Cold, cold days are approaching, which means it’s pretty much inevitable that we’ll get sick at some point. While we can certainly try our best to boost our immune system pre-season to help stave off any illness, sometimes you just can’t avoid it (meaning, sometimes you just can’t dodge that person coughing directly on you on the L train).
Whether we come down with a cold or the full-on flu—and let’s not forget that miserable stomach bug—there are certainly some natural techniques and tips we can follow to help shorten the length of our ailments. We chatted with doctors, nutritionists, and holistic practitioners to find out what their flu season go-to remedies are.
While, of course, we would never recommend only trying these instead of going to the doctor (especially if you’re feeling really terrible), these may help you fight off that nasty cold right at the first signs—or, at least, work alongside medicine to speed up your recovery time.
Click through the gallery below to find out how to survive that pesky seasonal cold.
Drink, drink, drink
Water, that is.
Beth Nydick, holistic nutritionist and founder of Blue Barn Kitchen, stresses that you should drink a ton of water. Hold on, though, don't just drink any old water. Nydick tells me that when you drink cold water, your body is actually working harder to rehydrate (which explains why I’ve always been told to drink cold water while working out to burn extra calories).
Instead, she suggests drinking only warm to room temperature water, and throw in a slice of lemon. This way, you’ll be able to properly rehydrate (thus, heal) without working your poor body too hard.
Pay attention to your diet
This may seem obvious, but seriously, pay attention to what you’re putting into your bodies.
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, board certified doctor of family and integrative medicine and author, says it’s important to fill ourselves with a ton of antioxidant-rich foods such as dark fruits and veggies, beans, and omega-3 rich nuts. “They will nourish your body’s ability to fight disease,” she says. While this may be the season for getting sick, the earth seems to equip us with what we need to stay healthy. “Fall and winter provide us naturally with antioxidant- and vitamin C-rich fruits, like apples, kiwis, pineapples, guavas, and all citrus fruits,” she says. Try incorporating these into your diets.
Anything to avoid? While we may find the urge to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when we’re home with a fever, we should actually be avoiding dairy, according to Nydick. “Dairy will increase your mucus production, thus making you feel worse,” she says.
However, ice cream and cheese aren't the only things to avoid when you're feeling crappy. Dr. Ray Tolmos, a holistic practitioner, stresses that in addition to avoiding dairy, we should also avoid ingesting sugars and bad fats, as they make it harder for the immune system to work.
Go for garlic
Garlic is pretty magical. Not only is it an essential (and amazing) ingredient in our favorite Italian dishes, but it is also key in fighting off illness. “It’s a natural antiseptic that helps reduce inflammation, plus it’s antiviral—everything you need to have when you’re sick,” says Nydick.
Her favorite cold-busting garlic hack? Garlic tea. Okay, that might not sound super appetizing, but it will help you get better, faster. In a pot, boil four cups of water with five cloves of minced garlic, and it let it come to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, adding the juice of one lemon. Pour the desired amount into your mug, and sweeten with honey to taste. Nydick suggests drinking every two to four hours until the pot of tea is finished.
Did you know, garlic also does wonders for a nasty cough? Dr. Abrams shared her garlic hack for fighting off a cough that comes with winter colds and the flu. “If you (or your kissing partner) can take it, apply fresh chopped garlic mixed in honey to the back of the throat every several hours throughout the first day or two of illness,” she says.
Caught the stomach bug? Try a cinnamon or ginger tea
Nothing is worse than a stomach bug. Well, I suppose there are worse things, but throwing up really sucks.
Did you know that cinnamon—aside from being one of our favorite fall/winter spices and scents—has great antiviral and antibacterial properties? Nydick likes making a tea out of it in order to help battle the stomach flu. She suggests adding one teaspoon of cinnamon to one cup of boiling water, and then letting it sit for five minutes before drinking. “The cinnamon won’t all dissolve, but drinking it several times a day will let your body fight the virus in your stomach.”
However, if you’re trying to temporarily help your nausea, ginger is the way to go. Dr. Abrams suggests fighting an upset stomach by steeping freshly sliced ginger in boiling water for at least 10 minutes, then adding honey to taste.
Black elderberry is your new best friend
Dr. Abrams' favorite secret weapon for fighting illness is black elderberry. “It shortens the common cold and also shortens flu and respiratory infections,” she says. While you can find it in the forms of syrup, capsules, and lozenges, her favorite way to use it is by making tea out of its dried form. “Buy dried elderberries at your local health food store, boil them for 45 minutes, strain, and allow to cool to room temperature—then add honey to taste.”
Treat yourself to a steam
If a sinus infection has you down, you can use steam to help clear them out. While steam rooms at your gym or spa will certainly do the trick, if you’re bedridden at home, Nydick suggest trying her at-home remedy: Boil water with lemon, and then pour into a bowl. With a towel over your head, lower your face over the bowl and inhale the steam.
Dr. Tolmos also agrees with steam being a great way to help clear your sinuses and suggests adding essential oils, such as eucalyptus, to your steam mixture to help alleviate congestion.
Get a good night’s sleep
While you may become overwhelmed with boredom from lying on your couch napping all day, sleeping is essential to healing your body. Not only does it help you fight whatever sickness you're dealing with (and hey, it also helps to put our mind out of our misery for a few hours), but it’s preventative both pre- and post-illness.
Dr. Abrams explains that sleep is essential to boosting your immune system. “Most of us are aware that when we’re ‘run down,’ we get sick more easily,” she says. “The best immune booster is good, solid sleep—at least seven to nine hours nightly, depending on your needs.” This way, you can stop the flu in its tracks, or prevent it from getting you sick in the first place.
Sleep will also help keep it away, post-recovery. “Getting plenty of rest and allowing the immune system process is very important in order to keep colds from coming back,” says Dr. Tolmos.