How to Prevent Flu and Colds Naturally

Prevent Flu & Cold NaturallyThe flu season is here with a vengeance. I know it may seem like the flu is an annual epidemic but this year’s “moderate to severe” flu outbreak is the worst in a decade and affects all the states in the U.S. According to Center for Disease Control, “twenty-nine states and New York City are now reporting high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI) and another 9 states are reporting moderate levels of ILI. Ten states are still reporting low or minimal ILI. ” Local news in NYC reported that more than 5% of all emergency room visits are due to influenza.

Look at this Google Flu Trend Map. There are no state that was spared from this epidemic.
Google Flu Trend

Click the chart below to see more details.

That’s scary, isn’t it? And while I’m OK so far – knock on wood – I heard many people around me have been sick, including half of my daughter’s classmates and some teachers. :(

Whether or not you should get the flu vaccine is debatable – I don’t get flu vaccines – the one thing you can do to avoid getting sick is prevention, even if you are vaccinated. Vaccine is not a Kevlar vest against the virus.

Prevention is.

And how do you prevent or minimize flu naturally, without being a hermit? Influenza virus is transmitted through infected droplets from person and not from surface contacts. So if you stay away from exposure to infected person, you should be safe. But you won’t know if a person is contagious or not since the contagious period starts before a person experiences any symptoms.

This is how I live through my beloved Northeast winters and survive the flu seasons every year. Yea, my kids will come down with colds here and there, but we haven’t had any signs of ILI this year. Yet.

Natural Ways to Prevent Colds and Flu

  1. Wash your hands often – yeah, yeah, you heard this so often, you want to vomit but it’s the ONLY way for those viral droplets NOT to go into your orifices. And all you need, really, is soap and warm water. No toxic triclosan or any other fancy antibacterial soaps are needed. Washing your hand thoroughly for 20 seconds – Sing or hum “Happy Birthday” song TWICE – with soap and warm water is sufficient enough to kill the germs.
  2. Blow Your NoseDO NOT sniffle that yucky viral mucus back into your head. Blow your nose and get that mucus out of your upper respiratory tracts. Press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other. And wash your hands after blowing your nose, for Pete’s sakes.
  3. Rest – Don’t go into work or send your kids to school when feeling icky. Nothing irks me more than sitting next to a sick person or seeing a sick child in school. For one thing, you are contaminating everyone else. And the other OBVIOUS thing? You are sick! Resting when you first come down with the symptoms helps your body to recover and allows your immune system to do its fighting. So give your system some help and lay low. Watch that movie you’ve been meaning to watch on Netflix and stay under the blanket.
  4. Gargle – this should be your FIRST thing to do when you feel icky and are resting at home. In between commercials on T.V. while resting at home, gargle with warm salt water often…like 3-4 times a day. Saltier and warmer the better. I sometimes swallow a bit of the salty water, to kill off anything in the throat, on its way down. Gargling can moisten a sore throat and bring temporary relief but I swear it pickles those viruses and bacterias that are causing you grief, eventually killing them. Also try gargling with black tea that contains tannin to tighten the membranes. Honey and apple cider vinegar also helps.
  5. Drink hot liquids – hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, help prevent dehydration, and soothe the inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat – reason why you crave hot chicken soup when you are sick. It’s loaded with vitamins from the vegetables and chicken is a blood ‘warming’ food in Chinese medicine. Drink de-caffeinated tea or herbal tea and avoid caffeinated drinks as they will make you dehydrated – the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. And skip hot dairy drinks, like hot chocolate with milk. Dairy increases mucus production.
  6. Hot or Cold Packs Around Your Congested Sinuses – while it’s not a cure, it relieves temporary relief of congested sinuses. You can use warm DAMP compress or frozen peas and wrap in another layer of thin fabric and place it over the nose bridge and drape on both cheeks.
  7. Raise your head – sleep with an extra pillow to raise your upper torso area to help with the drainage of nasal passages. If the angle is too awkward, try placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs. The gradual slope might be more comfortable.
  8. Don’t Travel and Fly Unless Necessary – Flying changes air pressure and will hurt your sinus pressure. Remember how flying bothers babies’ under development ear canals? Well, when you are congested, the change in air pressure will hurt your inner ear canals too. If you must fly, you may have to use a decongestant. Chewing gum and swallowing frequently can also help relieve pressure.
  9. Get Chiropractic Adjustments – I might be biased here but having a full body chiropractic adjustment will re-align your spine properly, improving the spinal nerve flow to your organs, increasing IgA levels to fight stressed to the body, and will help your immune system to respond to any viral or bacterial infections.
  10. Acupuncture – Eastern medicine has been around for thousands years and long before any antibiotics or antiviral medicine were around. Acupuncture focuses on balancing the chi in your body.  And when chi is balanced, it helps to improve your body’s response to external attack on the system so it can fight the viral invasion, preventing you from being infected or reducing the severity and the duration of the flu.

Natural Flu and Cold Prevention Remedies

  1. Vitamin C – Vitamin C works in preventing or cutting down the duration of flu or cold. We megadose on Vitamin C  – about 7000 mg.  Once our body starts to reject  the doses – you’ll experience flatulence or loose stool – we cut back on the dose little at a time. Your body absorbs more when it’s fighting back  so your intake will be higher when you are not feeling well. Listen to your body and it will tell you how much Vitamin C it needs. When my stomach starts to gurgle, then, I know I’ve taken too much so I scale back from the next dose.
  2. Garlic – garlic is antibacterial. There is a reason why it’s in season from November to February. We NEED garlic in the winter to fight those bacterial infections int he winter. Besides, we LOVE garlic in everything we eat but when one of us is sick, we add extra. If you don’t like the smell, you can take garlic pills but I don’t know if it works as well as the real food. Always go for the whole real food, when you can.
  3. Ginger – you know ginger is antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. It also warms your body. Ginger is a staple in our kitchen, next to garlic. But there is nothing like sipping a hot mug of strong ginger tea when you are sick. My daughter is the Queen of Ginger Tea. She’ll add a cinnamon stick (antiviral) to lessen the spiciness and add honey(expectorant) to mellow it out even more. We drink it, even when we are not sick. Make sure to use fresh ginger, and simmer until the tea turns to caramel like color. It should be strong, almost, stinging, when you drink your first few pots. Then, you can dilute it a bit and continue to drink it as your beverage, throughout the day.
  4. Echinacea and Zinc – as soon as we feel a bit of ickiness, we pop these dynamic duo for about two weeks. Longer than that doesn’t help. But it definitely shortens the duration of colds and flu. Some folks take them as preventive measure. I’m not sure if it works that way but it sure does nips those suckers in the beginning. And the reason why they work is because Echinacea improves T-Cell production which improves
  5. OscillococcinumOscillo, for short, is a long name homeopathic remedy that I can never pronounce without stuttering – has been proven to work like magic for flu symptoms. Depending on when you start taking it, the symptoms go away or dramatically lessen by the second or third day. I buy a large pack beginning of the winter, just in case. And as soon as the symptoms start to appear, I take about 6 or 8 doses, even if I feel better. It’s awesome.
  6. Cough Syrup – I make Asian Pear and Honey Cough Remedy that calms a hacking cough.  It’s our “go-to” home remedy for cough. Also check out this awesome Elderberry Cough Syrup recipe by The Soft Landing. It looks yummy enough to use it as a jam. Elderberries are another anti-viral & anti0-oxidant agent. Also, their five ingredient cough remedy really works too. Spicy and sweet. Kinda like spicy Duck Sauce you get from Chinese takeout. Yum!

UPDATE: A reader Lori just reminded me about onion.  She is right; onion is amazing since it’s antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. (My grandfather used to eat raw onions and garlic daily. No one wanted to go near him but he never caught colds.) But the latest hoax of leaving cut up onions in the room to attract germs is just that; a hoax. If you are making soups, DO use a plenty of onions. You want to add onion to your green juice? Go right ahead. But a cut up onion absorbing germs in a room has NOT been proven to be effective. You can Google “Onion Myth” or “Onion Absorbs Germs Myth” and you’ll find some interesting articles.

How do you prevent flu and cold? Have you tried making your own cough syrup?

Disclaimer: Flu like symptoms can mimic many serious conditions. And a mild viral or bacterial infection can lead to something more serious than a common cold or flu. If symptoms persist or worsen, see your doctor. These preventive methods are my opinion only and what works for me. This is not a medical advice nor the methods have been proven to prevent flu or cold.

Sources: WebMD, CDC, Slate, ACA, and Natures Mom.


  1. says

    The fact of changing your toothbrush was a “ahhh” moment, even though I nevet get the flu. But my husband does… I am a big fan of garlic myself. In addition to your list, I also use essential oils in friction and in a diffuser.

    • says

      Aromatherapy works well for improving immune system.

      What essential oils do you use for flu or keeping your immune system healthy?

  2. Bonnie Lee says

    Great list Karen. I agree with # the most wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.
    I am a nurse and work in a Hospital that has been bursting at the seams with Flu victims. Not fun.
    I do get the flu shot (occupational hazard), but so do my coworkers and many have been affected by this strain.
    We do lots of soup with garlic and onions this time of year. French onion is on the menu for tonight as a matter of fact.
    Thanks for the reminder about the ginger tea. I will make the Whistling Kettle one of my afternoon stops to pick some up.

    • says

      NYS Gov’r declared Public Health Emergency today. There are 19,000 cases reported so far vs total of 4,400 cases last year.

      Stay healthy Bonnie. I heard that even if you had the flu shot, you can get it bad. French onion soup sounds great!

  3. Jessica says

    What if you’re breastfeeding a new infant? Does that impact any of the recommendations you’ve made here?

    • says

      If you are breastfeeding, I’d be careful of doing anything out of ordinary. For one thing, I know garlic might make your baby gassy. And you should ask your naturopathic doctor if homeopathic remedies and herbs (Echinacea) are safe to take if you are breastfeeding. But everything else on the list should be safe.

      But just to be safe, I’d check with your Leche League for any questions regarding flu remedies and breastfeeding.

  4. says

    I saw a list of tips today from LinkedIn, and they included one that I’ve always done, so I guess it must help – change your toothbrush. I usually wait until I’m sure I’m not contagious (so I won’t re-infect myself).

    Another thing, if my husband or I get sick, I make sure we have separate towels in the bathroom. Sure, we just washed our hands when we used the towel, but I figure it can’t hurt.

    On ordinary days, we don’t hesitate to eat or drink after each other, but of course we don’t when either one of us gets sick.

    This year, I’ve been trying to remember to use my hand sanitizer more while we’re running errands; I tend to forget.

    That’s all I’ve got.

    • says

      I change toothbrush too after I’m better! Forgot to add that!
      My kids use their own towels – it’s sibling rivalry thing – so that’s easy.

      Thanks for reminding me about the tooth brush.

  5. Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green says

    I’m avoiding crowds and taking vitamins. I have asthma so the flu is very serious for me. I can’t decide about the chiropractor though because sick people seem to go and I don’t want to pick up their germs.

    • says

      You are right about NOT being around sick people. You should call the office and check to see if they have any appointments when there are no other patients. Tell them you are immune-compromised. They might accommodate you. I used to, for certain patients. :)

    • says

      With this bad flu season, I’m thinking the same thing Tiffany. I’m already taking extra Echinacea and Vit C. Maybe I’ll wear one of those white surgical masks on the plane. Remember SARS?

  6. says

    We take elderberry syrup like crazy over here! One thing I always mention in relation to elderberry syrup is that if you do buy it, make sure that you check the label — there is a very popular brand that has sugar as it’s #2 ingredient. There is NO need for sugar in elderberry syrup, elderberries are sweet on their own! That’s just paying for filler. Go for 100% elderberry syrup! Love this list!

    • says

      Thanks Jenny!

      Good to know about the sugar. I rather see honey in cough syrups. But I guess the best thing to do is to make your own. :)

  7. says

    I have long been a proponent of Chiropractic having worked as a Chiropractic Asst. for almost 25 yrs. as well as many of your other suggestions. When my boys were young and in school I kept them relatively healthy by giving them a liquid Echinacea which when used at the first sign of a cold usually nipped it in the bud. If they had a cough, I would make my own cough syrup by slicing an onion and drizzling about a tablespoon of honey over it. The onion “sweats” and makes a really tasty onion syrup which the kids didn’t mind taking. In their 18 years or so at home I think they only had maybe one or two colds. One of the things they requested from their college campuses was a bottle of Echinacea.

    • says

      Didn’t know you were CA for 25 yrs! Awesome! Echinacea tincture and Chiropractic adjustments prevented my kids from having ear infections.

      I have to remember to try making onion cough syrup. You are the second person to tell me about onion! Thanks Kiiele!

  8. says

    Being unsociable is a great way to reduce exposure! My friend just retired after many years of teaching first grade, and it’s probably the first year in which she hasn’t gotten a bad cold or the flu (yet, anyway). My mom was a big proponent of the salt water gargle, and it does seem to work if you start as soon as you notice a sore throat coming on. I think I prefer honey lemon tea myself!I don’t usually get the flu shot, but since I’ll be on campus with lots of sniffling students in a couple weeks, I think it might be worth it to have that extra protection.

    If you use elderberries, be careful to get all the stems and seeds out…they contain cyanide-producing glycosides.

    • says

      Like I said, being a hermit helps. 😉

      Your mom is so wise. (I think I like her more than you do. lol) I know someone who’s hospitalized even though he had the flu shot. And my parents, who sneaks in flu shots without telling me every year, still get sick. So, who knows. I don’t want to get into pros and cons of vaccines but it seems like flu shot is no guarantee that you won’t get it.

      Thanks for letting me know about elderberries. I’ll keep that in mind. I don’t want to be in a headline, “A woman dies of cyanide poisoning from homemade cough syrup”

  9. says

    Onions are similar to garlic for cold/flu prevention, you can get a lot of good out of eating raw onions. They also may help people who have germs stay away from you, haha. Cleaning the phones you put up to your face is another good way to prevent these germs from getting into your system.

    • says

      You are right! Thanks for reminding me. I just updated the post.

      Phones, public door knobs, ATM machines (BIG one), and even shopping carts are areas where you should be concerned with. I don’t even touch faucet handles in public bathrooms and open doors with my sleeves when coming out. Maybe paranoid but I don’t want to be the victim.

      I do shake hands though. I’m not Howie Mandel. LOL.

      Stay healthy!

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