remedies if you do catch one of the viruses.

Stay Well!!

About Dr. Martha Calihan

Dr. Calihan is a Certified Functional Medicine physician, and the founder and owner of The Five Stones Healing Arts and Wellness Center. Her practice offers an entire line of private labeled high quality vitamins and supplements to boost immunity. (


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