When the common cold or influenza strikes, it can knock you out for a few days and leave you struggling to keep up with the usual demands of life. Particularly for the young and the elderly, these common viral infections can lead to complications such as pneumonia and can even be fatal. For most people, it also means having to take sick leave, which costs employers billions of dollars every year. Using an all-natural approach, you can reduce the number of viral infections you get, and decrease the severity and duration of symptoms when you do get one.
Cold and Flu Symptoms
The common cold and the flu share many symptoms, which can make it difficult to know which one you’re suffering from. Colds are usually much less intense than the flu, but both are caused by viruses that affect our respiratory tract. Symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose and Congestion
The flu tends to develop more suddenly than a cold and usually the symptoms are more severe, particularly high fever and body aches. This often renders people suffering from the flu bed-ridden for a few days.
Both viruses pass from person to person, usually via bodily fluids, such as sneezing or coughing on someone else. Children tend to get colds more often, as they touch different things and come into contact with more viruses than older people.
The Body’s Response to Viruses
When a virus enters your body, it makes itself at home and starts multiplying, taking over cells in your body, which causes you to get symptoms.
Your immune system tracks down the problematic cells, invaded by the virus, and finds a way to get rid of them. This takes time, which is why it usually takes a few days, or up to a week, for you to feel better.
Your immune system is particularly important to prevent the common cold and flu, or at least help you feel better sooner if you already have symptoms. Supporting the immune system and giving it a boost will help you stay healthy and strengthen your defenses against these viral attacks.
Support your Immune System
One of the most beneficial things you can do to improve how well your immune system works, and its ability to control bacteria and viruses, is to live a healthy life.
- Eat fresh food. Fruits and vegetables strengthen your immune defenses by providing it with essential vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, processed food that is packaged in plastic, cardboard or tins usually contains a lot of trans fats, additives and refined carbohydrates, which won’t do your immune system any favors.
- Limit sugar intake. Research shows that sugar consumption leads to depression of the immune system. This is partly because sugar blocks the way vitamin C works in the body, which usually helps boost immunity.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol. Excessive smoking and alcohol consumption affects the functioning of your immune system, and increases your chances of suffering from a cold or the flu.
- Wash your hands often. Most colds and influenza cases occur because of hand contact. Simply washing your hands with water and soap can prevent viruses from reaching your nose or mouth, saving your immune system from an extra task.
- Gargle with salt water. Cold and flu viruses spread through the air, attacking the back of the throat first before spreading. Salt and warm water mix will help to wash the virus away and decreases the chances of it taking hold. It can also help relieve a sore throat.
6 Key Immunity Boosters
As well as general support to your immune system, some foods in particular can help give your defenses a little boost.
- Vitamin C is amazingly protective against viral infections like the common cold and influenza. Taking high doses of vitamin C when symptoms begin helps shorten the infection. Oranges and strawberries are both great sources of vitamin C. Don’t exceed 4000mg per day for adults or 2000mg per day for children, and distribute smaller doses throughout the day, as high doses of vitamin C may cause diarrhea or an upset stomach.
- Garlic is a common vegetable that offers significant benefits to your health, one being a boost to your immune system. Studies show that eating garlic can reduce your risk of suffering from the common cold. You can take it as powder, capsules or just eat some raw!
- Astragalus root is a herb employed in Chinese medicine, used traditionally to improve the immune system and reduce cold or flu symptoms. More recent studies also confirm its stimulating effect on immune cells.
- Ginger, lemon and honey can be combined to make a warm drink that is great for managing cold and influenza symptoms. They all have anti-microbial properties. Honey offers a soothing texture for a sore throat or cough, while ginger boosts the immune system and helps with nausea and gastrointestinal upset that comes with certain strains of flu. You can also add a pinch of cayenne pepper to help break up the mucus, or other warming herbs like cinnamon and clove. (Important Note: Current medical guidelines suggest not giving honey to infants under 12 months due to their immature immune and digestive systems).
- Echinacea is a herb belonging to the daisy family. It is commonly used to protect against viral infections as it increases immune function. Some studies show a 50 to 60 percent reduction in colds or flues when taking it daily!
Note: Since herbs like astragalus and Echinacea are “immune boosting” botanicals, people with severe autoimmune diseases that involve an overactive immune response should exercise caution and speak with their health-care practitioner before using them.
There will always be cold and flu viruses circulating around your community, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel ill for a few days each time a new strain strikes.