Since 2011, the estimated number of flu cases in the U.S. has risen sharply… anywhere from 24.6 million to 35.6 million per annual flu “season”!
And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2018-19 flu season was the longest since tracking began!
With flu season once again in full swing, that’s probably not music to your ears. Especially since older folks are at greater risk of catching the flu due to a weakened immune system.
So, you may be wondering how to avoid the unpleasantries of the flu altogether… or, if you’ve already caught it, how you can remedy it. Either way, this post is for you. We’ve got 12 natural flu remedies for you to try, which could help keep you happier and healthier through these dark days of winter.
But first, let’s take a closer look at exactly what the flu is, as well as the conventional remedies that are available.
What is the Flu?
As you probably know, the flu (influenza) is an infection caused by a virus that affects the nose, throat, and lungs.
People often wonder whether they have a cold or the flu. Both diseases are caused by viruses that infect the respiratory system, and both can have similar symptoms. Check out the table below to see the key differences between cold and flu symptoms:
|Cough||Common||Common, and can become severe|
|Headache||Rare||Sudden onset and can become severe|
|Fever||Rare in adults, but children and infants can experience fevers||A fever of 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) is common and can even increase a few degrees in extreme cases. Typically lasts 3 to 4 days|
|Muscle aches||Sometimes, but mild||Common, and often severe|
|Tiredness/Weakness||Sometimes, but mild||Common, and often severe|
Vulnerable individuals (including young children, pregnant women, adults 65 and over, and those who have a pre-existing medical condition or have trouble breathing) should consult their doctor. Healthy individuals can learn more about how the flu affects the body, and how you can remedy it naturally, below.
Flu symptoms can develop quickly, and may make it hard to get out of bed for days. While colds rarely have severe complications, the flu can have potentially deadly complications like pneumonia.
What’s more, according to the CDC, the flu is extremely contagious. (The CDC actually provides a handy resource that shows how active the flu virus is in each U.S. state. You can check it out here.) When someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes, microscopic droplets can travel up to six feet and get inhaled by another person. Talk about nasty!
Plus, most people spread the flu before they experience symptoms. So it’s important to remember that a healthy immune system can fight off the flu and prevent it from starting. Having a weakened immune system can lead to the flu.
Luckily, if you do happen to succumb to the flu, natural remedies can help! Let’s talk about conventional remedies first, though, and look at their potential effects.
Common Conventional Flu Remedies
The most common way people try to combat the flu is to get vaccinated every year before the flu season starts. And yet every year, millions of people who do get vaccinated still come down with the flu.
Part of the problem is that the flu virus is constantly changing. That means the vaccination to combat the flu must also change accordingly, and success rates can vary. In fact, the flu vaccination used in Australia during the 2017 flu season only had an estimated 10% effectiveness.
FluMist, a nasal-spray vaccine brand, shared the results of its 2015-16 influenza vaccine effectiveness study. FluMist was 46% effective at preventing the flu, while the more traditional flu shot was 65% effective. Additional stats confirm vaccine effectiveness is typically less than 50%.
If you ask me, those numbers don’t inspire confidence in their ability to prevent the flu!
In addition to reported low effectiveness, vaccines have large potential for side effects. Minor side effects include soreness, fever, aches, cough, wheezing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, headache and fatigue. More serious side effects include an increased risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome (rapid onset of muscle soreness caused by the immune system) and seizure. In very rare instances (less than two per million doses), life-threatening anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction that may cause death) has been reported.
Vaccinations aren’t the only conventional treatment option for the flu. There are also prescription antiviral medications called “neuraminidase inhibitors”. These are used to both prevent the flu and reduce the severity of symptoms by stopping the virus from reproducing. However, these medications can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and behavioral side effects like confusion, hallucinations and delirium. Some doctors argue that when you consider these potential side effects, they cause more harm than good.
Now, you may have already experienced success with one or more of these conventional remedies. Or you may be keen to try them. And that’s perfectly fine. But if you prefer a natural, drug-free way to relieve flu symptoms, there are plenty of options available. Some of them may also provide your immune system with the support it needs to fight off the flu before you become ill.
12 Natural Flu Remedies
My number-one natural flu remedy is Wellness ImmuNow. It’s composed of something called humic acid, which is “an organic substance derived from natural compounds found in humus soil.” The Wellness ImmuNow team has conducted preliminary research that’s quite promising, showing it may support immune function and overall health and wellness.
There have been dozens of times I’ve been coming down with the flu or a cold… and if I take two tablets of Wellness ImmuNow right away, it never develops. Sometimes, if I’m not aware of how I’m feeling and I take it too late, I’ll come down with the flu or a cold. But it’ll only last a few days. This stuff really works!
Please note: This is NOT an affiliate link, and I’m not compensated for promoting this product in any way! I just truly believe in Wellness ImmuNow, and it really does work for me. And because I care about your health, I want to share it with you, too.
A steaming cup of lemon-and-honey water is the go-to remedy for many people (myself included) when flu symptoms hit. And there is some (admittedly light) research to suggest hot liquids are more than just a comforting beverage.
One study found that hot, fruity drinks provide an immediate and sustained relief from flu symptoms including: runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness, and tiredness. The same drink at room temperature only provided relief from a runny nose, cough, and sneezing!
Warm liquids can also be very soothing when you’ve got muscle aches and chills. Plus, hot drinks like tea, lemon-and-honey water, broth, and ginger water can prevent mucus buildup and give you some antioxidant boosts.
Drinking warm liquids will also help you stay hydrated. When you have the flu, you often lose a lot of liquid through sweating and even when your nose runs! The more you hydrate, the better. Just be sure to avoid drinks that cause dehydration, like caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
Try our Caffeine-Free Hibiscus Tea recipes. The fresh lemon and hibiscus-flower version is a personal favorite.
My mom and dad have an amazing organic garden at their house, and my dad’s hallmark is his huge Russian red garlic. Eating a raw clove has helped me avert the flu many times.
In fact, over 5,000 studies have shown that garlic can provide a whole host of health benefits… including naturally helping your body recover from a variety of illnesses and ailments.
See, garlic actively kills a broad spectrum of viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, and can be more effective than prescription drugs. It contains a powerful antioxidant called allicin, which is released when you cut into the garlic.
One study suggested that allicin, in particular, could help prevent or reduce the length of the common cold. One-hundred and forty-six participants were randomly assigned to take a daily garlic supplement (containing 180 mg of allicin) or a placebo for 12 weeks.
There were 24 occurrences of the common cold in the garlic intervention group, compared with 65 in the placebo group. Plus, the number of days it took to recover from a cold was a lot shorter in the garlic group (1.52 days versus 5.01).
Garlic also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, as well as folate, vitamin C and zinc… all of which boost your immune system. Plus, the sulphur in garlic flushes toxins from your system.
That’s a lot of great reasons to try garlic if you come down with the flu. But it’s important to note that you’ll get the most benefit from garlic when you eat it raw. Now, you may be wondering how to incorporate raw garlic into your diet, so here are a few ideas:
- In a homemade salad dressing or salsa: You can find three bone-healthy salad dressing recipes here that you can easily add raw garlic to.
- On buttered toast: It might sound a little strange, but sprinkling raw garlic on buttered toast tastes great!
- Swallow it with water: This is a very basic method, but it’s no less effective! You only need a very small amount.
Please note: The origin of your garlic is very important! Chinese garlic may be cheaper than American garlic, but it could be very damaging to your health.
See, food safety regulations aren’t as strict in China as they are in North America, and there have been reports of quality, consistency, and safety issues with Chinese garlic. In fact, some reports claim Chinese garlic is regularly bleached with chlorine and fumigated with pesticides. That’s not a cocktail of toxins you want in your body! To be on the safe side, we recommend buying local, organic produce whenever possible.
Vitamin C is well known for its immunity-boosting properties.
But what if you already have the flu?
Well, studies show that vitamin C may be more effective than pain relievers and decongestants!
Researchers conducted a study in 1999 to find out if taking a megadose of vitamin C would relieve cold and flu symptoms. The control group was made up of 463 students between 18 and 32 years old. When students in the control group reported cold or flu symptoms, they were given decongestants and pain relievers. The experimental test group included 252 students, aged 18 to 30. When they reported cold or flu symptoms, they were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C every hour for six hours, and then three times a day after that.
The results? Students in the test group, who took vitamin C, had their symptoms reduced 85% more than the control group.
Now, these are the results of only one study, but they do show promise for using vitamin C as a natural flu remedy. Have you had any luck with vitamin C?
Most outbreaks of influenza happen in the fall or winter, which is also when your vitamin D levels drop.
Dr. Gerry Schwalfenberg was alarmed by the side effects that his elderly patients were experiencing when they took antiviral drugs, so he turned his focus to vitamin D. Nursing home residents, in particular, can have very low levels of vitamin D. But when he started to give his patients vitamin D supplements, he saw fewer cases of the flu.
“We now see very few patients in our clinics with the flu,” Dr. Schwalfenberg wrote. “In those patients who do have influenza, we have treated them with the vitamin D hammer, as coined by my colleague.”
The “vitamin D hammer” is a one-time megadose of vitamin D (50,000 IU) taken for 2 to 3 days. Patients who had this treatment saw their symptoms resolved in 48 to 72 hours. Dr. Schwalfenberg added: “We urgently need a study of this intervention. The cost of vitamin D is about a penny for 1000 IU, so this treatment costs less than a dollar.”
Vitamin D boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation and helps your body absorb calcium. It can be found in foods like fish, cheese, egg yolks, beef liver, and vitamin-D-fortified dairy products… although usually in small amounts. For practical amounts, you need sunshine on your skin and/or supplements, too.
You can discover more about the top sources of vitamin D here.
Don’t you just love ginger? It’s got that zippy, festive flavor that works so well in so many delicious dishes. And the smell of ginger is so comforting to me. What’s more, ginger also offers many health benefits.
As far as the flu is concerned, ginger strengthens your immune system and helps you fight off infection with its antimicrobial properties. (It even kills the germs that cause bad breath!) Plus, ginger is renowned for preventing nausea and vomiting — symptoms that can occur with a bad case of the flu!
Our resident fitness expert, Monica, swears by ginger as a natural flu remedy! If you have the flu, she recommends making a lemon-ginger tea by adding a slice of lemon and a slice of fresh ginger root to a cup of hot water.
Clinical trials have shown that if you take a zinc supplement within the first 24 hours of catching a cold, it can reduce symptoms and help you recover faster. That’s because it has anti-viral properties and plays a role in forming the cells that make up your immune system. However, studies have mixed results on whether it is as effective for the flu.
When you’re feeling sick, eating a hot and steamy bowl of soup can be so comforting.
But soup is more than just a comfort food. While there isn’t a lot of research into the therapeutic properties of soup, some medical professionals say it can help relieve cold symptoms.
That’s because the steam from hot soup opens up sinuses by increasing blood flow, which helps to ease congestion. Soups are also hydrating, which is important when you’re trying to fight an infection.
Soups are generally light and easy to digest, too. And most soups have some salt, which means they’ll keep you hydrated. Plus, many soups — especially chicken soup — have anti-inflammatory properties, which research suggests can help relieve upper respiratory tract infections. Soups that have fruits or vegetables may have vitamins and antioxidants that can help your immune system.
So, while soup won’t treat your flu, it’s still an excellent choice because it will help you feel better. And it’s a more palatable way to get some key nutrients on board when you’re not feeling up to a large meal.
For a little inspiration, check out some of our soup recipes in the posts below:
Echinacea is a flowering plant. Its extract is a popular choice for preventing or reducing the symptoms of a cold or flu. Some members of the AlgaeCal team reach straight for echinacea when they feel the flu coming on. But researchers aren’t 100% sold just yet.
One study showed that giving healthy adults echinacea every day for four months may result in an average 26% reduction in the number and duration of cold episodes, compared to a placebo over the same period. According to the study’s abstract, “A total of 293 adverse events occurred with echinacea and 306 with placebo treatment.” The conclusion of the study was that echinacea was beneficial if you took it on a regular basis.
Another study showed that echinacea can reduce and alleviate inflammation caused by the flu.
It’s worth noting, however, that some studies didn’t find any substantial benefit of echinacea when it comes to colds and flu. Does it work for you?
For centuries, people have used elderberry to treat the flu and to boost their immune system. In fact, the Greek physician Hippocrates referred to the elder tree as his “medicine chest”.
Norwegian researchers did a study to find out whether it was more than just a folk remedy. Sixty patients were given either elderberry or a placebo and asked to record the severity of their symptoms. The patients who used elderberry felt better an average of four days sooner!
Elderberry appears to be a good choice if you’re worried about coming down with the flu on an airplane, too. In Australia, a clinical trial was conducted with 312 economy class passengers who were traveling overseas. (The criteria for participation was a minimum seven-hour flight that had less than a 12-hour stopover. Each participant had to have at least a four-day stay at their destination, too.)
One-hundred and fifty-eight participants were assigned elderberry capsules and 154 were assigned a placebo. Each participant started taking their supplement 10 days before travel, and concluded five days after travel.
It turned out that those who did come down with the flu or a cold while taking the elderberry supplement experienced it, on average, two days less than those on the placebo. Plus, those taking the elderberry supplement recorded lower symptom severity compared to those taking the placebo.
It may sound a little basic, but getting enough sleep is a great remedy for the flu. Plus, adequate sleep could be the difference between catching the flu or avoiding it in the first place!
It’s all to do with your immune system. See, sleep is a strong regulator of your immune system. When you get enough rest, your immune system is ready to combat nasty viruses you may come into contact with… including the flu virus.
And the opposite is true when you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation creates a state of chronic stress within your body, and this compromises your immune response and your ability to fight off disease.
So, adequate sleep could be key for avoiding the flu. But what if you already have the flu?
A common symptom of the flu is a fever. Now, a fever is your body’s way of stimulating an immune response to fight infection. Have you ever noticed fevers tend to ramp up as bedtime approaches? Well, it’s suggested your fever response is more active when you’re asleep. So, adequate sleep is key for fighting the flu, too!
Now, getting to sleep is notoriously tricky when you’re suffering from the flu. But our next flu remedy could help you to drift off…
Many people believe that being exposed to cold weather will cause you to get the flu. But the truth is that people can get it because they’re cooped up inside!
That’s because the flu is highly contagious, and is spread through pathogens that travel through the air. Indoors, germs and toxins remain concentrated. So get outside where there’s plenty of fresh air. And get some exercise and a little sun if you can.
If you’re feeling too under the weather to get outside, you may want to consider aromatherapy in the form of a diffuser. Preferably one that doubles as a humidifier! Diffusers are another thing our fitness expert, Monica, swears by. (I’m pretty sure there isn’t an essential-oil blend she hasn’t tried.)
Now, the research doesn’t definitively show that humidifiers can relieve the flu once and for all, but they can certainly help you with the symptoms. See, breathing in dry air can further irritate an inflamed respiratory system, which in turn can worsen your coughing and sore throat. So, when you increase the humidity of your air with a humidifier, you help keep your throat and nasal passages hydrated. This, in turn, helps you breathe better… and cough and sneeze less.
What’s more, if your humidifier doubles as a diffuser, you can use it to drift off to sleep that little bit easier… which can be hard going when you’re suffering with the flu! You can read more about aromatherapy and sleep in our “6 Natural Sleep Aids That Actually Work” post.
Natural Flu Remedy Takeaways
Around 8% of Americans get the flu every year. But natural remedies can bring relief.
It’s hard to avoid the flu, since it’s highly contagious and is spread through an airborne virus. Consult your physician immediately if:
- you experience severe flu-like symptoms, like pneumonia
- you’re pregnant
- you have a chronic medical condition
Conventional treatments to avoid getting the flu include a yearly vaccine, taking decongestants and painkillers, and getting a prescription for an antiviral medication. However, you can try natural remedies such as:
- maintaining a healthy diet
- consuming soups, teas and other hot beverages
- staying hydrated
- getting enough vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc
- getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air.
The research is still a little light for some of these natural remedies, but I’ve heard many friends and colleagues recommend them to me. So I wanted to share them with you, too. I’d love to know if they work for you!
Do you have any tried and trusted natural remedies you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!