Cold season has not been as daunting for me the past three years because of COVID. That might sound counter intuitive when there’s a deadly pandemic threatening all of us, but being extra careful washing and sanitizing my hands, being aware of not touching my eyes or nose, and wearing a mask has really helped me not to catch other viruses. Now that we’re having a very bad season of RSV, flu, and COVID, the tips that I jotted down here—and follow religiously—beg repeating.
These are my go-to winter wellness tips for cold season. COVID is another matter. At the first sign of a cold, be sure to take a COVID and flu test first to rule them out, and get to your doctor if you’re positive. Anti-viral meds work best early on in the infection.
Wear a mask. I know there’s controversy in some camps about mask wearing but the truth is that masks protect the wearer and those around us. For me, it seems like such a small action to wear a mask to protect the elderly or compromised members of my community—and myself—that it is a no brainer to wear a mask when I go into a crowded place or visit my elderly father.
Get enough sleep. When we get enough sleep (typically between seven and eight hours a night), this is when our body rejuvenates itself. Not getting enough sleep has also been shown to dampen the immune response to the cold virus, making you more susceptible. Also, not getting enough sleep consistently has been linked to an increased risk of inflammatory diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We can eat healthy, get regular exercise, take supplements, and do everything good for our health, but if we don’t sleep enough, we’ll still get sick more often.
Supplement what you’re getting in your diet. Even if we’re eating a healthy diet, we’re still not getting enough of some of the key nutrients that we need during cold and flu season. The big one is vitamin D. This nutrient (actually a hormone) has been shown to help the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses—and we don’t get enough of it during the winter months.
Because the main natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, we’re not getting enough from the winter sun for our immune system to function at its peak. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our levels of vitamin D drop and viruses like the cold and flu start to spread! This is why I supplement with vitamin D from fall through spring.
I also take vitamin C during cold season as it seems to help support the immune system. And I take a good multivitamin as daily insurance. Vitamins don’t have to be expensive. Trader Joe’s, for example, has a good and inexpensive multivitamin.
Harness the power of garlic. When I do feel a tickle in my throat or the extra congestion that indicates that my immune system is fighting an intrusion, this is the time to take action. The earlier, the better chance of fending off the invasion. This is why at the first sign of a cold, I take raw garlic (which I first learned about from Dr. Andrew Weil), which is a potent anti-viral and antibacterial that has been found by researchers to reduce the number of colds someone gets.
If you like garlic, as I do, you can mix it into food, like a salad dressing or try garlic toast (just mix your chopped garlic with some melted ghee or butter and spread it on multigrain toast … delish and super healthy!).
To make it more palatable, I chop a clove or two up very fine. Be sure, however, to let it rest for 10 minutes after chopping it and before using it. Chopping garlic activates a natural chemical in it called allicin, but it takes 10 minutes to activate this powerful chemical that has powerful health benefits. After 10 minutes, I mix the garlic with honey and swallow it like a pill without chewing. If you have a sensitive stomach, do this after you have eaten as it could make you nauseous. Start with a small amount of garlic if you’re new to this practice, to see how it affects you.
Take a hot cold and flu bath soak. While I generally recommend against daily hot showers as it can sap moisture from the skin, I do take hot baths for cold when I feel like I’m fighting something. Not only is a hot bath relaxing, it’s doing your body good: it raises your body temperature and helps you to sweat, which boosts your immune system. (This is the concept of a fever; when you get a fever, the immune system heats up the body in an effort to fight off a virus.) Sitting in a sauna also helps for the same reason.
What’s the right temperature? Run a detox bath for a cold that’s comfortable for you, but hot enough to make you sweat after 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in half a cup of Epsom salts and half a cup of baking soda to help the body detox, giving the immune system a boost. Then just relax. I like to stay in the tub for about 20 minutes to get a good sweat going. Then, I get out and wrap myself in a towel, lay down, and read or relax and let the sweating continue. Once I’m done, I follow with my favorite Pharmacopia moisturizer, the perfect winter lotion for dry skin, and get right into bed.
Drink ginger tea. Ginger tea is another pleasure that’s helpful for stronger immunity. Fresh ginger (the root of the Zingiber officinale plant) has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries—for good reason. It’s an anti-viral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant … so it’s very good at protecting your health! It also seems to help prevent colds, according to one review of studies, and help improve the symptoms of a cold.
I love a cup of fresh ginger tea during cold season. To make your own: slice off a one-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut off the peel, and cut into smaller pieces. Combine the ginger with one cup of water in a pot and heat for up to 10 minutes, simmering on low. Then strain out the ginger, pour into a mug, and mix with honey. It’s so good—and so good for you!
I hope these tips help you stay well!