Six natural remedies to prevent and treat winter colds

October 15, 2012 · 3 comments

natural remedies for coldsThis weekend, in spite of my best efforts, I came down with a cold.

It wasn’t a surprise to me — in the last week I “cheated” on the GAPS diet quite a bit and ate a lot of starches and simple sugars — sure immune system depleters, especially this time of year, and especially while I’m pregnant.

Thankfully, though, the colds I have now are nothing like the ones I had a few years ago, which left me absolutely miserable for almost a week several times a year and desperate to find some kind of medication that would help me breathe, sleep, and stay alert during the day.

In the last year since I committed to eating whole, unprocessed foods, including cultured and fermented foods, the one or two colds have meant a day or two of feeling run down, sneezing a bit, having to blow my nose a few times a day, and perhaps a dose of acetaminophen if I’m particularly achy at night.

This is what I believe prevents them and treats them:

1. Whole-foods diet. Not everyone is willing or able to commit to the full GAPS diet, but any steps towards reducing the amount of processed foods (anything that comes in a box or a bag that wasn’t previously alive — beans, nuts, and dried fruits are exceptions — and usually located in the middle aisles of the grocery store). Local, seasonal fruits and vegetables are normally less expensive, look better, and generally provide the specific nutrients needed for a healthy immune system in any particular time of year. (I’m munching on pomegranate seeds as I type this — they’re packed with antioxidants and happen to be in season right now in California. Perfect for both preventing and treating colds).

2. Cultured/fermented foods. Naturally cultured and fermented foods add beneficial bacteria called probiotics to our guts, which is the starting point for any immune response. Probiotics help us digest food properly, making sure we have the maximum amount of available nutrients to keep our bodies healthy, and their presence also means there is less room for pathogenic bacteria and yeast that deplete our immune systems and lead to illness. I make my own yogurt, kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir (tibicos), and lacto-fermented vegetables, and we eat something cultured with every meal. It’s less expensive than taking a high-quality probiotic (which is an alternative), and the bacteria are generally thought to survive the trip through the gut a little better than those contained in pills.

3. Bone broth. I’ve made bone broth a part of my regular meals for the last year, and I swear I feel better when I have a few small cups a day. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals, fats, and protein, and stimulates the digestive system. When I’ve actually come down with a cold, I make soup using my bone broth, seasonal vegetables (my CSA box this week had turnips, carrots, and kale — I added garlic and onion and a little bit of salt and pepper. I can feel the fog lifting and my body healing with every tiny bite.

4. Elderberry. I only just started paying attention to this tiny berry this year, and I’m so glad I did. You can read all about it’s immune-boosting benefits here. It’s possible to buy elderberry syrup at the drugstore and take regular doses of it, but it can be expensive. Elderberry grows wild in many places in North America and Europe, but not where I live. I ordered a pound of it freeze-dried and make a tea that I add to water kefir (tibicos) and kombucha as a tonic. It’s delicious and much less expensive. After I’m done making the tea, I eat what’s left of the berries for an extra immune boost.

5. Neti pot. I read that in areas that practice Ayurvedic customs, using a neti pot is like brushing your teeth, and it’s simply a part of a regular hygiene routine. I’ll admit that with two young boys to care for, I’m not always good about using my neti pot regularly. But we all know we start feeling that tingle of a cold in our throat and nose first, and using a neti pot with saline solution, and perhaps a drop or two of tea tree oil can wash those germs out and keep them to a minimum. This is what I credit with not needing a decongestant when I come down with a cold, and also with keeping that miserable itchy/scratchy feeling at bay.

6. Dry brushing. This is another technique I only recently learned about and started practicing. Brushing the skin with a loofah, rough towel, or natural-bristle brush exfoliates the skin and stimulates the lymph system. While modern science says the detox claims are inflated, I notice a difference in how I feel when I do it regularly. I try to dry-brush once a day when I’m well, and then twice a day if I’m coming down with something.

Hope these techniques are helpful to you in staying healthy this winter!

Photo credit: mcfarlandmo on Flickr

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