Tiny Tips for Common Colds (Part 2)

Tiny Tips for Common Colds (Part 2)

This was such a long post that I uploaded it in two sections to make for a more manageable read. You can check out Part One here.

Take a mustard powder footbath.

This is another thing I swear by in the early stages of a cold – a bowl of really hot water with a tablespoon of mustard powder dissolved in. Soak the feet in it (or hands if you prefer) for about 15 minutes, ideally just before bed. It’s great for warming you up and helping you to sweat things out – I do this whenever I feel like I’m coming down with something. I sometimes do it just to warm my feet up as well, especially if I’ve been wearing high heels and am feeling ‘cold to the bone’. Mustard is a good detoxifier and in a footbath it draws blood to the surface (you can tell by how pink your feet go), relieving congestion from other areas. I sometimes add a cup of sea salt for added detoxifying effect. You can also apply mustard poultices externally to the chest area to assist with congestion or respiratory infections, although I have never tried this, so I can’t vouch personally for its efficacy.

Do a steam inhalation with essential oils.

This is one I like to do if I have nasal congestion, although I try really hard to prevent that from happening as I HATE being blocked up. Put a few drops of thyme oil, eucalyptus oil, and/or peppermint oil into a bowl of very hot water, lean over the bowl and place a towel over both head and bowl to keep the fumes in. Inhale the steam through your nose (if you can’t do this immediately, keep trying as the vapours should unblock things very quickly!), but keep your eyes closed, or else the oil vapours will sting them. I stay under my towel until the mixture has cooled and there is no steam left. If you’re going to let children do this, obviously do supervise them around the hot water, etc. For very young children you can just put the bowl of oil and water in the room with them – it’s a good thing to use for those who won’t take medicine.

Do a steam inhalation with chamomile flowers.

This doesn’t decongest quite as well as the one above, although as steam on its own is quite decongesting anyway, it certainly helps. What it’s great for though is soothing the kind of nose pain or sinus pain you get can from lots of nose blowing. You know when it really hurts to breathe, or your sinuses hurt? The flower vapours are quite soothing and it’s about as near to putting ointment on the area as you can get. As a herbalist’s daughter I have ready access to dried chamomile flowers, but I imagine using several chamomile teabags would work too. You can also take a bath with chamomile flowers – it’s totally safe for interstitial cystitis and should be quite soothing to PGAD.

Take a hot bath, ramp up the heating and stay warm.

Again, this helps to deactivate the cool-loving cold virus and assists you in sweating things out, while the steam of a bath helps with a blocked nose. As just mentioned, you can add chamomile flowers to a bath, but I wouldn’t add sea salt or oils unless you know your lady or gentleman parts are really hardy. If you’re terribly rich and have your own sauna or steam room, now is the time to make good use of it, as both these are ideal when suffering from a cold! (I am not terribly rich and don’t have my own, just in case you were wondering!) Please be thoughtful and don’t head off to your local communal sauna if you’re full of germs though – nobody likes getting ill. In days gone by, people used to wrap themselves in old sheets or bandages if they felt a cold coming and sleep in them so that they’d get all sweaty. Happily with the benefits of washing machines, we can just sweat into our PJs and bedsheets and wash them when we’re feeling better! Unless your temperature is dangerously high, there is no need to try to bring it down and in fact it impedes the healing process to do so.

Take aloe vera.

Yes, really! Aloe vera has antiviral properties, while the anti-inflammatory properties that make it so good for interstitial cystitis also extend to inflamed nose and throat tissue. I can’t find any information about the dosage required to fight infections, but those of you taking Aloe Vera Capsules on a daily basis are not only helping your bladder – you’re also giving your immune system a daily boost too! The great Patrick Holford himself lists aloe vera in ‘The Optimum Nutrition Bible’ as a natural antiviral – I came across it while looking up the mechanism by which elderberry does its thing. Given that the daily serving size for IC is 6 capsules per day and that you can double this during flare ups, I’d guess that 6-12 a day should confer some cold fighting benefits – but it’s only a guess on my part. It could be that less is effective and it could be that more is beneficial. If any of you want to give it a try next time you’re coming down with a cold, or have noticed that you’re getting less colds than you used to, do get in touch! On the subject of aloe vera, aloe gel is really good for soothing sore noses from too much wiping with tissues – it is one of only two things I’ve found that I can apply without stinging. The other, should you be interested, is Vaseline. My mum’s a bit more hardcore, so she can use all sorts on her sore nose, but I can only use these two things.

Wash your hands and don’t touch your face in public spaces.

Admittedly I’m a bit neurotic about washing my hands, but when I started washing my hands whenever I got in from somewhere like a supermarket and when I stopped touching my nose and mouth in public places, I noticed a significant decrease in the number of colds I got. Supermarkets are especially bad for germs, because they’re full of people touching products and then putting them back on shelves and they’re full of young children. And how do you open the carrier bags at the checkout? You lick your fingers. I challenge you all, if you do nothing else, to spend this winter washing your hands as soon as you get home from the supermarket/gym/restaurant/school/workplace and avoiding putting your hands in your mouth, eyes, nose or ears while you’re out and about. I fully hold with the notion that we can be too clean – I’m not talking about getting frantic because you have soil on your hands or refusing to have pets because they’re dirty. Given that colds are transmitted because you effectively put somebody else’s body fluid into your mouth or other facial orifices though, it makes sense to stop touching your face when you’ve been around strangers or infected people and to wash your hands!

Now we’ve talked about things you can do to help prevent or ease colds, we’d better talk about some things to avoid if you are stricken with one!

Avoid alcohol.

It is a vasodilator, making blood flow to the extremities, but lowering your core body temperature in the process. Since the body tries to keep the temperature higher than usual during a cold, it’s not helpful if you take things to lower it. Alcohol interferes with nutrient absorption and also reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight infection, both of which make it harder for us to resist and recover from colds. Just one night of binge drinking can interfere with our immune system and the effects can last up to 24 hours. Regularly drinking smaller amounts is also harmful. ‘Heavy drinking’ is defined as more than 7 drinks per week for women and more than 14 drinks per week for men OR more than 3 drinks (women) or 4 drinks (men) in a single a day. If you routinely have multiple drinks a night, even if you’re not getting drunk, you’re really not doing your immune system – or any other system – any favours.

Avoid sugar.

You should really be doing this anyway if you want to maintain good health!  However, just two cans of fizzy pop can lower our white blood cells’ ability to fight viruses by up to 40%. The effects begin within half an hour and last up to 5 hours. Cakes, sweets, biscuits, flavoured coffees, milk chocolate, ice cream – not to mention condiments and convenience foods – can easily take our sugar intake way beyond the recommended daily upper limit. Refined carbohydrates have similar effects on the immune system, although complex carbohydrates are fine. People who regularly consume sugary foods succumb to infections far more frequently than those who do not and do not recover as quickly. I used to get several heavy colds a year, from childhood until my mid-twenties. Cutting junk sugars out of my diet improved my immune system tremendously and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Avoid popular throat lozenges.

They’re full of sugar or artificial sweetener and they leave the throat tacky! Hopefully the list above contains lots of useful alternatives, but if you really must use them, don’t overdo them. There are actually quite a few recipes online for homemade, natural, sugar free throat sweets if you’re into the DIY approach.

Avoid stress.

Wishful thinking! I think a lot of this is down to personality type, hormones and neurotransmitter levels rather than actual circumstances – some people seem to be naturally very laid back while others, like me, are born worriers. Stress does have a huge impact on our immune system and in fact Joseph Mercola says that no matter how healthy your diet is, you will be susceptible to picking up infections if you have been very stressed about something or if your sleep has been disrupted. I got a cold for the first time in a year a couple of weeks ago and two things had happened in the two days before it started: I’d been to Slattery’s, a local chocolatier, and had a not particularly healthy lunch, including more sugar than I’d normally eat (though under the circumstances I was a model of self-control and quite proud of myself!); and I’d got stressed and upset about something, as I’m inclined to do at certain times of the month, which cost me a lot of sleep. There are some stressors that we can’t escape, but if you have things going on in your life that perpetually aggravate you and you know it would be possible to change them, do consider the impact they are having on your immune system and weigh up whether they’re really worth it in the long term.

Avoid disrupted sleep.

Again, this is often down to factors outside our control – some people can sleep anywhere and some, like me, find it difficult. There are hormonal factors, neurotransmitter levels and health issues that can make sleep impossible to come by at times, no matter how much meditating you do and counselling you have. However, if you’re always pulling all-nighters to go partying, if you consistently stay up too late on work nights, if you wilfully engage in activities that disturb your sleep without ever slowing down to rest and recuperate, this has both short and long term effects on your immune system. We really are more vulnerable to infections when we’re run down, so make sure you do all you can to stay happy and rested to cut your chances of being hit with a nasty cold. Also, if you do get a cold, allow yourself to take a day or two off and rest! Sleep and laughter really are some of the best medicines!

Avoid dairy products.

Research has been done to show that these don’t actually affect the amount of mucus you produce. However, many people DO find that eating large amounts of dairy products make them more snotty or catarrhal – even if they haven’t actually made the connection and don’t realise it’s the dairy products doing it! Dairy products can also affect the consistency of mucus, making it thicker and harder to expel. Lots of people have undetected intolerances to dairy products, so it could be that these are the ones who suffer increased mucus levels when they eat them. Certainly lots of ‘allergic’ type children seem to have perpetually blocked noses – often accompanying the standard eczema/asthma combination that screams ‘food intolerance issues’ to those within the alternative health community! I’d definitely give milk and cheese a wide berth if you’re down with a cold. The recommendation still doled out by many a person that children with colds and sore throats should be fed ice cream, because it helps to soothe and heal absolutely makes my blood boil. An iced dairy food laden with sugar is the last thing people should be eating if they’re ill. Make it hard for the body to stay warm, bring the immune system down with sugar, affect mucus production, cultivate a sweet tooth and impede the healing process of a young person – all in one nutrient-devoid food. Grrrrr!

Avoid bananas.

They’re mucus forming too and not many people realise it!

Avoid going out.

Okay, this one’s not just for you – it’s for everyone else too! Nobody likes being ill, so when we are infected with something, we all have a duty of care to those around us to isolate ourselves as much as possible. I hear loads of people brag that they absolutely never take a day off work, or that they send their children to school no matter how ill they are. Is it just me who thinks, ‘How silly and selfish’?! Of course there are going to be times when we absolutely can’t take a day off, or absolutely have to be somewhere. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. However, unless you’re the Prime Minister, have dependants to tend to, or have the-most-important-day-at-work-ever, it’s probably not going to matter, really matter in the grand scheme of your life, if you take a day off and don’t go to public places. Your colleagues will thank you for keeping your germs to yourself and your body will thank you for the chance to stay warm and rest. Light exercise can be beneficial if you’re up to it, but a half hour walk and a 90 minute gym session aren’t really the same thing and anyway, out in the fresh air your germs can dissipate and won’t affect other people as much. Convalescence is very much a lost art, but great store used to be set by taking time to properly recover from illness, so think of your day or two out of action as an investment in your future health and a good deed to society!

Time your painkillers well.

Over the counter medications for colds often act to suppress the very mechanisms employed by the body to clear out the virus – most notably by lowering body temperature and blocking up nasal discharge. This means hammering painkillers all day for several days is going to impede the healing process. However, sometimes a bit of respite can really offset that, especially if it makes the difference between you being able to get some sleep and not. I try not to take painkillers for colds during the day unless I’m so ill that I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next couple of hours, but I do take them at night if I’m feeling rotten to try to buy a good night’s sleep, because a good night’s sleep is the best medicine of all. There’s no need to be heroic and refuse to take anything whatsoever to alleviate the symptoms, as long as you’re making an informed decision and are also doing what you can to support your body in its healing.

Final thoughts…

Most adults get two or three colds a year, while children get around five. However, while it’s always unpleasant having a cold, there is a school of thought that having one cold every year or two is actually quite good for you. My mum knew a herbalist who would try to ward off some colds, but then would allow one to run its course every once in a while to give her immune system a really good work out and her body a good clear out. In fact it takes a lot of resources for the body to power up an immune response on the scale required to produce the symptoms of a cold, so if you’re suffering with one, take heart that you’re healthy enough to do so. Although it might seem like a blessing to not be robust enough to have an inflammatory reaction to an acute infection, in fact it makes you more vulnerable to chronic, more complicated issues. It is said that a truly healthy person should be able to produce an inflammatory response strong enough to see a cold off in 24-48 hours, feeling worse than if they suppressed the symptoms of the cold, but enjoying milder symptoms and a faster recovery than a less robust person.

My health goal is to suffer only one cold every year or two and to see each one off in no more than two days. Although I have a very healthy diet and a strong supplement regime, stress and sleep are my downfalls, so I do get hit harder with colds than I’d ideally like to be. We should suffer with fewer colds as we age though, as we will have built up antibodies to more strains of cold virus – one definite plus to ageing!

I feel like I’ve said just about everything I wanted to say on the topic of colds now, so if you’ve read the whole lot, you definitely deserve good health just on account of your staying power! If you’re a relative newcomer to using complementary approaches to manage your health, I do hope you’ll have picked up some useful ideas. Once upon a time everybody knew this kind of thing and I can’t help but feel that if everyone still did know how to manage minor issues at home, there would be a lot less strain on the NHS and on poor, overwrought GPs. I hope you’ll consider trying some of the things in this post and that you’ll enjoy fewer colds and more speedy recoveries as a result!

Wishing you the best of health,


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