7 Tips for Preventing Colds and Flus | Chris Kresser

7 Tips for Preventing (and Shortening) Colds and Flus

by Chris Kresser

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Cold and flu season is upon us—but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Check out these tips for supercharging your immune system and boosting your resilience.

Conventional wisdom holds that there’s not much you can do to prevent colds and flus—and even less you can do to treat them. Of course you could get a flu shot, but research suggests they aren’t nearly as effective as many believe. OTC remedies like antihistamines, decongestants, and NSAIDs can suppress some of the symptoms associated with colds and flus, but they do nothing to prevent them or shorten their duration. And while antibiotics may be necessary in certain cases (e.g. a cold that progresses to a severe sinus infection, though even this is debatable), they aren’t useful for treating the viral infections that cause colds and flus.

Cold and flu season beating you down? Check out these 7 tips for boosting your immune system.

But here’s the good news: there are, in fact, several steps you can take that will strengthen your immune system and not only decrease the chances that you’ll get sick in the first place, but help to reduce the intensity and shorten the duration of any cold or flu you do get. Instead of just suppressing symptoms, these tips will actually improve the function of your immune system as well as attack the viruses themselves.

#1: Load up on immune-boosting nutrients

There are several micronutrients that are essential for immune health. Many Americans don’t get enough of these nutrients through their diets. But even if you are getting enough, taking additional amounts of them when people around you are sick, or if you’re already sick, can be a big help. These include:

  • Vitamin C. Liposomal forms are best absorbed. I suggest one teaspoon once a day on an empty stomach for prevention, and one teaspoon twice a day for treatment. If you’re using ascrobic acid, take 1,000–4,000 mg/d, up to bowel tolerance.
  • Vitamins A & D. Both of these fat-soluble vitamins are important for immune health, but here’s a little-known fact: research suggests that they are only effective for preventing/reversing colds and flus when taken together. This is why I’m such a proponent of cod liver oil: it contains natural forms of both A & D in a synergistic blend. I recommend Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil from Rosita as my preferred cod liver oil product. For more information, read this article. You can purchase EVCLO here.
  • Selenium. Selenium helps to balance and regulate the immune system. Most Americans get enough in their diet, but taking a little extra during cold and flu season can help. I suggest 200 mcg/d 3-4 times a week. This is the brand I recommend. Note: I do not recommend long-term, continuous selenium supplementation because it has been associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in men.
  • Iodine. Iodine also plays an important role in immune health, and many Americans don’t get enough of it. Ironically, this is especially true for health-conscious people that have removed iodized salt from their diet. The only significant sources of iodine in the diet are sea vegetables, fish heads, and dairy (especially pasture-raised dairy). If you’re not eating these foods regularly, you may want to supplement with about 1 mg per day of iodine in the form of kelp capsules. Note: some people with autoimmune thyroid disease cannot tolerate iodine even in this relatively low amount, so exercise caution if you have Hashimoto’s or Graves’.
  • Zinc. Zinc is another immune-boosting nutrient that many people don’t get enough of. If you like oysters, they are your best bet for meeting zinc needs through diet. You can also take 30 mg/d of zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate for short periods when you feel you’re fighting something.

#2: Drink fresh ginger tea

Ginger is a potent anti-viral substance that prevents the adhesion of viruses to the upper respiratory mucosa. If you drink the concoction I recommend below at the first signs of sickness, you can often fight it off successfully. But—and this is a big “but”—you have to drink it at or near the strength I suggest, or it won’t be effective. Some people find this difficult to do, because ginger is so intense, but if you can handle it your immune system will thank you.

Also, while it’s possible to do this without a juicer, it will take a lot longer. You can get pretty good juicers now for less than $100, so if you or someone in your family suffers from frequent colds/flus, a juicer is a worthwhile expense (and of course it has many other uses).

Directions:

  • Juice (or grate on a fine setting) 1–2 pounds of ginger; place juice in a jar and refrigerate
  • Place 2–4 ounces of ginger juice in a mug with the juice of one-half lemon and a large tablespoon of honey (honey is also anti-viral). I recommend Beekeeper’s Natural honey. Add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 6 ounces of hot water.
  • Drink 2–6 cups of this a day, sipping slowly throughout the day

#3: Wash your hands

Maybe you already know this, but studies have shown that frequent hand-washing is one of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves during cold & flu season. Wash your hands every time you arrive at a destination while out and about, and first thing when you get home.

#4: Take elderberry syrup

Elderberry is one of the most effective botanicals for strengthening immune function and preventing colds and flus. Take 1 teaspoon twice a day if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold or flu—and continue taking it if you do get sick.

#5: Take immune-boosting herbs

There are several botanicals that have a potent immune-boosting effect. I recommend the following blend for prevention during cold season:

  • Mix equal parts astragalus, cordyceps, and rhodiola in tincture form. Herb-pharm is my favorite brand.
  • Take up to 1/4 teaspoon 3x/d for prevention, and 1/2 teaspoon up to 6x/d if you’re already sick.

Note: since astragalus, cordyceps, and rhodiola are “immune boosting” botanicals, people with autoimmune diseases that involve an overactive immune response should exercise caution and speak with their health-care practitioner before using them.

#6: Take anti-viral herbs

If you’ve finally succumbed to a cold or flu despite your best efforts, there are a number of anti-viral herbs that can be helpful. If you want to go deep on this topic, I strongly recommend Stephen Harrod Buhner’s excellent book, Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. But if you just want to cut to the chase, here’s the formula he recommends for treating mild influenza and colds:

  • Mix 2 parts lomatium, 2 parts red root, 2 parts licorice, 1 part isatis (all in tincture form).
  • Take 30–60 drops mixed with 1–2 ounces of water each hour until condition improves. You may have trouble finding some of these botanicals locally, but you can get them fairly easily online.

#7: Rest

Of all of the recommendations, I suspect most people will have the hardest time with this one. In our crazy, hectic world, rest is simply not valued—but it’s absolutely necessary when battling a viral infection is consuming a lot of your energy.

Of course it’s not always easy to take time for yourself, especially if you have young children (I know this firsthand!), but even a few short rest periods throughout the day can make a big difference when it comes to supporting your immune system.

Okay, now I’d like to hear from you. Have you tried any of these strategies? If so, how have they worked? What are your favorite tips for preventing and reversing colds and flus? Let us know in the comments section.

159 Comments

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  1. I received a post on FaceBook yesterday from Charles Poliquin. He is a strength coach who has trained many NHL, NFL, and Olympic Athletes (over 100 medal winners).

    When his Olympic athletes get sick get sick before a meet he has a three-step protocol that he uses that cures them in 6 hours:
    Step 1: Take 10 grams of Glutamine every hour
    Step 2: Swab your nostrils with rubbing alcohol – this will sting a bit – it’s to kill any bacteria in the nostrils
    Step 3: Gargle for 30 seconds with warm water and sea salt – this kills any bacteria in the throat.

    He says all symptoms will be gone after 3 hours, but to make sure they don’t return this should be continued for 6 hours.

    • Sorry, there was more step. That is attitude. He said that the brain is hard-wired into the immune system – that’s why people with high-stress levels get sick. Keep a positive attitude and don’t give any negative thoughts towards being sick.

  2. Whenever I need to drink something unpleasant I keep up the swallowing action as I finish it and quickly continue with plain water to rinse away the taste. Hope this is helpful.

  3. Wow! I can’t believe you left out HUMIDITY. Dry indoor air during the winter time is a major cause of cold and flu infections.

    We tend to forget that the primary immune barrier is physical: skin and mucous membranes. When the lining of your nose and throat become dried out, the immune barrier is breached, allowing nasty viruses to invade.

    In my experience, almost every cold and flu I’ve had started with a sore throat, possibly from sleeping with my mouth open in a low humidity environment.

    I know it’s anecdotal, but since installing a quality whole house humidifier, no one in our home has come down with a URTI.

    • agreed! didn’t have a humidifier recently. i noticed my skin was super dry and my hair was extremely static for days. then a week later i get a nasty cold.

    • He probably left it out because in the Bay Area we struggle with high humidity and mold in the winter. If used a humidifier my house would be overrun with mold.

    • Me too! I more or less followed the recipe Chris wrote out, except that I substituted homemade chicken broth for the hot water.

      I simmered it in my crock pot & drank it all day Sunday, and obviously this is anecdotal, but I feel pretty good today.

  4. Amen to all of your recommendations! I also take oscillicoccinum at the first sign of flu-ish symptoms. And rest is absolutely crucial! I was coming down with something nasty right before Christmas and made time to nap for an hour and a half two days in a row. That along with Oscill and my homemade echinacea tincture beat that cold/flu into submission. I felt great throughout the holidays, PTL! Stay home from work and get well.

  5. Chris,

    I tried this in earnest last week and it worked. My kids (ages 9 and 8) had both been sick with nasty colds, the kind with plugged noses and heavy congested coughs. After spending the long Thanksgiving weekend in close quarters with them I started to feel ill on Monday. I started with the ginger treatment but added garlic and lots of cayenne and also yellow onion and instead of juicing I pulverized with food processor and then added a tablespoon or two to broth and sipped that throughout the day. I also took extra zinz, maybe up to 400 mg. By the next day the symptoms had become minor but I decided to do the full on ginger formula that you recommend and I juiced it this time. Sipped that throughout the day and also got a vial of black elderberry from Whole Foods and took a couple of teaspoons a day. If I truly had a cold, and I think I did, this lessened the length and severity by at least 75%. Incredible. It made this cold into a minor annoyance. I will definitely continue to do this at the first sign of illness.

    Thanks,
    Steve

  6. For using the neti pot, I know you use distilled water. Is it ok to use the water from the dehumidifier for the distilled water? Is it safe or should I just buy it at the drug store?

    • I know that this is a half a year after, however, I thought I’d add this info for next year. 😉

      Dehumidifiers are notorious for collecting mildew spores and also the waste reservoir is often made from recycled, NON-food safe plastics and cannot be counted on to be as clean as a food-grade condenser.

      I hope that this helps.

  7. I’ve had a cold for over a week and I’m just seeing these tips but they sound great! I do take the FCLO but I must admit that I ran out 2 times this past year and that’s when I got sick: first with shingles (fairly mild) and now with this bad cold. Could be coincidence but I’m going to make sure I don’t run out again! Thanks so much for all the great info you share! I really appreciate it. I have your book which I also gave to 3 family members!

  8. I’m a little disappointed that you are giving all this immune boosting advice but the only thing you warned against with regards to autoimmune disease are the immune boosting herbs. Anything that boosts the immune system has the potential to exacerbate or flare up symptoms in people with autoimmune disease. I can’t even take vitamin C without it flaring my symptoms. Many of us with autoimmunity follow individuals like you, among others, for advice because regular medical professionals just don’t get it. If I hadn’t already known this through personal experience and tried what you’re recommending, I would be upset. Please be thorough in the future…Ibtrust you know better.

    • Thank you! I had been wondering that myself… I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and it’s pretty close to remission, I really, truly do not want to endure my RA coming back full force!! Thank you Casey!

    • I used to have this issue, even thought i had developed a garlic & onion allergy! Basically my life was being ruined by Lupus for many years, everything made me sick even the drugs to “help” & I was getting worse with kidney failure! Then I did GAPS protocol & cured all my symptoms by healing the gut lining & inner ecosystem of gut flora. Autoimmunity is caused by a leaky gut and a gut healing diet like GAPS can cure it for FREE at home. I think Chris kresser discusses this but these natural doctors have a tendency to over complicate it in my opinion so you Feel you need to pay For professional help. If you are smart this is not hard to do on your & doesn’t generally require supplements. Supplements & herbs as you noticed can be very bad for people with a leaky gut who do not absorb & digest chemicals notmally. The Specific Carb Intro Diet guys give the intro that cured 99% of my symptoms within a few days for free as a pdf of their first chapter. i forget their names but Dr Natasha also gives the basic info necessary on her website gaps.me. If you don’t do the work to cure your autoimmunity you are looking at a young death from cancer. Like my mom who refused to look at any natural healing for her autoimmune condition & was dead from cancer by age 50. Once the immune system goes on auto attack cancer is inevitable. Watching my mom die such a horrible death is probably why I felt motivated to beat lupus when i got sick a year after she died.

    • Do you add coconut oil to your diet? (good source of lauric acid.) Also, one noted correlation between increases in sickness over the decades is the fact that fewer and fewer people drink full-fat cow’s milk and opt for fat-free. A huge mistake for many reasons, actually. Also, since fat is a nutrient transporter, it helps vitamin A be transported around the body, for instance. (Remember, “eating fat does not make you fat”.)

      • Leaky gut is why people are so sick in the west, and milk can be toxic for anyone with a leaky gut. Commercial dairy is genetically modified A1 protein , ultra pasteurized with synthetic vitamins re added & stored in plastics for a long time under fluorescent lights. Whole or non fat, organic or not isnt going to make a difference… commercial dairy has very little nutritional value & can exascorbate many mental & physical problems. Some people are more sensitive but for anyone with a health issue should avoid milk as it is very high in sugar & feeds pathogenic bacteria.

  9. When I feel that a cold is coming up (normally it starts in my throat) I take one teaspoon of Vitamin C (in form Sodium Ascorbate) three to 4 times a day (depends a bit on how I feel).
    This leads to a shortened time span where I have cold-symptoms (usually 2-3 days) and / or drastically reduced symptoms (subjectively I judge that symptoms are at least 50% less or more).
    While taking higher doses of Vitamin C definitely works (in my experience and clinical control trials), clinical trials show that – contrary to what Chris says – taking Vitamin C does not prevent colds.

  10. I nipped a cold in the bud just this past week by sleeping whenever I felt exhausted, doubling up on my probiotics for a few days and taking olive leaf extract. Hooray!!!

  11. My remedy: good alkaline diet with lots of greens and good water, and Donny Yance’s Immuncare 1 & 2, buffered vitamin C, cod liver oil, raw fresh pineapple juice for cough, hot ginger tea. If strep: raw honey, cayenne, raw garlic!

  12. Squeeze 3 or 4 lemons first thing in the morning and add hot water and some honey. Repeat before bed. Works wonders to stop a cold.

  13. I am an Internal Medicine physician who works exclusively in the hospital.
    I want to remind you that the flu shot is to prevent deadly influenza such as the influenza of 1918 that killed 69,800 and injured more. It is NOT to prevent the common cold or viruses that people call the “flu”. Last year I helped attend to healthy active people who succumed to a HINI variation of influenza. Some had multiple week long stay in the hospital and some died. None had gotten the flu shot. The death toll that year for influenza was around 600.
    The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, including:
    Pregnant women
    Older adults
    Young children
    Children between 6 months and 8 years may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected. Check with your child’s healthcare provider.
    Chronic medical conditions can also increase your risk of influenza complications. Examples include:
    Asthma
    Cancer or cancer treatment
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    Cystic fibrosis
    Diabetes
    HIV/AIDS
    Kidney or liver disease
    Obesity
    As a healthcare worker, a flu shot is recommended and in some places required because it prevents the health care worker becoming a carrier.

    The recommendations above are really more about common cold/viruses. Please do not get that confused with the type of influenza that kills people. By all means help prevent spread by monitoring your own activities and care. You are the most important key to prevent spread. Most of the best literature about herbal preparation come from the Germans- look it up if you want evidence

    • 1918?….that was like a century ago!

      Hmmmm, and what about presenting a balanced perspective? Like the fact that most (if not all) countries in Europe have no recommendations for whole populations to get flu vaccinated, other than the immune system impaired like the elderly!

      Sorry but your comment seems very one-sided and fear mongering.

      • Galina,
        Not sure if your are just being obtuse or what. Of course JGM wasn’t talking about the exact flu of 1918. Some flu are more virulent than others and any one of those could be a killer flu should the general populatoin not take the flu vaccination. JGMs point is that taking a bunch of home remedies does NOT take the place of the flu shot, might help with the common cold which is always a virus but not the more virulent strains.

        • Drexel,
          Yes JGM was talking about the exact flu of 1918 as he used that as an example of how deadly a flu virus can be.

          My point was, that the likelihood of a deadly flu infection is extremely low and depends on the person in question. Therefore a flu vaccine is not a cure for all, but should be evaluated on an individual basis based on a risk benefit analysis.

          Hope that helps,

    • What about for people who are allergic to the flu vaccine like me? What am I supposed to do??? It terrifies me when medical professionals say what you wrote because I don’t have a choice. In fact, the flu vaccine caused the worst autoimmune response I’ve ever had which continued for over a year…I have never been so sick; I was bedridden for 2 months. It elevated my immune system and has taken thousands of dollars to calm it back down. If I had a normal immune system I would get it but I obviously can’t.

    • respectfully- although it’s difficult to be when a “doctor” swoons over the flu shot. last week the cdc (are you familiar with them?) announced this years flu shot will likely not work! pregnant women should certainly NOT poison themselves or their babies with the toxic ingredients in this needle- no one else should either! boosting our immune systems, eating well and nourishing ourselves with food and herbs is far more helpful and causes no damage. my kids are rarely ill, recover faster then their schoolmates AND are educated about the risks which you don’t seem to be…

    • Doctors need to read up on Gut And Psychology Syndrome & read Dr Campbell-McBride’s assessment for parents & children looking to be vaccinated before making such broad recommendations. The CDC guidelines are not appropriate for people with abnormal immune responses. You mentioned those with asthma being at risk for the flu but they are also at risk for serious complications from the flu vaccine ! In other countries babies with asthma or allergies are not even vaccinated at all or delayed vaccination is advised! That is because Asthma is autoimmune & people with autoimmunity don’t react normally to vaccination. The same with allergies, diabetes, fibromyalgia and eczema. There is an epidemic of chronic disease that the medical establishment treats as distinct when they are in fact all triggered by a leaky gut. Dr Natasha & myself are pro vaccine in the appropriate situation, so the usual labeling of anyone who questions the one-size-fits-all approach as “anti vaxxer anti science” doesn’t apply. Until doctors educate themselves about Gut And Psychology/Physiology Syndrome we can expect the skyrocketing childhood cancer rate to continue to grow & the autism rate to be 1 and 2 by 2036. Before you push drugs & shots on people suffering from chronic diseases, you are ethically bound to research the underlying causes of those diseases. Flu shots are NOT safe for anyone with a leaky gut, nor children whose parents with conditions caused by a leaky gut. They need to be assessed & treated as individuals, weighing the specific risks in each unique situation before giving any shots.

    • Oh i forgot about pregnant women…the flu shot is not safe for the developing brain of a fetus. I highly recommend my own children’s pediatrician Dr Paul Thomas who has a YouTube show. I discovered him after curing my Lupus & my sons sensory processing disorder following GAPS protocol & wanting my babies to be vaccinated as safely as possible : https://youtu.be/VoY6vXEMsU8

  14. I too have changed my diet and this year I managed not to get my yearly sinus infection in Sept/Oct. However I do have a sure fire way to shorten a cold. My niece calls it Aunt Nan’s voodoo soup. A cup of good old fashion chicken broth warmed then add grated garlic cloves and ginger with a dash or two of cayenne. A few cups of this soup and all seems right again.

  15. All that sounds like a chore. Thankfully if I don’t eat junk, exercise daily and stay away from kids I don’t usually get sick. When I start feeling low I rest and the body fights it off quickly. That’s is, if I’m taking care of myself in general.

    • I suppose this information is more for people who are having a hard time with the symptoms of cold/flu or have had in the past.

  16. I have used oil of oregano at the first sign of a cold or flu…that heavy feeling at the back of the throat…for about seven years and the only time I have succumbed to anything was once, when I was in Tanzania for a year and the oil of oregano was back home in Canada! Now it travels with me everywhere.

  17. As an aromatherapist that has diffused essential oils for nearly 20 years, we very rarely get even a sniffle. They don’t exist in our home. I’ve seen certain essential oils nip a cold or the flu in the bud within 12-24 hours. Of course we use many of your suggestions too as far as Vitamin C, A & D, Selenium and Zinc. Gargling with salt water is another thing we add when you are coming down with ” the mystery illness?”. Haven’t used too many herbs, since the essential oils are very effective at prevention.

  18. I just purchased and watched an Herbal Cold Care course. from Learning herbs. it is really excellent. It mentioned some of the herbs you mention plus many others. There are instructions for early onset of symptoms and also for relief when the cold has taken hold. They recommend elderberry syrup for prevention in one small dose a day but to take it every 30-60 minutes for early onset symptoms. I worry about the sugar in the syrup – even if it is made with honey.
    All of this stuff is so interesting. I’m surprised bone broth wasn’t on your list!
    I have successfully knocked out colds at early onset with various protocols: vitamin c titration, vitamin D megadose for short time, and even EFT tapping. It’s funny how my tried and true remedy doesn’t work for every cold. I guess it depends on what my body needs at the time.
    The good thing is that for most people the above methods are completely non-toxic.

  19. Going Paleo – or even AIP – seems to make all the difference!

    I’m thrilled to say that since starting the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (to heal leaky gut and put Hashimoto’s into remission), I have not gotten sick! Not one little bit! No matter what my daughter brings home, I don’t catch it. It was the very first thing I noticed and it happened almost immediately after I made the move to AIP (I had been gluten and dairy free for years, but something definitely shifted when I went all the way).

    Looking forward to a cold & flu free winter, but it’s nice to know what to do if one little invader sneaks by.

    Love these articles! Thanks!

  20. I’ve found elderberry to be very effective, but not at the dose you recommend. It has to be much higher from all that I’ve read about it. I’ve used it at more like at 2 teaspoons an hour if I am actually feeling a cold coming on. The lower dose you mention is more for prevention in my experience.
    I’ve also had success with increasing my consumption of onion and garlic, especially in soup if I feel a cold coming on.

  21. One of the best articles I’ve read on viral prevention and treatment Chris. When I visited India, and this is a place where if you don’t get even colds like me, here you will because of, and this is what I heard, the amount of cow dung smoke in the air. The Indians use it for heating and cooking and you can’t see it. I wondered why I had gotten a chest cold, as it went away for a couple of days and then came back again, only to finally leave when I left the country 3 weeks later. I researched because I don’t get sick very often at all, and when I was there, ginger was readily available and put a lot of it in my tea and drank that. Great idea about the amount of ginger being 1 to 2 lbs in the fridge, for doing the job right. I’ve also had some great luck with oregano oil. I take 5 drops of olive oil and 5 drops of good Oil of Oregano with at least 70% carvacrols, and put it in a “00” vege cap. Research the caps though and try to find the ones made from mushrooms as the normal ones use bad oils. Everything is made cheaply, which we’re used to, except in the last 20 years or so, when we’ve got used to making our own tinctures and have learned that research is necessary to find that whatever goes in the body, has to be clean and made from the best.

    • To add to my own comment. I read the comment on garlic, and being a retired commercial union carpenter, where because there’s so many on the union books because of the high pay, if you miss a day you get your check. A day off is a lay-off and most that worked the most ate a clove of garlic a day and never got sick. This is the truth as I worked with the same guys through the years and we talked about it, but also, being real physical all day helps detox also, so you have to weigh that in, but garlic for me was more of a preventative medicinal.

  22. Best tip I got from my time at Stanford with one of the best doctors in the nation:

    High dose vitamin D (as an adult, i take 5000 IU daily, bumped to 10,000 if I feel something coming on).

    It’s a communication hormone that sends your immune system to the battle early and boldly. After 3 years using this as a person with a condition that equates to having a weak immune system, I fight off illnesses like a champ.

  23. After having 4-6 severe colds a year, with bad after affects on sinuses etc., I upped my fruit/veg consumption, and regularly have a soluble Vitamin C tablet each morning at my work desk, and hey presto….I rarely get colds, and any I do are usually very minor that I hardly notice.

  24. Thank you for sharing this 7 great tips, Chris! Vitamin C and Fresh ginger with lemon juice and honey does really works well in both preventing and treating colds and flu.

  25. I have stopped all colds for myself within 24 hours by immediately using my Neti pot at the first little throat tickle or cough. I then use it every few hours (3 times a day or so) for one day, then again the next morning, and I have NEVER had a cold take hold in the last 10 years. Everyone else in the office takes off 3 days and are sick as dogs, but not me.

    The common cold virus replicates in the sinuses and that’s why a Neti pot will knock it out.

    With today’s superbugs, you have to use distilled water. Tap water has given the flesh eating disease to two people (per one report) who used it in their Neti pots and they died when the bugs reached their brains. You can google “died, water, Neti pot” to read the news stories yourself. People will argue that they’ve used regular tap water or river water for 10000 years in India, but they didn’t have the superbugs we do today. When DRINKING flesh eating bacteria, our gut acids destroy it, but when you put tap water straight into your sinuses, there is nothing to kill the bacteria. So use it wisely.

  26. I’ve been taking Vitamin D for about 3.5 years and haven’t had the flu or a cold in all that time. I used to average 2 bad colds/flu twice a year.

  27. Chris
    Thanks for the plethora of useful and interesting information and knowledge you supply through your website and emailings.
    I have recently started taking a selenium supplement so it was striking that you mentioned only taking selenium supplements on a limited basis; how long is the flu season? it’s often hard to tell.
    PS I live in Hawaii

    Kevin

  28. Thank you for the article Chris, very insightful as always .. quick question : how about garlic ? many paleo / ancestral resources place garlic ( fresh , raw , organic ) in the top 3 of most effective anti-viral, anti-biotic natural remedies .. interesting you did not include it here .. I got sick lately with flu-like symptoms , and between a few small garlic chunks 3 times a day , and ginger / turmeric tea with Hanuka honey a few times a day, I was good as new in 2 days .. interested on your thoughts. Thanks much.

  29. I have been trying to give my 9 year old daughter elderberry syrup as a preventative measure. 1-2 teaspoons a day for a month. I’ve header that doing it twice a year can help boost the immune system. 2.5 weeks into the course, she got sick. Got better within 3 days … and got sick again 2 days later. Hmmm … doesn’t look like elderberry syrup is working that great for her. I have used Nature’s Way Sambucus, if that matters.

  30. I have rarely been ill for more than 24 hours while using elderberry extract. I have been using it at first exposure or first sign of not feeling well on the schedule you mentioned above, for 2-3years now. Symptom severity is very much decreased and all symptoms have been gone in less than 2 days. Of course, proper nutrition, rest, and fluids are key in conjunction with the syrup or extract.

  31. Chris, great article as usual, thank you! Couldn’t agree more about sleep, but, in my experience, one hugely important item has been added to my list: plain WATER, and lots of it.
    My whole life I’ve gotten multiple colds yearly. I’ve never been a water drinker, at least I wasn’t until a few years ago when a biologist friend asked how much plain water I was drinking during one of my bouts, and my answer was none other than via tea, coffee, etc. She explained that abundant water keeps the nasal and oral membranes well hydrated and better able to fend off infections.
    Since then, religiously I drink year-round 75-100% of my body weight in water ounces daily. Major difference! I’ve not had even one cold since then!
    So my personal experience is sleep is #1 and water is #2!

  32. Hi Chris,
    I am a big fan of your work and I’ve been a reader for years – going all the way back to when you were still in school and blogging as the Healthy Skeptic.
    I really don’t want my comment to come off as rude or as a know-it-all, but I would suggest that you consult with an herbalist before posting an article full of mistakes and subpar advice. For example…

    1. Elderberry syrup is great for preventing a cold. One teaspoon twice a day may be an appropriate dose for a small child but is nowhere near the dose needed for an average weight adult. If you feel like you have something coming on already then an even larger dose is needed. More like a tablespoon every 30-60 minutes.

    2. It’s sort of a misnomer to say that herbs like astragalus and cordyceps are “immune boosting”. While it is a good idea for anyone with complicated health problems to consult with a practitioner there is absolutely no evidence that astragalus and cordyceps can’t be used for people with autoimmunity issues. How do I know this? I am a clinician and I regularly see those herbs help people in my practice who have autoimmune issues. Are they beneficial for all people or for all types of autoimmune issues? Of course not, but that is more the exception than the rule.

    The other issue I have with this recommendation is that the form of administration (tincture) is not ideal and again the dose is really low.

    There are other issues with the herbal recommendations but I’ll leave it at that.

    I am a big fan of your writings because they cut through a lot of garbage and offer great advice. However, this article really fell short of that in regards to the herbal recommendations.

    I am a registered professional herbalist with the AHG and I have been in clinical practice for 6 years. I am also the author of the Herbal Cold Care course. I’d be happy to help you with future articles to support your level of high standards.

    Rosalee

    PS I wanted to send this to you privately but your contact page only offered support for digital programs and supplements.

  33. Another significant consideration not mentioned yet, is an environmental factor: the type of heat being used in the home. I know for myself, and many others I’ve spoken with over the years, forced air heat, ‘central’ heat, seems to be the worst for most people; and certainly seems to contribute to more frequent respiratory issues; including generally weakening the immune system from the stress of breathing dried-out air, filled with dust, other icky stuff, and depleted of oxygen. Many have found that living / working in environments with healthier heating, like radiant (hot water) baseboard heat, have drastically reduced winter illness. Obviously, changing one’s heating system is not an option for most people, (and not as easy as taking certain supplements) but it is a significant factor; and things can be done to mitigate the negative impacts of it, especially during a period of illness: using an air filter, keeping the air more humid, have healthy plants in the sleeping room, etc. Air quality is a fundamental aspect of health, especially when sick.

  34. I have found that cod liver oil is great at keeping me well and when I feel something coming on I add 4-5 drops of grapefruit seed extract to my water. It’s bitter so you have to do it in a 32 oz or larger cup/glass for it to be somewhat tolerable. You can add honey to sweeten it. Works like a charm at preventing bacterial infections. I haven’t had the same amount of luck from a viral cold though if I do end up getting one. We have kids so it’s inevitable I won’t be successful every time. I look forward to trying some of these tips listed here. Thanks Chris and commenters!

  35. Great article! Wondering if gargling with salt water or oil pulling would help. And ditto with using neti pot to cleanse sinuses…

  36. The ginger/lime/honey/cayenne mixture is an absolute winner. I have been battling bouts of bronchitis over the last year and finally I found something that knocked it out. I’m a believer.

  37. Fantastic post. Just wondering if the herbs mentioned above are safe for my four year old or even for an infant (possibly in different doses). Also, are the herbs mentioned safe for me while I’m nursing?

    Thanks!

  38. Movement! I am amazed at how a long walk (and stretching) at the onset of a respiratory illness can halt it in its tracks with all that lymph drainage and the delivery of oxygen.

  39. Would these recommendations help for cold sores (viral). I haven’t had one for 20 years and boom I have one now. I think it was a facial treatment I had that stimulated the virus. Anyway, it’s on my chin. That is where my initial episode was – following a nerve from my ear to my chin. That first episode was horrible and I never want it to happen like that again. So I’ve been reading that too much amino acid Arginine could trigger/awaken the virus. Ironically I had been taking Ancient Earth minerals with amino acids (for the first time) when it started. Do you think this could be part of the cause? From what I understand I should try L-Lysine to counteract the L-Arginine. Want to do everything to keep this mild.

    • My husband is a lifelong on and off cold sore sufferer and ditto for me but instead canker sores. The biggest causes we have found for flare-ups are immune deficiency, with lack of sleep being the most important factor contributing to that. Stress is related too, since it can impact immunity, partially because it usually impairs quality or quantity of sleep. (I also sometime get them if I accidentally injure the skin in my mouth or on my tongue.) So number one, get LOTs of sleep. Number 2, we both take large doses of l-Lysine continuously, whether or not we have sores, and then we double the dose if we feel one coming on. With all of the things we have tried in our lifetimes, l-Lysine is the only thing we have found that is preventative (aside from adequate sleep) and effective in healing them too. Like most things, the key is to be proactive when you feel one coming on. We take 1-3 grams per day total (in 2-3 doses during the day) and I try to take them before meals or away from food. Interestingly, while taking 2 g per day, but stopped during the recommended break before a blood test, I did a NutrEval blood test and it showed me still deficient in Lysine! So my functional med doc told me to go to 3 g per day. I also think it’s hereditary. My father is a lifelong sufferer and so is 1 of my 3 brothers. I hope this helps.

      • Susan, thank you for your helpful insights. I will be trying l-Lysine 500mg twice daily to help heal. I am also doing an OTC cream. I really need to find a good functional health practitioner! I agree that sleep is so important and I strive to get around 8 hours every night. Stress in my life is low to moderate at the moment. I do believe a laser facial treatment I had about a week ago triggered this. I don’t think I will be doing that again 🙁

      • As a lifelong sufferer of canker soars I wanted to share how I got rid of them-I started making my own toothpaste. I read that there is an ingredient in commercial toothpastes that may cause them so I started making my own and haven’t had one since. Once in 5 months I got that first sign I might get one (used to get 1 a month), rinsed with 50/50 peroxide and water and it was gone the next day. Canker soars are no fun and making your own toothpaste is really easy!!

        • Same here.. lifelong canker sufferer. I found out by trial and error what the ingredient was in toothpaste that caused it. Sodium lauryl sulfate. Find a toothpaste without it. I no longer get canker sores now. Hope that helps someone.

  40. Chris,

    You seem to be a pretty evidence based guy. Obviously vitamins are helpful, but could you please list some evidence or any type of study or any proof to believe elderberry or herbal viral supplements work? I think it’s important if you’re making recommendations

    • In my experience, virtually nothing in the field of nutrition can ever be undeniably, scientifically “proven”, and you’re wasting your time trying. For any study you find that ‘proves’ something, there will be others that refute it.
      However, evidence that falls short of definitive proof is still evidence.

      • Fair enough Stan. You did polarize my stance from asking for any shred of evidence to your statement of irrefutable evidence. I think it’s very reasonable to ask for some kind of evidence, even if it’s only 20-30 case studies. Unfortunately, the statement you made that nothing can be proven has made millionaires out of many snake oil salesmen. Hydroxylcut and other supplements that had proven results turned out to be damaging to the point of death and organ failure.

        When we move to making recommendations to take supplements from a place of authority alongside having profit motive, I believe it’s fair for the consumer to ask why? And then to ask for some reasons that have some semblance in reality.

        But maybe Ive just learned to much about the supplement market? Some will take these statements with blind faith and spend hundreds of dollars a year. I would like to see a reason why especially done by independent parties (those who don’t profit off the sale of books or supplements)

        • I completely agree. I think part of the issue is that some herbs are known as traditional remedies, but haven’t necessarily been tested in RCTs. So there may be some in vitro testing showing that some herbal extract has antiviral activity, but we don’t know how that translates to humans outside of anecdotes. (I don’t actually know which of the listed herbs have RCTs, but most have in vitro evidence.)

          Traditional use of a herb does have some weight too, but it could be wrong or even harmful as well. I think it’s important to note that just because something is a natural and traditional herbal remedy does not necessarily mean it is safe. People need to do their research, and it would be very helpful if articles like this had links to that research.

          There was a time when doctors felt that antibiotics helped fight colds, because as far as they could see, when they prescribed them, the cold would be gone in a few days. What they didn’t account for is that colds tend to run their course in a few days, and would have been over without the antibiotic. This is why we need good quality evidence and not just anecdotes (for all meds and supplements, not just the herbal ones).

          In the meantime, zinc lozenges and Vitamin A/D have some good evidence, and honey or other food-type remedies are pretty safe. (Cayenne is lovely for clearing sinuses.)

    • The best proof is in trying it out yourself. Elderberry syrup can be made at home easily and cost effective, there are many recipes online. It won’t hurt to try it, I know folks who remember eating elderberry syrup on pancakes when they were kids…daily (it’s a food).
      Elderberry is great for prevention and at the onset (but not once your sick), the elder flowers (which is the blossom before it becomes a berry) is good for fighting of heat conditions such as a fever, especially when mixed with peppermint it helps push out the heat and resolve while fighting illness.

      Source; I’ve been treating myself and kids using herbs and foods for the last 10 years!

  41. I don’t get colds, but have read that massive doses of vitamin D for 3 days in a row, at the first sign of a cold coming on. I have had reports of good results from this.

    The dose of vitamin D to treat a flu is about 900IU per pound of body weight (2,000 IU per kilogram). The dose would be taken once a day for three days; that’s about 135,000 IU a day for a 150lb. adult.

    • Lol!

      The dose of vitamin D to treat flu is …

      Really? You’re acting like this is a science. There is no “dose to treat flu”. It would depend if the person is vitamin D deficient, their weight, and Many other factors. And that’s assuming that it actually works in a person who has a regular daily supply of vitamin D and isn’t short on it.

      I’m all for nutrition to stay healthy, which includes lots of vegetables and nutrient rich foods along exercise. But some of the claims randomly being thrown around this site are ridiculous. Sure vitamin D is awesome, so are many other nutrients. I don’t think we have any evidence showing that people with adequate stores of vitamin d do better after having the flu. Obviously deficient individuals will do better. But they would do better with all kinds of vitamins and even regular exercise.

  42. AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) , Beta Glucan, oil of oregano, olive leaf extract and propolis are also good for stimulating the immune system.

    I plan on using mastic gum, olive leaf extract and oregano oil to fight H Pylori infection if tests come out positive. I may take them anyway, since blood tests can miss detection if you’ve had H Pylori infection for a long time.

    • @pm
      My husband got rid of H Pylori using mastic gum, chewed a piece daily in the morning on an empty stomach for about 30 minutes and in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. He did this for about 6 weeks along with a semi Paleo diet and it could no longer be detected,

      • That’s encouraging to hear. Six weeks is a lot longer time than antibiotics would take, but much much safer — which his the whole point, right? Thanks for letting me know.

    • I got rid of an h. pylori infection with something similar. I followed one regimen for 3 weeks, then switched to a second for 3 weeks, then back to the first for 3 weeks, and finally the second for 3 more weeks. It took 12 weeks but the infection disappeared without any need for antibiotics.

  43. ZINC all the way!! It works magic. I can’t believe Chris didn’t mention this. While I hate to mention brand names, Zicam lozenges, when taken exactly according to the package’s directions, prevents most colds for me. It must be taken at the first sign of a cold, however, to be most effective. I start taking it as soon as I feel a sore throat coming on (which is how my colds start most of the time) and within 24 hrs I am symptom free. In the rare cases that a cold ensues, it is a much much milder version of the colds than I used to get. My daughter can’t stand the lozenges, but I find that giving her zinc tablets to swallow (combined with echinacea) is almost as effective.

  44. Let’s not overlook the value of homeopathic remedies. Hyland’s makes a wonderful product called Cold Calm and for flu you can’t beat Oscillococcinum. I’ve had wonderful results from homeopathy and it sure beats swallowing a handful of pills everyday.

      • I wouldn’t believe anything from wikipedia or wiki anything. You need to find a different reference if you want me or anyone in the know to take you seriously. Otherwise, you are simply viewed, IMPO, as a troll.

      • This negative comment about homeopathy is such a strike against my normally positive or neutral response to these articles. My evidenced based response as well as that of my family (who actually don’t believe in them, even though they can stop a vomiting episode within minutes) refutes your condescending link. If I’m trusting in evidenced based zinc or elderberry, return the respect for evidenced based CORRECTLY USED homeopathy.

        • I don’t think it’s condescending to acknowledge that peer reviewed studies haven’t found conclusive evidence that homeopathic remedies work. Wikipedia links to these studies, and many people when using wiki as a source in comments do it in lieu of linking to all those studies separately.

          I’m sure most people just want safe, easy, and proven ways to deal with illnesses, but to figure out what those are, we need to weigh the evidence for and against treatments. This goes for all treatments, not just homeopathy.

          Anecdotes don’t really constitute evidence, because someone else has another anecdote saying the opposite. So who’s right? Determining that is what science is for.

          High quality peer reviewed evidence will tend to get more respect than a random person’s experience, because high quality scientific studies are designed to control for all the confounding factors that can affect illnesses and confuse the issue of whether a treatment is actually effective. So it’s only fair that peer review science will get more respect than a person’s anecdote, right? That doesn’t mean your experience isn’t important, it just means it’s an n=1 that can’t be generalized to others.

          People will have to weigh scientific evidence against anecdotes themselves, but it’s always helpful to check different lines of evidence either way. I always check both to get a complete picture. Though I have to note that what’s particularly pertinent in homeopathy is lack of mechanism.

          • Agreed. Homeopathy is well known to have no scientific background, no double blinded placebo controlled studies and just piggy backs on the placebo effect.

            • Craig, besides my response above, which I am not sure they will let post as it goes against big money, and your placebo defense of it, I think a placebo is a great thing when nOT dealing with major illness, especially something like a common cold.

              I would much rather find a nice, cheap placebo concoction that works for me in fighting something like the common cold, instead of spending a bunch of money lining the pockets of pharmaceutical companies with a product that despite a few hundred profit motivated ‘scientific studies’, doesn’t work for me, and also opens up the chances for a terrible side effect.

          • I put more weight in anecdotal evidence because it is usually first born from many uses in the past, while the scientific had big money clouding things up, and that same big money will push to dismiss homeopathic (almost never pouring the same amount of money into it because it’s too cheap to produce) and will have a bias in favor of where money can be made, which also leads to ignoring signs of ineffectiveness of non-homeopathic medicines.

  45. Propolis is a great one for my family, also seems to track sore throat in it’s tracks. Vit C, Echinacea and homemade elderberry syrup are the other winter “staples”.

  46. For up coming flu I’ve found that taking more deep breaths, getting more oxygen in the body, stimulates the lymph system and makes the flu go away soon.

    Also rubbing your self or getting rubbed by some one close gives an tremendous immune booster, so cuddling is good besides keeping warm.

    Enjoy,
    Petra

  47. I have found that using a combination of liquid herbs of
    echinacea,olive leaf,astragalus,sambucus,thuja,colloidal silver,base as in The Pot Lots immun/virus formula works well
    s

  48. Fire cider/Master tonic every couple of hours works for me. I added echinacea tincture for extra punch! I gargle and breathe it, then swallow.

  49. Hi Chris!
    I have a special needs child and I have been giving him liquid Cod Liver oil, for kids. I didn’t know fermented was key until after I purchased it. My son is super picky. What is the best liquid form for kids?

    • Green Pasture is a good brand, as is EVCLO (EVCLO.com). It’s not key that it’s fermented; the main issue is the vitamin content. Both of these brands are high-vitamin.

      • There was recently some discussion (in the comment section especially) over at David Gumpert’s blog, The Complete Patient, about the dangers of using fermented cod liver oil.

        Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however, so one must do what one thinks is right. But you need to have all the facts before you do these things. Too many opinions these days on things like CLO and other “health” foods/supplements/options.

  50. Hi Chris,
    Nice article, I really enjoyed it. I would like to recommend virgin coconut oil intake, it’s the best bet one could do for shortening cold and flus!

    • Agree, Silvio, and I would add:

      I apply coconut oil topically (instead of lotion) after I wash my hands and throughout the day. I keep a small bottle of top-quality coconut oil in a recycled cod liver oil bottle in the center console of both our cars so that we can always make sure our hands are clean, even if soap/water aren’t available. I used to get sick much more frequently than my husband, but I haven’t caught even a sniffle after he brought home a cold last month and late last winter.

      I can attest to its anti-viral properties firsthand since it vanquished a cold sore in 48 hours flat (compared to 12+ days with Rx Denavir). Powerful stuff!

  51. Very opportune information, thanks very much!

    I’ve always struggled my entire life with frequent and very severe colds that knocked me out for the better part of a week. But I have noticed a drastic improvement since I eliminated omega-6 rich oils, excessive sugar, and wheat products from my diet. I also eat a lot of apples and other whole fruits, and I drink lots of raw milk. As far as vitamins, I occasionally take most of the ones mentioned in this article.

    A question about vitamin C… what exactly is Liposomal Vitamin C, and how does it compare to say, regular vitamin C with rose hips? And what about Ester-C? Any advantages, or is it a farce?

  52. I was surprised to see Vitamin C mentioned I thought this cold remedy had been thoroughly debunked. I tried it for years to no effect.

    However echinacea works a treat as long as it is a good quality one and not the liquid form

    • Vitamin C fuels the white blood cells. Echinacea stimulates an immune response against the infection. Most people will do better by taking both vitamin c and echinacea. You probably have adequate vitamin C, but lack the immune response.
      People with autoimmune problems should avoid echinacea.

  53. Chris, what do you think about taking N-acetyl cysteine for the flu (and maybe colds?) I seem to remember reading that it might be useful to fight the flu… and I suppose it’ll at least help your body detox if you end up taking cold / flu symptom relief products with acetaminophen.

    I also find Pelargonium sidoides tincture to be useful for colds especially when it’s working into my lungs.

    • NAC is a glutathione precursor, and glutathione can definitely help with viral and intracellular infections. There are about 10 other tips I could have included here (tried to keep the article a manageable length), and glutathione is definitely one of them.

      • Pure Encapsulations sells liposomal glutathione. Is this better than NAC and what amount is recommended for infections?

  54. Wish I’d seen this article a month ago, when I went down with a bad flu. It took weeks to fully recover, particularly from the fatigue. I hadn’t been eating much meat during my illness, so last week I started eating a little liver each day. The boost in my energy level was immediate!

  55. I love to drink lemon water in the morning before breakfast. One half or whole lemon squeezed in warm water. Makes me feel great, boosts my immunity and gives me energy for the day.

    • To avoid acid damage to your teeth (I speak from experience!) and immediately raise the PH level in your mouth to 7.0, be sure to do one of the following for 4-5 minutes:
      1. swish 1 gram (1/4 tsp) of 100% xylitol granules
      2. chew 100% xylitol sweetened gum
      3. let 100% xylitol sweetened mints dissolve in mouth

  56. Hi Chris,
    Love your work. A great addition to the ginger tea that I’ve found works really well is to place garlic cloves and quartered brown onion into a big jar of honey (as much as you can fit in) and leave overnight. The active constituents of the garlic and onion steep into the honey, and you can strain the vegetable matter out once complete. You’re left with a much thinner consistency garlic/onion honey syrup that can be spooned into the tea for added anti-microbial effectiveness.
    Keep up the great information – you’re an inspiration to all us practitioners!
    James

    • In regards to the Ginger/lemon/cayenne pepper/honey drink. I know you mention that it’s difficult for some people to withstand because of the intense flavor of the Ginger but what about the Cayene pepper? I found it difficult to over come. Would it still be effective if I put less Cayene pepper in it? What role does the Cayene pepper play in it?

      • Brandy, for what it’s worth, I add a few shakes of cayenne pepper to my morning lemon-water drink, and it took no time to get used to it. Now, on the rare occasion that I forget, I actually miss it!

        The heat is, yes, shocking when you’re not used to it, but as I say, the shock doesn’t take long to wear off. Maybe you can start with a shake or two of the cayenne , and increase it every few days until you are up to 1/8th teaspoon — which really isn’t very much.

        Hope this helps.

        • Hi Carsie! Yes I completely agree. I am actually having a cup as we speak and I put just a couple of shakes in it. 1/8 teaspoon was definitely a shock but I’m working my way up to it. 🙂

      • Brandy, another thought about the cayenne pepper….If, instead of adding it to the basic mixture, if you add it just before drinking the tea, the cayenne doesn’t heat up the mixture too much before you drink it, but yet you get the benefit of getting it into your system.

        • Thank you Norma. I did try it again where I didn’t heat the drink with the Cayenne pepper in it. I do agree that the heat isn’t as intense

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