By the time fall is slowly starting to transition to winter, it can feel like infectious common cold causing microbes are lurking on every doorknob and elevator button you come into contact with. Truth is, you’re right! On average each year, school-aged children get 6-8 colds with adults getting 2-4 (especially women). Imagine how much interruption this causes to schools, workplaces and homes!
You don’t have to get sick so frequently though or if you do get sick, to remain sick for so long. You can manage your lifestyle so that you get through the fall and winter months without runny noses, hacking coughs and sleepless nights using natural products versus prescription medications or over-the-counter cold cough syrups. I’ve got some great, easy-to-implement advice below for you to follow to keep the cold at bay this winter!
Naturally Managing a Cold
If you try to stop a cold from setting in early enough – like when you first notice a suspicious tickle in your throat or a slight fever – certain very specific nutrients and herbs can cut a virus or bacterium off before it takes hold of your body. And if you don’t catch it in time to prevent it from taking root, holistic treatments can work powerfully to decrease symptoms, shorten the duration of the infection and likely prevent secondary infections (like bronchitis or pneumonia) from developing later. Please remember that antibiotics do NOT work for viral infections, so they have no use in treating the common cold which is viral in nature. The only time you should use antibiotics is if a bacterial infection sets in on top of a cold or flu.
Herbs, unlike antibiotics, can help your immune system naturally reduce both bacteria and viruses. Phenomenally, one plant (herb) can contain thousands of phytochemicals that are antiviral, help to boost white blood cell counts and are antibacterial all at the same time! Therefore, by carefully combining herbs – as has been done for thousands of years by many groups of people – can make them even more powerful body tonics! I do recommend when choosing herbs that they be grown without chemicals and processed to high standards.
Chinese Medicines to Treat Colds
When I come down with the common cold or when patients do, I always treat based on my Chinese Herbal Medicine training since herbs have been used by Chinese Medicine practitioners for thousands of years to treat and prevent colds.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the common cold is divided into six distinct stages that each have unique herbal treatments. Formulas to treat symptoms of each stage are carefully combined with different herbs. Chinese medicine herbalists, like myself, consider not just what stage of a cold you’re in, but also the properties of the herbs, temperatures and how a person will interact with the herbs based on their own unique constitution.
These formulas can give you both quick, short-term relief (by treating your symptoms) as well as help you get better faster (by boosting and supporting your incredible immune system).
To really customize a herbal formula to what stage of a cold you are in and your personal constitution, I recommend an in-person consult. But even if you can’t see a Chinese Medicine practitioner like me in person, I will share with you here some general nutrient and herbal formulas that are balanced enough to be safe and effective in all generally healthy adults who are trying to fend off developing cold symptoms. For children, dosing is something to discuss with a professional.
Rule of Thumb – Prevention First
Obviously, the best way to fight a cold is to prevent getting sick in the first place!
Some basics for prevention include:
- washing your hands with hot water and soap
- covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze to reduce spreading of the viruses
- eating a nutrient-dense diet
- getting plenty of sleep
- and exercising regularly
These actions can help keep your immune system strong so that you more easily fight off anything that comes your way.
However, from personal experience after years of practice, I’ve learned first-hand that Chinese herbs can be a secret weapon in preventing colds by supporting your immune system doing its job.
When to Start Herbs
The sooner you start to take a suitable herbal formula to interrupt a cold from taking root in your body, the better results you can expect.
Personally, I will take a few doses of an herbal formula for the first stage of a cold once I feel like I might be coming down with one. My favorite formula for myself is Viola Clear Fire by Golden Flower Herbs. I will take a double dose (4 tablets) three or four times the first day and usually do not need to take it again the second day because the symptoms have disappeared. If I don’t catch the cold quite early enough, I might choose to repeat the dose for two more days.
Even if you don’t catch a cold before symptoms set in, the sooner you start treatment, the faster you’ll feel better.
My advice is to keep appropriate Chinese herbal formulas at your home during the winter months for ready availability at the first sign of a cold. That way, when a cold strikes, you’re already prepared.
What Herbal Formulas and Nutrients are Right for You?
Here are 6 of my favorite natural products for beating the common cold – I carry all mentioned products at AcuPlus:
Gan Mao Ling (by Kan Traditionals)
This formula eases sore throat, cough, runny nose, swollen glands and can even be helpful for some skin rashes/irritation and temporarily stiff upper back and neck. This formula is best when there are mild to moderate heat signs like a slight fever, flushing and slight sore throat, and is the more general cold tonic in comparison to the next two formulas. It is a nice tonic for children as well as adults.
Viola Clear Fire (by Golden Flower Herbs aka Di Ding Qing Huo Pian)
This formula has strong inhibitory effects against many viruses, bacteria and fungi, especially with respiratory infections. This formula is best used when there are obvious heat signs like fever, flushing and body aches, and when there are obvious respiratory issues (although it can be very helpful for bladder infections as well). This formula is great when the cold seems like it’s going to be a heavy hitter or you haven’t caught it quite early enough.
Yin Qiao (by Kan Traditional)
This formula is used when colds are in early stages as it helps relieve sore throat, headache, occasional coughing and can help reduce fevers with or without chills. This formula is good at promoting sweating which helps the body reduce the viruses.
Chest Rub (by St. Francis)
This chest rub is an aromatherapy for helping reduce symptoms from a cold. It includes oils from Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Scotch Pine. I recommend using it 2-3 times a day when fighting off a cold. It smells amazing!
Stellar C (by Designs for Health)
This Vitamin C product is one of my favorites because it is free of additives like sugar and colors. It is a quality form of the vitamin and really packs a punch for supporting the immune system in its upregulated fight against the onslaught of viruses and bacteria during the winter months. I generally recommend taking 1000 – 2000 mg (for adults) daily for 3-4 days at the onset of a possible cold and then perhaps 1000 mg daily throughout the winter to help ward off further sickness.
Emulsi-D3 Synergy (by Designs for Health)
This is a potent combination of both Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2. Vitamin D3 is an essential modulator of the immune system, so it is particularly useful in the darker winter months when body production of the vitamin is typically at its lowest, contributing to a heightened risk for getting colds. The Vitamin K2 is an aid for helping Vitamin D enter bones from the bloodstream which is why they are often seen together. If you haven’t tested your Vitamin D levels (which can be done with a simple, inexpensive blood spot test at AcuPlus), then a small dose of 2000 – 4000 IU daily might be helpful at keeping colds at bay.
When Herbs Are Not Enough and You Need More Help
The common cold, as common as it is, can still make you feel really unwell. Colds can typically be treated at home without needing to see a doctor.
The most common cold symptoms are:
- runny nose and sneezing
- sore throat
- sinus congestion
- mild headaches
- body aches
- low-grade fever
- generally feeling unwell
A cold should run its course within 7-10 days, in most adults. Herbal treatments (like the ones I mentioned above) can help manage these symptoms.
But if your symptoms progress to any of the following, I recommend that you seek conventional medical attention:
- If your fever rises above 101.3 F or lasts for more than 5 days
- If your headache, ear, throat or sinus pain becomes severe
- If you notice wheezing or have worsened asthma symptoms
- If you get a deep barking cough or bronchitis, especially if you start to feel worse several days into the virus, rather than better
The influenza virus (aka the flu), has many of the same symptoms as a common cold virus, but it is more likely to include a fever (which is frequently over 100 degrees) and tends to have a more abrupt onset. Body-aches are usually more pronounced and it is not uncommon to also have digestive symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea.
The flu typically takes up to 2 weeks to recover from, and warning signs for seeking conventional medical attention are the same as with the common cold, but according the Mayo clinic, additionally include:
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Best advice – do your best to help your body prevent a cold from taking hold so that you can avoid those yucky symptoms! Visit AcuPlus to pick up your Winter Wellness Kit of herbs and supplements to keep in your cabinet for when a cold feels like it’s coming on. Prevent a cold from interrupting your day. Money well spent.