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.

AVOID / CAUTION: Symptoms are not the enemy. They are just the outward signs that our body is trying to fight infection and 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 , but they do kill the helpful intestinal bacteria (probiotics). Among other important jobs they do, 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 simply must take antibiotics, start taking probiotics immediately and double up to minimize the damage. (Just don’t take them within a couple of hours of the drug.)
  • Antivirals – Anti-viral drugs will reportedly shorten flu by a day if you use them within 48 hours after symptoms appear. Tamiflu ® is the best known. Its use is controversial because the drug side effects can include all the symptoms of the flu except fever. Some psychiatric side effects are even more worrisome and may have contributed to several deaths. More discussion on side effects, some lethal. Check out the natural antivirals in the Remedy Kit.
  • Aspirin and anti inflammatory drugs – Fever is one of the body’s important defense mechanisms in case of infection. This journal review article describes how fever is involved in signalling immune response. It used to be common practice to pile on blankets to increase the fever’s positive effects. Unless the fever becomes extreme, it is often best to just use a cold compress on the forehead and 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 aspirin to reduce fever in children who have the flu or chicken pox . In adults, the use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s) like aspirin (or Motrin®, Advil®, Naprosyn®, Aleve® and Relafen®) during the flu (for fever or aches) has been shown to increase the risk of heart attack. NSAID’s are also believed to increase the risk of turning flu into pneumonia. 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. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not a NSAID. It reduces fevers but has its own problems (see below). Both aspirin and Tylenol reduce vitamin C levels which is a problem when fighting illness.
  • Medications that reduce stomach acid – As I point out in my Natural Alternatives to Nexium book, use of these medications on a regular basis can increase risk of lots of problems including hip fracture, dementia and kidney disease. 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 type of 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 get some medicines that you don’t need and maybe some that will hurt. For example, may of these contain anticholinergic ingredients that are hard on the brain. Learn more.
  • 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 folks credit with helping to relax and sleep. (Even so, 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. Again, see the Remedy Kit.


  • Remedies in the Kitchen – There is 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 fresh 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 filtered water.
  • Eat if you are hungry. Don’t worry if the old saying is “feed a cold/starve a fever” or the reverse. 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 and I) have good results using their Far Infrared Sauna. (I drink a big glass of water with 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 and cause trouble.)
  • 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 irritates 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. Since we don’t know what kind of critters and junk may lurk in tap water, it is safest to use filtered or distilled. A drug store product Alcholol also helps.
  • 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 a video (kind of funny) about making coughing into your sleeve fashionable.
  • Use your remedy kit (at this link) 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.

Copyright 2010-2020 by Martie Whittekin, CCN

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