Coming down with a nasty cold or flu bug can easily derail even the “healthiest” among us. Both diseases of the respiratory tract and caused by viruses, colds and flus often have similar symptoms, although the flu is typically more severe and can sometimes lead to dangerous complications.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of Americans will get the flu each season, whereas Americans suffer from upwards of 1 billion colds a year (the common cold can actually be caused by more than 200 different viruses!).[i]
Antibiotics, which only treat bacterial infections, are useless against colds and flus … and one of the leading antiviral drugs often recommended for the flu — Tamiflu — has been said to have only “modest” to no effectiveness, with researchers stating it “might be regarded as optional for reducing the symptoms of seasonal influenza.”[ii]
If you start to come down with the sore throat, cough, sinus pressure, headaches, fatigue and aches and pains that can accompany colds and the flu, this doesn’t mean you have no choice but to suffer.
There are plenty of effective natural remedies for colds and flu available that are worth trying, and most are simple and inexpensive, too.
11 Top Natural Cold and Flu Remedies
This mineral plays a key role in supporting immune function, and if you have a zinc deficiency your immune function may be depressed, making your more susceptible to colds and flu.
Research shows that zinc (lozenges or syrup) may help to reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, especially when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Those who take zinc are less likely to have their cold persist for seven days, while zinc supplementation for five months also has been found to reduce the incidence of colds in children.[iii]
In addition to supplements, good sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, crab and lobster.
10. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that has been found to reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms. In people exposed to extreme physical stress (such as running a marathon or skiing), vitamin C appears to have an even greater effect and may cut your risk of cold in half.[iv]
Citrus fruits, red and green peppers, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, cantaloupe and tomatoes are good dietary sources of vitamin C.
Garlic has both antibacterial and antiviral properties, and research has shown that those who took garlic every day for three months had fewer colds than those taking a placebo.[v]
8. Green Tea
Green tea is rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals, including some that have antiviral properties. Research suggests that drinking one to five cups of green tea daily may help prevent the flu, particularly in children.[vi]
7. Vitamin D
Although it’s most known for its role in bone health, vitamin D also plays a role in your body’s innate immunity, including the prevention of respiratory tract infections like colds and flu. Research shows that people with higher vitamin D levels are less likely to have recently had a cold or the flu.[vii] At least one study also suggests that supplementing with vitamin D3 during the winter (when sunlight, your body’s natural source of vitamin D is more likely to be scarce) may reduce the incidence of the flu, especially in school-aged children.[viii]
Mushrooms, including reishi, maitake, shiitake and even common white button varieties, contain immune-boosting compounds, such as beta-glucans, as well as anti-viral properties that may help to ward off colds and the flu.
The friendly bacteria known as probiotics, which reside largely in your digestive tract, not only help to support a strong immune system, but also may reduce your body’s inflammatory response to the cold virus, thereby lessening symptoms. In one study of college students living in close proximity during a cold outbreak, those who took probiotic supplements had colds that went away two days faster, with symptoms that were 34 percent less severe, than students taking a placebo.[ix]
A review of research from 10 clinical trials also found that probiotics may help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold.[x]
In addition to supplements, probiotics are found in fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir and traditionally made sauerkraut.
Elderberry contains immune-stimulating antioxidants, along with anti-inflammatory and anti-viral compounds that might be effective against both the cold and the flu. In one study, patients taking an elderberry extract syrup had their flu symptoms resolve four days earlier than those taking a placebo[xi] — a valuable improvement if you’re suffering the ravages of the flu.
In Canada, the natural herb ginseng can be sold with a health claim for cold and flu prevention. This immune-supportive herb, in particular North American ginseng, has been found to reduce both the incidence of colds and the severity of symptoms, along with the number of days cold symptoms are experienced.[xii]
2. Regular Exercise
Exercises boost immune health, and as such has been found to cut your risk of catching a cold by nearly 50 percent when done regularly. Further, regular exercisers tend to have less severe symptoms if they do come down with a cold.[xiii]
1. Proteolytic Enzymes
The miserable symptoms that you go through when fighting off a cold or the flu, such as stuffy nose and sore throat — are a result of your body’s inflammatory response to the virus, rather than the result of the virus itself. Proteolytic enzymes not only have potent anti-inflammatory properties, they also fight viruses and support your immune system.
Proteolytic enzymes are produced naturally by your pancreas and are used by your body to “eat up” scar tissue, cleanse toxins from your blood, fight viruses and improve your immune system, so you’re likely to get sick less often. Unfortunately, your body stops producing optimal amounts of proteolytic enzymes sometime in your late 20s, which is why taking a proteolytic enzyme supplement is a very smart move, especially if you’re in your 40s and beyond.