“What are the best natural remedies for colds?”

Scientists tell us that you cannot actually beat the common cold. The only thing you can do is relieve the symptoms, either with medication or the natural way. They can both be effective, the only difference is that medication has side-effects. Always remember that if it doesn’t have side-effects, it is not medication. Sometimes the side-effects are more bothersome and harmful than the sickness itself!

For instance, most over the counter cough syrups cause drowsiness. If you use nasal spray longer than 3 days, it will likely have a rebound effect (more mucus). In the US, a new study suggests that decongestants can provoke strokes in women over 40. The odd paracetamol is ok, but too much ibuprofen and you might give yourself a stomach ulcer. So when it comes to simple colds, we’d rather stick to simple remedies…

1. Zinc is king.

Academics who reviewed 67 studies that evaluated the effectiveness of cold preventions and remedies discovered that few live up to their hype.

Out of all the studies, only taking a zinc supplement was found to be beneficial at preventing colds. Sources of zinc are: oysters, veal liver, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, cashews and almonds, cheddar cheese and chicken.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, the recommended dose of chelated zinc is 11 mg per day for men and 8 mg for women.

As soon as the symptoms of the cold start, studies show that 75mg of zinc per day have a positive effect on the duration and severity of the cold.


2. Vitamin C. 

An important study in 2007 concluded that “taking a vitamin C supplement may help treat a cold only if your body currently has low levels of this vitamin or if your body is exposed to low temperatures, such as people who live in cold climates. This is also true for people who routinely do vigorous exercise, such as running marathons.”

Taking more than 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C at any one time is not helpful. Our body is unable to absorb more than that amount, eliminating the excess through urination.

Natural, seasonal sources of vitamin C are: lemons, oranges, kiwis, kale, broccoli and brussel sprouts.

A meta-analysis published in 2013 found that regular vitamin C supplementation seems to have a consistent effect in reducing the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, but not in preventing them.


3. Steam.

The complications that we most want to avoid when we have a cold are ear, sinus, bronchial or lung infections. In such cases, excess mucus gets stuck in these places, and if it is not cleared after some time, bacteria can multiply and cause a local infection. Steaming can help prevent this problem, and it should be done in the simplest way possible.

So please forget about fancy steaming machines that get easily dirty and mouldy, causing more harm than good. Boil a large pan of water, remove it from the heat and with extreme care (especially with kids), breathe over it, covering your head with a towel to retain the steam. Do this for a few minutes, repeat three times per day, including once before going to bed, for as many days as the mucus is a problem. You may add one drop of a good eucalyptus or marjoram aromatherapy oil in the water.

As a side benefit, your skin will also get a nice clean glow!



4. Eucalyptus oil (and marjoram oil, again).

Eucalyptus globulus (eucalyptus oil) is the most used variety, a good stimulant of the immune system for people who are tired, run down and prone to frequent colds. Eucalyptus is best known as a decongestant and it is a powerful antibacterial and antiviral aromatherapy oil. It can be used in steam inhalations (1 drop in a large pan of boiling water), and as room air-sprays (2 drops in 100 ml of water or alcohol).

Origanum marjorana (marjoram oil) has long been praised as  a help of all diseases of the chest which hinder the freeness of breathing (Culpeper, English botanist and herbalist from the 17th century). Use in inhalations (1 drop in large pan of water) and as a massage oil for the throat and the chest (1 drop for 100 ml of base oil). Because of its sedative effects, it is best used before bedtime for a good night’s sleep.

Contraindications: do not use eucalyptus and marjoram oil during pregnancy, menstruation or if you suffer from low blood pressure.


5. Gargle with salt.

When you gargle with concentrated salt water, osmosis occurs. Osmosis is what happens when solvents, separated by a semi-permeable membrane, move from lower concentrations to higher concentrations. The two sides want to move towards an equilibrium. By gargling with salt, you are helping to create an environment that is much less hospitable for the bugs, although it won’t kill the bacteria itself.

The high concentration of salt also helps to draw liquid from the throat, specifically, drawing out the edema (excess fluid). Edemas naturally occur during an infection, and by drawing it out of the tissue, you reduce the swelling and discomfort in the area.

6. Rest.

There is no other way. When you are down with a cold, the best way to let your immune system fight the virus, is to rest.

The reason is very straightforward: when your body is invaded by a foreign virus, your white cells (responsible for fighting infections and inflammations), are put onto a high alert, ready for combat. If, at the same time, you give your immune system another job to do (such dealing with a strenuous work-out, or other physical or emotional stress), your white cells are not as able to cope. So either your cold gets worse, or you will get particularly sore muscles, and possibly an injury from your exercise, as the white cells neglect the job of taking care of them.

You will feel this immediately when you try to climb up a flight of stairs when you have a cold. Your legs will hurt and feel heavy, every muscle in pain as you slowly go up the stairs. This is because the cells responsible for taking care of your muscles have been called into duty to fight against the invading bug.

Sounds like science fiction, but this what is going on inside your body. So next time you come down with a cold, take it easy, let your warriors do their job.

7. Fresh ginger tea and honey.

At home and in our studio, we fill up a large thermos flask daily with freshly grated ginger root and hot water sweetened with raw honey. We drink this through the day as we work, and we offer it  to our clients after their yoga or massage.  While there are no studies yet (that we know of) to confirm its effectiveness, we have learned from our own experience that the spicy and warming properties of ginger help us ward off colds and flu, and if we do get a cold–which is quite rare–fresh ginger tea clearly seems to help relieve the symptoms.

Ginger has an effect on the balance of the body (which is why it is often used in the treatment of sea-sickness), and should therefore be used with caution if you suffer from inflammation of the ear canal or any other issues that affect your balance.

In any case, a cup of warming fresh ginger tea with a touch of honey is cleansing and perfect for the cooler season, whether to treat a cold or for your pleasure.


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