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In my first blog, The Many Hats of an Orthodox Mom, even though my focus was on faith and homeschooling, every fall I would post about the things my family tries to do for cold and flu season. It only seems natural to keep up that tradition here. Here we are in the fall of 2023. Cold and flu season is here in parts of the US already but the tougher months are ahead. Keep reading to find out when cold and flu season tends to strike, how to prepare for cold and flu season, products I love and even more tips for when you are under the weather with any virus or illness.
What Months are Cold and Flu Season?
In truth, the cold virus, other viruses, and the flu are never dormant. They are here year round and they won’t be going away. But, due to the cold months keeping people indoors and closer together, away from fresh air and sunshine, and other factors, the months of October through May tend to be what most people consider cold and flu season. Peak season usually occurs around December through March – though each year can be a little different.
How To Prepare For Cold and Flu Season
The best thing to do to prepare is except that it’s inevitable. If you have been following this blog, you know that I’m all about holistic health which means doing things to keep yourself healthy every day – not just when it’s ‘virus season’.
Eating healthy, getting adequate sleep most nights, adding movement to your days, staying hydrated and doing things for your mental health are all part of preparing for cold and flu season. Keep reading for more details.
Take Care of Your Health Everyday
Living healthy is about taking care of your immune system before, during, and after illness. It’s not about any one particular virus. It’s not about just colds or any particular strain of flu or other viral illness. It’s about taking care of your health everyday.
As I was saying above, (and pretty much the gist of this blog), do things every day for your health. Don’t wait until cold and flu season. That’s really the best thing. You can still use all the tips and products I’ll talk about here in a couple minutes, and they will help you, but if you want to keep yourself from getting sick as frequently or help with the severity, it’s best to keep reading posts here and learn about holistic health. Find the tools that fit you best to fill up your personal wellness basket. Then, apply those things on a daily basis as best you can.
BEFORE YOU GET SICK
First things first. Your immune system is with you every day of your life. It’s a part of you. It doesn’t just ‘appear’ when you are sick. It needs taken care of just like you take care of your hair, your makeup, brushing your teeth and anything else you do on a daily basis. So everything I’m about to say are things you can do pretty much anytime to boost or take care of your immune system.
The Role of Food
A key factor to remember daily is the important role food plays in your health. Everything you put in your body (or on it for that matter but this is about food) either helps you or plays a part in illness.
It’s not possible to consistently eat Twinkies, burgers fried in soy/peanut oil, or chicken nuggets from fast food joints and stay healthy. This is made further impossible when you skip the veggies or quality fats and proteins.
When you choose quality whole foods and medicinal herbs your body will thank you and your chances of getting sick are lessened. Please NOTE: I did NOT say you wouldn’t ever get sick there- I only said the chances are less! Furthermore, if you do get sick (we ALL do sometimes), chances are higher that the illness will be either shorter in duration and/or less severe.
This increases more when you do other things in addition to a healthy diet to strengthen your immune system with holistic approaches on a daily basis. Keep reading for more information!
The Role of Sleep
Our culture just doesn’t value rest and sleep enough. It doesn’t allow us enough time in our day to get the rest we need.
And there’s those of us, like me, that value sleep but struggle with either falling asleep or staying asleep for various reasons. There ARE ways to work with that, but that’s not the focus of my post.
What’s important here is that you need to learn to value sleep and do all that you can to get an adequate night’s sleep , getting at least 8-9 hours a night. This actually should be longer in the winter! Sleep is when your body basically reboots itself and without that rest and rebooting, your body systems can not perform at full speed.
The Role of Movement
I have never been a person to love or devote myself to exercise. I struggled with gym class as early as the third grade. Middle School and High School were a nightmare. Anyone relate to that?
Somehow in recent years, thankfully, my idea of exercise has changed. Now I see it as moving my body in a way that is good for me and not necessarily unpleasant.
I don’t need to run a mile, put on a gym suit or even go to a gym (but please- go if that’s what works for YOU). I don’t need to compete with anyone. I can just walk on the mountain road I live on, walk on the treadmill while watching a Netflix show, jump on my mini trampoline, or flip through some yoga or easy stretching videos on my Firestick. I can just go out and play with my dog for 10 minutes or so too.
Movement is vital to the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system affects the efficiency of our immune system. We need to move because the lymphatic system doesn’t have an organ like the heart to pump the fluid around our body. Lymph fluid needs your body movement to allow it to flow. So get up and walk around your office or home. Take a moment to stand up and stretch. Go ahead. Do that now…. I’ll wait…
Other Factors to Consider
Food, Sleep, and Movement are essential daily needs. When you are NOT able to address those needs, special attention should be paid to other factors of health to make up for what is lacking (hopefully these things are lacking only on a TEMPORARY basis).
Make sure always to stay hydrated, but perhaps pay extra attention to hydration when food, sleep or movement needs can’t be met.
Most of us do not get enough sunshine as we should either.
Ate that scrumptious chocolate cake? It’s okay. Eat some extra vegetables and hydrate more to help balance it out. Maybe walk an extra ten minutes to keep those lymphatic and digestive fluids moving.
Take your supplements or nutritional herbal tinctures daily. Our food today is not the same quality as our ancestors had. We need additional sources to get our nutrients.
Taking a high quality multi-vitamin, probiotics, and using high mineral herbs such as nettle will help you stay nourished. We also need EXTRA vitamin C, and D3with K2. Remember that while most only follow the FDA requirements for dosage, those guidelines are only an estimate based on what is necessary to avoid diseases like rickets, but are not dosage that is needed for optimal health.
Be sure, of course, to check with your doctor if you have questions on these. I would suggest also that you find a good functional medicine doctor. They tend to have a lot more education involving nutrition and vitamin/mineral supplementation that your average conventional family doctor.
Products I Love for Boosting the Immune System- Year Round
Okay, so I’ve summarized the basics above. They are things you should be addressing all the time but especially when your immune system is under attack. This next section is also things that can be used all the time and especially when sick. Just as above, these sections really are things you could do or use ALL THE TIME. But none of us can do all the stuff all the time. Pick a few to make almost daily habits. But pick a few more to tuck into a box of ‘in case I get sick’ supplies.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is known well for its antibacterial properties. So adding it to a little water and drinking or gargling with it can assist with killing the bacteria in your mouth and throat. ACV contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which may help support the immune system. Also, the acidic nature of ACV may help soothe a sore throat. I like this brand but your local grocery store may sell a similar product. Make sure the label (and your eyes) says it contains ‘the mother’.
I’m putting this here because it makes life simpler. The Instant Pot is great for making on the spot bone broth (I make my chicken bone broth in just two hours!) and makes meal making simple and fast. When you’re under the weather, you’re not going to want to stand by a hot stove making broth or something for dinner.
Probiotics can also assist the immune system when used for prevention, so if you do not take probiotics or foods with naturally occurring probiotics (think sauerkraut here), today is a great day to start. My favorite way of getting probiotics is with whole fat yogurt or my husband’s home made kombucha. SO delicious!
Products I Love for Cold & Flu Season
Ginger Lemon Tea (From Scratch)
Make up a batch of ginger lemon tea to store in the fridge.
Simply fill a mason jar with sliced organic lemons and ginger, placing them in layers. Pour raw (preferable local) honey over the lemons and ginger to fill the jar. Place in the refrigerator for safe-keeping to use on a cold day or when you are not feeling well.
When needed for sore throats or to soothe a cough, place 2 heaping teaspoonfuls (may vary to taste) in a cup of hot water to dissolve and drink. I try to keep a jar or two in the back of the fridge throughout fall and winter so that it’s always there in time of need. We like to add a spoonful to our herbal teas as well any time of year.
I drink tea most every day made from organic (whenever possible) dried herbs from places like my own garden, Mountain Rose Herbs, Foster Botanicals, Herbco.com, or other sources.
I also keep a stash of boxes from Traditional Medicinals for days I don’t have or feel like making the time to make my own blend or just because they have a few I really love. And while I do use these teas year round, I use them much more frequently during cold and flu season.
Seasonal Sampler Teas – If you haven’t tried these teas and want a sample pack, this is a good one from Traditional Medicinals.
Immune Zoom – This blend is a delicious lemon ginger blend to boost your immune system whether sick or not. Just add honey after it cools a bit if you want some sweetness or the added benefits of raw honey.
Traditional Medicinals – There’s really too many of their teas to list them all here. You can check out their page on Amazon. Check your local grocery store too. The price may be better at Amazon but you may appreciate seeing them for hands on investigation at the store.
Herbal teas not only help hydrate with delicious flavor but have a lot of anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties and many contain lots of vitamins and minerals in their natural form.
I’m SURE you’ve heard of this one before. It really is beneficial in helping fight against viruses.
Make sure your supplement contains bioflavonoids, indicating the vitamin is coming from natural resources and not synthetic sources your body won’t recognize and therefore not absorb.
Large doses of vitamin C are a must here. The recommended dose is just not enough when your immune system is weak. The vitamin C protocol told to me by a naturopathic physician years ago was to take 1-2 grams (yes, that’s 1,000 mg to 2,000mg). Follow this up with 1 more gram after an hour. Continue this until bowel intolerance (loose stools) as this is what indicates you have enough vitamin C in your body. On the following day, take two less grams than what it took for you to reach intolerance level. Continue this for as many days as you have symptoms plus 2-3 extra days. You can easily do an internet search for “vitamin C tolerance” to find other sources on this.
This supplement is absolutely ESSENTIAL for your immune system. I can’t emphasize this enough. REALLY. Everyone should be taking D3 with K2 throughout the season, especially when ill. Our family takes this all through the fall, winter and into early spring. I take it even in the summer if I’m not outdoors enough.
Adults who supplement with vitamin D3 generally take 2-10 IUs daily, depending on how much sunshine we get each day, how our immune system is responding and what our Vitamin D levels are in recent bloodwork. Please get your vitamin D level checked and read this post! One year my husband’s vitamin D level was much lower so he actually took 20,000 IUs for some time but went back to his usual dose of 10,000 when his level showed a nice increase. I only take D3 occasionally in the summer, but much more and consistently once the days start getting shorter and I’m not outdoors so much.
We are fortunate enough to have a local natural food store that sells their own zinc lozenges with slippery elm. Sometimes I also get the formula sold by our functional medicine doctor. Garden of Life is a company I trust and they have a nice zinc supplement as does Pure Encapsulations (they have a chewable as well if you need that). Both of which are available on Amazon and other online sources.
Quercetin is a flavonoid, which is a pigment from plants and food. Remember I said to make sure your vitamin C has bioflavonoids? It’s an important antioxidant. Among other things, it reduces inflammation, reduces blood sugar and blocks histamine.
Quercetin is an ionophore, a fat-soluble molecule which helps zinc to be absorbed by cell membranes. I definitely used this with my zinc during my bout with Covid a couple years ago and have learned to reach for it anytime I have a virus or seasonal allergy symptoms.
NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine)
NAC is a powerful antioxidant support to the cells of the body. It can help clear mucus from the lungs and has numerous other benefits. If this is a new one to you, I recommend you do some more research into this precursor to the important antioxidant Glutathione. Amazon sells several brands. We like Pure Encapsulations but have used a number of high quality brands.
Wellness Formula by Source Natural
This supplement contains 30 ingredients, including antioxidants, herbal extracts, vitamins and minerals. All of them provide targeted support for the body systems that are closely associated with immunity. This supplement could be taken daily or during times of stressed immune function or illness. It does contain soy though so avoid if you are particularly sensitive to soy. I generally avoid soy but will take this occasionally. My husband is sensitive to soy so he does not.
This is one by Standard Process. While you CAN find it on Amazon, it is ridiculously expensive there because it’s being sold by third party sellers and against the company’s protocol. This is one you can find easily though through many chiropractic offices or, in my case, my functional medicine doctors office at much lower cost. This supplement contains a variety of vitamins and minerals to strengthen the immune system. This was part of my protocol during illness and recovery from Covid in 2021 (in addition to many of the supplements I’ve already mentioned).
Master Tonic by Earthley Wellness
I love this tonic because it addresses the immune system, adrenals, stress and high cortisol all in one tonic.
Adaptogenic Immunity by Earthley Wellness
This is a new favorite product of mine! Adaptogenic Immunity is a combination tincture of 5 fabulous herbs that can not only support the immune system, but can also improve the body’s ability to cope with stress while providing nourishment to you for total body wellness! This tincture is alcohol-free, that is highly bioavailable and easy to assimilate. These herbs are generally safe even for people who have been told not to use “immune boosters.” Check out Earthley Wellness for more information!
Host Defense Mushrooms Daily Immune Support
Here’s another great blend that helps support the immune system.
I’m mentioning several immune blends in this post because it’s good to change things up sometimes. I don’t take the same multiple vitamin or the same blend all the time. They all offer different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, herbs, etc. and a different amount. Most of them do not give you everything your body needs, but by switching things up every few months or so, you get a better balance and are more likely to get what your body needs or might be missing if you stick to the same blend for years – even if it is a good one.
I’ve used this capsule in the past. Now I just use loose leaf tulsi in my herbal tea blends daily (but I do LOVE the tulsi teas by Organic India too). See my post on Holy Basil to learn more about this lovely beneficial herb that, among other things, improves immune system function.
I started taking classes in early 2020 through a holistic herbalism school out of Boston. I especially loved their course on the Immune System and the Cold and Flu. If you would be interested in these courses yourself here’s a link to their website: CommonWealth Center For Holistic Herbalism.
In the meantime, check out my herb of the month posts to learn which ones boost the immune system. Other herbs you may want to read up on and keep in your medicinal medicine cupboard include thyme (see above on Thyme steams), nettle, echinacea, turmeric, ginger, onion, garlic, sage, lemon peel, and more. Now read more about elderberry syrup below!
Have you read my herb of the month post on elderberries?
This is another one of my favorites. I have my Elderberry Syrup kit in my cupboard right now and a few jars of local honey. If you don’t have syrup and can’t make any, Traditional Medicinals makes a great tea with elderberries as a primary ingredient. I would suggest using TWO teabags to get greater medicinal benefit with each cup. I also keep a jar of dried elderberries and often add them to my other herbal tea blends throughout the season.
I’m craving a cup while I type this. There’s some brewing in my instant pot right now! (See above for a link to the pot!)
Learn how to make your own chicken broth if you don’t already. I say chicken but of course beef is great too. I just prefer chicken. The store brands often contain neurotoxins or other ingredients that can create havoc in your body. That’s not what you need when you are sick.
If you MUST buy already made broth try to get a good organic broth without artificial ingredients or MSG.
I recommend storing bones from any leftover chicken in the freezer. You don’t need a fancy recipe for emergency chicken broth. Just throw the bones (a pound or two) into a pot of water on the stove (about 2 quarts) or the Instant Pot which is what I use (it actually has less histamines in it that way).
Add a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar (it helps pull the nutrients from the bones into the broth).
If you are able, add onions, garlic, seaweed, salt, celery and other mushrooms, vegetables or herbs into the water to increase the nutrients and flavor. Simmer on the stovetop for several hours (I put mine in the Instant Pot for 120 minutes, then a slow release).
I try to keep up with making broth frequently and keep some stocked in the refrigerator as well as the freezer. There’s always plenty there for a warm mug on a cold night, making soups and for when we’re feeling under the weather.
I became introduced to homeopathy about 18 years ago. I was shocked and utterly amazed at how well and quickly it worked to alleviate my cold (homeopathy does work best when taken immediately upon symptoms).
I still occasionally consult with a professional homeopath and have broadened my knowledge of homeopathy. Since then, I always have Oscillio (my shortened term for Oscillococcinum) and Cold Calm, arnica and several others in our homeopathy kit. Oscillo does work best if taken immediately upon experiencing the first symptoms of illness.
Just follow the instructions on the label. When working with a homeopathic remedy, it is best not to take anything else by mouth 5-10 minutes before and after taking the remedy. Strong flavors can affect the remedy’s ability work fully. Oscillio is for flu like symptoms. Cold Calm is for cold related symptoms. See boxes for details.
Ferrum Phosphate 6x
This is another useful single homeopathic remedy for feverish flu symptoms that make you feel run down and cranky. Most likely you may have sniffles and a sore throat.
Follow the instructions on the label. Again, homeopathic remedies work best when taken immediately at the onset of symptoms. It’s actually best to err on the side of caution and take the remedy, rather than ‘waiting to see’ if the symptoms progress.
Homeopathic remedies do not cause side effects like conventional pharmaceuticals, so it’s fine to take even if you’re not sure. It is beneficial to have your own practitioner though who gets to know you and how you respond to certain things to help you pick the best remedy for your personal experience of an illness. Everyone is different. And what works for one isn’t always the best remedy for another person with the same illness.
Cold & Flu Season Tips
Air Out Your House
Air out your house once in awhile, even in the winter months. Opening a window an inch or so, even if it’s just a half hour can help remove stale air and reduce pathogen concentration.
Sleep is important and yet the thing that so many people skimp on. I am guilty too.
I know that I need to be in bed before ten or the chances of me drifting off easily are lessened and I really need to stay away from screens for a good hour or two before bed to calm my brain. Do what works for you to develop a good bedtime routine. Most of us require 8 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep a night. This increases dramatically when you are sick.
I can’t emphasize this enough. (Actually, I’ll be right back. I need to go get a drink) By hydration, btw, we’re not talking coffee and milkshakes. Liquid intake should preferably be water, herbal teas and/or broth. Make sure to drink at least half your body weight in ounces. Urine output should be pale yellow or clear. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration.
Squeeze a Lemon
Add fresh lemon to your water. Fresh lemon promotes hydration and is a good source of vitamin C. Fresh lemon may also be added to your herbal teas.
ELIMINATE sugar from your diet. Believe me, I KNOW. That’s a tough one.
It really is possible though. I once went an entire year without ANY added sugars or processed foods so I know what it’s like.
I am confident that YOU can do this for a week or two to help yourself fully recover and strengthen your immune system.
Even a few teaspoons of sugar (the amount in just ONE glass of cola) can knock your immune system down by at least 40% for several hours. What does that mean? If you make contact with a virus during that time it increases your chances of getting sick. Work on decreasing your daily intake of sweeteners.
Avoid Processed Foods
Avoid processed foods whenever possible. They are full of sugar, damaging oils, artificial ingredients. They take a terrible toll on your immune system. Sometimes taking things OUT of your diet are as important as adding IN those vegetables and healthy fats and vitamins.
I know. This one is hard for me too. Eliminate dairy while you are sick. Dairy promotes formation of mucus. That’s the last thing you want when dealing with a respiratory illness.
Watch out for Caffeine
If you are a big coffee drinker, at least try to keep it to just one cup. If you can, eliminate coffee and caffeinated beverages. Stimulants suppress your immune system.
Watch Your Omegas
Avoid Omega 6 vegetable oils which suppress the immune system. These include canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, peanut and soybean oils. It’s best to just throw those out of your pantry NOW as they are NEVER good for you. Replace them with healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil and lard.
Increase Omega 3 through quality fish or supplements. Long chain omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to boost the immune system by enhancing the function of the immune cells.
It’s best to eat lightly when you have the flu or fever. Heavy meals slow your digestion which impacts the body’s ability to fight of illness.
You can keep your sinuses clean through the use of a neti pot or you can put some sea salt and baking soda (less than 1/8 of a tsp each) in your hand mixed with a bit of warm water. Sniff the liquid through your nostrils (not pleasant I will warn you). The neti pot is easier in my opinion, not thrilling stuff, but better once you get used to it. I you’re not sure how to use one, there are lots of videos on YOUTUBE that demonstrate proper usage.
While we’re on the topic of sinuses, this is my new favorite. Thyme steams are an excellent tool for ANYTHING respiratory. Really, it’s good for anything viral, even if you don’t have respiratory symptoms, but especially so if you do.
It’s very simple. It is just aromatic herbs and hot water.
Take a pot of hot water (steaming) and throw in a small handful of herbs- thyme being the main ingredient obviously but other herbs are nice too (basil, chamomile, lavender, pine needles, rosemary, mint, eucalyptus, etc.).
Hold your head safely over the pot (at least several inches – do NOT be so close you get burned!) and drape a towel over your head like a tent. Stay like this for 5-10 minutes or more. Doing this after possible exposure to a virus can also reduce the chance of pathogens taking root.
A hot bath is soothing but be sure not to let yourself get chilled. Avoid this by having the room temperature warm as well as the water (but not HOT). Soaking for 20-30 minutes in a warm tub with 1-2 cups of Epsom salts can pull out inflammation and decrease muscle soreness as well as joint pain.
But please, don’t let your self get chilled in the process.
Add onion and garlic to your light meals such as soups, broth, or small veggie stir fry.
Change Sheets and Pajamas
Keeping clothes and sheets clean is an important element in fighting illness.
Put on clean pajamas every day when you are sick. Our bodies sweat at night and fresh pajamas help prevent the build-up of bacteria.
The same thing goes with the sheets. Change the sheets on your bed as soon as you are better – maybe someone you love will change them while you are sick too. That would be even better!
Brush Your Teeth
It is recommended to brush your teeth at least twice a day when you are healthy. When you are sick, it’s good to brush 5-10 times a day! Your mouth is where bacteria like to hang out and this is a good way to get them out of there. Change your toothbrush when you are better.
Use a humidifier to add moisture into the air. I like to keep a pot of water on the stove sometimes in the winter for this very reason. Add a stick of cinnamon and orange peel to make the kitchen smell wonderful at the same time.
Ugh. I hated when I was told to gargle with salt water when I was younger. But it’s actually super beneficial. Try to gargle several times a day.
You can gargle with salt water. You can also gargle with raw apple cider vinegar. You can use the vinegar on your own or , my preference, add some to warm water and gargle with that.
I’m going to stop here though truly I could keep going. But this post is already quite long and I don’t want to overwhelm you any more than I may have. Remember – you’re NOT expected to do ALL THE THINGS! Please don’t. Pick a few to plan on doing year round, and a few more for when you are sick.
One thing I would suggest is spend some time writing yourself a list of new healthy habits to incorporate and a list of several of the things above ( a few herbal teas, broths, and maybe 5-6 supplements to have on hand), you’ll be ahead of the action for making sure you are prepared for the viral season coming to your area soon.
Just typing up this post has reminded ME to check my inventory and stock up on a few of these things we’re running low on. It’s important to prepare and have at least several of these things on hand so you have it when needed.
If nothing else, please be more mindful of what you put in your body. I’m not kidding. EVERYTHING you put into your body is going to either contribute to wellness or illness. EVERYTHING. Our bodies will fight illness if we take care of them. Hopefully a little of what I wrote today will help you take care of yours.
Do you have other natural remedies you would like to share with us? I’d love to hear about them and my readers would too!
REMINDER: Please Note: I am NOT claiming to be a healthcare practitioner. I’m not a medical or osteopathic physician or nurse; nor am I a homeopathic, functional or naturopathic physician or herbalist. I am simply me, sharing this information to educate and encourage my readers to seek holistic practitioners and practices to strengthen their immune system. God bless you all! Please see my disclaimer page.