It’s cold and flu season, and that means it’s time to make sure that you’re fully stocked up on the supplies you may need. As we all know, viruses can hit seemingly out of the blue and by the time we realize that we’re actually sick, the last thing we want or need to do is to run to the store. That’s why it’s so important to stock up for cold and flu now. Tissues, pain reliever, disinfectant, a thermometer and hand soap are all a given. But did you know that there are 7 natural supplies that are helpful to have on hand and that may help to ease your suffering as well? We’re going to walk through each to find out why they belong on any cold and flu preparedness list.
**Note: None of the supplies listed here should be considered as a true “treatment” for the cold or flu because while some things may help shorten the lifespan of a virus and may help ease the symptoms, there’s really no treatment other than time, rest and drinking plenty of liquids.
There’s no doubt about it, warm fluids are best when you’re sick. They’re soothing on a sore throat and are just generally more comforting to drink. Hot herbal teas also have healing properties that may help you to feel better faster. Take peppermint tea for instance. It’s a natural source of menthol, so even just breathing in the steam while you’re drinking it may help with congestion1. When you stock up for cold and flu, be sure and get several different types of herbal tea. You’re going to be drinking a lot of it, so you’ll want some variety.
Most of us have heard, “Drink warm lemon water with honey to soothe a sore throat,” but it looks like honey by itself may do the trick as well. Dr. James Steckelberg with Mayo Clinic cites a study that showed that honey may be just as effective as the common cough suppressant ingredient dextromethorphan in typical over-the-counter doses. He also reminds though that “coughing isn’t all bad” because it helps to clear mucus from your airway. But, if you can’t catch your breath or can’t sleep because you’re coughing so much, you may want to try a couple of teaspoons of honey.
Many of the substances found in this herb are believed to have different properties that may help fight off the cold or flu. Among them are phenols, which act as an antioxidant2 and can help boost your immune system by fighting inflammation. Native Americans have used the plant for its healing properties since the 18th century to help treat throat infections, pain and coughs among other ailments3.
It’s important to note though that there is conflicting research about whether echinacea truly helps to prevent or relieve symptoms of the cold and flu. That means that you should consider it as a possible remedy when you stock up for cold and flu that can be used while drinking plenty of fluids and getting plenty of rest. You can find echinacea in many forms including capsules, pills, and herbal teas. As with any natural products, you should always get it from a reputable source to make sure that there’s actually echinacea in the product.
Studies show that garlic has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to support the immune system4, 5. The minimum recommended amount to eat for raw garlic is one clove, two to three times a day6.
One study in particular looked at the effects of supplementing with aged garlic extract7. It found that supplementation with the extract “may enhance immune cell function and that this may be responsible, in part, for reduced severity of colds and flu.” The subjects that took the extract reported fewer symptoms associated with colds and flu, fewer days of being sick and fewer incidences where they functioned sub-optimally and had to miss work or school due to illness. The key here seems to be starting to take aged garlic extract as early as possible in cold and flu season to increase your chances of reaping these kinds of benefits.
As you stock up for cold and flu, essential oils are great to have on hand to potentially help ease your symptoms. Among the benefits attributed to them are helping to soothe your throat, reducing inflammation and helping to clear away mucus8. Most of them work by diluting them in water and inhaling their steam, diffusing them into the air with a diffuser or adding a few drops to a carrier oil and applying it topically to your skin. This article in Medical News Today explains what the 12 best essential oils are for coughs and how to use them.
Many natural lozenges contain menthol and elderberry or other natural substances that may help to ease cold and flu symptoms. If you’re concerned about limiting processed substances, you’ll want to make sure that the menthol is naturally derived from mint oils and not synthetically manufactured. The biggest benefit from a lozenge though is that just like sucking on hard candy, it helps to keep your throat moist and can help to stop a coughing fit just from sucking on something. Because you may go through many of these if your cough is really bad, be sure that they’re unsweetened.
And yes, we can’t forget that old standby – soup. When our throat hurts or we just feel bad, soup is what we usually reach for because it’s comforting and easy to swallow. This study from a researcher at Nebraska Medical Center also found that chicken soup “may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity,” and that it’s mild anti-inflammatory effects could help relieve symptoms of upper respiratory infections9. While chicken soup is best known for its ability to help us feel better when we’re sick, it seems that most soups can help with congestion. Dr. Keri Peterson told CBS News that “All liquid broth soups will speed up the movement of mucous in your nose simply because it’s a hot fluid and that causes dilation of blood vessels which causes increased blood flow and allows the mucous to flush everything out. And that will help alleviate congestion.”
Because soup is one of the first things we turn to when we have a cold or the flu, it is a must as you stock up for cold and flu. Be sure and keep a week’s worth of homemade servings already made, frozen and ready to be heated up when needed. That way, you can maintain your healthy habit of eating minimally processed food even when you’re feeling your worst.
Why Vitamin C Isn’t on This List
You may have noticed that Vitamin C is absent from this list. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, there is very little to no real evidence that Vitamin C prevents the average person from getting a cold or reducing the duration of cold symptoms10. However, according to a 2007 study11, if you’re a marathon runner, skier or are exposed to sub-arctic temperatures, preventative use of vitamin C in doses ranging from 250 mg/day to 1 g/day could reduce the number of colds you get by half.
Otherwise, the study found that Vitamin C supplementation does not significantly reduce the risk of developing a cold for the average person and that it only reduces the amount of time that you experience cold symptoms by 8 percent. In other words, if you would normally suffer from cold symptoms for 10 days, taking Vitamin C before you get sick would only reduce the symptoms by almost a day. There was no evidence that taking Vitamin C after you get sick makes any difference. All of that said, there are many, many health benefits to regularly getting Vitamin C through the foods you eat such as kale, sweet yellow peppers, broccoli and lemons, so still make sure that you do that. They just probably won’t help when it comes to preventing or easing cold symptoms.
While the supplies on this list may help to relieve the symptoms of the common cold and flu, it’s important to remember that if your symptoms last longer than 7-10 days or seem particularly severe, you’ll want to see your health care provider. They will be able to determine whether there’s something else going on that requires medical treatment or if you just need more time, warm fluids and soup to help your healing.
- The Effects of Menthol Isomers on Nasal Sensation of Airflow. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3370851
- Medical News Today. Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects of Echinacea. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252684.php
- History of a Plant: The Example of Echinacea. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12808356
- Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25961060
- Immunomodulatory Effects of Aged Garlic Extract. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11238820
- Healthline. How Garlic Fights Colds and The Flu. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/garlic-fights-colds-and-flu#section5
- Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22280901
- Medical News Today. Twelve Best Essential Oils for Coughs.https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321199.php
- Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11035691
- National Institutes of Health. Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/#en12
- Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17636648