What to do when a cold or flu comes knocking on your door? All you want is to get better–and fast! To help you get back to your daily activities, there are a few key natural remedies for cold and flu season that can help stop your seasonal illness in its tracks. These functional medicine tips can also support your immune system, so your everyday common cold is less likely to take a turn for the worse.
In this post you’ll learn 10 ways integrative medicine helps support your immune system and stops a cold from slowing you down.
What to do when a cold strikes
It’s cold and flu season, and despite your best attempts to avoid germs–it’s happened. You’re feeling congested, your runny nose has you reaching for the tissues, and your energy is waning.
Right now, your immune system needs some help. But the common cold is usually caused by a virus, which means you can’t just take an antibiotic and knock it out. When you’re sick with a virus, you mostly have to let it run its course while your immune system takes control from the inside. Fortunately, you’re not powerless here, and there’s a lot you can do to fuel your immune system with all the resources it needs to fight for you.
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Here’s what to do to support immune health and fight back against cold and flu symptoms.
10 Things to do to stop a cold from slowing you down
1. Get plenty of rest
This may sound like mundane advice, but sleep quality is a big step toward knocking out cold and flu symptoms. When you come down with a seasonal illness, your body is going to naturally crave sleep. Keeping your immune system strong right now depends on quality sleep.
Now, here are some tips to get more sleep.
Nasal strips. Colds bring sinus congestion, and that means sleep can be challenging. But with shorter sleep duration, it’s going to take a lot longer to get better, and your illness could even progress to something more severe in the presence of poor sleep. Having a way to keep your nasal passages open is important to allow oxygen to reach your cells during the night and bring balance back to detoxing methylation pathways, which are important for immune health.
Red night lights. If you have to get up in the middle of the night to blow your nose or for a trip to the bathroom, turning on overhead lights can disrupt your sleep–making it that much harder to fall back asleep again. Have a dim, red night light in your bathroom or hallway to limit the amount of light you’re exposed to if you happen to wake at night.
2. Stay hydrated with water, bone broth, or electrolytes
If you’re fighting a cold or you’re in the throes of flu-like symptoms, fighting off dehydration can also be a chore, but not with functional medicine. Well-intentioned loved ones might suggest an electrolyte drink like Gatorade or Pedialyte. They might also push orange juice for a little extra vitamin C.
Although those drinks will provide some hydration, they’re also loaded with sugar, which is bad news for immune function.
Instead, sip on warm bone broth that’s rich in healing collagen and amino acids like glycine. For added immune support, add a sprinkle of trace minerals for electrolyte support.
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- Boost your immune system
- Hydrate immediately
- Replenish vital nutrients
- Increase antioxidants and quench free radicals
3. Increase these immune supportive nutrients
When your health is challenged–whether by a cold or other seasonal illness–you can support your immune system function by increasing your intake of three key nutrients.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that has immuno-modulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a must for overall health in functional medicine. Almost all the cells in your immune system have a receptor for vitamin D on their surface (1).
Vitamin D helps regulate overall immune function, and low levels are associated with increased risk of infection, autoimmune disease, and systemic inflammation (2).
Another reason we struggle with cold symptoms is that vitamin D levels are lowest in the winter months. This may not impact the overall contagiousness of germs, but it undoubtedly affects our ability to fight off infection.
Keep reading: Vitamin D Deep Dive
Vitamin A plays a critical role in enhancing immune function, and promotes both cellular and humoral immune health.
Vitamin A also promotes the development of necessary antibodies and other specialized immune cells, like natural killer cells (NK). Low levels of vitamin A are also associated with an increased risk of autoimmune conditions and chronic diseases (3).
In functional medicine, zinc is an important player in the development and function of immune cells. In fact, maintaining adequate status of vitamin D and zinc has been shown to decrease the chance of developing a severe case of the current seasonal illness (4).
Metabolic demand for the above nutrients often increases during illness, so a functional medicine approach is often beneficial to boost these nutrients in the short term.
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7. Avoid sugar, processed foods, and refined grains
When you’re sick, you might not have much of an appetite at all, but if you do, steer clear of sugar bombs like processed foods and sweets. Not only do they contribute to insulin resistance, but they might actually make you more susceptible to illness.
Studies show that high blood sugar levels suppress your immune response (5). When your immune response is suppressed, you’re not only more likely to get sick, but more likely to be sick for longer.
What’s more, a diet high in sugar may actually skew gut bacteria toward pro-inflammatory species and weaken your microbiome’s ability to maintain a healthy mucosal lining in your intestines, thus weakening your overall health and increasing likelihood for digestive disorders (6).
Eating a diet high in nutrient-dense vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats is the best preventive medicine when it comes to a healthy immune system and being able to ward off severe symptoms.
8. Take an herbal supplement like echinacea or astragalus extract to fight off the cold virus
Of the many remedies that conventional medicine usually employs, there are a few natural plants that have the unique ability to support different parts of your immune system.
Astragalus supports a balanced immune response between your Th1 and Th2 immune responses–meaning it promotes a healthy immune reaction when you need it. Astragalus root extract has also been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of upper respiratory infections in children and older adults (7).
You can find astragalus, along with vitamin D and zinc, in the Defender.
Echinacea is an herbal remedy traditionally used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes, such as sinus infections, skin problems, allergies, the common cold, and other infections.
In one study, researchers found all strains of flu virus tests were “very sensitive” to the prepared echinacea tincture, leading to the conclusion that this herb has potent antiviral properties–especially against the common cold and flu. Echinacea was also found to shorten the duration of flu symptoms like a sore throat, and the number of sick days compared to conventional care (8).
Related: 12 Natural Antimicrobials Worth Trying
9. Use a neti pot or other nasal irrigation device to flush out mucus from the sinuses
When you have a cold or the flu, it can feel impossible to breathe through your nose. That’s where a nasal rinse comes in handy to restore balance to your airways.
This nasal rinse practice commonly uses a device called a neti pot, and has been a staple for Ayurvedic and Eastern healing practitioners for many years. Neti pots can be made of ceramic, glass, plastic, or metal and are sold in most health food stores
Benefits of a nasal rinse include:
- Clear sinuses for easy breathing
- Removal of excess mucus and allergens in nasal passageways
- Relieve nasal dryness
- Alleviation of sinus headaches
- Improved sense of smell and taste
Nasal irrigation can also improve sleep quality and snoring at night.
To perform a nasal rinse, the pot is filled with a saline solution, and then its spout is inserted into one side of the nose. The user will tilt their head to the side to allow the solution to flow up into the nasal passage and out the other side of the nose. This process is repeated on either side while breathing through the mouth.
Nasal rinses are also useful during allergy season or for indoor allergens. Read more.
10. Take a probiotic to help restore gut health and immune function
Your microbiome–or the collection of friendly microbes that reside in your digestive system–make up nearly 70% of your immune system. When you’re sick, they may need a little extra support to keep you healthy.
In your gut, these bacteria help synthesize certain vitamins and minerals, fight off pathogens, and maintain the mucosal integrity of your intestinal lining. This helps you absorb nutrients from your food, while keeping harmful bacteria in check. While chicken noodle soup is usually the go-to when you’re sick, consider adding in some fermented foods and prebiotic fiber to promote a diverse gut microbiome.
Read more: How to Heal After Taking an Antibiotic
Functional Medicine for Cold Symptoms
If you know what to do when a cold strikes, it will be easier to recover quickly. Complementing your typical medicine with functional medicine can help as well. In addition to getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated, try these natural tips that will help relieve symptoms and get you back on track in no time.
Categories: Family Health