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The flu virus can make you feel miserable, attacking your stomach, throat, head, and sinuses. And while prescription drugs can help if taken right away, many natural remedies can soothe symptoms and stop you from getting sick in the first place.

How long the flu lasts really depends on you and whether or not you truly have the flu. Flus and colds have more in common with each other than they do differences, and this can make them difficult to treat.

Both flus and colds are caused by viruses, and each has a variety of strains. Just because you got sick once doesn’t mean you won’t get sick again. Both can cause congestion, headaches, fatigue, and stuffy sinuses, but a cold is more likely to live in your head and gradually create coughs and a runny nose, while the flu will come on suddenly and is likely to cause fever, chills, and aches.

But even though you have the flu, you might not have a fever, which can be a common danger of influenza. And don’t forget: you can carry the flu if you don’t have any symptoms at all.

Do natural flu remedies really work?

The flu virus can have some serious complications and can be particularly dangerous to children and the elderly. Influenza also goes through mutations, which can make it stronger and increasingly life threatening. If you’ve contracted the flu, natural remedies can help you get relief from symptoms and may shorten the duration of your illness—but be sure to check with a doctor if symptoms are severe. If prevention is what you’re looking for, there are several ways to lessen the chance you’ll catch the flu.

1. Open a window to ventilate indoor spaces

A recent study at the University of Maryland found that you don’t have to sneeze or cough to spread influenza. The simple act of breathing is enough to scatter droplets of the virus to others. Dr. Donald Milton, Professor of Public Health at the University of Maryland and one of the authors of the study, said that his research team used a machine called the Gesundheit II to catch virus-filled droplets from university students who had flu-like symptoms. “It is not clear that distance makes a big difference,” he said, when asked how people can protect themselves from the germs that cause flu, adding that, “Dilution ventilation is good, and most homes don’t have a lot, so cracking a window may be a good idea.”

2. Wear a scarf for flu prevention

If breathing in your own home is a problem, imagine the issue in public spaces with a lot of people. Dr. Milton’s advice on keeping well in public is simple, if difficult to apply: “Avoid public spaces with poor dilution ventilation.” But what if you’re healthy and you need to be in public spaces? Could a mask help?

While Dr. Milton said that the evidence about masks is unclear and the benefits “small at best,” other doctors think there might be some merit to wearing something over the mouth—providing it’s done right. Houston’s KHOU news asked Dr. David Corry from the Baylor College of Medicine to test a new product called the Bioscarf, an air filter-scarf combination that has been shown to remove 99.75 % of airborne particulates, including the germs that cause colds and flus.

His verdict? “In a perfect set of conditions, the Bioscarf will remove virtually any infectious organism you can imagine…The actual efficiency in the real world totally depends on how well they fit around your face.” See the full story here.

3. Take N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC)

Taken as a preventative, N-acetyl L-cysteine is an immune-boosting anti-oxidant that has been shown to effectively fight the flu. In a randomized, double-blind study conducted on 262 people, those taking NAC twice daily during flu season had significantly fewer flu episodes than those taking a placebo. Moreover, those who took the NAC and still got the flu spent less time in bed and had fewer and less intense symptoms than those who didn’t.

The recommended dose for NAC—which you can buy at most health food stores—is 600 mg twice daily for adults and 300 mg twice daily for kids during flu season.

4. Drink nettle tea to boost immunity

Nettle is a powerful herbal remedy that can boost your immune system with its endless list of vitamins and minerals, not only helping you to fight a virus, but prevent them too. Nettle tea has a pleasant, almost minty, flavor that makes it easy to take. Other teas can help as well. For more information, read 5 Amazing Herbal Teas to Help You Beat the Flu.

5. De-stress

Besides the healthy habits you already know about—including eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of exercise, and drinking lots of water—minimizing stress is known to be a factor in preventing illness. A meta-analytic study of 30 years of research published in Psychological Bulletin found that while it’s difficult to define stress precisely, the relationship between stress and a physical response in the body can’t be denied. In other words, it may be just as important to de-stress as it is to wash your hands, and a relaxing cup of tea (see above) may have more effect than vitamins alone.

6. Eat fermented foods and probiotics

Probiotics are helpful living cultures that reside in a healthy gut and help keep your immune system stronger. These good bacteria can maintain your body’s balance, which not only improves your digestive system, but can also have positive side effects like reducing eczema, allergies, and oral health problems.

You can purchase supplements that give you all the bacteria you need in the form of a pill, or you can eat foods that are jam-packed with probiotics, especially fermented foods such as yogurt with live cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, and pickles. But keep in mind that commercial versions of these products are often not fermented the same way that homemade versions would be. Read the labels to make sure they actually contain live cultures.

7. Get rested

One of the biggest reasons that illness seems to hang on longer than it used to is because you aren’t stopping and resting. Take as many sick days as required to actually start feeling well, instead of pushing through. Not only are you fighting against your body if you go to work or keep on with your normal routine, you are putting yourself and others at risk.

In Victorian times sickness was taken very seriously (for good reason), and people embraced the idea of convalescence. Instead of going about their daily lives, people in convalescence would lie down for days, but would do so while trying to get fresh air on the porch, eating good meals, reading books, and maintaining their mental health. Do whatever it is that makes you feel the most rested, including lots of sleep.

8. Replace lost electrolytes

If you’ve contracted the flu and you’re feeling nauseous, it’s very easy to get dehydrated. Little sips of warm ginger tea with honey won’t just soothe your throat, they can also help settle your stomach. You can make your own natural electrolyte drink by mixing coconut water, salt, honey and a few other key ingredients.

Homemade Electrolyte Drink
3 cups coconut water
1 cup water
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

9. Use oregano and eucalyptus oil for breathing and sore throats

Instead of reaching for the vapor rub, use a drop of eucalyptus oil on the chest to open the breathing passages and sooth sore throats. And instead of cold and flu medications that mask symptoms, try oregano oil which studies show can help shorten the flu.

Add 5 drops to a small amount of water and swish it around in your mouth and under your tongue. But be warned – it’s not very pleasant. Gargle it as well to really knock out the bacteria in your throat. Repeat four times a day until your flu symptoms are gone. For children, use no more than three drops.

It should be noted that oregano oil is not an essential oil like eucalyptus oil, but rather an infused oil. It can be harsh on the skin and it is very powerful. That’s why it shouldn’t be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women, and like any herbal remedy, just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean more is better. Stick to a small amount and listen to your body for reactions.

10. Drink an antiviral brew for colds and flu

Zinc has been shown to reduce a cold but can also cause nausea and interact with medications. Echinacea hasn’t really been shown to be effective in making things better. And while it doesn’t hurt to keep taking your regular multivitamin and your Vitamin C, try food-based remedies that have antiviral properties, like fresh, raw garlic. You can also try our tea below.

Ultimate Remedy Tea
2 inch piece of ginger
1 lemon
1 bulb fresh garlic
3 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons honey

Grate the ginger and garlic with the smallest grate size. Bring broth to a low boil. Put the garlic and ginger into a sieve or tea ball and insert into the broth. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add lemon and pour into a mug. Add honey to taste.

11. Don’t fight the fever

Your fever and congestion are your body’s way of fighting the virus, so taking a medication that turns those off can make your flu last longer. It’s okay to have a fever as long as it stays within safe ranges. Stay warm (but not too warm), and if your temperature stays under 103° F (39.4° C), know that your fever is a part of getting through the flu faster. Wear light clothing, use a light blanket, and try an old-time hot toddy.

12. Soothe body aches

Possibly one of your grandmother’s remedies, a hot toddy contains lemon and honey, a potent combination known to soothe scratchy throats and inject a dose of Vitamin C into your weary immune system. And while we now know that alcohol suppresses a body’s ability to heal, a single hot toddy with a small dose of liquor (1.5 ounces or less) can help ease body aches that so often come with flu.

Hot Toddy
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ cup boiling or hot water

13. Warm your feet by drawing out a fever

In the old days people would try to ‘draw out’ the fever by warming up cold feet, which can be an easy way to feel warm without making your fever worse and heating the body up too much. There is an unconventional and modern version of this: wet socks. Some natural medicine practitioners recommend first warming up your feet in a foot bath.

Dry off your feet and then put on cold, wet cotton socks. On top of the cotton socks put on a dry pair of wool socks. The wool socks will keep your bed dry. Do this just before you go to sleep at night, and by morning the cotton socks will be dry. This is supposed to help your body’s circulation, which should then help your body clear itself out and improve the immune system. The blood vessels in the feet contract as your feet cool down, and then they will dilate to warm up again which theoretically creates a pumping action through the body.

14. Cleanse inside and out using soap and saline

While washing your hands can help prevent the spread of some infectious germs that cause the flu, washing with the right soap can prevent you from getting a more resistant flu. Evidence suggests that using anti-bacterial cleaners and soaps only kills off the weaker bacteria, leaving just the strongest strains. You’re better off cleaning with simple soap and water and natural cleaners, so you won’t have to fight a harsher virus.

Once you do have a virus, you can use a variety of natural remedies to cleanse your body from the inside out. As mentioned above, oil of oregano can be used as a gargle, but if your stomach can’t handle that, a simple salt gargle may be just as effective. Take this one step further by cleansing your nasal passage with salt water (using either a spray or Neti pot) as well to clean out mucus.

15. Drink bone broth to settle your stomach

As mentioned before, bone broth is a great way to hydrate and makes a wonderful base for an antiviral tea. It might also be the only thing that you can eat without offending your stomach.

Bone broth is exactly what it sounds like: broth made from bones. This is not the same as chicken or beef broth from the store, which is a thin, clear extract. Instead, bone broth is thick, gelatinous, and opaque in color.

The easiest way to make bone broth is in your slow cooker, especially if you have to make it for yourself when you are sick. You can even save odd vegetable parts in your fridge to use up when needed: celery and carrot ends and onion pieces. Learn more about all the many simple ways to make this healing drink in How to Make Delicious, Healing Bone Broth.

Which natural home flu remedies work for you?

Do you think that you managed to dodge the flu or cure the flu faster? What was your grandma’s tried and true flu remedy?

Segerstrom, Suzanne C. and Gregory E. Miller. “Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry.” Psychological Bulletin 130, no.4 (July 2004): 601-630.

Yan, Jing et al. “Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a college community.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, no.5 (January 2018): 1081-1086.

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