Natural cold and flu remedies to try this season

Gear up for this winter season with homemade and over-the-counter remedies.

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sick woman taking her temperature, thermometer
Photo, Masterfile.

Experts predict that this cold and flu season – which officially starts in October and peaks in December and January – will be particularly rough. So we asked Sherry Torkos, pharmacist and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, for some survival tips.

Fever, aches and pain

A fever occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to fight infection. Torkos recommends placing a cool compress on the forehead. You can also soak in a tub filled with half a cup of Epsom salts to soothe sore muscles — a common fever side effect. Cool baths are effective, but ensure it’s not icy. “Be especially careful with children,” she says. “Shivering in the water is not a good sign.” Rest and hydration are paramount for recovery, as well.

Sore throat

Throat sprays containing echinacea and sage are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and promote healing. “I recommend Echinaforce because it’s been clinically studied. There are tablets, liquids and chewables for kids, and it has quick results,” she says. Zinc lozenges’s active ingredient is menthol (and sometimes benzocaine) and provides a temporary numbing effect. Echinacea, on the other hand, boosts the immune system. “If it hurts to swallow and lozenges aren’t giving you relief, I’d try the spray,” she says. Gargling with salt water is another viable option.

Cough

Take one or two teaspoons of buckwheat honey (the darker amber colour contains more nutrients, minerals and enzymes). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against feeding honey to children under 12 months since it can contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism. For adults, “lozenges containing menthol and/or eucalyptus are good for a tickle in the throat,” says Torkos. If you’re having difficulty breathing along with chest pains and fever, see a doctor – it could be a sign of bronchial infection.

Congestion

Torkos suggests staying hydrated with warm liquids containing elderberry, and herbal and green teas. A study from the University of Nebraska found that chicken soup really does have healing powers, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Neti pots are effective for adults, while saline nasal sprays and drops work best for kids (but use them sparingly as they may cause dependence). It’s also wise to keep a humidifier in the bedroom at night. “In the winter, we have heaters on, which dries the air,” Torkos says. “If you’re coughing, dry air is a lot more harsh.”

Runny nose

In order for Vitamin C to yield an antihistamine (anti-allergy) effect, the dosage should be approximately two grams daily, according to Torkos. This dosage, which helps with sneezing and watery eyes, is safe for most people. However, at high doses, Vitamin C can cause diarrhea and an upset stomach. Although a runny nose may be inconvenient, it’s your body’s natural way of eliminating bugs, so let it run its course.

What can we take for prevention?

Torkos says “certain supplements can play a role for supporting immune health and preventing illness during cold and flu season. When considering a supplement it’s important to look for products that have been clinically studied and carry Health Canada approved health claims.” Her recommendations for prevention during cold and flu season are Echinaforce (a clinically studied type of Echinacea) and Cold-fX (a standardized type of North American ginseng). She also recommends Kyolic aged garlic extract and Vitamins C and D to help support the immune system. “You don’t need to take everything,” says Torkos. “But focus your efforts during cold and flu season when circulating viruses are at their peak.”