Mother knows best: tips for battling those winter bugs

The seasons here in the UK really do like to keep us on our toes. We appear to have gone from a beautiful unexpected indian summer to cold and flu season overnight! I even had the heating back on this weekend and to make things worse both my daughter and I caught the first of the winter bugs. You know the feeling, non-stop sneezing, blocked-up nose (or the opposite runny nose), sore throat, coughing, etc.

Instead of rushing straight to your local pharmacy at the first sign of a cold and buying as many lozenges, potions and pills as your arms and purse will allow, why not first try some of these natural solutions for battling winter bugs. Reaching into your kitchen cupboard can often be as effective as any over-the-counter solution you might buy, and while they may not cure the common cold (what does!?), they may certainly ease your discomfort. (Please note I am not a doctor and these tips are taken from personal experience combined with some research too!)

1. The best piece of advice for avoiding colds is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water: wash them after going to the toilet, before eating, before preparing food for yourself or others, or if you’ve been in contact with anybody. Although this sounds slightly bordering on the obsessive compulsive just think about it: someone sneezes into their hands, then opens the door- germs transferred onto the door handle that countless other people will touch – you then touch your face and the virus goes up your nose and hey presto you’re down with a cold for a week! Gross but true.

 2. Boost your Vitamin C intake. Vitamin C is considered nature’s decongestant and can aid immunity by increasing the body’s levels of immunoglobins, proteins that fight disease. Studies in the British Medical Journal have shown that taking vitamin C supplements reduced the duration of an infection and the severity of symptoms by nearly a quarter. I personally take a 1000mg vitamin supplement (in the form of a fizzy tablet which dissolves in water) when I am feeling rundown and I do find that this helps – this dosage is suitable for adults in the short-term, but not for children under 12 years. Stocking up on fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C would be the best option for boosting vitamin C in young children and also recommended for adults in addition to any supplements. Dark red or purple fruits in particular are full of vitamin C and also contain a class of flavanoids known as anthocyanins which may help shorten your cold symptoms by limiting the damage caused to membranes by free radicals. As a side note, it’s worth noting that smoking can strip your body of vitamin C so if you’re a smoker it would be best to try and stop until your cold symptoms improve.

 3. To treat cold-induced headaches make sure you eat plenty of carrots as they contain beta-carotene which can reduce inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain. Eat them raw, blend them into a soup or chop them up in a stir-fry. My favourite way to eat carrots is raw dipped into hummus- the kids totally love them too.

4. Garlic is another of your five-a-day which is great at battling winter bugs: well known for its immune system benefits, it is best eaten raw or crushed in soups and hot drinks. Garlic combats snotty noses by releasing a compound called allicin, which is full of anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. I personally can’t eat raw garlic but I use it generously in stir-fry dishes and cooking in general. My other half loves to eat raw garlic and while I know this is very healthy for you, the smell is not too great when on the receiving end! Still, eat it raw if you can!

 5. Echinacea can reduce the severity of your symptoms when taken at the first sign of a cold as it helps to boost the body’s immune system – but it is best to take it in short doses of about two weeks. I use it in liquid form and just add the recommended amount of drops to a glass of orange juice or smoothie. It is also available for children so do the same for them- add it to their juice as it can be quite a strong flavour taken on its own.

6. This is my absolute favourite home remedy against cold and flu symptoms: a warm glass of apple cider vinegar and honey. This is what my mum used to give me whenever I was feeling rundown as a child and it really does work a treat. It can be quite a strong taste as it is quite acidic and takes getting used to but you can vary the amounts of apple cider vinegar and honey used and gradually increase as you get accustomed to it. This combination is actually said to be a remedy for many varied ailments due to their wonderful health benefits and is good for good health in general but I find it especially comforting when ill in bed with a cold or flu.

To make: 

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of  honey (preferably organic) & 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (preferably organic) to a mug then add hot water and stir.

This amount is way too strong for my daughter so vary as needed and also I add hot water then some cold for her to be able to drink it straightaway.

This tastes healthy, IS healthy and you feel a nice warm glow after drinking. I would definitely recommend this!

N.B. A tablespoon of honey can also be taken on its own directly to help soothe a sore throat.

7. For a blocked-up nose why not try a steam inhalation. Simply add a few drops of essential oil to a bowl of hot water, then lean over the bowl and cover your head with a towel and breathe in deeply. Do not place your face too close to the steam however, as you don’t want to burn yourself!! Inhale the steam for up a few minutes or until the water cools down and this should help to clear your nasal passages. You can try different essential oils: Eucalyptus is the best for coughs and colds as it is antiviral, antibacterial and decongestant; Lavender and Pine are also good decongestants and Tea Tree is another good one- one of the best antiviral oils. I have read that steam inhalations are not necessarily good for asthma or hayfever sufferers and essential oils are best used for adults. We have Olbas Oil at home as well which comes in formulations for children too- something gentler like this might be best for children- steam inhalations would only really work for older children though due to the use of hot water as caution should always be exercised. I know with Olbas (which is a mix of clove oil, eucalyptus, juniper berry and cajuput) they recommend putting a few drops onto a tissue or hanky for younger children which is also an effective aid to unblocking stuffy noses.

8. A handful of raw nuts can help when you have a cold or flu as they can help to give the body a well needed energy boost, especially almonds and walnuts, on account of their protein content. We are nuts about nuts in our house so no need to confine eating nuts to when run down- kids love them and are great at boosting mid-afternoon energy slumps in general and particularly for those of us confined to desks for the better part of the day.

9. Last, but by no means least, drink plenty of water. While water won’t cure the common cold, it will keep your body nice and hydrated and thus help your body to function at its optimum. It also helps flush out toxins from your body and as you want your body to focus on making you better, best that your body is not overloaded with toxins to deal with (this is also why it is good to stock up on fruit and vegetables!)

These are just a few tips that I have tried and tested to help you through your sneezing and sniffles (there are so many other wonderful natural remedies out there). I find that if you slow down and listen to your body when you are ill, it often guides you in the right direction. In my experience, I either lose my appetite for a while and just focus on liquids and soups, or my body craves nice healthy food and can’t stomach any junk. Make sure you avoid doing anything strenuous- rest as much as possible until the worst is over. I know this isn’t always possible with the busy lives we all lead but don’t do anything- such as hard physical exercise – that would put unnecessary strain on your immune system. Best to take a couple of days out to really rest than to try and carry on as normal and end up ill for weeks on end! Of course, there will always be times when you need something a bit stronger and only a trip to the pharmacy will do, for example, if you or your child has a high temperature, but for other milder symptoms I think it’s good to try the natural route first.

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8 thoughts on “Mother knows best: tips for battling those winter bugs

  1. Perfect timing–my 16-year-old is home sick with a cruddy cold. I’ll try the apple cider vinegar and honey concoction today! Also hadn’t thought about the nuts–he loves those. He’s mad I told him he shouldn’t go to soccer (football) practice today, so thanks for the reassurance on than advice. In the meantime, I’m washing my hands obsessively!

    • Sorry your son is not well :-( My daughter is currently off school so I am trying everything. These tips tend to help to lessen the duration of symptoms as opposed to cure but they somehow feel better than reaching for the medicine cabinet and anything that makes you feel more comfortable when unwell is a good thing. My daughter is not keen the honey vinegar drink but I’ve been adjusting the amounts so that it is more palatable for her. Hope your son feels better soon x

  2. Nice tips, though the vitamin C thing is bollocks, if you excuse my French… It’s one of those really old studies, which got lots of media hype, and could never be reproduced. :) Sorry, the science communicator in me is on its high horses today after reading about that ridiculous French study on GM sweetcorn… The media treatment of science does my head in sometimes.
    Anyway, err, sorry, and I hope E and you feel better soon xx

    • As far as the vitamin C goes, I can only speak from my experience. Whenever I’m feeling rundown I take a 1000mg tablet of vitamin C and I genuinely feel boosted. This has nothing to do with the media, this is what I do personally. I’m not a scientist but I know what works for me and I have been doing this for years and read a lot about nutrition. I also know that feeding my children vitamin C rich food is going to do them the world of good- better than sitting them down with a nice big bag of crisps. Scientists change their minds from one week to the next so I don’t take too much notice of their ever-changing opinions – I stick to what I know is good for me and my children. My son is the shining example of what good healthy food can do for you – he is the pillar of health and has an amazing healthy approach to food – a very instinctive way of eating. I am already starting to feel better thank you and I put that down to taking all of the above ;-)

  3. What a lot of lovely tips: I agree with the 1000mg Vitamin C fizzy tablets totally, if its taken as soon as you have the first symptom of flu or cold, it can even stop it. Garlic is a form of antibiotic as well, its good. I also believe in the power of carrots. I have to remember the goodness from almond and walnuts. Thanks again for the tips. Have to keep this article for future reference.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you found it helpful. It was helpful for me also to put all the tips I have found useful over the years into one place so I too can use it for reference lest I forget ;-)

  4. Good advice!
    I am really careful about taking + giving medicine for colds (flu is very different, and I really think most people have never had the flu or they’d know it completely knocks you out!). One thing I have finally conceded is that cough syrup does not work, it has no effect on a cough whatsoever.
    But with a lot of things keeping hydrated can really make the difference in how you are feeling. Especially with a cold as you lose so much in the way of fluids.

    My son has bad allergies, a touch of asthma and seems very prone to coughs and a warm shower, or inhaling steam in general, really really helps him.

    • You’re totally right about the cough syrup- no need to go to the pharmacy when you have honey and lemons in your own kitchen anyway! Sorry to hear your son has bad allergies- but great that you’ve found some natural ways that help alleviate his symptoms – always best to try natural ways first with children.

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