Cold & Flu Symptoms

  • Mushrooms and Long-Term Immunity

    Looking for a way to boost long-term immunity for cold and flu season? Mushrooms may be the next big thing in the fight against sickness.

    “Mushrooms are used to strengthen immune function in a powerful way over a long time,” says Matthew Becker, herbalist and lead practitioner at our North Boulder store. “They have a slower effect than something like echinacea, but it’s a deeper effect.”

    Matthew notes that mushrooms are great for helping boost general health. "They can have anti-inflammatory actions and detoxify the liver, and strengthen the adrenals to help lower stress levels," he says. "In other words, they are great allies for all aspects of healing."

    “Reishi mushrooms are considered to be the king of all herbs in China,” says Matthew. “They strengthen immunity, and can be energizing and calming at the same time,” perfect when you’re stressed and more vulnerable to sickness. Matthew likes Mushroom Science Reishi Gano 161.

    Cordyceps are another popular immune-boosting mushroom, commonly used in China–and increasingly in the US–to combat the side effects of chemotherapy. Matthew adds that they also are widely used for heart conditions, weak lungs, asthma and adrenal fatigue. He recommends Fungi Perfecti Cordyceps. (Learn more about cordyceps many uses.)

    For a more full-spectrum approach, try a combination formula such as Fungi Perfecti MyCommunity, a blend of 17 different mushrooms that work together to strengthen immunity. Matthew also likes Immune Builder by Mushroom Science, a high-quality blend of reishi, maitake, shiitake and others.

    Don’t forget about astragalus
    Matthew also recommends astragalus. “Regular consumption can have a remarkable effect on your ability to fend off sickness,” he says. “People who begin to take it a few months before the cold and flu season hits will find it much easier to stay healthy.” He recommends Vital Nutrients Astragalus Root capsules, twice a day for a few months.

    Bring all of your immunity questions to the pharmacists and practitioners at Pharmaca.

  • Flu Prevention Basics (Video)

    Whether or not you got a flu shot this year, there are a few simple ways that you can help prevent influenza. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, talks about her recommendations for natural flu prevention, including nasal irrigation with sprays or neti pots, drinking green tea, taking elderberry supplements throughout the season and keeping Boiron's Oscillococcinum on hand to take at the first signs of flu. And don't forget to wash your hands frequently, drink lots of water and keep coughs covered!

  • My 3 Favorite Natural Cough & Cold Remedies (Video)

    Want effective, natural cough and cold remedies on hand when members of the family are sick? Learn about Dr. Tieraona Low Dog's must-have natural medicines that have been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold, including zinc, umcka loabo and elderberry.

  • Prevent Respiratory Infection: Build Immunity Now!

    SnifflyboySeasons are shifting, school has started and germs are making their way around! The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) estimates 10-15 million viral respiratory infections affect Americans each year, with the season peaking in September and October.

    This year, a normally quiet virus strain—Enterovirus D68 (aka EV-D68)—has made headlines because it has caused the hospitalization of hundreds of children across the US. EV-D68 started appearing in force in the Midwest, but has now spread to Utah, Colorado and the northeastern states. In fact, more than 900 children in Denver, Colo. have visited the emergency room since August 18with a respiratory illness.

    There are many different strains of enteroviruses and generally they cause intense common cold symptoms. Though this particular strain, EV-D68, was first reported in the 1962, it has not seen an outbreak of this proportion until now. Top health officials at the CDC say this could be just the tip of the iceberg as far as the number of infections and hospital visits we will see this season.

    Other viruses such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)—common in the fall and winter months—can also infect young children and adults with low immunity, causing symptoms that last for 1-2 weeks and potentially pneumonia.

    Who is at risk and what are symptoms of respiratory virus and EV-D68?

    Anyone can be infected with a respiratory virus, but infants, children and teens are more susceptible because they haven’t built up immunity to the viruses. Children with asthma or prior respiratory problems are particularly vulnerable to EV-D68, which can cause severe symptoms or intensified breathing difficulties. Adults and the elderly with compromised immune systems are also at greater risk.

    Symptoms of respiratory virus infection include runny nose, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. Symptoms of EV-D68 start the same as other respiratory viruses, but the cough can become especially severe, including difficulty breathing or wheezing. It is sometimes also accompanied by fever and rash (note: experts recommend seeing a doctor immediately if you are experiencing this combination of symptoms).

    Prevention for respiratory viruses

    There is no specific conventional treatment for EV-D68 and there is currently no vaccination for it. Conventional medicine suggests getting plenty of rest and fluids and use of over-the-counter cold medicines.

    Practitioners of natural medicine, however, encourage patients to focus on building the immune system before sickness can take hold. The higher functioning your immune system is, the better chances you have of preventing contraction of EV-D68 and other germs going around this season. Beat the bug, don’t let the bug beat you!

    Follow these fundamentals to improve your chances at staying healthy:

    1) Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom or changing a diaper. Use hand sanitizer throughout the day for added protection.

    2) Avoid or limit your exposure to people showing symptoms of illness (including kissing, hugging, shaking hands and sharing food or utensils).

    3) Avoid or limit touching your face, mouth and eyes.

    4) Clean and disinfect surfaces often (e.g. countertops, toys, doorknobs, shared telephones).

    5) Get plenty of rest and decrease stress where possible, since stress can negatively affect your immunity.

    6) Eat a healthy, whole-foods diet balanced with bright-colored fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and adequate protein (avoid saturated fat, simple sugars and alcohol).

    7) Drink plenty of healthy fluids (e.g. water, herbal tea, electrolytes).

    8) Do your part and take care of yourself; stay home if you're not feeling well!


    Additionally, some of the products below can go a long way toward building your immune system.

    A high-potency multivitamin helps ensure adequate daily nutrition, especially for those that tend to stray from a whole-foods diet. Try New Chapter's One Daily for Adults and Rainbow Light's Kids One MultiStars for children.

    Vitamin D shows a broad range of immune-enhancing effects. Try Pharmaca brand for adults or kids.

    Herbal blends such as WishGarden's Daily Immune or Kick-Ass Immune for Adults or kids or Kick-it Immune for kids, which combine effective immune building and virus-resisting herbs.

    Elderberry is an antiviral that builds immunity, supports upper respiratory health and tastes good, too! Try Gaia Herbs' Black Elderberry Syrup for adults or kids.

    Vitamin C plays an important role in immune enhancement and is antiviral and antibacterial. Try vitamin C with bioflavonoids to help increase the beneficial effects of vitamin C. Try American Health's Ester C for adults or Bluebonnet's Super Earth Animalz Vitamin C for kids.

    Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that inhabit the gut, improving immunity and crowding out harmful bacteria. Try Udo’s Super 8 Hi-Potency Probiotic for adults or Pharmax's HLC Child for kids.

    Keep clean hands with Pharmaca's Organic Defense Hand Cleansing Spritz, which fights germs naturally without drying out your hands.

  • Is it a Cold or Allergies?

    SnifflesYou have a runny nose, cough and congestion…but is it a cold or allergies? It's a common question during summer, when pollen counts are high but colds are still going around. Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms, but causes—and treatments—are different for the two.


    Allergies happen when the immune system reacts to a substance it believes is harmful, called an allergen. During the immune reaction, histamine is released from immune cells, causing the typical symptoms of allergies: congestion, red and itchy eyes, nose and throat, coughing and sneezing.

    In severe cases, hives and rashes can develop. Allergens are specific to the individual and can be anything, including pollens, dust, food, grasses, mold and other environmental substances. Allergies are not contagious and symptoms can continue as long as a person is exposed to the allergen.

    Common colds

    Common colds are caused by hundreds of different viruses. Your immune system recognizes a virus and mounts an attack by producing different proteins and antibodies. The attack can result in common cold symptoms: sneezing, coughing and congestion. Colds are contagious and are spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (coughing and sneezing), and bodily contact such as shaking hands. Colds generally last less than 10 days.

    Sinus Infections

    Sinus infections develop when mucus builds up in the sinus cavities, creating a welcome environment for bacteria to collect and cause infection. The reason for the mucus build-up is because the nasal lining is unhealthy and inflamed, most often due to allergies, a cold or, less frequently, an underlying dental infection. Sinus infections can be acute or chronic, but allergies are the main cause for chronic sinus infections. Sinus infection symptoms include pressure around and behind the eyes and cheeks, runny/stuffy nose lasting more than a week, headache, fever, cough and thick green/yellow mucus.

    Is it an allergy or a cold?

    The most notable difference between a cold and allergies is the duration; a cold usually doesn’t last longer than 10 days. If your symptoms persist beyond two weeks, contact your doctor to determine if it could be allergies or something different such as a sinus infection.

    Allergies tend to have itchiness in the eyes, nose and throat where colds do not. Seasonally speaking, allergies (hay fever) predominate in the spring and summer, and colds predominate in the winter and fall.

    Here are a few other rules of thumb when it comes to determining the difference:

    Characteristic Common Cold Allergy Sinus Infection
    Pathogen Virus Allergen Bacteria
    Duration 3-14 days Indefinitely Acute or chronic
    Time of Year Most frequent in fall and winter, but possible anytime Any time, but seasonal allergies predominate in spring and summer Any time
    Symptom Onset 12-36 hours following exposure to germs Can begin immediately following exposure to allergen Usually a history of cold, allergies or dental infection prior to symptom onset
    Symptom Common Cold Allergy Sinus Infection
    Cough Often Sometimes Occasionally
    Aches Occasionally Never Occasionally
    Fatigue Occasionally Sometimes Occasionally
    Fever Rarely Never Sometimes
    Itchy, watery eyes Rarely Often Rarely
    Sore throat Often Occasionally Occasionally
    Runny or stuffy Nose Often; usually yellow mucus Often; usually clear Often; yellow or green mucus

    So I know what I’ve got. Now what? 

    Relief from the common cold

    The key to preventing and treating colds (and sinus infections) is boosting the immune system and avoiding germs. Remember to wash your hands often, drink plenty of liquids, avoid sugar (it impairs the immune system) and get plenty of rest. You can also try the following products:

    Vitamin C is antiviral and reduces the severity of symptoms and duration of a cold. Try MegaFood’s Daily C-Protect or American Health’s Ester-C.

    Zinc lozenges serve a dual purpose: they relieve sore throats and are a critical nutrient for optimal immune functioning. Try Nature’s Way’s Sambucus Organic Zinc Lozenges or Source Naturals’ Wellness Zinc Lozenges.

    Umcka, (aka South African Geranium or Umckaloaba) is very healing for a cough and shortens the duration and severity of a cold. Try Nature’s Way’s UmcKa ColdCare Original.

    Shop all cough & cold relief >

    Relief from sinus infections

    Anything that causes swelling of the sinuses can result in obstruction of drainage and a subsequent sinus infection. Keep the nasal passages healthy and drained to avoid infections—daily nasal irrigation with a neti pot can help to keep the passages clear—and don’t forget to support the immune system by using the products suggested for a common cold. For sinus support specifically, try these products:

    Pharmaca brand Sinus Relief Soother, a traditional Chinese formula for immediate sinus support and relief

    XClear’s Sinus Nasal Spray with Xylitol helps to wash, hydrate and moisturize the nasal passages.

    Mucolytics help to break down mucus. You can find them in Jarrow Formulas’ N-Acetyl-l-cysteine (N.A.C.), Enzymedica’s SerraGold or Jarrow Formulas’ Bromelain.

    Shop all sinus care >

    Relief from allergies

    Reducing exposure to allergens and stabilizing histamine reactions is key to preventing allergies. Some common allergens are pet dander, trees, pollen and grasses, dust mites, cockroaches and molds such as mildew and fungi.

    Try the following products to tame allergy symptoms:

    Plantiva’s AllerDx can help to quickly calm histamine reactions and improve nasal airflow.

    Ortho Molecular’s D-Hist provides nasal and sinus support by breaking down mucus and stabilizing cells that release histamine.

    Learn more about Dr. Tieraona Low Dog's recommendations for natural allergy relief >

    Shop all allergy relief >

  • Beyond Antibiotics: Natural Ways to Fight Ear Infections (Video)

    Ear infections can be a persistent problem in young children. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson talks about natural ways to prevent and treat ear infections without having to turn to antibiotics, which can exacerbate the cycle of infection. She covers homeopathic and herbal remedies, as well as long-term prevention with probiotics.

  • Natural Ways to Get Through Cold and Flu Season--Without OTC Meds

    Unfortunately, cold and flu season is upon us. Whether or not you choose to get a flu shot this year, you can definitely arm yourself and your family with smart preventive measures. While OTC meds can be helpful, it's worth trying some natural supplements and strategies to boost your immunity.

    Eat Organic
    Stock up on organic veggies and fruits, especially those naturally packed with vitamin C. Fruits like strawberries, papaya and kiwi are loaded with the cold-combative vitamin C. Superfoods like kale, red peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts also pack a powerful punch of “C” and will boost your immune system to fight off influenza’s unpleasant symptoms naturally.

    Use Supplements
    According to the National Institutes of Health, when taken in adequate amounts, vitamin D produces cathelicidin, a virus-killing protein. In general, 600 IU daily is the recommended adult daily dosage, but always consult your physician before adding any vitamin D supplements to your daily routine.

    Drink Water
    As always, in warm or cold weather, keep yourself hydrated to strengthen your body and boost your immune system. Generally 6-8 glasses of water per day is adequate, but you’ll know you are drinking enough water when your urine is clear or very pale yellow.

    Practice Preventive Hygiene
    One of the most effective ways to get through the cold and flu season without using OTC meds is to take preventive action by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. Mayo Clinic health experts recommend scrubbing your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. During peak flu season you can also reduce your risk of getting the flu or a cold by avoiding large crowds or places where people congregate in small spaces.

    Use Natural Alternatives
    Natural products such as essential oils are not only pleasant to the senses, they also serve as a natural antihistamine. Grade A essential oils can be applied as a soothing therapeutic rub or added to a diffuser to bring restorative elements into the air you breathe. And at the first sign of a sore throat, soothe it with a dose of elderberry syrup or brew a cup of elderberry tea, both a great source of vitamins B, C and A.

    Last but definitely not least, bolster your immune system with daily exercise, a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and wash your hands throughout the day. Be your own best advocate!

  • Demystifying the Flu

    Want to help prevent the flu? First you need to know a little about how flu and your body work. The flu is a viral infection that often occurs in the winter, for several reasons—because we don't get much exposure to sunlight and are often deficient in vitamin D, because we’re indoors consistently (and therefore passing around more germs) and because we’re more vulnerable to extreme changes in temperature.

    Infections first begin when you’re exposed to the virus through the secretions of coughs and sneezes of an already infected person. The virus then enters yourbody through the nose, eyes, throat and/or bronchial tubes and attaches itself to a cell wall there. It’s important to note that a virus is technically not a live organism, but rather a tiny particle that can only multiply within live cells. The virus particles must attack and take over the machinery of a host cell by injecting its own DNA, and diverting the work of the cell’s enzymes to its own duplication.

    Once the virus is fortified, it then kills the original host cell and is released into your system via the bloodstream. As this happens, the majority of flu symptoms begin. The lymph swells and the virus travels through the circulatory system, attaching to muscle cells and causing aches and pains. The immune system responds with inflammation, mucus and fatigue.

    While these symptoms may feel uncomfortable, they’re not necessarily bad for you. One great example of the vast intelligence of the body is that it responds to the infection by increasing the body temperature—creating a fever that helps fight the infection by slowing down the down the rate of viral reproduction. This immune response continues until the viruses are eliminated from the body and the lymph completes the purification of debris, dead cells, pathogens and waste.

    So how you do start feeling better?

    First, support your immune response instead of suppressing it, and you’ll move quickly through dis-ease and discomfort. Likewise, the sooner you take action against an infection, the easier it is to minimize its effects.

    The first 12-18 hours of the flu offers a window of opportunity to potentially stop the attack. At this stage, use herbs that support lymph and circulation and stimulate the immune response—like echinacea, stephania, yarrow, elderberry and flower and osha. Eat healthfully, and get to bed early. Products to try: Plantiva’s ImmuneDx, WishGarden Herbs' Kick-Ass Immune and Gaia Herbs’ Black Elderberry Syrup.

    If you didn’t catch it in time, it’s okay! But don’t suppress a fever right away. The fever is your body’s way to decrease viral duplication and encourage you to rest. At this stage you should focus on killing microbes, draining the lymph and moderating inflammation with herbs like garlic, cleavers, elderberry and elderflower, lemon balm and olive leaf extract. Products to try: Plantiva’s ColdDx, WishGarden Herbs' Lymph Mover or WishGarden Herbs' Kick-Ass Heroes (including Kick-Ass Immune, Biotic and Sinus, for all stages of illness). If you’re very uncomfortable, you can at least reduce inflammation and fever with natural or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

    Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water to flush out the body and loosen secretions (try coconut water or pure water, like from Eldorado Springs). To reduce discomfort from the fever, soak your feet in cool water and/or use a cool compress on your forehead. If the fever or aches are unbearable, consider herbal anti-inflammatories like New Chapter’s Zyflamend and sip chamomile, peppermint or elderflower tea or tincture.

    Continue to assist your lymph system and support your circulation. Add a hot cup of ginger tea to your regimen. Try gentle movement like stretching and hot baths to help move lymph, support circulation and ease discomfort. Try a bath with a half-cup baking soda (to alkalize, calm and deodorize) and 2 cups Epsom salts to cleanse the lymphatics, relax sore muscles and soften skin.

    Get plenty of rest. This means both physically and emotionally! Too much exercise can actually place more stress on your body and suppress your immune system. Limit activity to a simple walk if you’re coming down with a cold, since small amounts of exercise will facilitate lymph movement and circulation.

    Avoid milk products, grains and sugar, all of which can promote mucus and inflammation and deplete the immune system. Avoid alcohol and restrict chemical over-the-counter medications that suppress symptoms (sometimes half an adult dose can ease symptoms!).

    Stay home to avoid infecting others, and wash your hands and linens frequently. Small measures like these help prevent the virus from spreading to your community and family. Keep hand sanitizers, like those from Dr. Bronner’s or CleanWell, close at hand.

    If you do have the flu, take the time to take good care of yourself and remember that your health is a priority. Feel better soon!

  • The Ins and Outs of Immunity-Boosting Herbs

    Ever wonder what is it about Echinacea that helps fight colds? Or why practitioners often recommend elderberry? Anne Salazar-Dunbar, herbalist and lead practitioner at our La Jolla store, tells us about these immune-boosting herbs.

    Echinacea’s ability to boost the immune system’s performance has been extensively documented over the years. Research suggests that the presence of polysaccharides in echinacea help prevent viruses from entering the cells, and its alkaloids are active in fighting bacteria and fungal infections. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have shown a significant reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when echinacea is taken in the early stages of a cold.

    Most commonly seen as elderberry, a variety of preparations can be made from the elder plant. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, parts of the elder tree have long been used for pain, swelling, infections, coughs and skin conditions. Elder contains ursolic acid, which helps reduce inflammation in the body, especially with reference to the respiratory system. Different formulations can help tone the mucosal lining of the inner nose and throat—increasing resistance to infection in those areas of the body—or even help reduce the severity of allergic reactions.

    Chinese medicine links astragalus to an ability to warm and tone the wei qi, or the protective energy that circulates in the human body just beneath the skin. As such, astragalus can help the body quickly adapt to external influences and changes in temperature, leaving it less vulnerable to the elements. Similar to ginseng, astragalus also helps energize the body, strengthening its ability to resist cold and flu. Astragalus has also been extensively researched in cancer patients, and seems to help patients recover more quickly from the side effects of chemotherapy.

    Wild Indigo
    This herb features anti-microbial and immune-stimulating properties, and is especially beneficial in quelling upper-respiratory infections. It’s also thought to help fight against lymphatic disorders, and in combination with an herb like Echinacea, to cure chronic viral conditions.

    Speak with a practitioner at Pharmaca about how different herbal remedies can help you this cold and flu season. 

  • Cold and Flu Relief Now

    You probably already know the ins and out of boosting your immunity. But what happens when you just can’t escape cold and flu season? Take comfort in these remedies that can speed the recovery process.

    First, the basics. “The average cold runs 5-7 days, but you can get back on your feet more quickly if you take your herbs, get good sleep and drink lots of water,” says Nancy Brillault, herbalist at our Carlsbad, Calif. store. “Watch your food intake as well, since you don’t want your digestive system working overtime when the immune system is really what needs help.” Instead, opt for hydrating drinks and soups and other simple foods that are easy to digest. It’s also a good idea to avoid dairy, she says, since that can boost mucus production.

    If you’re prone to colds, Nancy recommends taking maintenance doses of two things during cold and flu season: 1-2 tablets of Source Naturals Wellness Formula (“It’s been around forever for a reason!” she says) and 1 Oil of Oregano capsule (try Pharmaca brand or Gaia Herbs). Together they’ll help minimize your chance for sickness.

    Once cold symptoms rear their ugly heads, Nancy recommends getting started on Rainbow Light’s Counter Attack to boost immunity quickly. “But if you already have more serious symptoms, New Chapter’s Sinus Take Care—which really covers the whole respiratory system—can shorten the duration.” She’s also a big fan of WishGarden’s Kick-Ass Immune at the start of symptoms. Just make sure you take it as recommended, she says, 2-3 droppersful every couple hours.

    Sore throat
    “Infection usually starts in the throat,” says Nancy. “So if you can get the bacteria or virus knocked out in the throat, the sickness won’t be as severe in the rest of the body.” She likes Honey Gardens’ Propolis Throat Spray, which combines raw honey with soothing herbs, or Natura’s Throat and Gland Spray. For someone with very early symptoms of a sore throat, often when the pain is radiating to the ears, she also recommends a homeopathic remedy called Phytolacca Decandra.

    For coughing, Nancy often recommends Gaia Herbs’ Respiratory Defense because it combines herbs with essential oils, which can be really healing, she says. “I’ll often recommend inhaling vapors from eucalyptus essential oil, or Pharmaca’s Breathe Clear blend. “Put a drop or two in your bathtub, and as soon as you’re done put the diluted oil on your warm skin.” You can also add it to a foot soak, she says, since things are absorbed really quickly through the feet.

    “I also love Planetary Herbals’ Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup,” says Nancy. “It’s really good for coughs as well as all the cold symptoms.” For homeopathic remedies, Nancy turns to homeopathic Drosera Rotundifolia for dry, non-productive hacking coughs, or Spongia Tosta for more wet, productive coughs.

    “If the cough hangs on, or if you’re prone to that chronic coughing, then the Deep Lung by WishGarden is amazing,” Nancy says.

    Sniffles and sneezes
    Aside from stocking up on tissues—and Weleda Skin Food to soothe chapped skin around the nose—Nancy often recommends WishGarden’s Kick-Ass Sinus to both support immunity and fight respiratory infections. But she also loves homeopathic remedies for these symptoms. “Hydrastis Canadensis is homeopathic and really good for post-nasal drip,” she says. She also recommends homeopathic Kali Bichromicum for when the mucus is really thick.

    Aches and chills
    “You generally know you have flu pretty quickly when you’ve got these symptoms,” says Nancy. “So you definitely want to take Oscillococcinum right away.” This homeopathic remedy has been shown to reduce the duration of symptoms, and can even be taken half a vial at a time, once in the morning and once at night.

    One last word of advice? “Just slow down.” says Nancy. “A lot of people get sick because of stress, so I think sometimes just slowing down a little bit can give your body the rest it needs.”

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