Popping pills to alleviate symptoms of the cold and flu may have you using less Kleenex, but it can also leave you feeling groggy and unproductive. Dr. Ty Vincent, Medical Director at Mat-Su Integrative Medicine in Wasilla, Ala., and author of Thinking Outside the Pill Box: A consumer's guide to integrative medicine and comprehensive wellness, (AuthorHouse, 2012), says natural remedies can help clear your sinuses and boost your immune system without affecting your focus.
Follow these tips to keep illness at bay and recover faster if you do succumb to a cold or flu.
1. Boost your immune system.
As you probably know, the immune system is vital for defending against viruses and bacteria. Vincent says one vitamin is crucial to immune system health, and it's one that almost everyone doesn't get enough of, especially people who live the northern hemisphere.
"Vitamin D is one of the most effective ways to support immune health," says Vincent, who recommends taking a supplement since it's difficult to get high enough levels of vitamin D through food. Other ways to boost the immune system are to get enough rest and engage in regular, moderate exercise.
2. Increase vitamin A intake.
While we all know to increase our Vitamin C intake when fighting a cold or flu, Vincent says there are other vitamins that are essential to alleviating cold and flu symptoms. "Vitamin A helps fortify your mucous membrane," he says. Sweet potatoes, carrots and dark leafy greens are great sources of vitamin A.
3. Try herbal remedies.
Elderberry and olive leaf extract have natural antiviral properties that help fight infection. According to Vincent, one tablespoon of elderberry syrup extract up to four times a day for one to five days can reduce cold and flu symptoms. Olive leaf extract supplements can be taken daily even when you don't have a cold. Olive leaf extract contains many antioxidants that give the immune system a boost without any side-effects.
4. Stay hydrated.
"Part of the reason people get sick easier [during cold and flu season] is because the mucous membrane dries out and you become more susceptible to infections," says Vincent. Avoid drinking excessive amounts of coffee and alcohol which are dehydrating and consider investing in a humidifier if you live in a particularly dry region.
"Part of preventing infection is cleaning virus bacteria away," says Vincent.
Sure, mucous is gross, but it's actually critical for your protection. The body responds to infection by trying to clear things out of your respiratory tract and requires mucous to do this. "If your mucous membrane from your nose to your eyes and respiratory tract is dried out, you're more susceptible to viruses and bacteria and other infections," says Vincent.
5. Consider homeopathic remedies.
The number one flu remedy in France is making waves in the United States becoming as first defense against flu symptoms. Vincent says every household should stock oscillococcinum as it's an effective remedy for reducing the duration and severity of flu-like symptoms including body aches, chills and fevers when taken at the first signs of the virus.
Made of duck heart and liver extracts, occilococium comes in packages of tiny pellets that dissolve in your mouth , and can be found in drug and health food stores. It's safe for adults and children and has no known side-effects, although pregnant women should check with their physician before using.