Natural Remedies for the Flu
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still come down with that nasty little flu bug. I just had a go-round with it myself this past week. It was the first time in nine years! At first I thought it was just a cold, but then the sore throat and congested sinuses turned into a fever, headache, and muscle aches. Blah…
Thankfully Scott, in addition to being a wonderful husband, is also a first-rate nurse and took most excellent care of his pathetic, sniffley, achy wife. But being six months into the AIP, most conventional remedies were not an option for me. So what was I to do to deal with all the unpleasantness?
I don’t know about your mother, but at the first sign of anything, mine was always pushing me to drink. As it turns out, there is good reason for this. When you have the flu, it is easy to become dehydrated. Dehydration makes it harder for your body to regulate temperature, which can exacerbate a fever, and impedes your body’s ability to clear cellular waste and infection from the body. Not to mention the fluids act as a great natural expectorant by keeping mucus and phlem thinner and easier for your body to expel. So drink, drink, drink. But make sure that what you’re drinking is helping and not hindering.
Water is your first and best choice for all things hydration. A close second is herbal tea (just make sure it is seed-free and AIP compliant). Steeping fresh ginger, cinnamon, cloves, or lemon in hot water or herbal tea is a fast and easy way to get in some extra virus-fighting nutrients. Unsweetened juices, such as apple juice, are also a good choice, especially if you have lost your appetite. The nutrients in juice will help fuel you body and give it energy to fight whatever is running around in there that shouldn’t be. For myself, I like to heat up apple juice in a pot on the stove with a cinnamon stick or two in it to get kind of a hot apple cider effect.
If you’re following the AIP, you should already know how vitally important sleep is to your healing and well being. Chances are, if you have the flu in the first place, you probably weren’t getting enough sleep in the last little while. Once you are sick, the quality of your sleep may not be that great either as sinus congestion and body aches can make sleeping difficult. One of the first signs that I’m fighting something (if I’m smart enough to listen to my body that early), is an unusually strong feeling of tiredness/exhaustion where I just want to go to sleep right then. I also cannot get enough sleep while I am sick.
Your body needs sleep to heal. Tissue repair happens mostly during sleep, as does the highest activity of a brain protein called AcPb. This protein links up with interlukin-1 (a cytokine that causes inflammation and makes you feel like junk when you have the flu) and promotes sleep, which, in turn, promotes healing. I normally do best on a solid nine hours of sleep, but when I’m fighting the flu, my body needs significantly more than that!
Some of the most infamous symptoms of the flu are congestion, sore throat, fever, and muscle and joint aches and pains. Most over the counter flu remedies include ingredients that are not AIP compliant. I know when you’re in the throngs of the flu, sometimes it’s hard to care about that, but for the sake of your long-term health, I encourage you to care! There are a lot of helpful natural remedies that can do the job of OOTC medications.
Homemade honey lozenges are great for soothing a sore throat. Sinus irrigation can help to relieve sinus congestion and pressure. Staying in a warm, humid room helps thin mucus excretions, which helps to clear the sinuses and lungs. A warm epsom salts bath is my favourite way to relieve the muscle and joint discomfort associated with the flu.
Fever is a little trickier to deal with. A fever is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the body’s natural reaction to fighting off an infection. In fact, a slightly elevated fever can help speed the healing and recovery time from the flu. Many pathogens need a very specific temperature to survive. If the body raises it’s temperature, it can create an inhospitable environment for the flu virus, thereby weakening and helping to kill it. Of course, if a fever gets too high, it can cause more serious problems.
My approach to fever is to keep and eye on it and if it starts to get into that “concerning” range (104F or 40C), I start taking measures to bring it down. The fever from last week peaked at 39.1C. If you find yourself needing to bring your fever down, I’ve had success with a lukewarm shower or bath. The water should be only little bit cooler (approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit) than your body temperature but not so cold as to prompt shivering. If you are going to take medication to reduce your fever, ensure that it is NSAID-free, like Tylenol, and then only take enough to get the desired result and no more.
Ever heard the saying “starve a cold, feed a fever”? Well, there is some reasoning to that. Since your body is fighting an infection when you are running a fever, it only stands to reason that your body needs nutrition to fight that infection. My appetite is usually pretty minimal when I’m sick, but I do try to get as many nutrients into my body as possible.
As part of my strategy for staying hydrated, I usually focus on bone broth, soups, and fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha. Bone broth packs a powerful nutritional punch and helps support the gut during the “crisis”. Kefir and Kombucha are very high in B vitamins, which are your stress vitamins. They also supply needed probiotics to the gut to help support it during illness.
Soup is great because you can pack a ton of nutrition and healthful goodies into it, including more bone broth and lots of veggies and herbs. One of my favourites when I have the flu is Eileen Laird’s Carrot Ginger Halibut Soup, minus the fish. I usually have a stash of this soup on hand in the freezer. When I’m sick, I just heat it up and I’m done. So tasty and nourishing and all that ginger helps show the flu virus the door!
And stay away from the sugar! Sugar has a very strong suppressant effect on the immune system. When you’re fighting the flu, the last thing your body needs is something working against it! Honey is the exception to this as it contains some valuable antimicrobial properties.
There are some really helpful vitamins and supplements available to help shorten your bout with the flu. Oil of oregano is a very powerful antimicrobial that you can get almost anywhere. It comes in liquid and capsule form. The liquid tastes absolutely awful, but it works (no, this isn’t a Buckley’s ad) and is readily available. The gel capsules also work, but you don’t have the unpleasant (to put it mildly) taste to deal with. You might have oregano-flavoured burps, however. The capsules are not as readily available and tend to be more expensive, but it’s worth it to me.
Vitamin D plays an important roll in the immune system, and you are more likely to catch the flu when your vitamin D levels are low. It has been argued that contracting the flu is actually a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency. I will say I haven’t been the most faithful about taking my supplements this winter… Taking higher doses of vitamin D when fighting the flu has been shown to help shorten the duration of illness. I will take up to 25,000 IUs/day for a day or two until I start to see signs I’m recovering. At that point I will then drop back to my regular 5,000 IUs per day.
Vitamin C is another powerful ally in the fight against the flu. Higher levels of vitamin C in the blood have been known to have virucidal effects on pathogens. Your body’s need for this vitamin also goes up when fighting an infection. I usually take vitamin C to gut tolerance, similar to magnesium. My body tells me when enough is enough.
Zinc has recently been gaining more attention and popularity as a flu-fighter. Zinc is necessary for your thymus to produce thymic proteins, an important part of your immune system. In addition, zinc itself is deadly to many pathogens, including the flu.
Finally, a word about elderberry. Elderberry syrup is particularly good for shortening the duration of the flu. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it works, but it is believed to inactivate the flu virus in the body. You can buy the syrup from any health food store, but it is expensive and can contain ingredients not allowed on the AIP. You can easily make your own for a fraction of the cost and then you can control the ingredients! All this being said, elderberry is an immune stimulant and should be used with caution by those with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. For some, it can stimulate the immune system into a flare.
The flu is never fun and seems to come at the most inopportune times. It is important to know that there are care options out there that work with our bodies to restore health in the short term and the long term. What are some of your go-to home remedies for dealing with the flu?
Please note that I am not a doctor or a trained health care professional of any kind. This post is based on my own personal research and experience only. The suggestions contained herein may or may not work for others and are not intended to replace medical advice.