Woman with flu with teddy bear

Best Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu Prevention

Ahhh….Choo ! It’s that time of year again — cold and flu season. Bad enough we have to deal with winter, now this? Let’s just say this season of the year isn’t a favorite of mine or anyone else, I suspect.

However, you don’t have to take it lying down. There are holistic hacks you can use for cold and flu prevention and I’m gonna give them to you right here.

Top 6 Home Remedies for Cold and Flu Prevention

fresh berries at the farmers market

Eat a Healthy Diet

Throw out the junk food — now is the time to eat healthy! What you put in your body can be the difference between staying healthy and happy vs being sick, sad and in bed.

Make sure to eat plenty of brightly colored fruits and veggies -green, red, yellow, blue, purple as these are high in phytochemicals which can give your immune system a much needed boost this time of year.

person washing hands

Regular Handwashing

Wash your hands! Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent getting colds or flu. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to kill all those germs and viruses. Also, don’t touch you face without first washing your hands to reduce the chance of nasty germs entering your body.

Woman drinking water

Hydrate Regularly

Indoor heat and cozy fireplaces are great for keeping us warm in the winter, but the downside is, these conveniences can dehydrate us both inside and out. Plus, immune cells don’t function as well if you’re dehydrated, so drink plenty of fluids!

Woman sleeping

Sleep

This is not the time of year to skimp on your sleep. During sleep, your body is busy repairing itself so it can function optimally during the day when you’re awake.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your body can’t heal itself to ward off nasty colds and flu. Chronic sleep deprivation may impair immune function, so it’s super important to get the amount of sleep your body needs.

Man riding a bicycle

Exercise

Getting your heart and blood pumping can ramp up the body’s white blood cells that attack viruses. Exercise can also be a big stress reliever, thereby, slowing down the the release of stress hormones in the body.

Carve out a little time everyday for about 30-60 minutes of exercise – it doesn’t have to be continuous either, 10 – 15 minutes of any kind of movement will do! Anything from yard work like raking leaves, walking, or yoga counts.

cell phone

Don’t forget to disinfect your cell phone

Most people keep their phone with them at all times so it’s bound to be coated in all kinds of germs. Make sure to swipe it clean with a sanitizing wipe to help cut back on the amount of bacteria and potential viruses near your nose and mouth.

Top 8 Cold and Flu Fighting Foods

Garlic bulbs on a brown surface

Garlic

There’s something about garlic that cold and flu viruses don’t like — and it’s not just the pungent aroma! Garlic’s been used for centuries as an effective antibacterial and antiviral compound. The sulfuric compound, allicin, found in garlic produces potent antioxidants as it decomposes.

Garlic may help boost your immune system. Studies have found that people taking garlic supplements not only got sick less often, but when they were sick, got well 3.5 days faster than those on placebo.

Try adding raw garlic to soups and broths to add not only a little flavor, but ward off cold and flu too. Garlic packs the biggest antioxidant punch when it’s eaten raw. If you just can’t tolerate the taste, aged garlic supplements may be an option for you.

Raw ginger on white board

Ginger

Ginger’s anti-nausea effects are well known to most people. However, ginger has also demonstrated antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. Plus it’s potent anti-inflammatory properties can help boost your immunity.

Ginger contains sesquiterpenes, compounds that target the cold causing rhinovirus, and anti-inflammatory gingerols to fight infections.

Try adding fresh ginger to soups or brew up a cup of ginger tea or even gingerale — just make sure it’s real ginger or ginger extract — plain old ginger flavorings don’t have the same benefit.

salmon on sheet pan with herbs on top

Wild Salmon

Zinc rich foods like wild salmon may help you avoid getting a nasty cold this year. Salmon is also high in omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation which is the root cause of most illnesses.

Wild caught salmon is naturally high in immune enhancing selenium and Vitamin D which we never seem to get enough of in the dark days of winter.

Go for wild caught salmon rather than farmed as it’s a better source of these nutrients. Try this recipe for Wild Salmon Roasted with Butter and Almonds for a natural immune boost.

Chicken Soup in a bowl

Chicken Soup

Remember when you were a kid and feeling under the weather, there was nothing like a hot, steaming, bowl of moms homemade chicken soup to make you feel better.

Chicken soup has been used for centuries as a preventative treatment for the common cold and flu. As is turns out, there is evidence to back up its claims as one of the best natural remedies for colds and flu.

A 2012 study identified a compound, carnosine, found in chicken soup that may be responsible for it’s anti-inflammatory effects, and actually prevent the development of cold symptoms.

Any hot liquid can help relieve nasal congestion, but chicken soup appears to be a superior alternative for moving mucous out of the body. It’s also high in zinc which has been proven to shorten the duration of a cold.

Give this recipe for Flu Fighter Chicken Noodle Soup a shot this cold and flu season.

Kiwi fruit

Kiwi Fruit

With it’s high Vitamin C and E content, kiwi may be worth adding to your cold and flu fighting toolkit. Vitamin C may boost your production of white blood cells and antibodies which can help prevent cold and flu from taking hold in the first place. Vitamin E is needed for immunoglobulin production –immunoglobulins are like your personal bodyguard to protect you from harmful pathogens.

Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake Mushrooms

If you’re a fan of mushrooms like me, knowing these tasty fungi have health benefits is an awesome bonus. Shiitake mushrooms enhance your body’s natural killer cells whose job is to attack cancer and other virus infected cells.

Research has found that shiitake mushrooms may inhibit the growth of the influenza virus. Mushrooms are also high in immune boosting Vitamin D. Due to their high anti fungal and anti bacterial properties, they may be protective against yeast and mold also.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds or Pepitas are a great source of cold fighting zinc. They’re also high in immune boosting Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids.

One ounce of pumpkin seeds — about 142 seeds –contains about 2 gm of zinc. Try adding pepitas to trail mix, salads, or sprinkling on top of yogurt for a little crunch.

fruit - raspberries, blackberries, blueberries

Dark Berries

Dark colored berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and elderberries are excellent sources of immune enhancing antioxidants that we all need more of this season of the year.

These colorful berries are also high in Vitamin C which helps reduce free radicals and bolster your immune system.

However, a word of warning with elderberries — never eat them raw as this can make you ill — always cook them before eating.

Top 6 Supplements for Cold and Flu Prevention

elderberries + elderberry syrup in a jar

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup has been used for centuries to prevent and treat cold and flu. High in phenolic acids, flavonols, and anthocyanins–all powerful antioxidants that may be responsible for its free radical clearing abilities.

Elderberry’s antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties may make it a good alternative option for preventing and treating the symptoms of colds and flu.

There are a few small studies on elderberry’s cold and flu fighting prowess. However, more large scale studies may be needed to prove its effectiveness.

Elderberry supplements come in many forms– teas, pills, gummies, syrups, and lozenges. If you do decide to take a supplement, be careful to choose a quality product. Look for one that’s been tested by an independent, certifying body such as US Pharmacopia (USP) or ConsumerLab.

Echinacea flower

Echinacea

Echinacea or purple coneflower has been used medicinally by Native Americans for centuries. Currently, it’s one of the most popular supplements for the treatment of the common cold or flu.

Quite a few studies have been done on its immune enhancing capabilities. Studies have shown Echinacea may reduce your risk of contracting a cold by 50%.

However, if you have an autoimmune disease or are on immunosuppressive drugs, it may be best to avoid echinacea as it’s a powerful immune stimulant.

Possible side effect includes hives, rashes, stomach pain, nausea, and shortness of breath. Side effects are most common in people with allergies to certain flowers such as daisies, ragweed, or marigolds.

Probiotic supplement

Probiotics

Research on the use of probiotics for cold and flu prevention is ongoing, however, there are a few studies with positive results.

A recent Swedish study found that workers who took the probiotic strain, Lactobacillus reuteri, were out sick from work 50% less than those who didn’t take the supplement. Unfortunately, the study was sponsored by a supplement company so the results may be questionable. 

In another recent clinical trial, participants taking a probiotic cocktail of 5 strains of probiotics, had a significant reduction in the number of colds and flu compared to those taking a placebo.

Maintaining a healthy digestive tract is especially important during cold and flu season, as this may help lessen the impact of these illnesses. Therefore, it may be a good idea to include probiotic – rich foods and supplements in your cold and flu prevention regimen.

Sunshine

Vitamin D

We all know of Vitamin D’s importance in bone health, but it may play an important role for cold and flu prevention.

A recent 2017 study provided good evidence that Vitamin D is protective against acute respiratory infections like cold and flu. The study found the protection from acute respiratory infection with Vitamin D supplementation was similar to that of the flu vaccine.

People with Vitamin D deficiency experienced the most benefit from regular supplementation — a decrease in colds and flu by half when compared to those not taking supplements. People with higher levels of Vitamin D received a less dramatic benefit from supplementation.

Given the lack of sun exposure during the winter, it may be worth considering adding the “sunshine vitamin” to your daily routine.

strawberries
strawberries

Vitamin C

Vitamin C supplements come in many forms — pills, lozenges, teas, powders to name just a few. Vitamin C appears to be most beneficial for cold prevention if taken daily. Studies have shown only a modest effect on reducing symptoms once you have a cold.

Regular intake of Vitamin C in either supplement or food forms may help with cold prevention and lessen their severity if you do end of getting one.

oysters

Zinc

There is evidence that taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of cold or flu symptoms may help shorten its duration.

If you choose to take a lozenge, it needs to have 13-23 mg of zinc to be an effective cold fighter. The upper limit for zinc is 40 mg — too much zinc can actually depress your immune system, so don’t take the lozenges like candy.

Conclusion

There you have it! There are all sorts of natural remedies for cold and flu prevention — from common sense strategies like washing your hands to choosing the best high antioxidant foods and immune enhancing supplements.

So get out there and stay healthy this cold and flu season!

***Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice***

About the author

Susan Taylor, RDN LD is a registered dietitian / nutritionist with 20+ years experience in the nutrition field.  Susan has worked in a variety of clinical settings including hospitals, longterm care, rehab, and private practice. She currently enjoys life in the Charleston, SC area and is always looking for ways to fit in a little more beach time.