Holistically Healthy Cold Remedies

cure-your-cold

Sorry I didn’t post anything last week – I came down with a pretty bad cold at the beginning of the week.

While I was lying in bed recovering, I realized that the perfect blog post upon my return would be a list of effective cold remedies!

Now of course, when a cold gets bad enough, we may turn towards the cough suppressant and decongestant pharmaceuticals…but it’s important to remember this are merely bandages. They reduce the symptoms (frequently through the power of placebo), but they do nothing to shorten the length of the cold.

Below is a list of easy, affordable, and, best of all, clinically proven steps you can take to feel better and recover from the common cold.

  • Zinc – For my whole life I’ve heard to mega-dose vitamin C, using the popular Emergen-C packets, during a cold. While vitamin C has many uses in the body, it’s never been proven effective at “beating a cold”. However, in multiple studies, supplementing with less than 50mgs of Zinc a day reduced the length of a cold by 50%!

When you’re in the cold aisle of the pharmacy, you’ll see plenty of throat drops that have zinc in them due to these studies. But guess what? Dosages are rarely listed and many also contain Vitamin C which prevents Zinc absorption. Instead of paying top dollar for a day worth of dissolvable zinc wafers, head over to the supplement aisle and get a full bottle of standardized zinc gluconate or acetate vitamins. Break each tablet into quarters and take a piece before every meal (keeping separate from sources of vitamin C).

  • Hydrogen Peroxide – This is a more unenjoyable remedy, but not nearly as unpleasant as the awful symptoms of the rhinovirus! Purchase 3% hydrogen peroxide for a dollar at any pharmacy or market. Lay on your side at home and pour a few drops in the ear facing the ceiling. It will feel cold and may bubble or sting slightly. Tough it out and wait until the bubbling subsides (usually 5 to 10 minutes) before draining your ear, rolling over, and repeating the same process on the other side.

Although we’ve all been raised to fear germs spreading through sneezing, coughing, and runny noses, the virus that carries the common cold often enters the body through the ear canals. This tactic proves to be 80% successfully at reducing the length and severity of cold symptoms! Just be sure to start it immediately, while the germs are still multiplying in the ears, and do it as frequently as possible (at least 3 times a day during the first day or two).

  • Sinus Rinse – This method doesn’t necessarily cure a cold, but it will provide more sinus pressure relief and clear nasal passageways than most over the counter medicines. Purchase a Neti-Pot or a Sinus Rinse bottle (with pH balanced solution packets) in any pharmacy. Most packages will come with instructions but all you have to do is lean over the sink, insert the nozzle in one nostril, and squeeze the water through your sinuses and out the other side.

Be sure not to use tap water for this – you will want to boil water and let it cool to guarantee you’re not introducing any new living organisms into your body.

  • Mint/Eucalyptus Rubs – Apply a product like Vick’s Vapor-Rub on your chest, throat, and under your nose after bathing, showering, and before bed. This can help clear the sinuses, provide a cooling sensation for sore areas, and even reduce severity of coughs. It won’t end the cold any sooner, but it will provide you some much needed physical relief.
  • Spicy Food – Again, this probably won’t shorten the life of a cold, but it can make you feel immensely better. Besides clearing the sinuses and making you feel warm from the inside out, spicy foods can actually cause mild euphoria, which can act as a pain-reliever throughout the body.

I typically make a hot “tea” or chicken broth, containing lemon juice, ginger, garlic, apple cider vinegar, pepper, salt, turmeric, and cayenne. Play around with the amounts of inputs – you want enough spice that you are almost sweating by the end drinking it.

Besides these tactics, which are most effective if followed the moment symptoms appear, I also try to take extra vitamins in general, get more sleep than normal, take more steam showers (or hold my head over a boiling pot of water), and eat more fermented foods.

When I was growing up I would get a few colds every year. They would typically last 5 to 10 days, with 3 to 5 of those days being almost unbearable. Since I’ve switched my diet around and adjusted my lifestyle in general, I now only get 1 cold a year.

Last week I woke up on Monday with a tickle in my throat. By the time I got home from work I knew I was getting sick. That night I didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours without waking up in a coughing fit or struggling to breathe through a clogged nose. When I woke up Tuesday I felt so miserable, with a splitting headache from sinus pressure, that I even called out of work. After going back to sleep for a few hours to give my body time to recover, I immediately began a regimen of zinc supplementation, filling my ears with hydrogen peroxide, and sinus rinses every couple hours.

I woke up Wednesday feeling at least 50% better! I was able to get up at 5AM, go through my typical workout, and have a productive day at work. I continued using these aids throughout the weekend, reducing the frequency as the days passed.

Anecdotal reports online support these results and, as previously mentioned, even clinical studies show some of these tactics as being more effective than over the counter medicines. And they should all cost less than $20 and carry next to no side effects.

So, next time you start feeling a cold coming on, invest in this survival kit and start treatment immediately! I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes your go-to cold remedy, taking the place of modern chemicals.

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Epsom Salt Baths

Most times of the year, I schedule a workout 5 days a week. This gives me 3 or 4 days of strength training and 1 or 2 days of conditioning. Including a warm-up and cool-down, my workout takes just over one hour.

If I can find an hour everyday to workout, I can certainly find under an hour to go through some recovery techniques.

One recovery method previously discussed is foam rolling. Today, I’ll talk about my other favorite technique – taking an Epsom Salt bath.

Epsom salt consists of magnesium sulfate, a combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen.

The planets water and soils used to contain far more magnesium, but due to overpopulation and unsustainable farming practices, the Earth’s stores have been greatly depleted. This in turn means that we are not consuming nearly as much magnesium as we once did.

Low magnesium levels can cause weakness, cramps, arrhythmias, anxiety, tremors, confusion, depression, hypertension, and seizures. Countless times I have seen clients eliminate foot cramps or difficulty sleeping by simply raising their magnesium levels.

Another cause of these symptoms is our high consumption of dairy and calcium fortified products. Magnesium and calcium work together in the body. Calcium causes muscles to contract while magnesium allows them to relax. Consuming massive amounts of calcium, without properly balancing magnesium levels accordingly, can contribute to tension, muscle tightness, and electrolyte imbalances.

Some choose to consume powdered or tablet forms of supplemental magnesium. Although this is effective for raising magnesium levels, oral bioavailability of magnesium varies greatly and high doses may have a laxative effect.

For this reason, on workout days, I spend a minimum of 15 minutes in a hot bath, with 1 cup of Epsom salt, before bed.

This is the perfect way to relax at the end of a long day. The hot water and magnesium relaxes the muscles while the still nature of the water and peaceful setting can greatly calm the mind.

Epsom salt is inexpensive and causes no dangerous side effects. The worst that may happen with soaking too long, or using excessive amounts of Epsom salt, would be lethargy or a heavy feeling in the limbs.

I have noticed that since I start incorporating this workout technique years ago, I recover from workouts sooner and fall asleep much faster.

Next time you’re at the store, spend a few dollars on a bag of Epsom salt and take a 15-minute bath that day. Let me know if your results are as worthwhile as mine!

Bath

Supplements

In last week’s post I touched upon the use of supplements to aid in recovery. I thought it may be helpful to discuss my professional opinion on certain supplements.

I always like to optimize my health and performance in the most natural ways possible – tinkering with diet, training, and recovery. However, I think some supplements are almost necessary due to our lifestyles and modern environment. There are other supplements that can push us beyond our genetic potential. Finally, there are supplements that are useless and sometimes dangerous.

Vitamin D – I believe this is necessary for anyone not living near the equator and spending 8 hours in the sun a day. Vitamin D appears to increase bone mineral density; decrease mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease; improve immune function; prevent multiple sclerosis; decrease inflammation; and play a role in almost every bodily function.

Have your vitamin D levels checked and supplement with 5,000-10,000 IU’s a day until your blood levels are above 60 nanograms per milliliter. At that point, maybe take 2,000 on the days you spend a significant time in the sun and 5,000 on the days you do not.

I recommend the NOW Foods brand. Vitamin D is fat-soluble meaning it must be suspended in oil. NOW Foods uses olive oil while most other brands use soy or corn oil (rather ironic considering the detrimental effects of these cheaper oils).

Magnesium – The Earths soil and waters have been depleted of magnesium over time, due in part to unsustainable agricultural practices. Also, calcium supplementation and fortification has skyrocketed over the past century, particularly in the United States. Calcium and magnesium interact to control blood pressure, muscle contraction and relaxation, and maintain healthy tissue (including bones). Most Americans now consume over 2 times as much calcium as magnesium when it should be the exact opposite.

The best sources of magnesium are green leafy vegetables, bone broth/chicken soup, small fish that still contain bones, and nuts. However, I have experienced such positive effects from a magnesium bath or teaspoon of Natural Calm before bed that I plan to continue supplementing. The only risk is, if you haven’t used it before, and consume too much, it will have a laxative effect.

Fish Oil – This has come under a great deal of fire recently. Fish is the best source of essential omega 3 counteract out the detrimental effects of a diet high in omega 6. We now know this is not the case.

If you recall my post about fats, omega 3 may be anti-inflammatory and essential for life but it is an unstable polyunsaturated fat. This means heating, transportation, storage, and exposure to light will risk oxidization and rancidity. For this reason, I consider fish oil a short-term option while people perfect their diet. I personally consume one teaspoon of Nordic Naturals fish oil on the days I don’t eat wild-caught fish and consume omega 6 rich nuts.

Digestive Enzymes – This is one supplement I still am on the fence about. The idea behind digestive enzymes is that they break down carbs, fats, and proteins. However, the breakdown of foods does not always increase assimilation.

People with legitimate digestive issues (GERD, gastroparesis, etc) may benefit from hydrochloric acid in digestive enzymes. I have not done enough research to recommend them for all, but I would suggest people with any issues review the anecdotal successes others have had.

On the days I am consuming excess calories, particularly from starches, I take NOW Foods Super Enzymes and have noticed far less bloating, gas, and trips to the bathroom.

Whey Protein Powder – The consumption of whey by athletes, particularly weightlifters, goes back decades. There are still debates regarding efficacy but, it is more insulinogenic and bioavailable than any whole food. This is useful for shuttling amino acids to fatigued muscles post workout. However, consuming anything that significantly spikes insulin on a regular basis is never a good idea.

For these reasons, I use one scoop of Optimum Nutrition whey after my workouts only during the months of the year I am trying to gain weight. The rest of the year, a meal of solid food, such as chicken and sweet potatoes, is perfect.

Creatine – This is another common “bodybuilder” supplement. Creatine is in every living animal and helps muscles function, particularly during short bursts of high intensity activity. It is formed in the body from 3 different amino acids and is also present, in small amounts, in raw meat.

Supplementing with creatine appears to increase power, strength, recovery, and intramuscular water retention. I am not using it at the moment because I want to get closer to my genetic potential first. But, this would be another sensible supplement to utilize in cycles.

There are some concerns amongst physicians regarding creatine but there are no proven risks associated with a 5 gram dose a day (except among those with renal impairment).

Amino Acids – These fall in the same category as creatine and whey protein powder. Amino acids are the foundation of protein and aid in muscle repair, neurotransmission, stimulation and relaxation, as well as many other functions.

I am currently relying on whole foods for amino acids but, certain combination of amino acids, particularly branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), seem to be beneficial for recovery and maintenance of muscle mass during periods of fasting.

This is by no means a complete list of available supplements…these are the ones I’ve experimented with and benefited from. There are many other things (high dose B vitamins, stimulant concoctions like Jack3d, and “mass gainers”) that are, at the best, a waste of money, and at the worst, very dangerous. If you have questions about a specific product, please post a comment or e-mail me requesting further evaluation.

In closing, I’ll quote a knowledgeable trainer I work with: “If one single element of your training or diet affects your performance a few percent, each single supplement will have a tenth of a percent affect.”