What to do if you’re getting a cold and have somewhere bloody important to be.
Getting sick is totally lame. Snot explosions, rudolf-nosin’ and coughing til you herniate are just a few bodily highlights. Even worse is when you have somewhere sensationally important to be exactly in exactly 24 hours and a couple of punk viruses get randy & start replicating in your throat. As if shagging microorganisms weren’t enough, what ensues is unpleasant at best – a rapid descent into phlegm town.
Fortunately, you can drastically reduce the potential severity of the lurgy and emerge unscathed by launching an immediate counterstrike! (Employing dramatic military terminology aids this process). There’s no room in our lives for avoidable illness – I would much rather be spending my time sipping superfood mocktails on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Or going to work. To save for the Bahamas.
Know thy enemy
What are we dealing with when we contract a cold or flu? Most of the time, it’s a virus. Rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza virus (INF) and parainfluenza virus (PIV) are the most common offenders.
Viruses don’t respond to antibiotic treatment, and can be quite difficult to gun down with traditional medical weaponry, due to the fact that many encase themselves in a tough outer shell. They’re the Bane of everyday illness - intimidating get-up, hell-bent on anarchy and privvy to your weak spots. Luckily, we have a herbal dispensary full of bottled botanical Batman to annihilate the suckers.
How does it feel?
Colds are traditionally accompanied by symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat, watery eyes & nose with general, mild, upper-respiratory discomfort. Flu’s on the other hand tend to cause fever, cough, body aches & pains, headache, chest discomfort, fatigue, malaise and exhaustion. Generally, the recommended treatment is to crawl home and saturate yourself with paracetemol or aspirin, but that sounds like defeat to me, and we’re not in the game of letting microscopic upstarts get the better of us. There’s also very compelling reasons NOT to employ the aid of fever & symptom suppressing drugs, but more on that later.
There’s always a tipping point with illness – that moment between innocently wondering what has inspired you to sneeze 5876 times in the last hour to realising, crud! you’ve got yourself a viral squatter. It is in this window of pre-sickness opportunity that it’s necessary to ACT! Halt the viral replication in its tracks and bombard your unwelcome respiratory guest with unmistakable hints to leave.
Here’s what I usually do:
- Get to a herbalist, stat. Many health food stores have naturopaths who can make up a mix for acute infections – most include herbs such as Andrographis, Echinacea, Licorice, Cat’s Claw, Yarrow, Eyebright, Fennel, Thyme, Sage, various mushroom extracts, Goldenseal & Ginseng. Because I suffer a (sometimes questionable) ‘more is better’ mentality, I normally go to town on the herbs, especially in the early stages of an illness. The practitioner will recommend an appropriate dosage, but unless you’re taking concurrent medication or have another, pre-existing condition, don’t be shy. Be warned – they could taste worse than ox bile. Let it inspire you to never get sick again!
- Get stinky and add garlic & onion to EVERYTHING. Garlic is one of the best all-round anti-microbials. It’s seriously tops. Crushing it (to release Allicin, an active chemical constituent) and eating it raw is the most potent & badass form of ingestion. If this sounds too grotesque, try mixing it with some raw honey, throwing over a salad with olive oil and lemon, or sourcing some high quality liquid extract in capsule form. Onion is likewise super immune-boosting, containing bucketloads of sulfur and the supreme ability to break down and help expel mucus. Old school herbalists sometimes recommend onion poultices, made with the grated flesh, bound over your chest. Sexy scented nighttime attire indeed.
- Warm up! Warming herbs and spices like cinnamon, chilli and ginger will all assist in raising your core temperature – contrary to what we are told, fevers are actually a vital and healthful bodily process. Of course, monitoring children and the weak & acting before their fevers climb too high (above 38-39 degrees C) is a responsible course of action. But for us robust folk, stoking the inner furnace and facilitating a fever can be exceptionally beneficial. Our bodies raise the thermostat to try to inhibit viral replication & activity, with many other immunological and chemical processes initiated by rising temperatures. I think of it like a forest fire, with tenacious green shoots springing from blackened ash. In fact, many studies have shown that outcomes are markedly better for patients who’s fevers are allowed to run their course, in contrast to those who have had theirs ‘dampened down’. Astonishingly, in super sick hospital participants, the mortality rate was 16% with aggressive, fever-suppressing treatment compared to only 3% in the fever permissive group. Needless to say, that study was abandoned on ethical grounds.
- Keep fluids high. All cellular processes require water, moreso when dealing with a large viral load. Mucus formation (to trap and excrete viral particles), immune cell formation/function and sweating during fever, all necessitate extra fluids. The literal ‘flushing’ action of H2O provides a torrent of liquid that will help flood lurgy HQ.
- Supplement where necessary. Dosing up on zinc (50mg a day in acute stages – with food, at first signs of sickness), vitamin D (lay in the sun for 10-20 minutes until flushed), vitamin A (indulge in some liver pâté, take a swig of Cod Liver Oil or eat some eggs) and vitamin C (fresh fruits & veggies, lemon/citrus) will help to stave off the enemy troops. All of these nutrients are vital for proper immune function, and can assist in the creation of new immune cells, the health of epithelial tissue (ie. skin – inside nose, throat etc), exert anti-histamine effects (decreased sneezing and irritation) and provide anti-oxidant support.
- Take a hot epsom salt bath. Magnesium will assist in symptomatic relief of aches and pains and will enhance channels of detoxification. The warmth is supremely comforting, relaxing and will help raise temperature. You’re sick – demand your significant other, small child or pet draws you a luxurious tub.
- Eat fat! Especially coconut oil. Did you know that fat can inhibit viral replication? All the more reason to eat a big hock of slow-cooked lamb with a chaser of coconut oil chocolate if you’re feeling under the weather. What’s more, the lauric acid in coconut oil is amazingly immune enhancing – in fact, it’s also found in breast milk (gives you an indication of it’s superhero status). Eating a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil with cinnamon, honey, ginger and a pinch of chilli is a delicious cold-combatting cocktail.
- Listen to your body! Avoid running 10kms if you’re feeling fatigued; likewise, if you’re up for it, a light walk can be a great way to mobilize phlegm and loosen up stubborn chest goo, getting some sun while you’re at it (a romantic afternoon walk complete with hacking and gagging; what could be better?!) If you’re craving a particular (reasonably healthful) food, perhaps there is a nutrient that can assist you within – honour it. And finally, keep a peppy mindset that refuses to submit to the ravages of a pesky virus – positive thoughts and mental strength activate your immune system in ways we can’t as yet comprehend. But it does. Because I’m telling you. Science be damned.
Of course, maintaining a perpetually healthy immune system is the key to avoiding the latest swine/toad/llama flu. A nutrient-dense diet, avoiding allergic or intolerant foods, and cultivating strong, happy, hippy thoughts, will see you forge ahead, free from the shackles of viral oppression, ready to embrace the important stuff in life. How do you combat a cold? Ancient tips or wizard-like wisdom?