How to Prevent Colds and Flus Naturally | Chris Kresser
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How to Prevent Colds and Flus Naturally

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How to cure cold and flu naturally

Since cold and flu season is now upon us (at least in the U.S.), I figured I’d take the opportunity to share my favorite tips for natural prevention and treatment.

Prevention

  • A nutrient-dense, toxin-free diet: avoid the foods that tend to weaken the immune system, such as sugar, unprepared grains, industrial seed oils and processed and refined foods.
  • Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil: if there’s only one superfood/supplement you take through the winter, this should be it. It’s rich with fat-soluble vitamins that regulate and support the immune system, and fatty acids like EPA and DHA that reduce inflammation. It also seems to have some kind of synergistic quality above and beyond the individual nutrients it contains that powerfully boosts immunity. I rarely get colds and flus when I’m taking it. I now 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 hereDosage: 1 tsp/d or 2 caps per day.
  • Liver. Liver is nature’s multivitamin. It’s the most nutrient-dense food on the planet, as I explained here. I recommend eating 3 ounces a week if you’re taking EVCLO.
  • Bone broth. Grandma knew best! Homemade bone broth is rich with easily absorbable minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, and trace minerals difficult to obtain elsewhere. Check out the Weston A. Price article “Broth is Beautiful” for recipes and more information.
  • Fermented foods and/or probiotics: 70-80% of our immune system is in our gut. If you have intestinal dysbiosis or poor gut flora, you’ll be more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections (and colds and flus).
  • Vitamin C: I don’t supplement with vitamin C at all times during the year, but when cold and flu season rolls around, I’ll often take 1 g/d as a precaution.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a powerful immunoregulatory role. For most people, the EVCLO should be enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. However, some people require higher doses of vitamin D to keep their 25D levels in the desired range of 35-60 ng/mL. This is especially true of those with obesity or inflammation, because these conditions impair the conversion of sunlight to vitamin D. Dosage: 2,000 – 4,000 IU/d depending on beginning level and amount of EVCLO you’re taking.
  • Jade Windscreen Formula. Jade Windscreen (or Yu Ping Feng San in Pinyin Chinese) is an immune system tonic made up of botanicals that enhance the immune system and have anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. The traditional formula contains Astragalus, Actractylodes and Ledebouriella, but modern preparations also add cinnamon, siler root, Chinese yam rhizome, and white peony root. You can often buy Jade Windscreen at a health food store or natural pharmacy. You can also buy it online. I like the Kan Herbs tincture. Dosage: 10-20 drops 2-3x/daily (check with your medical provider if you are pregnant or nursing or have an autoimmune condition)
  • Sleep and rest. Getting adequate sleep and rest is perhaps the most important thing you can do to optimize your immune function. Just a few nights of not sleeping well can elevate inflammatory markers and reduce the protective capability of your immune system. That’s why it’s a good idea to go to bed earlier, sleep longer and rest more in the winter season.

Treatment

Sometimes despite our best efforts, a virus slips through our defenses and our immune system is called into action. Here are a few things in addition to the above that you can to do fight off the cold or flu and shorten its lifespan.

  • More EVCLO: double or even triple your dose to get more immune-boosting fat-soluble vitamins into your system.
  • Ginger honey-lemon tea with optional additions: ginger has anti-microbial and can help with nasea and G.I. upset that comes with certain strains of flu. Lemon is a good natural source of vitamin C, and has a soothing quality on a sore throat – especially when combined with honey. Honey is a time-honored cough remedy, and recent research suggests that it may be an effective cough suppressant. (Important note: never give honey to kids under 1-year of age.) Optional additions to this tea could include fresh garlic (anti-microbial), a pinch of cayenne pepper (to help break up mucous) and other warming herbs like cinnamon and clove. One of my favorite brands of raw honey is Beekeeper’s Naturals.
  • Sweat: in Chinese medicine, sweating is recommended at the early stages of a cold. The best way to do this is to take a very hot bath. I also recommend adding herbs and essential oils that promote sweating, such as wintergreen, eucalyptus, rosemary and thyme. Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath is a powder containing these ingredients that you can add to your bath. It’s available at Whole Foods and other health food stores, and also online.
  • Increase probiotic intake. I find beet kvaas and kombucha to be particularly helpful at the early stages of a cold.
  • Rest, rest, rest. Again, there’s no better remedy for a cold or flu than rest.
  • Zinc. Research suggests that zinc can reduce the duration and severity of a cold – but only if it’s started early on.

114 Comments

Join the conversation

  1. In our house, at the first sign of a cold you are given a teaspoon of raw honey mixed with 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, which is usually enough to stop a cold within 5 hours. If it is more persistent, we take another dose in evening and therefore twice a day for up to 3 days. This wipes out 9 out of 10 colds. I also made my own thyme tincture and lemonbalm tincture, both good for colds.
    Garlic, aloe, ginger, astragalus, cayenne, elderberry, oregano oil, vitamin D3, and onions, all used in various ways for cold treatments and all good. Any lung congestion gets an old fashioned onion poultice which works like a charm.
    Honey, garlic, and cayenne for strep (look on Dr. Christopher’s site for this recipe, and yes, we’ve used this successfully), and honey mixed with freshly reamed lemon juice for coughs. Onion syrup made from onions and sugar (though I want to try this with honey) will also work wonders on coughs
    There is no reason to fall victim to a cold.
    .

  2. Don’t forget a teatree steam inhalation for clearing sinus problems…. It’s anti viral and works amazingly well.

  3. This is a powerfully anti-inflammatory diet. My daughter has used this regimen – minus the herbs and vitamin supplements – to heal from a severe, crippling rheumatoid arthritis. I guess one more thing she does is drink 1/2 gallon of raw milk every day, with raw egg yolk thrown in once in a while. Oh, and lots of raw butter.

  4. I know avoiding toxins is important, but can undereating weaken the immune system, too? Feel like I’m always just on the verge of a cold or something … sore throat, tired, a little sneezy and sniffly, appetite off, which kind of creates a vicious cycle of not eating properly. Work and life have been so incredibly, stupidly busy the last little while, and I haven’t been able to eat regularly or enough. I think? Hard to tell because the days just fly by, and I really don’t even know if I’m hungry or not the past few months. The stress likely doesn’t help either. I do try to bring healthy foods to the office, there’s just very little time to eat them.

    • The zinc discussion above reminds me… low zinc status can affect appetite, meaning you will lack appetite. If you’re always on the verge of a cold, you might be low in zinc, among other things.

  5. Hi Chris

    I’m a big fan of your blogs and just wanted to say a big thank you for all the advice!

    I wondered if you could help me out? I have a food intolerance to white fish and salmon so fish oils upset my stomach…I have been trying out vegan DHA that’s from algae but this seems to be upsetting my stomach too….I wondered if you have any advice on how to get more of the essential omegas etc?
    I follow a Paleo diet so no grains/dairy already.
    Thanks in advance!

    • There are only two sources of DHA: fish, and algae. If these both upset your stomach, I’d suggest addressing your digestive issues so you can assimilate these foods. Try ox bile to help you break down the CLO.

  6. Blend equal parts fresh onion, jalepeno or cayenne, horseradish ( fresh or bottled), fresh garlic, fresh ginger with apple cider vinegar. Sip slowly throughout the day if getting sick.

  7. I bought 120 capsules of FCLO from Green Pastures September time and started taking 1 capsule a day in October. I stepped it up to 2 capsules a day some time in November & will take them till they run out. I take them in the morning with my breakfast of grilled sausage & bacon (from pastured pigs) with local (back garden) free range eggs (fried in butter). I also have a few spoonfuls of Sauerkraut or some other fermented veggies to feed my gut flora & fauna. In the evening I gnaw on Polish smoked sausage or some other Polish meat on Polish bread (sourdough) with butter.

    The result has been that I have had no colds or flus this year.

    Most of what Chris says above makes complete sense to me.

    Thank you Chris for your very informative web site & podcasts from someone in the UK who has taken notice of what you have to say plus Mark Sisson, Barry Groves (Trick and Treat:
    How ‘healthy eating’ is making us ill – what a brilliant book) & the Weston A Price Foundation.

  8. That is one excellent article! Thanks. However I would add GREENS. Greens, greens, greens. And more greens. And little to no food if actually sick already. Seaweeds too, miso soup for nourishment at that time in one’s bone broth. Gaia Quick Defense is my indispensable supplement.

  9. Wow. Reading through these recommendations was like reading the menu from where I work: Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley. We specialize in nutrient dense food, sell bone broths and the Fermented Cod Liver Oil. I am the brewmeister there and I make Beet Kvass and Kombucha! Very cool to see our mission being so directly supported in this way! Kudos to good health and real food!

  10. For me, 1000mg Vit C every 2-3hrs usually stops a cold in its tracks. As of yet, no bowel issues either from high Vit C consumption 😉

  11. Chris, do you know anything about Cod Liver Oil by Carlson Labs. Is this good quality oil?
    (Carlson Labs, Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, Lemon Flavor)

    Thank you for an excellent information!

  12. What’s worked best for me as a treatment is simply having one clove of raw garlic with a teaspoon of raw honey several times a day. Chew it and swallow it. (The honey makes it palatable.)

    For prevention, I like doing a shot of “master tonic” each morning (garlic, onion, ginger, cayenne, horseradish in an apple cider vinegar solution — google the recipe).

    • Apparently there is no detectable casein or lactose in butter oil or ghee, but if someone has a true allergy to casein they may react to it.

  13. Fish oil does interfere with clotting, but everyone is different as to how much is too much. I’m not sure about bleeding risk in young, healthy individuals, but I have seen hindered clotting in elderly using fish oil. Trouble getting a nose bleed to stop or GI bleed are worst case scenarios.
    A drop of peppermint essential oil completely hides the taste of cod liver oil, but not in burps afterwards.

  14. Your recommendations for prevention is what I’m currently eating for pregnancy (except the Jade Windscreen Formula). I eat a tsp of raw salmon roe a day for the Vitamin D + FCLO/BO mix.

    For anyone who isn’t too fond of eating liver, dessicated liver is pretty easy to take. I make my own, but you can purchase it online.

  15. I’d like to know the answer to the very first comment above. Is cod liver oil plus salmon or krill oil overdosing or do they serve different purposes and can both be taken? I am asking because I can’t stand the taste of fish and salmon oil is the only way I can get the benefits from it, but would like to try this, too. Thanks 🙂

    • If you’re not eating any fish and your overall intake of PUFA is very low, then salmon oil + CLO is probably fine.

  16. I like to throw an astragalus root slice in stews and soups during the winter. I noticed Ecinacea was not mentioned. Is its action overrated?

  17. I would argue that zinc status needs to be optimal year-round, not just for cold and flu prevention/ease. If one keeps their zinc status optimal all the time, there will be no issue with possibly starting to take it too late when a virus hits. Zinc is required for something like 200+ different metabolic reactions in the body so it is a powerhouse nutrient. Picolinate is the form of choice. Since I got my zinc and D levels optimal, nothing has touched me for 6 months which is unheard of for me.

      • No worries – just be careful of dosing safely. It is toxic if too much is taken. I take higher than most because I have pyroluria. My GP (the MD version in Oz) tests my levels of that, copper and ceruloplasmin regularly so I know I won’t end up with toxicity.

    • Good point, Allison. Many people are deficient in zinc and have too much copper. I see it all the time in my practice.

      • Bingo! I’m one of those people – my copper is double my zinc 🙁 But in my case that is due to pyroluria, which is not recognised by conventional medicine. But I think there are likely plenty of people without pyroluria walking around with a zinc:copper imbalance which has so many implications. Have you heard of pyroluria Chris? Interested to know if you have since you’re aware of the zinc:copper imbalance.