My Favorites Tips to Stay Well During Cold and Flu Season
I recently went on a trip from California to the east coast. It was a blast. I reunited with friends I hadn't seen in years, strolled around neighborhoods enjoying the changing colors of fall leaves, and enjoyed trying some new restaurants.
I arrived home on Sunday happy but tired. As the week progressed I began to feel really tired and as if I had been hit by a truck. Had I worked out too hard?
I struggled to take my usual walk on Friday but I was so cold I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun. When I got home I decided to take my temperature. It was 102 F. I hadn't been sick in a long time and I forgot what it felt like. I also realized that during my short trip I hadn't slept well, I hadn't eaten as well as I usually do, and I forgot to take my supplements and use essential oils. Fortunately I was able to rest for a few days, added elderberry and zinc to my routine, and felt better in a couple days.
During my recent trip to Germany and France I made sure NOT to make the same mistakes I made on my short trip to PA and I stayed well. I made sure to keep up my wellness routine -- to do what I could to keep my body and immune system at its best.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay well during the winter cold and flu season and while traveling.
Eat Well: Plan and simple food nourishes the body. It can provide vitamins, minerals, and compounds to promote health and wellness. However not all food is created equal. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and herbs provide nourishment to the body to support overall health and wellness. During the holidays or while traveling it can be more challenging to eat well and while it's fine to indulge in a special treat its important to makes sure to eat real foods especially plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Sambucus nigra or Elderberry: Elderberry is a dark purple berry that has a history of use in jams, jellies, and cordials. Herbalist David Hoffman calls the elder tree "a medicine chest in its own right". He notes that a standardized black elderberry extract has antiviral properties and has been shown to be effective against 10 strains of influenza virus. In a randomized study it also reduced the duration of flu symptoms by 3 to 4 days. Sambucus has been shown to increase cytokine production, strengthen the cell membrane against virus penetration, and inhibit the propagation of the virus.(2) Elderberry can be used as a syrup, lozenge, or tincture. I took elderberry lozenges on my most recent trip and used them during. If I begin to feel unwell I'll take smaller does of syrup or standardized lozenges more often. Elderberry is a real powerhouse when it comes to preventing colds and flus or helping one feel better faster.
Aromatic Steams: Another easy way to help support the respiratory system is with aromatic steams. They are simple but effective. The easiest way to enjoy and aromatic steam is to fill a non-reactive bowl or mug with boiling hot water, add a drop of appropriate essential oil (yes a drop is enough!), close your eyes, tent your head with a towel, and inhale the steamy vapors for 5 or more minutes. Appropriate oils include Mentha x piperita (peppermint), Cinnamomum camphora (ravintsara), Eucalyptus radiata or globulus, or a synergy intended for respiratory support. Avoid using spicy or citrus oils that may irritate the nose and throat. Jane Buckle found that an aromatic steam with peppermint essential oil improved sinusitis symptoms over the course of five days when done twice daily.(3) Essential oils offer antiviral and antibacterial properties and can help open airways, thin mucus, and decongest. The warm moist air is also very good in supporting the respiratory system. Aromatic steams are great prevention tools to use at the first sign of a cold or if you've been around people a lot of people or traveling. Aromatic steams can also help you feel better faster. They help decongest and fight germs. They are an easy to do and quite effective. During travel I also use an aroma inhaler or simple add a few drops of a protective blend to a tissue and set it bedside.
Other tips: Wash you hands to avoid the spread of germs. Humidify your home. Don't skimp on sleep. Find healthy ways to deal with stress (exercise, meditation, breath work etc.).
What do you do to stay well during cold and flu season?
Hoffman, David (2003), Medical Herbalism, p.580, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Virginia
Torabian, G et. al. (2019), Anti-Influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Journal of Functional Foods, Vol. 54, 353-360
Buckle, Jane (2015), Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Healthcare, p. 353, Elsevier, St. Louis, MO