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My Personal Routine for Staving Off A Cold

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

As a natural medicine provider, people are constantly asking me what I do when I get sick. This question can be tricky to answer because my approach to health is highly individualized. However, I do have a series of things I do to stave off a cold that can be safely used by others.

The first and most important thing to say is that I am a firm believer that the best way to fight a cold is to realize what is happening as early as possible.

When your symptoms are still like a whisper in your body, it is easy to treat a cold; you are a little tired, a little cold, you sneeze, your appetite is reduced, you are grouchy.

Once you are actually sick, treatment is more difficult and needs to be more diverse and individualized based upon how the cold manifests.

As soon as I think I might be getting a cold, I jump into immune boosting action.

I cancel all plans that require getting chilled, staying up late or drinking alcohol.

I start hydrating, focusing on drinking warm water with lemon (alkalizing, hydrating and adding vitamin C to my system).

I cut out any refined sugar, carbs and dairy from my diet and focus on simple warming, easy to digest foods that are rich in nutrients.

I stay warm, avoid strenuous exercise, relax, and go to bed early if I can.

I also have a few supplements that I feel are helpful for immune boosting. There are many great immune boosting supplements out there. Different people’s systems respond better or worse to different things so it is worth doing some experimentation to see what seems to work for you.

For myself, I love Boiron’s Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy that has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the duration and severity of flu-like symptoms. I take a dose of this when ever a feel the faintest inkling that a cold might be coming on. I actually carry a dose in my purse so I always have it with me. I take a few additional doses throughout the day if I still feel like something is coming on.

During the pandemic, I became addicted to X-lear nasal spray. This grapefruit seed and xylitol based nasal spray has some excellent clinic trials that show its efficacy in preventing bacteria from sticking to the lining of the nasal passage. It also helps me have less post nasal drip if I'm feeling stuffy.

Another household favorite is elderberry syrup (we make this at home) or zinc and elderberry lozenges. These are both soothing to sore throats and have immune boosting properties.

I’m also a firm believer in increasing vitamin D3 and vitamin C at the early stages of a cold. At the onset of a cold, I take three days of 10,000 IUs of D3 and 3,000 to 4,000 mg of vitamin C.

With the vitamin C, I will often try to get the increase from food. We all know that citrus is high in vitamin C, but there other foods you can reach for too. The cruciferous vegetables are good vitamin C sources. Parsley is also especially high. I also love to reach for papaya, kiwi, mango, peppers and pineapple.

In the fall and winter, when they are available, wild rosehips are my ultimate favorite vitamin C source. I like to make a tea from the fruit. If you want to try this easy form of foraging, it is important to make sure you are not using the fruits from roses that have been sprayed with pesticides and you want to avoid eating the seeds (they are not poisonous but they irritate the digestive tract for some people).

As a traditional Chinese herbalist, I also lean heavily on taking herbs. The herbal formula Guizhi Tang or Cinnamon Decoction dates back to at least the Han Dynasty (200 AD to 200 BC) and is my favorite go to for when I’m catching a cold (note once I get sick this is not necessarily the right formula).

In less busy times I would prepare it as a tea, boiling and reducing down the combination of cinnamon, ginger, red date, peony and licorice. Now that I’m a mom, I am more likely to just take the formula in an encapsulated granular formula with warm water. With this formula, if you can take it and then bundle up to try and produce a sweat from the forehead and remain bundled up around your head and neck, it can be a great way to kick a cold out of the system.

As a graduate student I was also introduced to sipping tea made by pouring boiling water over fresh ginger slices and rough chopped green onion. This is still a comforting favorite of mine when I am worn down, chilled and I have nasal congestion. I like to eat the green onion as I drink the tea.

I also swear by chicken soup. I love to make either a chicken soup with a caramelized onion base (like you are making French onion soup), celery, carrots, thyme and parsley or a coconut curried chicken soup with onions, lots of ginger, turmeric, chili powder and spinach or cabbage.

The last thing I always do to fight a cold is utilize at home hydro-therapy to drive my lymphatic system. My personal favorite way to do this is through contrast showering (alternating between hot and cold water in the shower). I use the last few minutes of my shower to alternate every thirty seconds between hot and cold.

My rule of thumb in terms of how hot or cold I go is that I don’t want to stress my system or punish myself. So, I only go as far on the temperature extremes as feels nourishing. When I first started doing this, my variation was not very big, but overtime I have come to really enjoy the stronger stimulation of more extreme temperatures. In the winter, if I feel chilled overall or if I am having my menses I finish with warm water rather than cold.

These are the self-care and wellness tools that I swear by. I’d love to hear what’s working for others. If you are interested in trying these and have questions, feel free to reach out. I love sharing cooking tips and helping people source things!

Keep your eyes open for the next installment in this blog series about immunity that will discuss steps for fully recovering from an illness.

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