Natural Flu Remedies

December 4, 2019

Image via Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

Alexa Paolella, IIN Content Editor, Class of January 2018

’Tis the season…for runny noses, scratchy throats, and high fevers.

By now you’ve probably already been asked, “Did you get your flu shot?” by a parent, friend, or coworker. Although we welcome the change in seasons and value the joy and happiness this time of year brings, it can lead to an increase in flu-related illnesses. The days are shorter and we spend less time outdoors, which causes us to feel a little off – emotionally, physically, and mentally. Seasonal affective disorder (yes, it’s a real thing!) and flu season seem to strike at the same time each year, which makes it crucial for us to find natural ways to take care of ourselves.

By boosting your immunity (and energy!) with a mix of vitamins, minerals, and herbs, you might look a little brighter, and you’ll feel better, too.

What is the flu?

Influenza, often called the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that can range from mild to severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of the flu can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Although some of these are also associated with the common cold, you’re likely to experience a few of these symptoms at the same time with the flu, and they’ll often develop more abruptly. The flu also often includes a high temperature, feverish chills, and muscle aches – clear ways to tell the two apart!

Flu Season

According to the CDC, flu season in the United States peaks between December and February each year, but it can start as early as mid-October and last until mid-May. In fact, the 2018–2019 flu season was the longest in a decade, running for 21 weeks straight. About 40 million people got sick last year, leading to over 17 million hospital visits.

There are a few reasons why the flu may strike around the same time each year:

  1. During the winter, we spend more time indoors with our windows closed. We’re breathing the same stagnant air and our germs have no place to go! As soon as one person gets sick in our home or office, it’s more likely that those germs will spread.
  2. Shorter days and less sunlight mean less vitamin D and melatonin, which compromises our immune system and decreases our ability to fight the virus. In a 2017 study, people who took a vitamin D supplement or had naturally higher levels of vitamin D were at a lower risk of acute respiratory infection.
  3. The virus may survive better when the air is cold and dry, enabling it to spread faster and infect more people.

Fortunately, because we have a general idea of why and when flu season happens, we can take preventive measures to stay healthy!

Here are some quick everyday prevention tips: 

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially when in public spaces. If you take public transportation to work or participate in holiday shopping (like the rest of us!), use hand sanitizer regularly to be extra cautious.
  • Stay active as regular exercise supports your heart health and immune system and increases your energy. If you’re feeling off or a little under the weather, listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
  • Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of fluids and avoid sweetened beverages, like soda or energy drinks. Water will help cleanse your system while flushing out harmful bacteria.
  • Reduce stress. We tend to be a little tense during this time of year, but stress can wreak havoc on our gut and overall health. Aim for more sleep, try to meditate, go to a yoga class, dive into a book, or begin journaling – whatever helps you calm your body and mind. 
  • Prioritize rest. A good night’s sleep helps boost immunity, which is essential to feeling your best. Plus, when you’re well rested, you’re more likely to feel calmer and make healthier food choices.

Although these tips are valuable year-round, they’re especially important during flu season when you might be more suspectable to bad germs. You obviously can’t control what the people around you do, so you might still find yourself stuck on a crowded train with people coughing and sneezing; however, as long as you continue to take care of yourself, your immune system will be stronger and you might have an easier time fighting the common cold, flu, and other illnesses.

Because self-care is so important, we put together a list of our favorite natural remedies that help us get through the winter season. These shouldn’t replace getting the flu shot or taking antibiotics if recommended by a doctor. Instead, these remedies are meant to support your body, mind, and overall health, especially if you’re looking for extra ways to prevent illness! The best part? You probably have some of them in your pantry already!

Natural Remedies to Combat Flu-Like Symptoms

Bone Broth
Move over chicken noodle soup, there’s a new broth taking the wellness industry by storm! Bone broth – made from the bones of cows, chickens, and even fish – is combined with a mix of herbs, spices, and vegetables to create an aromatic dish. Because bone broth is so nutritious (and flavorful, too!), it comes with a variety of body-boosting benefits. Rich in gelatin and collagen, bone broth can support gut health and reduce inflammation. It’s also packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium, vitamin A, magnesium, iron, and phosphorous. These minerals work together to boost immunity and strengthen bones. Grab a cup or bowl or try a recipe at home this winter!

Elderberry Syrup
Although elderberry has been around for hundreds of years, it has recently gained attention for its antifungal and antibacterial properties – meaning it will help you fight any virus you feel coming on! This fruit from the Sambucus tree is packed with antioxidants and rich in fiber and vitamin C. Moreover, studies have shown that elderberry syrup and extracts can reduce the length and severity of cold and flu symptoms.

Garlic
While garlic is known for its flavor-enhancing properties, it also helps treat the common cold and fight off bacteria and infection. One clove contains about five milligrams of calcium, 12 milligrams of potassium, and more than 100 sulfuric compounds – which makes it an immune-boosting super-herb. One study found that individuals who took a garlic supplement were also less likely to get sick in the first place! For the highest concentration of immune-boosting properties, we recommend consuming raw garlic. However, upping your intake by roasting or sautéing it, or taking a supplement, is also beneficial.

Oil of Oregano
Oil of oregano is made from the oregano plant and contains a high concentration of antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Two compounds found in oregano oil, thymol and carvacol, are antiviral, meaning they can help kill bad bacteria that enter the body with a common cold or flu. Because oregano oil has a pungent smell and taste, we recommend adding a few drops to your morning juice or smoothie. 

Essential Oils
Essential oils, such as eucalyptus, tea tree, bergamot, and cinnamon leaf, have been shown to have medicinal and therapeutic benefits, along with reducing the flu virus’s ability to spread. Although you can apply these oils directly to your skin, we encourage you to buy a diffuser for your home or office! Because winter air is drier and you’re less likely to open your windows, allowing these vapors to fill your home can improve air quality and enhance the air you’re breathing! 

Herbal Tea
A hot cup of tea has been a traditional remedy for cold sufferers for thousands of years. The hot liquid can soothe your throat and break up congestion, while providing a warming relief. There are many varieties to look for in your local grocery store, but here are a few of our favorites:

Peppermint
Peppermint contains menthol, one of the most common ingredients in cough syrups and cough drops. Menthol helps relieve congestion while suppressing your cough, so peppermint tea is a beneficial way to calm your body, clear your nasal passages, and soothe your throat! 

Echinacea
From the purple coneflower plant, echinacea contains compounds called phenols, which have antioxidant properties beneficial for our health. Echinacea can help reduce inflammation while shortening the duration of cold and flu-like symptoms. One study showed that taking echinacea can also decrease your chances of catching the common cold by 58%.

Ginger
Frequently used to soothe your stomach, ginger is also a great immunity booster during flu season! You can grab a shot of ginger at your local juice bar or brew it as a tea. Because it’s diaphoretic and promotes sweating, it’s the perfect way to keep your body warm and ward off those feverish chills. 

Plus, don’t forget to add a lemon wedge or scoop of honey to any cup of tea for an extra boost of vitamin C!

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