The calendar may say that spring is on the horizon, but a casual glance around homes, schools, and workplaces reveals that many of us are still grappling with seasonal colds and flus.
In February, the Centers for Disease Control announced that flu cases were spiking and they may continue to rise into March. Pair that with high stress levels and a winter that seems especially long and it seems almost inevitable that a seasonal cold will strike.
Remember, it’s not too late to get a flu shot to help keep you from contracting an influenza virus. (Read about our flu prevention tips.) And be sure to wash your hands! A lot. Also disinfect common workplace surfaces. Even with good prevention, many of us will still get sick. When you do, a good self-care regimen can help. But remember to consult your doctor or health care provider if your cold doesn’t clear up or if you have a high fever, persistent cough, serious fatigue, wheezing or heaviness in the chest, or any changes in urination. (These tips are not to be considered medical advice.)
Perhaps the most obvious (and possibly least followed) way to feel better quicker is to rest. Giving your body a chance to use its energy to kick out the offending virus rather than getting you up and out the door for a full day of work can help speed your recovery. Besides, your coworkers will appreciate your efforts to stay at home in bed for a day or two instead of exposing them to any germs you’d be bringing to the office with you.
Self-care is very individual: some of us feel pampered by a day on the couch with a juicy Netflix series, while others feel better if they exercise. The good news is that if your cold is primarily a head cold (stuffy nose and sinus congestion) rather than a chest cold, it’s okay to engage in some light exercise—but don’t overdo it. (See “rest” in the previous paragraph.)
Staying hydrated is an important part of self-care when you’re sick. Drinking plenty of water, broth, hot herbal teas, and juices can help loosen congestion and expel mucus.
Speaking of broth, there are studies that link chicken soup (your grandmother’s favorite cold remedy) to less nasal congestion and more comfortable colds. That said, there are only a handful, and they’re inconclusive, but unless you’re a vegetarian, there’s no real downside to treating yourself to a bowl of hot chicken soup.
The FruitGuys Magazine talked with Portland-based certified holistic nutritional therapist Cordelia Apple for ideas on supplements that may help boost your immune system during cold season.
“At the very onset of a cold, you have a window of 24 to 48 hours when it’s a good time to take supplements,” Apple says. “If you start boosting the immune system right then, you can sometimes get rid of [the cold] before it begins.” She recommends starting with vitamin C, which has antioxidants that will help boost your immune system. “When I’m sick, I take vitamin C throughout the day in 500- to 1,000-mg increments because your body only absorbs small amounts at a time,” she notes.
And when you’re sick, don’t forget your vitamin D, she says. Studies have shown that taking D is linked to colds of shorter duration. In addition, she suggests that elderberry and zinc supplements can be good options to take during that 24-to-48-hour window when you’re first coming down with a cold.
Because your gut and its collection of bacteria are the largest players in your immune system, Apple recommends consuming probiotics when you’re battling a cold or the flu. “If you already take probiotics, increase the amount you take. If you don’t take probiotics, consider starting.” She says that you can instead consume foods rich in probiotics such as sauerkraut or kimchi, but avoid yogurt. “Dairy products increase mucus,” she notes. Lemon and ginger can bring relief by thinning mucus. Try some in hot water with a little honey.
Finally, she says that when colds linger for more than a few days, it may be time to look into something stronger, like oil of oregano. Used for respiratory disorders, it can help clear up the last remnants of the virus and help you feel better. Remember to follow all instructions on the package, and consult your doctor first if you are pregnant.
Always consult your health care practitioner before trying new supplements if you are on medication or have pre-existing conditions. Not to be considered medical advice.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.