Colds and flu

Updated 30 April 2015

8 natural cold remedies

Before you reach for over-the-counter meds, first consider some natural remedies. Here are a few things you can do to assist your body's immune system and ease symptoms naturally.


You tried everything possible to avoid colds and flu this winter, but, alas, the nasty bugs got hold of you and now you're feeling miserable.

Before you reach for over-the-counter meds, first consider some natural remedies. While conventional medication may make you feel better temporarily, they only suppress your symptoms and don't assist your body's natural healing ability.

Here are a few things you can do to assist your body's immune system and ease the worst of your symptoms naturally:

  • If you're not already doing so, increase your daily intake of fruit and vegetables. These are high in antioxidants which boost the immune system to increase resistance against infections and speed up recovery. The best way to get a variety of antioxidants in your diet is to eat foods that represent all the colours of the rainbow – each colour contains its own antioxidant package.
  • Increase your intake of Vitamin C – it's the best-known immune-boosting vitamin (and antioxidant) around. As our bodies don't produce Vitamin C, it's important to ensure an adequate intake in order to help our bodies fight viruses and infections. There is an abundance of Vitamin C-rich fruit available in winter, but you can also supplement with 1 000 to 2 000mg of Vitamin C per day to boost your body's resistance.
  • Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, has been found to help prevent colds and flu. A number of studies have shown that people with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to catch colds – perhaps no coincidence, considering we spend far less time outdoors in winter. Boost your immune system by taking 1 000 to 2 000 IU of Vitamin D a day and increase your exposure to the winter sun.
  • Try zinc lozenges to soothe a sore throat and zinc nasal spray for a runny nose. This essential mineral boosts the immune system and has been linked to a decrease in viral activity.
  • Honey has antiviral and antibacterial properties and works especially well on coughs. Add two tablespoons of honey to a cup of warm, boiled water or herbal tea and take it a few times during the day. If it’s too sweet for your taste, add some lemon. (Take note that honey is not recommended for infants and young children.)
  • Treat a sore throat with sage or ginger tea. Make tea with fresh or dried sage leaves simmered in boiling water or take two teaspoons of shredded ginger in a cup of hot water and drink at least 2-3 cups a day.
  • Eat lots of spicy foods. You may not be able to taste or smell much with a blocked nose, but garlic, turmeric, hot peppers and ginger all have great anti-inflammatory properties which help to fight off colds – add these to your daily meals and enjoy the health benefit.
  • Try a saline nasal spray for nasal congestion. This salt water solution combats stuffiness and congestion by adding moisture to nasal passages and loosening mucus. An added bonus is that it removes bacteria from your nose.
  • Clear a stuffy nose and blocked sinuses by steaming. Hold your head over a bowl of steaming hot water, and cover with a towel. Breathe in through your nose for a few minutes; just be careful not to burn yourself. You can also add some eucalyptus drops or tea tree oil to the hot water before steaming – they both have antibacterial properties.

(Photo of woman with tea from Shutterstock)


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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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