You are here

Ask Health Coach Maria: How do you Naturally Treat a Cold?

February 28, 2014

Main Image

Hi, I’m Maria Marlowe, a Certified Health Coach and author of Detox without the Deprivation. I love to explain why you are what you eat and have made it my mission to help the world get healthy through better nutrition. In the “Ask Health Coach Maria” series, I answer frequently asked questions that relate to health and wellness. Have a burning health question? Ask me about it here.

No one likes being sick, and many cold medicine at the drugstore are filled with potentially harmful ingredients. Luckily, Mother Nature has given us a number of natural cold remedies to get us feeling better again quickly—and no, I’m not talking about vitamin C!

While most people reach for vitamin C when the sniffles coming on, extensive research shows us that it doesn’t actually shorten the length or decrease the severity of a cold. It’s certainly useful for supporting the immune system to prevent a cold, but once you have one, it won’t be much help.

Additionally, keep in mind that the common cold is a virus, not a bacterial infection, so it can’t be treated effectively with antibiotics. Instead, when you’re starting to feel under the weather, try one of these natural remedies to shorten your cold’s duration and severity:  

1. Eat Zinc-Rich Foods

Zinc is presently believed to be the most effective remedy against the common cold. Studies show that adequate zinc consumption not only prevents the onset of colds and flu, but also decreases the duration of them by a day or more, if taken at the onset of symptoms.

While zinc is found in many foods, those who avoid meat, in particular, can be at risk for a zinc deficiency. The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 15 mg/day.

Foods with high zinc content are pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, cashews, black beans, spinach, cocoa, and shiitake mushrooms, as well as oysters, crab, and other seafood,

2. Sprinkle on Turmeric

Turmeric is my absolute favorite spice. It is really the superhero in your spice cabinet, as more and more research shows us there is not much this baby can’t do.

Regardless of how you’re feeling, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties make it a spice to sprinkle on your food daily. When you’re under the weather, though, its healing powers shine even brighter, since the anti-viral properties of turmeric help your immune system fight colds off effectively.

Turmeric pairs well with black pepper and cumin, and can be used in a variety of dishes, from veggie stir-frys to grains to salads. If you’re new to turmeric, try this Warm & Spicy Kale with Shitake Mushrooms.

3. Add in Ginger

Studies have found that fresh ginger effectively fights respiratory viruses. The same results were not found in powdered form, so be sure to use ginger in fresh form, whether you’re cooking or making tea.  You can prepare a simple tea by steeping a few slices of fresh ginger in hot water for about 10 minutes.

You can also try my Never Get Sick Soup recipe, which contains both turmeric and ginger and always knocks my cold out within 48 hours when I take it at the earliest sign of a cold!

4. Try Elderberry Extract

Black elderberry juice has been shown to inhibit the growth of influenza viruses and shorten the duration of symptoms, while enhancing antibody levels against the virus. It also works to reduce congestion and swelling in the sinuses.

Elderberry is available as a liquid, syrup, or tincture, as well as in lozenge and  capsule form.

A few other natural cold remedies, which are supported by more anecdotal evidence than scientific evidence, include oil of oregano and coconut oil, both of which contain anti-viral properties. So, while not widely studied, in theory, they should help your body fight the cold virus more effectively. Plus, they both boast loads of other health benefits, so it can’t hurt to try!

What are some of your favorite natural cold remedies? Share with us in the comments below.

Maria Marlowe is a Certified Health Coach and regular Wellness Today Contributor. Get your health question answered in her next column by sending her an email at