The flu can make you miserable, causing joint pain, headaches, fatigue, and gastric discomfort. While prescription drugs can help if taken right away, they cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and headaches. Fortunately, there are many other options to treat flu at home. Though these natural remedies may not be the cure-all, they can help shorten the duration of the flu and help you feel better faster.
What is the flu?
Flu, also known as influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by a contagious virus. It infects the nose, throat, and lungs. Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with a weak immune system are at high risk of this virus.
The symptoms of influenza include high fever, headache, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, and tiredness. Some other symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, headache, chills, nausea, vomiting. Though flu usually lasts for five days, in some cases, it can also last for a week to ten days.
You can catch flu if you breathe in the air, which has virus droplets caused by an infected person’s sneeze or cough. You can also get the flu if you touch a surface on which the virus has landed and then touch your nose or mouth.
Though there are prescription pills that can reduce the severity of flu symptoms and lessen the duration, they work best when taken within 48 hours of catching the flu. Unfortunately, most of us often confuse flu symptoms with those of common cold and do not contact our doctors soon enough. Your doctor usually will prescribe antivirals such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Unfortunately, these antivirals can have side effects like diarrhea and bronchitis. You can also get vaccinated every year to prevent the flu.
You can also treat flu at home though these effective and natural home remedies. One advantage of using these remedies is that you can start treatment as soon as you see the first signs of flu-like a runny nose, cough, or body ache.
1. Drink plenty of fluids
You must drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated during the flu. Fever and diarrhea during flu can lead to dehydration, so it is essential to keep yourself hydrated by consuming water, fresh juice, soup, broth, coconut water, and herbal tea. Fluids also keep your nose, throat, and mouth moist and help get rid of built-up mucus and phlegm.
2. Sleep well and reduce stress
Poor sleep and stress can also increase the risk of flu. According to a 2018 study that involved 413 participants, practicing mindful meditation and exercise can help prevent acute respiratory infections. During the study, the people who practiced meditation and an exercise regimen lost fewer workdays to illness as compared to the control group (1). Another study that involved 164 healthy men and women showed that people who slept for the shorter duration were more susceptible to colds (2).
3. Inhale steam
Steam inhalation or steam therapy uses water vapor to loosen mucus congestion. The moist air also relaxes the swelling in the nose and the lungs. Steam inhalation also helps to soothe irritation in the nose, treat a dry cough, and improve tightness in the chest. You can also add some medicated vapor rub to the steam water for added benefits.
4. Take zinc
Several studies have shown that taking supplements of zinc can help reduce the symptoms of flu (3). Zinc boosts immunity and has an antiviral effect. You can get enough zinc from a balanced diet. Foods rich in zinc include lentils, chickpeas, red meat, shellfish, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, and eggs.
You can take zinc in the form of a tablet, syrup, or lozenge. However, choose the correct dosage as taking too much zinc can cause nausea and stomach aches. Zinc supplements are most effective when taken at the first sign of illness.
5. Increase your Vitamin C intake
Vitamin C plays a vital role in keeping the immune system healthy. According to studies, regular supplementation with vitamin C can shorten the duration of colds, and lower the incidence of cold in physically active people (4).
Citrus fruits, guavas, and avocados are rich in vitamin C. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and capsicum are also naturally rich in vitamin C. You can take vitamin C in the form of supplements. Take 1,000 mg of vitamin C to prevent cold or flu and up to 400 mg daily when you are experiencing symptoms.
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is vital for our immune system. People with low levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of developing influenza. Vitamin D reduces inflammation and increases antimicrobial defenses, which helps the immune system fight infections (5).
During one study, Japanese school children were given either 1200 IU of vitamin D or a dummy pill for three months during winter. The results showed that more children in the dummy group got influenza than the children in the vitamin D group (6). Take vitamin D supplements to improve your vitamin D levels.
7. Take garlic
We have used garlic for centuries to treat cold and flu. It contains several compounds that help the immune system fight germs. Allicin, the main active compound in garlic, contains sulfur, which gives garlic its medicinal properties (7).
According to a study by the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, the University of Florida, aged garlic extract, enhances immune cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu (8).
To prevent the loss of medicinal properties of garlic due to cooking, crush the garlic and let it stand for at least ten minutes before you add it to your dish. You can also take garlic supplements in the form of powder, aged garlic extracts, and garlic oil.
Echinacea is an herbal supplement that is used to treat cold and flu. According to a 2013 study from Switzerland, Echinacea extracts support immune resistance and acts directly against a series of viruses. It can be used to treat respiratory tract infections for the long term and short term prevention as well as for acute treatment (9). You can have Echinacea in the form of tea or take a tablet supplement.
Many people consider elderberry most potent in preventing and treating colds and influenza and swear by its antiviral properties. Some studies have also shown that elderberries can help lower cold and flu symptoms.
During one study from Israel, 60 patients with influenza took 15 ml of elderberry syrup or a placebo four times a day for five days. The people who took elderberry syrup had reduced symptoms four hours before those who took the placebo (10).
10. Take some honey
Taking tea with lemon and honey can help soothe a sore throat. It is an effective cough suppressant as well. Honey has antimicrobial properties that help to fight against bacteria and viruses. During one study, parents of children more than one-year-old found honey to be effective in relieving nocturnal cough (11). To soothe a sore throat or cough, stir some honey into hot water and add a bit of lemon to it.
11. Oregano oil
Oregano oil is known for its antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains several beneficial compounds like carvacrol, thymol, and terpinene. It is used to treat respiratory problems, colds, and flu.
During one study, participants with respiratory problems used a throat spray containing oregano oil, as well as diluted eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary oil for five days. These participants had reduced symptoms of sore throat, cough, and hoarseness after 20 minutes of using it (12).
Probiotics are bacteria that improve gut health and boost the immune system. According to a study from Ukraine, B. subtilis, a strain of probiotic bacteria demonstrated antiviral effect against influenza virus (13).
Another study evaluated the effects of probiotics and prebiotics on the immune response to influenza vaccination in adults. The participants that took probiotics or prebiotics showed significant improvement in H1N1 strain and H3N2 strain protection (14). Probiotics are present in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso. You can also buy probiotic supplements from health food stores.
13. Essential oils
Essential oils have antiviral and antibacterial properties that help in treating the symptoms of cold and flu. Some essential oils that are effective in treating the symptoms of influenza include:
These oils slow down the rate at which the virus multiplies. You can diffuse them in the air with a diffuser or apply them on the skin after diluting them.
14. Drink warm broth
Drinking warm chicken or beef bone broth helps to loosen nose and sinus congestion. Bone broth is high in proteins and minerals like sodium and potassium. Protein is good for the immune system, and the other nutrients in the broth help to rejuvenate the body.
15. Gargle with saltwater
Gargling with warm salt water helps to soothe the throat and clear the mucous. To prepare water for gargling first warm one glass of water and mix ½ teaspoon of salt in it. Take a sip of this water and pull it to the back of your throat. Gargle with it for 20 to 30 seconds and spit this water into the sink. Repeat till you have used up all the water.
When should you see the doctor?
Though these home remedies are effective in relieving the symptoms of influenza, you must consult a doctor if –
- You have trouble breathing
- You feel chest pain
- You have a fever higher than 100.4°F
- You develop chills or sweating
- Your mucous that has a strange color
- There is blood in your mucous
- You have a serious cough
Flu or influenza is a severe illness that is caused by a contagious virus. In most cases, these symptoms can be treated or reduced through home remedies. These remedies include drinking plenty of fluids, taking rest, increasing vitamin intake, inhaling essential oils, and drinking herbal teas. In some cases, if the symptoms become more severe, you must consult a doctor.