Natural Cold & Flu Remedies: Supporting Health
- Black Elderberry For Colds and Flus
Black elderberry (sambucus nigra) is a small black colored berry that grows seasonally throughout Europe and north America. Traditionally and in modern herbalism, elderberry has been made into extracts and tinctures. Elderberry has been shown to be effective against both bacterial infections and viruses including various strains of influenza (1). There is also research showing elderberry inhibits infections related to bronchitis viruses. This especially important in cases where there is no 100 percent effective vaccine, which is still the case for Cold & Flu (2). The research shows that certain flavonoids (high potency anti-oxidant pigments) found in the elderberry bind to the virus and inhibit viral replication. In my practice as a naturopathic doctor, I find that the liquid preparation of Elderberry is most effective and recommend either a tinctured or standardized extract.
- Astragulus & Food-Based Vitamin C:
Food-Based Vitamin C & Astragulus are one of my favorite combinations. I like to give these two in combination because Vitamin C increases the absorption of the herb astragulus. Astragalus membranaceus is popular in Chinese medicine under the name Huang qi. This antiviral herb and immune stimulator grows in parts of Mongolia and China and has been utilized to treat everything from colds and flus to lowering blood pressure and stress. From a Chinese medicine and acupuncture perspective, this herb works on the spleen organ, an organ in Chinese medicine that is supportive of energy, clearing phlegm and helping with proper digestion. I often think of adding this root herb into a formula when people have experienced multiple infections in a row, have a history of asthma or get an infection after a period of stress and burnout. Astragalus has an affinity for supporting the lungs and works synergistically with vitamin C to increase lung function. “A 2014 meta-analysis of nine studies on vitamin C for lung health (specifically exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or EIB) showed a positive correlation between vitamin C and lung health.” (4). I usually prefer to use Astragalus in a dried herb form and will either recommend it in a capsule or mixed with dried and ground whole organic fruits high in natural forms of vitamin C such as oranges (including the rind), cranberries, and blueberries.
- Vegetable, Bone Broths & Herbs:
Bone broths, savory congee and chicken soups replenish the body’s nutrients and hydration, which are depleted during illness. Hot broths also relieve respiratory illness symptoms and give a comforting, warming sensation that can help ease the discomfort of a Cold or Flu. Turmeric is a major anti-inflammatory herb that has been well-researched to support liver detox and immune system support. Ginger is a warming herb used in Chinese medicine and acupuncture to move stuck phlegm, warm the body, calm the nervous system and reduce inflammation. These power-house herbs, along with vegetables and bone broths are the reason grandma always advocated for chicken soup whenever anyone got sick.
- IV Nutrient therapy – bypass an unhealthy gut
Chronic stress, low exercise and lack of proper food nutrition all lead to poor gut health and, by extension, a weakened immune system. Poor gut health and improper nutrition can pave the road to hidden, low-grade infections that drag the immune system down even more. In these cases, IV nutrients may be a good option to consider. Custom immune support, similar to a “Meyer’s Cocktail” a blend of magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and B vitamins could be incredibly helpful in hydrating and boosting the body. For some Cold and Flu patients, IV nutrients can lift a down-trodden immune response through supplementing hydration and nutrition. IV therapy may be especially helpful if administered within the first 48 hours of Cold and Flu symptoms. NOTE: we now offer IV therapy in Portland, Oregon.
Last but not least, REST! Catching a Cold, Flu or Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) is a sign that the body’s immune system is worn down and in need of recovery. Take the time in between sleeping to relax. Colds and flus are an opportunity to reflect on life and nourish ourselves. This is a time to rest, eat simple, real food while letting go of the stresses or worries that we may normally be tempted to “sweep under the rug”. Reconnecting with the self through mindfulness, rest and rejuvenation may help reduce the stress that wore us down to begin with.
Natural Cold & Flu Treatment:
Naturopathic Doctors’ Cold and Flu Home Remedies & Natural Treatments
Everyone, even otherwise healthy people, get sick once in awhile. But, are the times that we get sick random bad luck, environment (exposure to a particularly nasty germ), or something else entirely? While it may be tempting to simply blame bad luck and call it a night, there are patterns surrounding when we catch a cold, Influenza (the Flu) or an upper respiratory infection. When we examine environmental factors, it is true that some cold and flu seasons prove more harmful than others. Yet, we’re exposed to harmful germs every day in the complex communities of public environments like work or school and worldwide airline travel.
With the above in mind, the science of getting sick appears to be the confluence of environment, luck and one other factor. The last factor, which research shows has a tremendous influence, is our physical and emotional state. As naturopathic doctors, we’ve included a list of our favorite natural cold and flu remedies as a sidebar to this article. However, one of the best things we can do to reduce our chances of getting sick is to reduce our stress level by taking the extra time to nourish our bodies with healthy foods and activities that replenish ourselves emotionally. Because this article deals with infectious diseases (cold and flu) and some readers may not be familiar with naturopathic medicine, we’ve cited sources such as The American Medical Association and the National Institute of Health.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned drugs like Tamiflu, see my other article where I explain the Side Effects Vs Benefits of Tamiflu in detail.
The Other Reason We Catch Colds, The Flu & Upper Respiratory Infections
According to the Journal of The American Medical Association, between 60% and 80% of doctor’s visits involve a stress-related component. Stress puts our bodies on high alert, with fight-or-flight hormones like adrenaline and cortisol ramping up to meet perceived threats. While this stress process is (sometimes) useful for surviving and succeeding in our demanding lives, the constant state of being on high alert takes a physical and emotional toll on our bodies and minds. These patterns of high stress also produce adverse affects in the quality/frequency of the foods we eat and our hydration; which leaves our already overtaxed bodies malnourished on top of being physiologically over-extended. With all this in mind, it’s no wonder we get sick sometimes.
Leisure Sickness: Physiological Factors That Contribute to Getting Sick on Vacation (after leaving a stressful environment)
One interesting factor in the patterns that illness often follows is the increased propensity of getting sick in the aftermath of stress. In times of stress, our bodies are held firm in our purpose by Adrenalin, Cortisol and our emotional resilience. However, there are times when an abrupt release of stress may leave us with something like a “stress hangover”. In these times of relief, our immune systems let their guards down which leaves our bodies vulnerable. As a primary care physician, I suspect that this “stress hangover” may be a physiological contributor to the psychological condition known as Leisure Sickness. During my undergraduate studies, the “stress hangover” and sickness pattern for myself was that I would get incredibly ill the day after I finished my final exams. I believe that this is no coincidence because viruses, bacteria and fungi tend to grow in bodies that are imbalanced by fatigue and the depletion that comes in the wake of excessive stress hormones like Adrenalin and Cortisol.
The physical response of stress is directly tied to the emotional energy we impart on the events of our lives. As tough as it sounds, things like final exams, traffic, our kids, or our spouses cannot “make” us stressed. That said, life will always have situations or people that we cannot control and decisions that we can make. The emotional connection between physical and emotional health lies in making peace with and owning our personal decision power while letting go of the uncontrollable. While I myself still have much to learn, moving toward this balance is the ultimate cure for the stress that can so easily build to harmful levels in life.
In my experience, all sickness has an emotional connection. By this, I mean that even purely physical sicknesses will have an emotional impact on the patient. This could be a simple cold or a chronic disease. Sickness gives people an opportunity to pause and reflect on their lives. For some, getting sick is almost the only time devoted to slowing down and nurturing the self. In a sick way, sickness may be the only time we give ourselves permission to rest; this may be especially true for high achievers and those with demanding lives. A better way forward may be to take some time to nourish ourselves and relax so we’re less likely to get sick in the first place.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Danielle S. Lockwood (Formerly Anderson)
Naturopathic Physicians in Portland, Oregon
- National Institute of Health. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11:16. Published 2011 Feb 25. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-16 Authors: Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, et al.
- Journal of The American Medical Association. When Physicians Counsel About Stress: Results of a National Study. Authors: Aditi Nerurkar, MD, MPH; Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH; Roger B. Davis, ScD; et al
- US National Library of Medicine. Sambucus nigra extracts inhibit infectious bronchitis virus at an early point during replication. BMC Vet Res. 2014;10:24. Authors: Chen C, Zuckerman DM, Brantley S, et al. Published 2014 Jan 16. doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-24
- US National Library of Medicine. “Intravenous nutrient therapy: the “Myers’ Cocktail””. Alternative Medicine Review. 7 (5): 389–403.
- BMC Journals: Research. The effect of vitamin C on bronchoconstriction and respiratory symptoms caused by exercise: a review and statistical analysis. Author: Hemila H. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology 2014