How to speed up cold and flu recovery

Wellnessed your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter

By clicking "submit," you agree to receive emails from wellnessed and accept our web terms of use and privacy and cookie policy.

‘Tis the season of sniffles and coughs. Whether the snot-nosed monster is only lurking in the shadows or has already got hold of you and reduced you to a miserable coughing, nose-dripping wretch, the following tips can help protect you against catching a cold or flu, or speed up your recovery time.

1. Cut back your sugar intake

In 1973, scientists at Loma Linda University gave study volunteers 100 grams of sugar to consume – that’s about 20 teaspoons of sugar or roughly the amount in one liter of soda1. They then drew some blood from the participants and infected the samples with some bacteria. And this is what they found:

The white blood cells (aka fighters of bacteria, viruses and all that’s bad) of the volunteers who were given sugar gobbled up significantly fewer bacteria, with the effects lasting a few hours following high sugar consumption. In other words, large amounts of sugar may curb your resistance to infection. So if you’re try to avoid getting ill, or have already been struck down with the a cold or flu, now’s really not the time to be suppressing your immune system by eating high sugar foods.

A more recent study also suggests that sugar can inhibit the proper functioning of white blood cells in other ways too; sugar may thwart the transformation of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that can change into B-cells (develop into plasma cells that secrete antibodies), T-cells (attack foreign cells and destroy antigens) Natural Killer cells (fight microbes) .2

There isn’t a heck of lot of research on the sugar-immune system connection. But it is unlikely that anyone’s ever proved that refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup is good for you, so cutting back on it can never be a bad thing. You’ll also be reducing your risk of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and a host of other health problems. 13

2. Get enough sleep

Skipping on the ZZZs can make you more vulnerable to colds and other infections. Scientists found that the risk of catching a cold increased 3 fold in individuals who slept less than 7 hours compared to those who slept at least 8 hours. 3

Quality of sleep also matters: people who spent less than 92% of their time in bed asleep were 5.5 times more likely to be sick compared to those who were asleep for at least 98% of their time in bed. It seems that a lack of sleep or sleep disturbances may suppress the immune system making it less resistant to infections.

3. Add zinc to your diet

A zinc deficiency can suppress the immune system and cause excessive inflammation.

Research shows that supplementing with may decrease the duration and severity of a cold if taken early (within 24 hours of symptoms onset). 4 Before you start popping zinc pills several side effects that can afflict some people. The most common downsides of zinc supplementation are altered taste and nausea. Zinc for colds is popular and you’ll easily find combos of zinc and vitamin C in almost any store.

If you’re not into pills and supplements, you’ll be glad to learn that dietary zinc can also modulate the immune system. 5

Great sources of dietary zinc: oysters and other seafood, turkey and chicken (the darker meat) as well as wild beef. You can also get a nice dose of zinc in nuts, seeds and legumes.

4. Don’t forget selenium

This trace mineral has been found to play a key role in the proper functioning of the immune system. Research shows that selenium plays a role in helping build up white blood cells, boosting the body’s ability to fight illness and infection.

Indeed, a selenium deficiency may even be associated with the flu virus to becoming more virulent.6 What’s even more alarming is that a selenium-deficiency may result in the cold virus mutating into a new strain that affects even those with normal selenium stores.

A French study found that elderly people who took zinc (20mg) and selenium (100mg) supplements, had immune systems that responded better to the flu vaccine compared to those who took placebo, and were less likely to develop a respiratory infection over a two-year period. The elderly at most at risk of suffering serious complications and even death from the flu, so the benefits of supplementation are likely to extend to younger adults too! 11

Foods rich in selenium: Fish, shellfish, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, garlic and seeds.

5. Top up on Vitamin D

Vitamin D stimulates your immune system to produce things called defensins and cathelicidins that kill viruses. 7 However, we get the majority of our Vitamin D from sunlight, so there is massive seasonal variation in our Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D levels are highest during summer and lowest in winter. So just when we need it most, our vitamin D stores are low.

In fact, many scientists believe the reason we’re susceptible to cold and flu in the first place, is due to the decreasing Vitamin D levels in winter.

If you can’t get enough sunshine, you may want to talk to your physician regarding the need for a vitamin D supplement. Research suggests that Vitamin D supplementation may help prevent the usual winter onslaught of cold and flu symptoms. 12

6. Echinacea

Researchers at the University of Connecticut reviewed 27 studies and found that taking Echinacea decreased the risks of catching a cold by 58% and also sped up recovery. 9

7. Ginger

This spice has been shown to fight rhinoviruses, the most common cold virus. 8 For better results, grate some fresh ginger root and allow it to infuse in a covered cup of green tea for a minute or two. This soothing drink should help provide some relief against coughs, pain and fever.

8. Kiwi fruit

According to a study from New Zealand, this small brown fuzzy fruit may reduce the duration and severity of a sore throats and head congestion from 5.4 to 2 days and 4.7 to 0.9 days, respectively. 10

While the research was funded by the largest marketer of kiwifruits, it remains that this fruit is loaded with vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, polyphenols and other nutrients that can strengthen your immune system. Plus, kiwi does taste great, so you can’t really lose!

9. Chicken soup!

Last, but certainly not least. The old wives’ tale may have some scientific merit: researchers found that chicken soup reduced the inflammation that causes several flu symptoms. 8 It appears that veggies, chicken and broth act synergistically to decrease fevers and sore throat.

For an even more potent concoction, Dr James Duke, a renowned American botanist, recommends adding lots of garlic, ginger, shallots, basil and sweet bell peppers.

Don’t forget to wrap up warm! And remember to up your H2O intake to keep yourself well hydrated.

13 sources

  1. Sanchez, A., et al. (1973) Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 261:1180-1184.
  2. Bernstein, J., al. (1997) Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 30:613.
  3. Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Alper, C. M., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Turner, R. B. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine, 169(1), 62.
  4. Singh M, Das RR. (2011) Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2:CD001364
  5. Ferenčík, M., & Ebringer, L. (2003). Modulatory effects of selenium and zinc on the immune system. Folia microbiologica, 48(3), 417-426.
  6. Beck, M. A. et al. (2001). Selenium deficiency increases the pathology of an influenza virus infection. The FASEB Journal, 15(8), 1481-1483.
  7. Cannell, J. et al (2006). Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiology and Infection, 134(06), 1129-1140.
  8. James A. Duke The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns (Rodale, 2008).
  9. Roxas, M. & Jurenka J. (2007) Colds and Influenza: A Review of Diagnosis and Conventional, Botanical, and Nutritional Consideration. Alternative Medicine Review 12(1).
  10. Hunter DC, Skinner MA, Wobler FM, et al. (2012) Consumption of gold kiwifruit reduces severity and duration of selected upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and increases plasma vitamin C concentration in healthy older adults. British Journal of Nutrition, 108, pp 1235-1245
  11. Girodon F, Galan P, Monget AL, Boutron-Ruault MC, Brunet-Lecomte P, Preziosi P, Arnaud J, Manuguerra JC, Herchberg S. Impact of trace elements and vitamin supplementation on immunity and infections in institutionalized elderly patients: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 1999;159(7):748-54.
  12. Cannell JJ, Vieth R, Umhau JC, Holick MF, Grant WB, Madronich S, Garland CF, Giovannucci E. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiol Infect. 2006;134(6):1129-40.
  13. Lustig RH1, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD. Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012;482(7383):27-9.

Read this next

Beginner Running Plan

10 Week Plan to Run: Beginners Running Program

Regardless of your fitness level, you can easily start from zero to running 20 minutes continuously in 10 weeks. The running program below, adapted from the New York Road Runners Club, does exactly that...
Body shape

Body Shape – What’s Your Shape?

Your body shape is based upon the size of your physical features and the overall balance of your body. These four shapes are spoon, cone, ruler and hourglass and describe skeletal structure. While there is...
running program

4 Week Running Plan – Fast-Track Beginners Running Program

This running plan is for beginners to go from 0 to running 30 minutes nonstop - in 4 weeks (for a comprehensive weight loss plan see here). WHO SHOULD FOLLOW THIS RUNNING PROGRAM? This plan is suitable for...
Smoothie Recipes for Everything

Healthy Smoothie Recipes for Everything

Is there anything as versatile, adaptable and convenient as a smoothie? I doubt it. Nor are there many things as universally beloved. Smoothies are scrumptious, indulgent concoctions that tickle the taste buds and, inexplicably,...
Weight Loss Workout Plan

Weight Loss Workout Plan: Day-By-Day Workout Program

To transform your body, to get fit, to be healthy and to feel great you gotta exercise. Just like the air you breathe, your body needs physical exercise. And it needs exercise in a way...

How to make a salad taste awesome!

Healthy, crunchy, fresh and infinitely changeable, salads are the pin-up of all that’s healthy. Whether snack, side or starter, lunch-on-the-run or sit-down meal, salads...

How to choose the right workout clothes

Workout gear should work as hard as you do. Yes, it should look good. After all, it’s another motivator to get you exercising. But...

10 Ways to Beat Running Boredom & Get Better Results

You’re running the same route, at the same time, listening to the same songs. It’s all getting a little too déjà vu. For time to fly by, try these boredom-beating tips to revive your running workouts.

How to add variety to your walking workout

If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. That applies to exercise too! If you do the same walking...

19 Exercises to tone your abs without crunches

Stuck in a crunch rut doing 100s of crunches? When people think abs, they think crunches. But guess what; crunches aren't the most effective...
How to Warm Up Before Exercise

How Long to Warm-Up Before Exercise

The answer is... it depends! Generally, not less than 5 minutes and no longer than 30 minutes. Or to be really annoying,...
Common Treadmill Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Avoid these Common Treadmill Mistakes

Most treadmill accidents are caused by “user error” and are generally avoidable. But apart from mistakes that result in physical injury there...
Turnip Greens: How to Use, Prep & Store

Turnip Greens: How to Use, Prep & Store

Turnip greens have tender leaves with a peppery, spicy turnip-like flavor. Turnip leaves are smaller and more tender than collards.
Swiss Chard: How to Use, Prep & Store

Swiss Chard: How to Use, Prep & Store

Swiss chard is a crisp, robust leafy green with a sweet, mildly beet-like taste.
Spinach: How to Use, Prep & Store

Spinach: How to Use, Prep & Store

Taste: mild, slightly sweet, hearty How to buy: Go for vibrant, crisp dark green spinach leaves. Avoid wilting, bruised or yellowing...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Popular must reads

How Long to Warm-Up Before Exercise

The answer is... it depends! Generally, not less than 5 minutes and no longer than 30 minutes. Or to be really annoying,...

Total Exercise Bike Guide

Stationary bikes (or exercise bikes) are easy to use, can be found in almost every gym, and are usually reasonably priced and requiring minimal...

Beginner’s guide to cycling

Exercise doesn’t come much more convenient than cycling. An efficient method of transportation and a workout. What’s not to like? Whether you use it...

15 Minute Fat-Blasting Jump-Rope Workout

What allows you to work out at home, with equipment that costs next to nothing, and has calorie burning power that exceeds that of...

Weight Gain Diet

Most health professionals, governing bodies and media outlets are focused on weight loss. Therefore, sound information on how to gain weight healthily is thin on the ground,...
Awesome share! Follow us for more.
Send this to a friend