Dr Charlotte Hay
My Top Tips to Stop a Cold or Flu in its Tracks
As flu season is upon us (as well as the ongoing threat of covid), you might be wondering what you can do to prevent yourself getting sick in the first place, or maybe you’re wondering whether there actually are any natural remedies that really work, or if it's all just a gimmick? Well, the answer is: yes, there are some things that can help boost your immunity and help your body fight off a cold or the flu. BUT, since every body is different, it’s a case of trying various things for yourself in order to see what works for you. In addition, most treatments work better if you take them at the onset of illness (just when you start to feel a bit under-the-weather), rather than when you’re in the middle of a full-blown flu. With that said, these are the top 5 things I recommend to clients, that I personally rely on to help me fend off illness and get back to doing what I love.
1. Vitamin C, vitamin D3, and zinc
If you think about building an immunity ‘toolkit’ for yourself, your essential, or foundational, tools (the basic, first-step, ones) would be: vitamins C and D3, and a zinc supplement. I would recommend taking these every day during flu season, even when you feel fine. You can take them individually, or as part of a multivitamin if you prefer, as long as you’re getting the rights dosages. Vitamin C doesn’t need to be mega high (the body can only absorb so much, and then you will pee out what you don’t need), just a little boost on top of what you (hopefully!) should be getting from your diet. Same goes for zinc; provided you eat a healthy diet (i.e.. lots of fruit and veg) then you should only need a little boost, but if your diet is lacking in any way you could afford to take a higher dose, such as 15mg/day. I believe everyone living in the Northern hemisphere should be taking a vitamin D3 supplement – minimum 400iu in summer, and this can be increased to 1000iu in winter, or even 2000iu if you are feeling lethargic, cold, or have a vitamin D deficiency. It’s a really good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked at the doctor (just ask for a blood test – they should test your 25-hydroxyvitamin D level) as it is possible to take too much vitamin D, although it’s unusual, since most people in the UK are deficient. There are two forms – D2 and D3. D3 is preferable, as it’s the more active form (otherwise the body has to convert D2 to D3). Some D3 is not vegan as it’s made from lanolin (an oil in sheep’s wool), but it is definitely possible to get vegan D3, you just need to shop around.
So you’re taking your vitamin C, vitamin D3, and zinc daily, but you’re starting to feel like you might be catching something (for me it usually starts as a slight itch at the back of my throat). Rather than reaching for the echinacea as many people do, I swear by Allicin (not the woman!).
Essentially Allicin is what gives garlic is health-promoting properties. The extracted form is therefore much more potent than garlic (and yes, the tablets have a slight garlic taste, although it doesn’t linger and doesn’t make your breath smell – unless my partner is too polite to tell me!). It can be taken throughout flu season/Winter as a preventative (which would usually be 2 tablets per day), but I usually take it right at the onset of a cold, at a high dose (usually 4 tablets per day – you can take up to 10 a day!) for a few days. You can increase the dose if you wish, but I find it usually takes action within a few days (as long as you catch it in time!).
3. Lemon and ginger tea
It sounds like such a simple thing but fresh lemon and ginger tea really helps me deal with the symptoms of a cold or sore throat, as well as being hugely comforting. Just slice up a lemon, peel a one-inch piece of fresh ginger, and stick the ginger and 2 slices of lemon in a mug, followed by hot water (option to add a tablespoon of honey if you’re not vegan). You can reuse the lemon and ginger several times (pouring over fresh hot water) before replacing them. This is also a really great drink to have first thing in the morning if you feel too cold for plain lemon water, or anytime throughout the day, as staying hydrated is also really important for helping your body function optimally.
4. Get steaming...
No, I don’t mean going for a wild night out on the town!
(If you’re not Scottish, steaming means 'blind drunk' in Scots.)
I mean steaming your head with essential oils. “How do you 'steam your head'?!”, you might be wondering. Ok, so you get a large bowl, fill it with boiling water from the kettle, and add *one or two* drops of an essential oil that helps clear the airways (be careful not to add too much, or your sinuses will feel like they’re on fire!). I like DoTerra’s Air, which is like a natural alternative to Vicks. Then put your head over the bowl, face down, and cover both your head and the bowl in a large towel (to trap in the steam). Stay for 10-15 minutes, or until it has cooled. There are also some other fantastic essential oils to help boost immunity, such as DoTerra’s On Guard, which can be diffused in your home environment (or car), or even ingested in capsules (in very small doses) at the onset of a cold. (Most oils should never be ingested but DoTerra has some ‘food-grade’ oils such as On Guard.)
I can’t emphasise enough how important rest is when you’re sick (or about-to-be) with a cold or flu. This is your body telling you it needs to stop for a moment and recuperate – maybe you’ve been pushing it too hard in the run-up to that presentation at work, or too many nights out with friends and co-workers. Whatever the reason, it’s super important to pay attention to these subtle cues from the body, otherwise it might resort to getting your attention in a much more extreme manner (like a more serious illness). Sometimes we even manifest colds and illnesses ourselves – have you ever just thought, “I wish I was sick so that I could stay off work today and just read magazines and eat cake?!” I know I have... But isn’t it sad that we need the ‘excuse’ of illness to just give ourselves a break? What if we could just do this anyway – instead of a ‘sick day’, just take a ‘me day’ – because we know that it’s good for us and we deserve it? Too often when we feel sick we think we need to ‘push through it’, to go to the gym anyway, even when we feel like rubbish, because otherwise we’re ‘lazy’, or ‘making excuses’, or we’ll fall behind with things. But in the long-run this disconnects us from our bodies, and is more than likely just going to prolong, or worsen, our sickness. So stick the kettle on, grab a cozy blanket and a good book, and give yourself the best fighting chance to recover.
Have you tried any of these tips before? What are your go-to remedies for cold or flu? Share them in the comments below!
To kicking that cold’s butt,
*Please talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements, to check they are appropriate for you. Always check the proper dilution ratios for essential oils and never apply them neat on the skin, or ingest, them, unless they are food-grade (and even then, use caution).