“Colds” and “the Flu” (influenza) are infections caused by viruses first infecting the nose and upper airways. Colds and Flu viruses are typically passed on to others from contaminated hands and from coughs and sneezes (airborne).
A “cold” is simply the common term to describe symptoms from one of many different viruses that cause the illness. “The Flu” is the common term for the disease caused by the influenza virus, of which there are many strains. Symptoms of colds are similar to the Flu, although the Flu tends to be more severe and typically has more likelihood of muscle aches and fatigue too. Both colds and Flu infections are very common and transmitted either by physical contact (unwashed hands) or from the air (cough, sneeze). Symptoms for colds and the Flu may last from 2 days up to 7 or more days (depending on the symptom) and may include:
Both cold and Flu viruses change their DNA frequently, which is why we might get multiple colds in our lifetime. This has made it difficult to treat colds and Flu medically over the years. The Flu vaccine is one tool that has been developed to help prevent Flu infections, but is only able to lower the risk of catching the top few (out of many) of the previous year’s Flu viral strains and has not been shown to be very helpful at reducing the risk of complications related to the Flu in healthy individuals. The flu vaccine’s main benefit, albeit limited, is for herd immunity for the purpose of protecting the sickest and most vulnerable among us. The Flu vaccine is not, however, a requirement for an average healthy person’s health, as a healthy immune system should be able to fight the infection easily. A Nutritarian eating style boosts the immune system to help protect from and fight infections quicker and more efficiently, reducing the severity and duration of symptoms.
During a cold or Flu, rest is an important part of achieving the quickest recovery time. If possible, allow yourself to take time off and rest (sleep) with low stress and physical activity in order to allow your body to focus its energy on fighting the virus.
Paying close attention to your thirst, and staying hydrated while infected with a cold or Flu virus is important.
Taking a multivitamin that includes zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D as a supplement to a Nutritarian eating style will help ensure adequacy. Maintaining sub-optimal levels of any of these micronutrients can enhance susceptibility to viral illness. This will help reduce the risk of infection as well as improve the recovery from the cold or Flu, however, many commercial supplements contain synthetic nutrients, such as folic acid, that could promote immune dysfunction and increase risk of cancer. See our Vitamin Advisor.
When in public, keeping your hands away from your face and washing them after touching doors and public facilities can decrease your chance of illness. If you are already infected with a cold or Flu virus, it is best to stay home and away from others.
The following are sample questions from the Ask the Doctor Community Platinum and higher members can post their health questions directly to Dr. Fuhrman. (All members can browse questions and answers.)
I woke up today with a horrible sore throat, swollen glands, sinus pressure, and a hacking cough. I do not have a temperature. I’m eating very little. Can I sip water for a day or two and then start eating a salad if I am hungry? Should I see a doctor for an antibiotic? I am also spraying saline in each nostril a couple times a day in case it is bacterial and gargling with salt water and taking zinc lozenges. Is there anything else, such as taking elderberry syrup, that can speed up the healing process or prevent me from getting worse?
You have a viral infection. You’re doing the right things- resting and eating lightly. Don’t push yourself, and get plenty of rest. It’s fine for you to sip water and maybe have some vegetable broth, green juices, and 1 or 2 cups of green tea/day. Don’t take too many zinc lozenges. Elderberry may help, but generally, expect a few days of feeling poorly. Keep in mind, over the counter cold remedies are essentially useless and have side effects that you don’t need.
I came across this tip of the day from Dr. Fuhrman:
Dr. Fuhrman’s Tip of the Day: With cold and flu season upon us, keep this in mind when ill with a typical viral syndrome. It is best to rest, drink water, avoid cooked food, and only consume fresh fruit and raw vegetables if hungry. Fasting or eating very lightly when ill speeds recovery, reduces mucus production, and activates the immune system’s defenses to rapidly and dramatically eliminate the viral load.
I understand about fasting to speed recovery, but what is the reasoning behind avoiding cooked food? I have a cold right now and am having soup in the evenings because I’m so cold and salads don’t appeal to me.
Soup is okay, it is mostly the cooked starches and animal products I am objecting to due to their higher caloric concentration. Caloric restriction boosts immunity, and cooked foods are more calorically dense. Having such things as steamed zucchini when ill is fine.
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