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Prevention and treatment of the common cold

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

The common cold is an acute viral infection of the upper respiratory tract involving the nose, sinuses, pharynx and larynx. The virus is spread by hand contact from an infected person (direct or indirect) or aerosol. Symptoms typically peak at 1-3 days and last 7–10 days, although they can occasionally persist for few weeks. Symptoms include:

  • runny or stuffy nose

  • sneezing

  • sore throat

  • cough

  • slight body aches

  • headache

  • low-grade fever

  • feeling unwell (malaise)

The frequency of common cold, severity and type of symptoms vary among people. Stress, poor sleep, an unhealthy digestive tract, traveling, a weak immune system or nutrient deficiencies may increase the risk of the viral infection. The good news is there are plenty of approaches and natural remedies to help kick symptoms fast, and these remedies also help to prevent a cold.

To prevent the virus making its way into the lower respiratory system and causing a viral pneumonia or getting into the digestive tract, you can try several tips:

  • Make up a gargle with warm salt water (Satomura et al., 2005), herbal teas or essential oils to strengthen the tissues in the mouth and throat, help clear the virus locally and restore the mucus membranes. Good choices are sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeu), liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), elderberries (Sambucus nigra), rosehips (Rosa canina), or eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis).

  • Do steaming with boiling water and a towel over the head. You can add 3-4 drops of essential oils such as tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) or peppermint (Mentha x piperita).

  • Rub essential oils onto the feet and chest area twice a day. This is particularly useful for people with asthma to keep the lungs clear. Eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme, oregano, lavandin and pine essential oils have antiviral properties. Remember: Never put an undiluted essential oil directly to the skin!

  • Eat healthy: cut out all sugar (an enemy of the immune system), processed foods and eat healthy vitamin C and vitamin D rich foods (so plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, greens, fish, seeds, nuts, etc.). Eat plenty of anthocyanin rich foods-purple fruits and veggies. And do not forget about antioxidants too, so follow a rainbow coloured diet.

  • Add lots of warming herbs and spices to your food, for example cinnamon, clove, thyme, rosemary, oregano, cumin, turmeric, coriander, black pepper and other peppers, aniseed, fennel, parsley, ginger, bay leaf, sage and bay leaf. Avoid cooling foods like ice cream, or iced water.

  • Take lots of fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, etc.) as they are rich in probiotics which build immune function. A large part of our immune system is our microbiome in our guts. Feed and support them. You can also take high quality probiotic supplements which are known to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections (Hojsak et al., 2010; Merenstein et al., 2010).

  • Take extra vitamin C and zinc as they are particularly useful for preventing the virus breaking through the cell membranes. Avoid ones sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Try to get ones combined with bioflavonoids to enhance absorption. Start with 1g and increase the dose. People have different tolerances of vitamin C so if you start to experience diarrhoea you are taking too much. You may also wish to take vitamin D3 as supplement. If taking vitamin D3 it is best to take it with some oily food.

  • Drink hot herbal infusions like raspberry leaf, blackcurrant or blackberry leaf, ginger and lemon with cinnamon or clove. You can also use lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for a start. It does not necessarily kill the virus, but it prevents it breaking through the cell membrane to reproduce within the cells. Herbs/supplements that dissolve biofilms and virus envelopes include propolis, milk thistle (Silybum marianum), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) or garlic (Allium sativum). Sage (Salvia officinalis), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris) have all been shown to be effective for treating infectious bronchitis virus (Lelešius et al., 2019). Nettle (Urtica dioica) contains a plant lectin which prevents the virus replicating (Kumaki et al., 2011). You can drink nettle tea, make nettle soup or nettle pesto.

  • For prevention spend time outside in the garden, forest or other places where there are trees and soil and so on. Nature produces all sorts of good things that boost our immune system. But if you experience symptoms, REST, do not try to power through!

We are surrounded by plants that have protective anti-viral properties. Check what is available near you and use it.



· Hojsak, I., Abdovic, S., Szajewska, H., Milosevic, M., Krznaric, Z. and Kolacek, S. (2010). Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of nosocomial gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. Pediatrics. 125:e1171-1177.

· Kumaki, Y., Wandersee, M.K., Smith, A.J., Zhou, Y., Simmons, G., Nelson, N.M., Bailey, K.W., Vest, Z.G., Li, J.K., Chan, P.K., Smee, D.F. and Barnard, D.L. (2011). Inhibition of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus replication in a lethal SARS-CoV BALB/c mouse model by stinging nettle lectin, Urtica dioica agglutinin. Antiviral Res. 90(1):22‐32.

· Lelešius, R., Karpovaite, A., Mickiene, R., Drevinskas, T., Tiso, N., Ragažinskiene, O., Kubiliene, L., Maruška, A. and Šalomskas, A. (2019). In vitro antiviral activity of fifteen plant extracts against avian infectious bronchitis virus. BMC Vet Res. 15:178.

· Merenstein, D., Murphy, M., Fokar, A., Hernandez, R.K., Park, H., Nsouli, H., Sanders, M.E., Davis, B.A., Niborski, V., Tondu, F. and Shara, N.M. (2010). Use of a fermented dairy probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus casei (DN-114 001) to decrease the rate of illness in kids: the DRINK study. A patient-oriented, double-blind, cluster-randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 64:669-677.

· Satomura, K., Kitamura, T., Kawamura, T., Shimbo, T., Watanabe, M., Kamei, M., Takano, Y., Tamakoshi, A. and Great Cold Investigators, I. (2005). Prevention of upper respiratory tract infections by gargling: a randomized trial. Am J Prev. 29:302-307.

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