I can’t remember the last time I was really sick, and it’s not because I never get exposed to anything (after all, I ride sardine-style in the NYC subway at least twice daily). Often, I’ll feel that tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat, or my nose will start running, or I’ll feel that general feeling of off-ness. It never progresses beyond that though (knock wood), because whenever I’m struck by the first sign of a cold or flu, I whip out my arsenal of natural remedies.
- Raw garlic. This is my number one, absolute best cure for almost any ailment. I wrote about it more in depth here, but raw garlic is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. One study found regular consumption of it reduced the risk of getting a cold by 63%, while numerous studies have found it to be as effective (and sometimes more so!) than traditional medicine against things like salmonella, staph and the flu. To get it’s full benefits, make sure you mince it and let it sit for 20 minute (more on that here); it activates the enzyme responsible for the potent health benefits. Whenever I feel like I’m getting sick, I’ll mince 4 – 5 cloves of garlic and let them sit for 20 minutes before toasting some sourdough spread, drizzling on a bit of olive oil, and sprinkling the garlic on top. I also add a bit of sea salt and whatever dry herbs I have in my spice cabinet (oregano, basil, thyme) to balance the potency of the garlic’s flavor.
- Probiotics. While I generally take a probiotic supplement and try to eat some raw, fermented food (kombucha, water kefir, kefir, fermented carrots or sauerkraut) daily, I always up my consumption when I’m sick. Numerous studies have shown the connection between gut health and immunity, so when I feel like I’m getting sick, I take extra care to bolster my gut health. While there’s still a ton of research being done into the gut, for now, the best known way to do that is with probiotics. If you’re taking a pill, look for ones with amounts in the billions (I do 50 billion twice a day when sick) and a broad spectrum of different strains listed on the back. If you’re going for food based probiotics (which I recommend, because 1 tablespoon of fermented food has up to 1 trillion live active bacteria, compared to millions and billions in an often pricier pill), you’ll want to consume something that comes from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Look for the words “raw,” “live,” and/or “active bacteria,” on the jar.
- Avoid dairy. While I don’t eat a ton of in my day to day life, I avoid it without exception when I start to feel sick. Even for people who aren’t lactose intolerant, dairy causes mild levels of inflammation, which triggers your body’s defenses into “fight” mode. When you’re sick, you want to let your immune system focus on your illness rather than stage a fight against inflammation; in general, you want to eat foods that are as anti-inflammatory as possible (my turmeric-filled Immunity-Boosting Indian Spiced Lentil Soup is a great choice). Dairy is also mucus-forming, so if you have a stuffy cold to start, it will only serve to make it worse.
- Drink apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is the Windex of the health world; if you were to believe everything you read about it online, you’d think that it cured cancer, made marathons easier, and single-handedly saved the whales. While it’s not a panacea, it does help to alkalize the body. Why is this important? When you’re sick, your body naturally goes into an acidic state; bringing alkalinity into the mix helps rebalance it toward health. I also find it breaks up any mucus in my chest or throat, helping me breathe easier. I like to add a dash of apple cider vinegar to a mug half-filled with cold water, then top it off with hot water, a bit of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a healthy take on hot apple cider (this is also a great one to beat night-time sugar cravings with throughout the winter).
- Take Vitamin D. There’s been speculation that the reason people get sick more often in the winter is primarily due to the depletion in Vitamin D that most of us experience during the colder, darker season. Vitamin D is synthesized naturally on your skin when you’re exposed to sunlight, which few of us get enough of in the winter. It’s responsible for hundreds of different interactions in your body, and has been found in studies to minimize the chances of both acquiring respiratory infections and healing ones that did occur. I take 2000 mg daily during the winter, usually with breakfast. Try to take Vitamin D with fat – I take it at the same time as my fish oil supplement – as it’s fat soluble and better absorbed that way. I also try to take it earlier in the day, as I’ve heard anecdotal reports of it causing sleeplessness when taken later (which makes sense, as it mimics sunlight in your body).
- Take Oil of Oregano. Ah, the big guns. While many of the remedies described above are immune-boosters, oil of oregano, the concentrated oil pressed from oregano – yes, the herb you eat on pizza – leaves, is powerful medicine. It’s one of the best natural antimicrobial, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal medicines on the market, often besting pharmaceuticals in double-blind studies. Because of it’s high concentration of the phenol thymol, it’s amazing for respiratory infections, such as a cough or bronchitis. Take a few drops directly into the back of your throat or mixed into a glass of water (it tastes spicy, but not at all bad). Be sure to drink a lot of water when on an oil of oregano regimen, as it’s powerfully detoxifying and you want to help your body eliminate all of that waste and illness from the body.
Stay well out there! What are your go-to remedies for combatting winter ills?