There is no cure for the common cold.
I think it’s safe to say we all know this by now. Being pro-active with our health is the best way to ward one off, but there are just some instances where we’re going to get caught off-guard and catch a bug. Holiday parties, traveling, shopping malls, and school-age children are variable Petri dishes of bacteria and viruses—and sometimes our immune systems just can’t take it. Maybe we’re under stress, haven’t been eating our best or, like me, had an appendix rupture and have a compromised GI system. Our immune system lives in our gut and it’s not difficult to be out of balance with our good/bad bacteria ratio. Don’t fight a cold though, support it instead.
An unhealthy gut equals a depressed immune system.
I’ll give you some tips on how to keep a healthy immune system in another post, but for now I want to share the natural treatments that have worked wonders for me over the years.
Most people recover from a cold in about 7-10 days but I can say that in my experience the below protocol has decreased the duration of a cold to 2-4 days and the symptoms to about 30-50%. That being said, this—or ANY natural/holistic treatment—will only work if you begin your regimen within the first 8 hours, of the first symptom, and stay completely committed to it.
I think a good way to explain how natural/holistic remedies work in general is that they perform “differently than” traditional or medicinal remedies and not necessarily “better than”.
For me personally though, “better than” has been my experience. I believe many skeptics give up on natural/holistic remedies too quickly. They expect some sort of miracle to happen and when it doesn’t, they claim foul and go back to traditional routes. This is true in many circumstances, not just with the common cold. There are 10 options in my protocol below. We could randomly choose one or two, try them for three or five days and when we didn’t get relief, claim natural doesn’t work. And we’d be almost correct! I say almost because two out of ten is still a step towards better health. It takes time and practice.
Holistic Health is a constant continuation forward, not a fix-it-and-be-done mentality. It’s an integration of many different aspects to support and heal the body as a whole.
Think of connecting the dots. If we ignore or skip over a dot, the puzzle is not complete.
Natural/holistic remedies are for those of us looking to live a clean and healthy lifestyle and to eliminate or limit our use of pharmaceuticals, additives, preservatives and lord knows what else is in the fine print on the box or bottle. Notice that I said limit our use? That’s because there are cases where a combination of both is warranted and sometimes necessary. For those of you reading this who are black and white on this issue—that is, either allopathic or holistic—I urge you to open your eyes a little wider and know that the two can not only co-exist together, but they can also support each other.
Symptoms of a cold usually include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, headaches and body aches. But rather than reaching for OTC medications that make us feel as if our heads have detached from our bodies and give us the jitters, there are other natural—and IMHO—more effective ways of supporting the immune system and treating the symptoms. This natural/holistic protocol not only boosts the immune system while we are “fighting” the cold, it helps flush out the bugs, microbes and toxins that keep the cold present in our system.
We shouldn’t fight a cold, we should support our body through it instead.
The following remedies could also prevent a cold from turning into something more debilitating or serious such as bronchitis and pneumonia but please note that if you are not feeling better in a few days, your symptoms are getting worse or you are struggling to breathe—get your butt to the doctor and seek medical treatment stat. These suggestions are for treating the common cold and not for anything more serious than that.
What we need more than anything is to flush the toxins from our system, clean up our inner environment, and eliminate the breeding ground. Simply popping an antihistamine to alleviate the symptoms isn’t going to do this. In fact, it could impede your recovery. The symptoms we are having are created by our immune systems response to stopping the growth and proliferation of the microbes. To put this into simple terms, our symptoms are helping us remove the bugs from our bodies and heal. Our main goal is to help the body detoxify and flush the bad guys—the microbes, the toxins—out. The more we can support this, the sooner we will be back on our feet.
We need to support the system, not just eliminate the symptoms.
Holistic/natural methods support the system, whereas traditional/allopathic methods only support the symptom.
The following aren’t exotic ingredients you’ll need to order online, although many of them can be found there. These are typically very easy to find items and I’ve provided links and images to the ones I recommend. With the exception of #1, many other good options are available. Many of these items can be found at your local co-op, natural food store, Whole Foods Markets, manufacturer website or Amazon. To save a few bucks, purchase during store sales events or use discount coupons.
I will list the benefits and use of each remedy and then provide a chart at the bottom you can download or print for easy reference. I keep a small box of these items in my cabinet and at the very first sign of a cold, out it comes.
My favorite place to purchase essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs. You should be able to find all other items at a local co-op, natural market, Whole Foods, or Amazon.
My Immune Stacking and Detox Protocol
1. Oreganol P73 (AKA; Oil of Oregano):
Benefit: This is a highly potent medicinal herb that is reputed to work as a natural antibiotic. Preliminary tests have found that the essential oil from the oregano kills MRSA at a dilution 1 to 1,000. It is a strong antibacterial, anti fungal, anti-inflammatory and has shown antimicrobial activity in a number of studies. Basically stated, Oreganol is a potent microbe fighter.
I only use the brand Oreganol P73 and the main reason being it is diluted with a carrier oil and safe for consumption. P73 is not extracted with alcohol or other chemicals and is emulsified in extra virgin olive oil for maximum benefit and safety This, coupled with the fact that it is an edible oil (in contrast to industrial grade oil of oregano), makes P73 oil safe for daily use. I do NOT use straight oil of oregano and do not recommend it.
Use: Mix 3 drops of Oreganol P73 in a 4 ounce glass of water and drink it 3 times a day for 7-10 days. (This is not meant to be used long term.) Yes, this tastes terrible but no worse than swallowing cough syrup. Maybe even better. You could also add the drops into an organic tea or a spoonful of honey. Make sure you wash your hands after using as you don’t want to get this in any of your orifices as it will burn. Also, and very important, please make sure you are using a probiotic when ingesting Oreganol P73 so as to support your microbiome.
Here is a list of FAQ to learn more.
People with an allergy to mint should take care when consuming oregano.
2. Neti Pot:
Benefit: I find nothing works as well as a Neti Pot. Nasal irrigation has been around for centuries and it’s use for treating the common cold is on the rise in the U.S. Most folks who have never used a Neti Pot typically responds with an “I don’t want to drown” or “I heard I can choke” answer when I tell them how well they work. It’s really no different than plugging your nose without your fingers while you’re swimming. If you can remember that while your using it, you’ll be totally fine. Don’t let fear of the unknown prevent you from trying something new and incredibly helpful. Yes, it does take a little bit of practice but you learned how to swim, correct? Or, I shouldn’t assume….maybe you didn’t. Either way, this will be much easier.
The basic explanation of how the Neti pot works is that it thins mucus and helps flush the dead bacteria and virus out of the nasal passages. This makes blowing your nose—and eliminating mucus—incredibly effective.
A more scientific explanation for how the Neti pot works has to do with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. These cilia wave back and forth to push mucus either to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or to the nose to be blown out. Saline solution can help increase the speed and improve coordination of the cilia so that they may more effectively remove the allergens and other irritants that cause sinus problems¹.
Use: Use a Neti Pot 2-3 times daily—upon awakening, midday, and before bed—and start at the first sign of a cold. Continue for several days after you’re feeling better to keep things clear. If you wait too long to start using your Neti Pot and cannot properly breathe through your nose, you’ve missed your window of opportunity for a few days. Neti Pots should only be used when the sinus cavities are open. How can you tell? If you can still breathe through your nose, you’ll be fine. If you can’t, don’t use it. As your cold produces more mucus (typically the second half) it is also imperative to use this 3 times a day or more. Every pot has instructions (and so does Google) on how to use correctly. Please follow the directions.
If I was on a desert island, caught a cold, and the Magic Genie only gave me one wish for healing? I would wish for my Neti Pot.
3. Essential oil blend rubbed on feet, lymph glands, and chest:
Benefit: While the medical community is still not up to par with the excepted benefits of essential oils, the holistic community has embraced it fully. Essential oils have been around for centuries, almost as long as the earliest recordings of human beings, and have been used for the healing of many maladies.
Did you know the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet do not have sebaceous glands? When essential oils are applied to the soles of the feet, traces can be found throughout the body in as little as 20 minutes! Sebaceous glands block the absorption of oils which means these areas have no barrier between the essential oils and our pores. Essential oils are more readily absorbed into the body and able to go to work faster when applied to the feet!
Each of the blends below are known to help strengthen the immune system, reduce coughs, protect the body from potential harmful bacteria, defendant against germs, and support the respiratory system. Note you only need to use one brand/blend, not all three.
Use: 1) Rub 2-3 drops of essential oil blend directly on the soles of each foot. 2) Take 2-3 drops and rub between palms, then distribute to lymph glands on neck and continuing to massage onto neck and chest. After massaging onto chest and neck, rub hands together quickly to create some heat and cup hands over nose and mouth and take 5-6 deep breaths of the aroma. Remember to wash your hands after using any EO’s.
Do the above 2-3 times per day.
I have never mixed any of the below brands/blends with a carrier oil (coconut, jojoba or almond) but would recommend it for neck and chest if you have sensitive skin.
Brands I use—Veriditas; Good Samaritan, Young Living; Theives, or Aura Cacia; Medieval Mix essential oil blend.
4. Saltwater and Essential Oil Gargle:
Benefit: This can help to relieve a sore and scratchy throat. With the addition of the essential oil, gargling can help clear out any bacteria that is present.
Use: Take 1-2 teaspoons sea salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water — and 1 drop of any of the oil blends above. Gargle several times a day. This protocol is helpful for the first 1-4 days of a cold or until no signs of a sore throat are present.
5. Detox Bath:
Benefit: We need to pull the toxins out of our body and the best way to do it is to immerse ourselves in a hot bath with minerals and salts. Soaking in Apple Cider Vinegar works as an anti-fungal and antibacterial, and can help eliminate toxins and flush our system. Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salt) helps to maintain normal muscle and nerve function, and “draws out” toxins from the body. It’s a mineral that most of us are deficient in and can best be absorbed into the body transdermally.
Another main benefit of a detox bath is that we are eliminating toxins through our sweat, a great method for removal.
Use: At the onset of first symptoms and daily through duration if schedule permits. Here is a link to my favorite detox bath recipe, however, 1 cup of Epsom Salt will also suffice. Please do not get *scented salts as they contain artificial fragrance which will exacerbate your symptoms
6. Bone Broth:
Benefit: We typically hear the words, “You gotta eat to keep up your strength” when we’re sick yet this couldn’t be farther from the truth. First of all we have no tastebuds when we’re sick (maybe the body’s way of saying don’t eat much?) and second, food inhibits the detox affect which is what we are trying to accomplish in the first place. In order to eliminate toxins, our GI tract can’t be overloaded. Homemade Bone Broth is a great way to get nutrients into our bodies without using the digestive tract. While it has many other benefits, for the purposes of a cold it helps to reduce inflammation in the respiratory system, helps our GI tract boost it’s natural good bacteria which in turn strengthens our immune system².
Of course, don’t starve yourself! If you’re hungry please eat lighter meals, smaller portions, and stay away from dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt) which can be mucus producing.
Notice I did say homemade bone broth and not store-bought chicken soup. I’m not a big fan of store-bought bone broths but if you don’t have the time or means to make your own, there are several brands on the market now. I cannot attest to their flavor nor their efficacy as I have only tried the Costco brand (and it was horrible tasting). Not all are created equal, thank goodness. I made this recipe in my new InstantPot and in under 3 hours I had delicious broth.
Please note that if you purchase a store-bought brand, get only grass-fed bone broth. You are consuming a highly concentrated product and do not want any GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, etc., to be present. Good places to get broth are at your local co ops, natural food stores and Whole Foods Market.
Use: Sip on warm broth throughout the day (8-16 ounces) for duration of cold. Add soft veggies and chicken or beef to make a light soup.
7. Elderberry Extract:
Benefit: Another universal and immune-boosting remedy. The use of Elderberries in health applications goes back to Ancient Egypt. These little berries really pack a punch and are rich in bio-flavonoids, antioxidants, and they work overtime to keep the immune system strong and resilient. They are also believed to contain antiviral agents – compounds so potent they are thought to deactivate viruses.
Honestly, there is so much evidence-based proof that this powerful berry effectively treats colds (and influenza!) that I could write several pages on it. But instead, go here, here and here if you’re looking for more info.
There are multiple offerings and manufacturers of Elderberry extract but I find they are best found in the HABA (health and beauty aids) departments at the local co-op or Whole Foods. Please read labels carefully and stay away from those containing High Fructose Corn Syrup and artificial additives.
Use: At the onset of a cold and for the first 4-5 days. Dosage as per instructions on packaging.
8. Water and Other Liquids:
Benefit: Staying hydrated and drinking PLENTY of water will help to flush the toxins from our bodies. The kidneys regulate fluid balance which in turn removes waste from the body. Water also keeps our colon happy and the elimination process, ahem, smooth³, which keeps our gut happy. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration, and subsequently, detoxification worse. If you are not getting out of bed often enough to drink the amount of water you need, keep a large pitcher and glass next to your bed.
Use: Drink, at the very least, 2 liters of regular ol’ water per day. Any additional consumption can be in the form of caffeine-free teas, healthy green or carrot juices, or ginger-lemon water. It may be difficult for some, but try and have your water and other liquids hot or room temperature (or at least not iced) for proper absorption into your cells. Also, stay away from any mucus-producing beverages such as milk, yogurt and ice-cream.
9. Activated Charcoal:
Benefit: There are so many good uses for activated charcoal but when used for the common cold, it’s qualities “attracts and binds” to the toxins in our gut. Be sure to choose activated charcoal made from coconut shells or other natural sources, and drink plenty of water when taking it as it can cause dehydration. Please note if you use Activated Charcoal you’ll need to use a gentle laxative such as Calm (Mag Citrate) or Senokot to properly eliminate the toxins at the same time. If you don’t want to take a mild laxative, don’t use the Activated Charcoal.
Use: Take 1000mg of Activated Charcoal per day (divided into 2 dosages) with plenty of water for the entire duration of your cold. Do not take charcoal with other supplements or medications because it can block their absorption.
Benefit: No brainer here. Your body needs to heal and it does this when it sleeps. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest and not pushing yourself. If you need to cancel plans, cancel them. It’s not the end of the world and people will understand. Plus you don’t want to share your germ-y love with the rest of the world.
Use: As much as needed.
I haven’t had a cold in a few years but woke up Christmas Eve day with a bit of a sore throat. I started my holistic protocol right away but was unable to keep up with it in it’s entirety as I was at my sister’s house for the next 48 hours. No detox bath, not as much water as normal, no bone broth, no charcoal, no good quality sleep. Plus, I consumed my fair share of alcohol and only did my Neti Pot once. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get back to my regimen until day three and inevitably had a longer recovery than normal. I am at the end of day six as I write this and finally feel pretty good. I have very little cough, no sneezing, no tightness in my chest, no congestion, and I am barely blowing my nose. What little coughing I do (and did) have always produced. This tells me things were always flushing—or detoxing—out of my body and my immune system had kicked into gear. Maybe not as quickly as it has in the past, but at least it did. This basically proves the theory that in order for natural/holistic remedies to work as effectively as the can, they need to be administered ASAP.
Remember, there is no cure, only support.
Full disclosure: I resorted to taking one Benadryl on day five and six eve as I couldn’t fall asleep. This resulted in sleeping a good 10 hours each night. It was obviously what my body needed and the sleep did me good. As I mentioned above, this is where a combination of both allopathic and holistic can support each other. I don’t like using pharmaceuticals but if my body is not getting the support it needs—in this case sleep—then it becomes a matter of the lesser of two evils.
No sleep? Take a Benadryl? The choice was obvious.
- I chose Benadryl so I could sleep.
- Sleep supports my immune system and helps me heal.
- Therefore in this case, Benadryl is helping me heal.
- Allopathic/traditional working together with natural/holistic.
Give my protocol a try if you’re looking for a healthy way to support your body through a cold. Stock up on the above items during off season so you’ll have the remedies on hand when the first signs of a cold strike. You can purchase on sale at WF during their supplement sale or when the Whole Body dept has 30% off. Co-ops do the same. Or, if you run out like I did in the depths of a cold and don’t want to leave your house, Prime Now is always available.
My best advice is this. Do what you can with what you have. If you can afford to take the first 24-48 hours off of work to get this protocol in high gear, than do it. If you are not able to stay home and self-care yourself, bring a bag to work with all of your holistic goodies in it and do what you can do. If you are worried about what others may think of you, then you may want to take a deeper look at why you are putting other peoples’ opinions of you at a higher priority than your own health.
Also, please remember that some folks are sensitive to essential oils just like some of us are sensitive to fragrance. To be polite, ask your co-workers if they mind if you applied your oils or simply go to another room to do so. (The scent won’t linger long… although it smells better than a cough drop:)
Maybe others will watch you taking your health choices to another level and learn a few things too. That’s the (un-germ-y) kind of love worth sharing.
Right click to print out my helpful PDF guide so you can stay on top of things when a cold catches you!
¹DerSarkissian, C. (11/15/18) – https://www.webmd.com
²Axe, Dr. J. (12/27/18) – https://draxe.com
³NCBI (12/10) – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.
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This was a great article, but you keep referring to essential oils that you listed – that are no where to be found. Im really interested in what they are.
Hello Sarah, thanks for your comment. I have updated the intro above and added a link to Mountain Rose Herbs – my go-to for all herbs and oils. https://mountainroseherbs.com
I am wondering what essential oil blend you are referring to? My family loves Young Living. Lathering my soles, palms, and neck before bed sounds lovely!