It’s that time of year again. You have three deadlines at work, a dinner date on Thursday, and this weekend you’re supposed to go enjoy fall with your friends. And, oh yeah, your throat feels scratchy, your nose starts to run, and you’ve got an annoying cough. A lot of times we’re so busy that we simply can’t afford the major time suck that getting sick entails. While watching a days-long marathon of The Wire in your jammies can be tempting, we all want to get back on our feet ASAP.
The common cold has a general life span of seven to ten days (14 if you’re especially unlucky). There is no cure for the common winter cold, but there are things you can do and items you can take to get your body back on track. But, there are a lot of old wive’s tales and myths floating around: Is vitamin C really the Holy Grail of healing? Should you starve a fever? Is mom’s chicken soup recipe worth it?
We tapped two physicians who specialize in natural remedies for the answers to our winter cold worries. Dr. Benjamin Asher is a New York City-based physician specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders. While he has been a highly regarded conventional MD for over thirty years, Dr. Asher also applies groundbreaking alternative practices in his approach. Dr. Donielle Wilson, ND is the president of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a leading wellness health expert. They offered us some of their tried and true natural remedies* and well-living practices to help kick winter colds to the curb — trust us, you’ve never heard of some of these.
1 – Argentyn 23-Colloidal Silver Throat Spray
What is it? Tiny silver particles suspended in a liquid solution. Not many people know that silver was the first antimicrobial antibiotic. While colloidal silver has been known to cause controversy as a cold remedy because you risk “turning blue” (a condition called argyria), this only happens if you use it in excess every day. In small amounts, colloidal silver throat spray can be one of the most effective products for treating a sore throat — way more so than throat lozenges! — because it treats the viruses and bacteria that are causing your symptoms. Keep in mind that it’s not FDA-approved, but it’s been endorsed by the likes of Dr. Oz and Gwyneth Paltrow for years.
Argentyn 23-colloidal silver throat spray offers you safe levels of silver. Dr. Asher assures, “It does not cause any problems. It’s just a straight antimicrobial, specifically for a sore throat. I usually tell people to use it for three days. Do 15-20 sprays every three hours.” But, please, don’t turn blue.
2 – EHB Supplement
You’ve probably heard of echinacea, zinc, and vitamin C as the triple threat to fighting the common cold. While zinc and vitamin C have more clinical credibility than echinacea, some studies show that frequent use of these natural remedies can help prevent a cold (or at least minimize the time you’re sick if you do get one). “With natural remedies, you want to do frequent dosing because these nutrients don’t last very long in the body,” informs Dr. Doni. But, that’s a lot of supplements to keep track of, especially when you’re feeling under the weather. Enter EHB.
“EHB is a proprietary blend of echinacea, goldenseal, Vitamin C, garlic, zinc, and a few others herbs. So, you just take one product and get all these goods herbs and nutrients at once. Trying to take all these supplements separately gets to be a lot of pills every four hours. That’s why it’s good to have a combination product,” says Dr. Doni. Get the effects of these antivirals, antioxidants, and immune boosters all one in go.
3 – Garlic
One cold remedy might already be in your pantry. Garlic, which contains a compound called allicin, has been shown in medical studies to help fight the common cold and shorten its duration. “Garlic is effective because it’s both antiviral and antibacterial and it supports the immune system. You get a lot done at once,” explains Dr. Doni. But, don’t just sauté or roast your garlic: Its antiviral effects are most potent when it’s raw. For those of us not on Team Garlic, thankfully, it also comes in supplement form. It’s a delicious way to feel healthy, and the only drawback is that you might have a little garlic breath.
4 – Avoid Alcohol, Sugar, And Dairy
It’s a good thing that cold congestion can diminish your sense of taste, because sugar cravings are one of the worst things you can give into when you have a cold. At the first sign of a cold, fine-tune your diet and cut out sugars, dairy, and alcohol. Dr. Doni tells us, “Sugar lowers the immune response, and dairy increases phlegm and causes inflammation. So, it’s only going to make it harder to fight the virus if you keep consuming sugar and dairy. Even alcohol should be avoided, since that also hinders the immune response.”
Dr. Asher agrees that sugar only suppresses your immune system and causes more mucus production — yuck. Stick to hearty veggies, proteins, and hot teas; the baked goods and cocktails can wait until your sniffles are gone.
5 – Umcka Cold Care
Umcka Cold Care treats symptoms like cough, congestion, and sore throats and is known to boost the immune response. Dr. Asher says, “There’s two other brands: Viraclear EPS7630 and Schwabe Kaloba Syrup — they’re all the same thing. They’re all pelargonium sidoides, that’s the active herb. Other cold remedies are just herbal combinations that are known to help, but EPS7630 is actually proven to help those suffering from bronchitis and sinusitis.”
That’s right: You really should stock up on a remedy containing pelargonium sidoides. In clinical trials, this powerhouse herb was shown to reduce the severity of respiratory infections and even shorten the duration of sickness for up to two days. If you can get back to work and out with friends days sooner, the fifteen dollars it cost for a bottle of the stuff is totally worth it.
6 – HMC
This might be one of the worst parts of the winter cold: You’re at work or you’re trying to sleep, but you have to blow your nose twenty times, and nothing you do helps the pounding weight of your congestion.
Instead, HMC can help with that. HMC is a natural anti-histamine and works by decreasing fluid production, opening up the passages and helping with that pesky swelling and congestion.
7 – Salt Water Gargle
Put that itchy throat and congestion to bed with regular salt water gargling. A study done by The American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that subjects who regularly gargled were 40% less likely to suffer from upper respiratory tract infections. Dr. Asher says that salt water gargles are great for symptomatic relief.
Dr. Doni explains how it works: “If you get a sore throat, you can gargle with salt water. It kills bacteria and it also breaks up the phlegm, helping the phlegm move out of your sinuses. It’s also an astringent, so it helps with sore throats and sore sinuses.” She recommends making your own salt water and gargling with it (and the brave of heart can do a nasal rinse with salt water using a tool like a Neti pot). Gargle a few times a day by adding a teaspoon of salt to a small cup of warm water while you’re having symptoms, then feel the relief.
8 – Humacel
Humacel is made up of a proprietary blend of humic and fulvic acid, rhodiola rosea, blueberry extract, and other herbs. Dr. Asher explains, “It’s an antiviral and an antimicrobial. I tell people to take it at the first sign of a cold. You should take three capsules twice a day for three days.”
The ingredients work in combination with one another. Humic acid can stop viral cell attachment, rhodiola rosea can decrease cellular sensitivity to stress, and blueberry extract has wonderful antioxidant properties. Pre-clinical studies at the National Institute of Health support the efficacy of Humacel and its ability to help you fight colds.
9 – Lomatium
Lomatium is a plant that’s actually a member of the carrot(!) family, and it’s been used for centuries in both traditional Native American and Chinese medicinal practices. Historically, Native Americans were known to chew on the antiviral root to cure respiratory infections — anything from the cold and flu to asthma and pneumonia.
Today’s lomatium is sold in tincture form and is combined with organic herbs like osha, licorice, yarrow, and lemon balm. The combination of these herbs reduces inflammation and offers immune support, not to mention symptomatic relief for the chest pain and upset stomach that often accompany a cold. Dr. Asher claims, “Lomatium isolate is a Chinese herbal remedy that works on multiple systems. It’s also an antimicrobial. I tell people to take one dropper full of the lomatium isolate every four hours for up to three days in conjunction with Humacel.”.
10 – Tylenol, only if needed
Have a fever that just won’t quit? Aching all over? You might have the flu. In this case, you’ll want to reach for some Motrin or Tylenol, which are clinically proven to alleviate the pain of your symptoms. But, doctors suggest only doing so if your symptoms are severe. Dr. Doni explains that you don’t want to get in the way of a fever doing its job by reducing it needlessly at the sign of your first chill.
“Unless you’re a young child, try not to take a fever reducer unless the fever is very high. If it’s over 102, then take a fever reducer,” she advises, “but if it’s only a fever of, say, 100, the key is to hydrate. If you stay hydrated, your temperature is more likely to stay down. You actually want a bit of the temperature to kill the virus.”
11 – Hydration
This might seem like the most obvious tip of the bunch, but we can’t stress this enough: Drink up. Staying hydrated thins your mucus secretions and can keep a fever down. Water, tea, and broth are your best bets. Avoid bottled juices, as they’re high in sugar, and caffeinated beverages, because they will dehydrate you and impede your immune system.
What’s the best kind of tea you can brew up for your cold? Add freshly cut pieces of ginger to two cups of water, simmer it, add a squeeze of lemon, then a tablespoon of honey. This soothing, flavorful concoction will soothe the throat, and the heat will open up your sinuses. Extra plus: Ginger is purported to be both an antihistamine and a decongestant, so the tea will help with symptom relief and hydrate you all at once.
12 – Yin Chiao
Yin Chiao is a traditional Chinese medicine that contains a mix of roots, flowers, and herbs — like honeysuckle flower, forsythia fruit, mint leaf, phragmites rhizome, burdock seed, calcium, and licorice root — that can shorten the duration of a cold. Ancient Chinese medicine believes the body must maintain a balance in order to remain healthy, and Yin Chiao has been used for centuries to correct the imbalances associated with the changing of the seasons. If you don’t have an herbalist in your Rolodex, Yin Chiao is a great over-the-counter natural remedy to help when you’re sick.
You should take it at the first sign of a cold. Dr. Asher explains, “Yin Chiao contains multiple herbs that are both antiviral and immune boosters. Take it for up to three days as soon as you experience symptoms. Two to three doses every four hours should work. I recommend East West Isatis Formula or Source Naturals Herbal Resistance liquid as my form of Yin Chiao.”
Yin Chiao can relieve nasal congestion, headaches, and sore throats and helps the immune system. Though not a lot of medical studies have been done to determine the efficacy of Yin Chiao and other Chinese traditional herbs, contemporary herbalists swear by it. One word of advice from Dr. Asher: “I tell everyone never to purchase traditional chinese formulas from China because they are so full of toxins. I only use herbs wildcrafted in the USA.”
13 – Get Extra Rest
Like we needed another excuse to get some extra ZZZ’s — these are doctor’s orders. “Sleep as much as you can. Take naps. Try to get in extra sleep. It’s going to give your body a better chance to heal,” advises Dr. Doni. Why? When you sleep, your body produces proteins called cytokines that protect you. Not getting the proper amount of sleep hinders the production of cytokines, and, thus, your immune system suffers. In addition, staying in bed and opting out of work or school can reduce the risk that you’ll spread the cold virus to anyone else.
14 – Don’t Use DayQuil And NyQuil
Have a work presentation that you simply can’t miss? Take Dayquil or Nyquil as a last resort — in clinical studies, they’ve proven to be quite effective at relieving symptoms of congestion, fever, and fatigue associated with the common cold. Most people report more alertness on DayQuil and sounder sleep with NyQuil in trials. Just don’t prolong your doses and don’t use it as a way to treat yourself. The double-edged sword of the quick-fix of these medications: “They usually prolong a cold. They dry your mucus out and make it harder to clear,” claims Dr. Asher. Be warned: They only provide symptom relief. Dayquil and Nyquil don’t actually treat your cold or shorten its duration.
15 – Steam Inhalation
Whether it’s inhaling steam from a pot, putting a humidifier in your room, soaking in the tub, or taking a long, hot shower, steam inhalation is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to help end a cold. Studies have shown that most viruses can’t live at temps above 109-degrees, so heat and moisture can be beneficial. Inhaling steam can help with congestion, coughing, and sore throats.
Dr. Doni tells us, “When you take a hot bath or shower, you can increase the immune response and help fight off a virus. The heat opens things up, but it also fights off the virus.” Dr. Asher puts a special ingredient in his steam: “I’ll use steam with eucalyptus. There’s a great eucalyptus product called v-vax, which is good for opening up your nasal passages.”
16 – Oscillococcinum or Triple Flu Defense
“Oscillococcinum” and Triple Flu Defense are homeopathic remedies. What you’re doing is you’re training your immune system to fight off the virus. Homeopathic remedies are really supporting the body and its ability to heal itself. And, it helps to get symptoms to go away — whether it’s a headache or runny nose,” tells Dr. Doni. Homeopathic remedies like Triple Flu Defense can shorten and decrease the severity of common cold and flu symptoms like body aches, fatigue, chills, and fevers.
17 – Chicken Soup
Ten points to mom for calling this one. It turns out that there’s significant scientific research backing this age-old remedy. The American Journal of Therapeuticsfound that a compound in chicken, carnosine, helps boost the immune system and can help you get rid of pesky colds and flus faster Dr. Doni explains, “Homemade chicken soup is going to be great because it’s no-sugar and no-dairy and it’s going to give you some easily digestible protein.”
But, what if you lose your appetite completely and not even chicken soup seems tasty? Is it ever okay to starve a fever? Dr. Doni warns: “Sometimes, when people are feverish they just don’t feel hungry, but you also don’t want someone not eating at all and throwing off their blood sugar levels. You can eat a bit less, but do take in protein and plenty of liquids, because it’s going to help your body do its work.” She suggests giving yourself a little protein and vitamin boost every four hours with healthy foods like chicken soup.
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.