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Colds and Flu – Do’s & Don’ts

There are beneficial procedures for treating colds and flu that are easily overlooked. Meanwhile, a lot of commonly used approaches actually slow recovery.


  • Remedies in the Kitchen – There is actually at least one study documenting the benefit of chicken soup. It seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect. I use ginger tea for the same reason and it is also warming. I make mine from slices of a raw ginger root steeped in hot water.
  • Water, water, water – Adequate fluid intake also puts you in better shape to withstand the dehydration that often accompanies the symptoms of the flu. Of course, make it clean water.
  • Eat if you are hungry. Don’t worry if the old saying is “feed a cold/starve a fever” or the reverse. But allow your body to direct its energy toward fighting the illness by eating food that is light and therefore easy to digest. (Vegetables, vegetable juices and protein drinks for example.) I’m one of many for whom milk generates mucous, so consider avoiding it for the duration.
  • Sleep – Go to bed right away if you can because it is better to lose a half day of work than several. At night, if you usually sleep 8 hours, try to get 10.
  • Far Infrared Sauna – Many people (Like Sherry Rogers, MD) have good results using their Far Infrared Sauna I do. (I drink a big glass of water and electrolytes to replace what I might sweat out.)
  • Epson’s Salts bath – While you are still warm, bundle up and go to bed.
  • Vick’s VapoRub® – This or a similar natural product on the chest and oddly enough even rubbed on the soles of the feet might bring sufficient cough relief safely. (Never put it in your nose because molecules of it can get into the lungs.)
  • Neti pot – Cleaning the mucous, pollen, dust and pathogens out of the nose and sinuses helps to slow the progression of issues there. It also helps stop the drainage that the throat. (Regular cleaning of the nasal passage washes away pathogens and is preventive.) This link shows an example. A mixture of salt and soda can be used in the water.
  • Think positive – Your brain tells your cells what to do, so make sure the messages you send are the right ones. For example, tell yourself that you are “feeling better” NOT “coming down with a cold.”
  • Keep the disease to yourself. Keep a sack nearby to collect used tissues and take care to contain coughs. Here is video (kind of funny) about making coughing into your sleeve fashionable.
  • Use your remedy kit and the instruction list you hopefully put in it.
  • Continue to treat even when you feel better. As soon as you start feeling human again there’s a temptation to go back to your old ways and stop the remedies that were helping. However, until the bug is totally vanquished, there is always a chance of it regrouping to cause a disheartening relapse.

AVOID / CAUTION: Symptoms are not really the enemy. They are just the outward signs that our body is trying to heal. We find the symptom uncomfortable but, that doesn’t mean that we should risk side effects and a worsening of the underlying condition trying to stop them.

  • Antibiotics – Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses and so will not help with that illness. But, they will kill the helpful intestinal bacteria (probiotics). Among other important jobs, probiotics build immune function and protect you from the next infection that goes around. Avoid antibiotics unless your doctor says you also have a bacterial infection or are at especially high risk for acquiring one. If you must take antibiotics, start taking probiotics immediately to minimize the damage.
  • Antivirals – Two anti-viral drugs are supposedly effective against flu if you use them soon after symptoms start. Tamiflu ® is the best known. Its use is controversial because the drug may or may not shorten the duration of symptoms a day or so and its side effects include all the symptoms of the flu except fever. (So, if a healthy person took the drug for prevention, they might feel like they have the flu-such a deal!) Some psychiatric side effects are even more worrisome and may have contributed to several deaths. More discussion on side effects, some lethal.
  • Aspirin and anti-inflammatories – Fever is one of the body’s defense mechanisms and so it is often best to just use a cold compress on the head and just wait it out. The Mayo Clinic offers this advice on fevers for adults. With children the issues are more complex. Reye syndrome is a dangerous condition caused by giving children with the flu or chicken pox aspirin to reduce their fevers. In adults, the use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like aspirin (or Motrin®, Advil®, Naprosyn®, Aleve® and Relafen®) during the flu is believed to increase fluid in the lungs and impair the lung’s ability to expel the fluid as well as aggravate conditions that lead to organ failure. Aspirin may have been a contributing factor in many of the deaths from the 1918 flu pandemic. Giving drugs to reduce fevers increased death rate in animals and in humans has been shown increase the spread of flu and therefore deaths. The same danger would logically exist even if a person was taking aspirin for achiness during the illness. Acetaminophen reduces fevers but has its own problems.
  • Medications that reduce stomach acid – As I point out in my book, use of these medications on a regular basis can increase risk of lots of problems including hip fracture and dementia. Since stomach acid is also a first line defense against pathogens, if you are on an acid blocker when you are ill, you are more likely to contract pneumonia (the cause of most flu deaths) and C-difficile (a frequently fatal diarrhea).
  • Nighttime cold remedies. The commercials for these products make them seem like the greatest thing since popup tissues, but I’m not a fan. You may at least get some medicines you don’t need and maybe some that will hurt.
    • Coughs. Many of these products suppress coughs with a chemical, dextromethorphan, that according to the government does not treat the cause of the cough or speed recovery and can be fatal in children. That drug tells the brain not to cough which seems like a bad idea since allowing fluids to build up in the lungs might lead to pneumonia.
    • Acetaminophen. The liquid products contain a combination of acetaminophen (like Tylenol®) and alcohol, a mixture proven to be toxic to the liver. Acetaminophen by reducing fever may slow the body from eliminating the bug.
    • Phenylephrine. This decongestant ingredient may be no more helpful than a sugar pill. (Given all that we know now about the negative effects of sugar, why do they always assume that sugar pills are neutral?) and may cause colitis.
    • Other. Then there’s corn syrup (limits immune response), artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. As long as not mixed with acetaminophen, the best ingredient may be the alcohol which some credit with helping to relax and sleep. (However, grandma’s whiskey and honey might be a better approach.)
  • Nasal sprays. The ones that are basically saline to moisturize are fine. The ones claiming to be decongestants can cause dependency.

Copyright 2010-2014 by Martie Whittekin, CCN

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