Got a Cold? You Know WHAT to Take but do you know HOW?

As a naturopath people tell me all the time about what vitamins, herbs or supplements they are taking. I find people nowadays are very educated about the various products for sale in health food stores. Everyone knows about taking vitamin C to shorten the duration of a cold, garlic for infections, and horseradish to clear the sinuses. Most people are aware that B vitamins are for energy; and magnesium is for stress and to relax muscles. But how often to take these supplements, how much to take, and when, are the questions I still get asked a lot.

At this wintry time of year there’s a lot of colds and other infections going around and we find ourselves rummaging through our medicine shelf to see what we have to relieve the suffering and hopefully get us back on our feet as soon as possible. So here’s a run down of three of the most commonly used cold and flu remedies and how to take them to get the best results.



Who hasn’t made up a soothing cup of tea with honey and lemon for a sore throat? Honey is a pure whole food containing lots of vitamins and antioxidants and the benefits are amplified if it’s Manuka honey which has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well. But you won’t get the best out of your honey if it’s overheated which runs the risk of destroying its medicinal benefits. This is also the reason why raw organic honey is best, as honey is heated during the refining process. You can work around this issue by adding the honey once the tea has cooled to at least 40 degrees Celsius.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C’s role in the prevention and treatment of the common cold has been argued over ever since Linus Pauling1 first popularized the idea over 40 years ago. Current research lends weight to the idea that taking vitamin C at the onset of a cold will shorten its duration but is not useful as a means to prevent colds in otherwise healthy persons. So dig in at the first sign of a sniffle and don’t be stingy with the quantity is probably the best advice. For this purpose, I would recommend getting vitamin C as a powder – ascorbic acid is the most easily absorbed but getting a mixture of ascorbic acid with ascorbates will cause less stomach irritation. You can take up to 6g a day without worrying about overdosing but break it up into divided doses, say 1g six times a day and ease off if it causes stomach irritation and/or diarrhea.

Herbal Medicine

Herbs are a fantastic resource when it comes to alleviating cold symptoms and supporting our own immune systems. I’ve seen the power of properly prescribed herbal medicines with my clients countless times and experienced it myself so I can’t recommend them highly enough. They work. And they work by improving the efficiency of our natural response to illness rather than by suppressing symptoms so we end up not only recovering from the acute illness but with a strengthened immune system because of it. Win/win!

Ideally, consult with a herbalist and get some advice about the right mix of herbs for your particular situation – they can make up a special mix for you and they will also advise on the dosing. But failing that, my advice would be to not be afraid to dose acutely for an acute condition. By this I mean, once you feel the onset of cold symptoms, start taking herbal medicines every 2 hours. For a chronic condition, a herbal formula may be prescribed at 5mL three times a day but that same formula (if the herbs are appropriate) may be recommended every 2 hours for the first day of a cold, then 6 times a day until the symptoms subside. Some herbs that may be prescribed include Andrographis, Echinacea, Eyebright, Elder, Yarrow and Pelargonium.

Getting a Cold Means it’s Time to Rest

I know this seems basic and we all know it, but I think the reminder is often necessary. Take the time to rest and let your body recover fully. Having a cold is a time to stop, rest, drink lots of water and herbal teas and enjoy wholesome soups. By doing this, in conjunction with getting the most from your natural remedies, you’ll be up and back into the swing of life in no time.

Acute case consultations are available at Vital Child so the next time you feel a cold coming on, try a herbal mix made up for your specific symptoms and see if you feel the difference.

[1] 1970, Pauling, L. Vitamin C and the Common Cold



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