Natural Ways to Cope with Winter Colds and Flu

February 4, 2015    BY Shannon Sexton

It’s the dead of winter and you’ve got a miserable cold or the flu—again. Why is it so hard to escape this season without sneezing, coughing, aching, or running a fever?

Because winter is a kapha-dominant season, we begin to feel increasingly cold, heavy, wet, dense, and inert.

We often invite these ailments in unwittingly. As the temperature drops and twilight falls earlier and earlier, we’d rather slouch on a couch and eat pizza in front of the TV than take a brisk walk or head to the gym. Throw in a few festive holidays and we’ve got an overburdened, underexercised body brimming with ama (toxic buildup). And because winter is a kapha-dominant season, we begin to feel increasingly cold, heavy, wet, dense, and inert. As kapha rises and ama builds, the body becomes congested.

In its wisdom, the body attempts to slough off this toxic buildup before it causes bigger problems (according to ayurveda, ama is the fertilizer for all the seeds of illness). A cold or the flu can be the mechanism for a little “spring cleaning,” however unpleasant.

So while it’s tempting to raid the medicine cabinet for cough suppressants, decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-nausea medications, ayurveda encourages us to support our body’s cleansing mission, even if it means toughing out uncomfortable symptoms. Here are some natural ways to cope with colds and flus.

At the first sign of sickness…
Support your body’s cleansing efforts and boost your immune system with the following items:

Vitamin A (20,000 IU once a day for 5 days at your heaviest meal. Contraindicated in pregnancy.)

Zinc lozenges (25 mg up to 3 times per day, best with food to prevent stomach upset.)

Echinacea extract (30 drops in an ounce of hot water, 4 to 8 times per day. Best absorbed on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before meals or 2 hours afterward.)

Vitamin C (500 mg 4 to 8 times per day on an empty stomach.)

Sip hot water throughout the day. It will counteract dry indoor environments by hydrating you and liquefying toxins so that they’re easier to move out of the body.

If you have a sore throat…
Take a Ceanothus compound extract (30 drops, 3 to 4 times per day in an ounce of hot water). It helps soothe a sore throat by releasing lymphatic congestion. 

Gargle with warm salt water up to every two hours.

If you’re congested…
Rinse your nose with a neti pot 4 to 5 times a day until your congestion dissipates. After filling the neti pot with warm saline water, tilt your head and let the liquid pass from one nostril to the other and out. Then repeat on the other side. The nasal wash carries away airborne particles—dust, bacteria, viruses, and fungi—and flushes out excess mucus. Neti pots are available online and at many health-food stores.

Put a few drops of eucalyptus oil into a pot of steaming water. Drape a towel over your head, lean over the pot, and breathe in the steam for several minutes up to 5 times a day. Eucalyptus is an anti-kapha aroma that will energize you while increasing the circulation and drainage of mucus.

If you have a fever…
Wait it out. Recent medical studies show that people tend to stay sick longer when they suppress fevers with medication. A fever is your body’s way of destroying an invader, so many ayurvedic practitioners do not treat a fever unless it’s over 102°. Instead, they recommend dressing warmly and using cold compresses or taking tepid baths to alleviate the fever’s discomforts. (And, of course, resting!)

If you’re nauseous…
Don’t suppress the urge to vomit. This purging activity is so kapha-diminishing that ayurvedic physicians use it as a form of therapy for people with sluggish, overburdened systems. Nausea is a sign that your body is unable to digest whatever you’ve eaten. Vomiting relieves the body of that burden.

If your body is strong and the disease is weak…
Follow a modified kapha-pacifying diet for 2 to 4 days. Eat plenty of fruit and hydrate yourself with vegetable juices, broth, and herbal tea. This gentle fast will stave off hunger while freeing up digestive energy that can be used to fight off disease instead.

Shannon Sexton
Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.