Letting a Cold Run Its Course

18 Feb

Lots of folks here in Seattle are currently experiencing the latest respiratory infection (or two?) that is (are?) going around. How we all deal with these experiences within ourselves is as variable as people are in general. I’m here today as a cheerleader for the common cold! Any of my patients reading this will not be surprised.

Having a good, robust cold or other acute illness about once a year and letting it run its course while supporting the natural process (I’ll explain what I mean by that below) is actually a positive thing for your long-term health. It allows the immune system to exercise a wider range of its function than it does on a daily basis–like a tune-up for the immune system, or like taking the immune system to the gym. A cold allows the body to discharge things that build up over time–all that mucus is serving a purpose–to carry waste products out of the body. And any acute illness provides us the opportunity to take some time out from our busy lives and rest and renew ourselves. So the bodily experience of having a cold isn’t just about fighting off an annoying bug; it’s about tonifying the immune system, cleaning house and hitting the reset button, so to speak. It serves a purpose, if we let it.

So what are ways to let a cold run its course while supporting the natural processes that are taking place?

1. Rest, rest, rest: this includes both extra sleep and spending awake time resting, which requires staying home 🙂

2. Drink lots of water: this supports the body’s efforts to flush waste products out, as well as keeping the mucous membranes moist from the inside, so the immune cells there can function properly

3. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates: sugar and carbs suppress immune function and feed microbes, ’nuff said. Note that fruit juice is also in the “avoid” category here, as it’s a dense source of sugar. Drinking a ton of orange juice is not the answer to getting past a cold.

4. If you have a fever of 100 degrees F or lower, then continue eating normally, placing emphasis on lots of veggies and some whole fruits, as well as broths and soups. If your fever is above 100 degrees F, abstain from food until it’s lower, and just have water, broths and herbal teas.

5. Avoid taking any medications that will suppress the symptoms of the cold, such as over-the-counter decongestants, fever reducers, or cough suppressants. These all essentially put up a road block in front of the body’s natural process and prevent it from running its course to the end.

6. If you have a low-grade fever, especially if you also have a stiff neck, then soak in a hot bathtub and then spend some time under the blankets to allow your body time to have a good sweat.

There are lots of other supportive things that can be done to move a cold along without suppressing it, but generally, I don’t advise those things unless a person has frequent and repetitive infections that indicate their immune system might need some help. Otherwise, it’s best to let nature run its course with minimal intervention. If, after a week, symptoms of a cold are still sticking around and don’t seem to be improving or are getting worse, then visit your naturopath for additional natural support. Also, if symptoms of your cold are so severe that they are preventing you from getting sleep, e.g., you’re drowning in mucus when you lay down, or you’re coughing a great deal, then talk with your naturopath about ways to naturally sooth these symptoms so you can sleep, because sleep is essential to healing!


Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Vitality


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7 responses to “Letting a Cold Run Its Course

  1. wartica

    February 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I totally agree; I was sick the past week and I had a ton of fluids, particularly water. I think it helped the infection to clear out. Great post and I look forward to sharing more with you:))

  2. Dr James Stratford

    February 19, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Great post, thankyou. You’ve pulled together the best advice that I’ve seen over the years. I find myself getting quite annoyed at the popular mistreatment of the cold with antibiotics when there’s no infection, or using paracetamol to avoid the rest that the body clearly needs. The good thing about cold and flu apparently is that the body ends up having fewer weak cells, as these are the ones that the virus attaches to and eventually kills – or something along those lines. This goes some way to explaining why we usually feel so vital and healthy after a virus. Anyway, I’ll keep this post close by for a reminder when our cold season starts. Cheers.

    • Kate Broderick, ND, LAc

      February 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks, James! I’d not heard the theory about the virus helping to clean house by taking out weaker cells–I love it! That theory is completely in line with how the general process of inflammation works via the immune system. Thanks for sharing it–I love having another reason to be a cheerleader for the common cold!

  3. Jenn McCollum

    February 19, 2012 at 11:08 am

    This winter in Vermont has had a lot of fluctuations in weather. Usually, because I am a sinus-y person who is easily affected by changes in mold and things that grow, the flux of New England weather — particularly from winter to spring — is a sickening experience. Well, this year, I am pregnant and I have not be the slightest bit sick at all. In fact, my body began craving garlic like mad. I will put whole cloves into my braised dishes, use them in my pickles and just eat them raw. I am compelled to say that my eating of so much garlic has been a big help in aiding my wellness through the winter. Could garlic also go on your list? I

  4. slklesko

    February 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Great post. I’ve tried to explain this to people before, but you’ve said it well.

  5. Kate Broderick, ND, LAc

    February 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Jenn, glad to hear that your pregnancy is supporting improved respiratory health. 🙂 The immune system changes during pregnancy, as do many other body systems. Garlic is a great adjunct to any diet for folks who are not sensitive to sulfur-containing veggies. Garlic is one of nature’s best anti-fungals (which can certainly help respiratory health, as many sinus infections are fungal in nature), and it has other antimicrobial properties, as well as wonderful cardiovascular properties. Great all around medicinal and culinary herb.


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