I know we are nearing the end of flu season, but with everyone prepping for COVID-19, I HAD to write a post sharing all the ways we prevent catching colds and the flu in our house.
You’ve been hearing a lot about washing hands- and YES, washing your hands correctly, and sanitizing after possible exposure is VITAL.
But, there is SO MUCH MORE YOU CAN DO. Evidence-based stuff people.
Let’s get our Immune Systems kicking!!
So I’ve got a BUNCH of tips to share with you on preventing getting a cold- both ways to avoid actually being exposed to a virus, and ways to boost up your immune system so if you are exposed you don’t come down with a full version (or any!).
I’m also going to share my tips on how to stop a cold or flu in its tracks if you do contract it. Save this post y’all– it is going to cover ALL THE THINGS.
Please leave a comment at the end of the blog if you can think of anything I am missing from this list!!
Hey, everybody, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not even a naturopath. I am a woman with two masters degrees who loves to research and read studies. You should always talk with your doctor, naturopath, or wise healer about any new pills or supplements you decide to start. Read more about me here!
I got pregnant by doing everything evidence based to boost fertility, when the doctors said there was no hope (and failed to mention any of the research that could have helped me). So, yeah, I tend to do a lot of research.
Preventing Illness when Trying to Conceive or Pregnant
I am making sure to include everything that is friendly for trying to conceive and fertility- but also for EVERYONE!
This is a fertility blog, but most of my readers are interested in how to stay HEALTHY and WELL all year long, and given the questions and comments in my facebook groups, they are especially interested in how to avoid illness in a safe, non-toxic way.
(just want to know about getting pregnant? Start with my 79 Ways I got Happier, Healthier, and Pregnant!)
This becomes even more important once my readers become pregnant and they are worried about illness while pregnant.
Plus, you know, NO ONE wants to get sick.
Anyway, whenever I am talking about supplements, I’ve talked about whether or not they are considered safe in pregnancy. If you are trying to conceive, that would include the two week wait/luteal period.
This blog post most definitely has affiliate links in it. It took me about ten hours to compile this post and link to all the research studies backing everything up. I sell no products or services of my own. If you decide to buy something I recommend, please consider clicking through one of my links to help support this blog and my family! This is how I am able to blog. Thank you!
How to avoid exposure to a virus/minimize transmission
- Wash your hands as SOON as you come inside your house, EVERY TIME you come inside. Also, of course, before, during, and after preparing or eating food, caring for someone who is sick, using the bathroom, touching your face, etc., Wet hands with water, apply soap, and scrub (not in the water stream) for at least 20 seconds. Any simple soap will do, for your own health, choose one without triclosan, phthalates, parabens, or sodium laureth sulfate. We use a simple home-made mix of Dr. Bronner’s Unscented and filtered water and put into a simple pump. If you want to add an affordable version of Thieves essential oils you can, but it isn’t necessary (it is 1/4 the price of the direct sales brands and the same thing, y’all).
- When out and about, carry a non-toxic hand sanitizer with you. A spray and/or wipe works well- I carry both and use them liberally during flu season. Every single time we get in the car after being in a store or library, etc., I spray or wipe everyone’s hands. Every time. At a restaurant, before we eat, everyone gets spray. On a plane, I’ll wipe down all surfaces with a wipe. I buy these sprays in bulk, and I love these wipes. Make sure you still wash your hands with soap and water when you can, the sprays and wipes are not quite as good.
- Avoid touching all the germy things and sanitize if you have touched them: doorknobs, light switches, elevator buttons, gasoline dispenser, grocery carts, etc. Use the sanitizing wipes when you come into the store to wipe everything down that you will touch. Remember to regularly sanitize your cell phone as you probably touch it in between touching these things.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and teach your children to do the same. I know it is hard with little ones, but we have to try!
- Sanitize the sh** out of everything. When we stopped using toxic cleaners, we had no sanitizing spray to use. I had been eyeing Force of Nature, the only in-home electrolyzed water system that is EPA registered as a disinfectant and sanitizer that kills 99.99% of germs, including Salmonella, Norovirus, Listeria, STAPH, MRSA, Pseudomonas & Influenza A when used as directed. It is certified as a disinfectant for use in hospitals, schools, daycares, vet clinics, etc. It works by electrolyzing water, vinegar, and salt and turning it into Hypochlorous acid, a natural disinfectant and sanitizer that is as powerful as bleach, but with no harmful chemicals, residues, or fumes. I thought this was too good to be true and didn’t buy it until my best friend who is a high school chemistry teacher came to visit and confirmed that this is legit. She ordered hers that night, I ordered mine the next day! Get yours now!
- Try to keep your house humidity at above 43%. Maintaining indoor humidity at those levels significantly reduces transmission of flu particles. Scientists are trying to convince hospitals to keep a 40%-60% humidity standard to reduce airborne transmissions. We use this humidity gauge in our house to make sure we’re in the right window. Humidifiers are nasty beasts that harbor mold and mildew and create illness, so be careful if you choose to use one. We do a lot of boiling water for tea and soup, and keeping doors open while showering, etc. You can set pots or bowls of hot water around the house to boost humidity as well. (just be careful if you have kids/pets).
- Limit exposure. I.e., if you are really worried, avoid large crowds, and big, germy places like grocery stores and the library! Make good choices, people. We make good use of Amazon Fresh delivery, Amazon Subscribe & Save, Thrive Market Delivery, Butcher Box Delivery, and many other places we order from to avoid going to stores during flu season. But I sure am sad not to shop in person! Don’t worry, we do plenty of local eating and shopping when flu season isn’t at our door!
- Take your shoes off at the door. Not only is this good for preventing germ spread, it also leaves dangerous pesticides and other toxins outside of your house!
How to Boost Your Immune System So You Are Less Likely to Catch a Virus; Preventative Actions
Please remember that talking to your doctor, naturopath, or other wise healer about your supplement choices is important, especially if you have a health condition.
- Vitamin D & Sunshine! Extensive research links Vitamin D to immune system maintenance, and unfortunately most of us are Vitamin D deficient. For a long time I just tried to get 15 minutes a day of sunshine, but when I had my second baby I started supplementing with Vitamin D as my doctor had been recommending all along. Some favorite options: NOW Vitamin D-3 5000 IU sourced from Lanolin; Doctor’s Best D3 2500IU sourced from Lichen (soy-free, and vegan), Seeking Health 2,000 IU liquid drops skip the capsule altogether, Lanolin based.
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night. I ain’t just whistling Dixie over here people, extensive research links sleep to how healthy our immune system is. The key is to get enough, but not too much, and to have a regular sleep cycle, for example, always going to sleep around 10 pm and waking around 6 am (for example).
- Take a really good Probiotic. Not all probiotics are the same, and not all bacterial strains in probiotics are proven to boost immunity, but some are. And, not all probiotics actually have what they say in them and/or don’t have strains clinically-verified to do anything. I take a probiotic called Seed Daily Synbiotic with 24 probiotic strains in clinically-verified dosages that are linked to benefits beyond gut health, including gut immune function, host immune function, gut barrier integrity, oxidative stress, skin health, heart health, and reproductive health. They also include prebiotics, test everything for pesticides, avoid plastics, and are working to save the bees. I LOVE this company and LOVE working with them. Use code TOMAKEAMOMMY for 15% off.
- Eat healthy! The research says this means ditch sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, eat a lot of green veggies and fruits (low sugar fruits if you’re struggling with infertility). If you are already eating a whole foods, mostly plant-based diet, like the fertility diet, or even something like Paleo, Mediteranean, or Keto, with no processed food and tons of veggies, you are probably doing well! Here’s an article on diet and immune response from Harvard, and here is one on how important it is to be well nourished to recover quickly from infections.
- Daily green smoothie with superfoods. It is really, really hard to get several servings of leafy greens a day unless you add them to a smoothie! In my fertility smoothie I add either lettuce or lightly steamed spinach or kale, and I also add wheatgrass or spirulina for extra greens. My husband adds a greens powder to his male fertility smoothie for extra green power. The extra nutrients bulk up your immune system. Green smoothies are fine in pregnancy, just skip the spirulina and wheatgrass.
- Exercise. Legit, physical activity helps flush bacteria from lungs and airways, and it boosts your white blood cell’s ability to fight disease. This is so legit, it’s on Medline.gov. (Want something more technical? Here is one of the foundational research articles on exercise and the immune system). Honestly, even 15 minutes in the sun walking is going to give you a boost. Get outside every day and get moving.
- Stress-Reduction. This is huge for all walks of people, in all places in life for boosting wellness. Stress weakens the immune system, it is well documented and everyone agrees including the APA, and the Cleveland Clinic. And, it is incredibly important while trying to conceive. I know, easier said than done, huh? Here, I’m going to give you one quick way to reduce your stress quickly- Dedicate at least 20 minutes a day to achieving the relaxation response through some kind of guided visualization or meditation. This is easy. Just listen to a yoga nidra or something (Circle & Bloom if trying to conceive, pregnant, or kicking cancer in the butt), and you’ll see an improvement quickly. Check out all my ideas for mind-body work for fertility here, and all my posts here.
- Stop smoking. Do you smoke? You should stop. Smoking messes up your immune system, promotes infection, lung disease, and cancer.
How to Quickly Nip a Cold or Flu in the BUD!
Okay, some of this is evidence based, and some of this is more like traditional medicine woman herbalist approach, but when I am getting sick I throw EVERYTHING at the virus!! It works very well; ever since I changed my life with everything in the first two lists, and started implementing these below, I’ve rarely had a cold or flu really lay me low. I still get the occasional cold, of course, but it does not last long and the symptoms are generally very mild.
Remember that herbal supplements are MEDICINE and before starting anything new you may want to consult your doctor, naturopath, or other wise healers and inner intuition. This is ESPECIALLY important if you have an identified health condition.
Please be aware that if you have an auto-immune disorder, or are going through chemotherapy or radiation, your doctors may NOT WANT you to stimulate your immune system, so some of these herbal remedies may be out. I am not a doctor- I am just sharing my research and what we do in my home!
Also, if it sounds like my medicine cabinet is about near to burst, you are quite right. We reorganize all the time, and its still packed full.
- Rest, rest, rest. And then rest some more. Want to know why you are still sick two weeks after you got sick? You forgot to netflix and chill. Make some tea, put your feet up, and binge, baby. Make sure to sleep plenty also! Mayo clinic approved!
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I know, it seems simple, but you can flush out so many viruses simply by drinking a ton of water and healing liquids like bone broth, tea, the lemon-ginger drink, etc. Also Mayo Clinic Approved!
- Take Elderberry. Black Elderberry Extract has been shown to boost immune system activation in healthy individuals and has been shown to boost recovery from the flu. The brand name Sambucol is the one with the most research behind it, but presumably as long as you find a good Black Elderberry Extract it should work similarly. We use Sambucol liquid for my husband and I, and Sambucol gummies for our kids! Officially there is no research on elderberry in pregnancy, so your doctor will tell you to avoid it. Personally, when I was diagnosed with the flu in pregnancy, I took a child’s dose of Sambucol. I would 100% take an adult dose when trying to conceive.
- Fire Cider– This stuff is amazing but not research based. Some of those individual ingredients ARE evidence based for helping to recover from respiratory ailments, but not all. It is made with raw Apple Cider Vinegar and raw organic ginger, horseradish, onions, black pepper, garlic, turmeric, lemons, oranges, habanero peppers, and black pepper. It burns!!!! I do a couple shots of this throughout the day whenever I am sick. Watch out if you have stomach issues! It is just food, so okay in pregnancy unless it makes you nauseous or gives you heartburn.
- Umcka– This is Pelargonium sidoides root extract, a homeopathic plant (South African Geranium) that is used as a cold and flu medicine. It has been clinically shown to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. They also have a kids version. Here’s another write-up in case you aren’t convinced! This hasn’t been studied in pregnancy.
- Raw Garlic. I eat this chopped very finely in honey, or mixed with avacado, or on a raw apple to make it palatable. Garlic has been shown in multiple studies to have significant anti-viral properties. Your grandma was right. I definitely used this in pregnancy, but watch out for heartburn!
- Lemon-Ginger Tonic. This is a special fertility drink and liver cleanse, but it is absolutely my go-to when I start to get sick! Safe in pregnancy (some may be concerned with ginger levels, I am not personally) and while breastfeeding as well.
- Magnesium is another research-based way to lower inflammation and boost a healthy immune response. The problem is that most of the oral magnesium you can take may give you the runs! I use a daily magnesium lotion to help with absorption and avoid excessive bathroom trips! This is safe and I used it in pregnancy for leg cramps!
- Manuka Honey. Usually when trying to conceive I avoid any sweeteners- including honey. But when I am trying to beat a cold or flu, I am no holds barred, and will happily swallow a tablespoon of Manuka honey. This is 100% research based, and here is a nice literature review of all the antimicrobial benefits of manuka honey. Honey is good in pregnancy, phew!
- Lots of hot tea. It can be SOOOO hard when trying to conceive to find safe teas. When I am sick I will often just do hot lemon and ginger to avoid having to choose a tea. The best is taking raw ginger and steeping it in a teapot for 20-30 minutes. Sooo good, and it gets the phlegm moving and you sweating out the illness quickly! Mayo Clinic Agrees! Everyone gets to drink hot tea!
- Boiron Oscillococcinum Homeopathic Medicine. So a traditional MD is going to tell you that homeopathic medicine is just sugar pills, but you can sure as heck bet I keep this flu remedy in my cabinet at all times during flu season! Just read the Amazon reviews, and you’ll see why :-). There is little research to support this, although some studies suggest it might shorten the length of the illness. Most importantly, the studies found no harm. This has not been studied in pregnant or breastfeeding women, but since it is homeopathic and has no measurable amount of any active ingredient, it should be fine.
- Zinc Lozenges– Although many studies show that zinc lozenges shorten the length of cold or flu symptoms, some studies show no effect. Here is one that showed reduction of symptoms. There are potential issues with introducing extra zinc, and there are some studies that show it might actually lengthen colds. Also, zinc is problematic for some people like those with immunodeficiency, asthma, or chronic illness. And it might give you a bad taste in your mouth or make you nauseous. Or other weird side effects. I’m not going to lie, after doing this research I’m giving the side-eye to the zinc lozenges in my cabinet. Talk with your doctor about zinc in pregnancy.
- Echinacea. Another research based herb that has been shown to interfere with viral entry into cells in the avian flu, reducing risks of complications and adverse events in influenza, and general anti-viral properties. The preparation of the roots differs widely, and thus the benefits of stuff you will buy will differ widely. The problem is we don’t have good research on what the best species, active ingredient, or amount is. I generally take this in a blend (see “Immune Boosting Herbs”), but here are Amazon’s Best Sellers in Echinacea. WATCH out, echinacea is linked to problems with fertility, although I can’t find the study to link to, here is an old New York Times article about it. However, studies show that it is SAFE in pregnancy!
- Bone Broth. Deeply nourishing, and similar to the chicken soup your grandma made, bone broth delivers just what you need when you are sick. Not evidence based for immunity. We make our own, but you can also buy the powder and add it to a hot beverage. Everyone gets to drink bone broth!
- Selenium– Yet another evidence based supplement that boosts immune system wellness, selenium is clinically shown to augment the immune function and mediate resistance to viral infections. You can find selenium in brazil nuts, but the amounts vary wildly (don’t eat more than 4 a day or you can risk poisoning yourself!). Or you can take a patented pharmaceutical grade selenium that has more than 40 published studies behind it. Selenium also is good for hypothyroidism, female and male fertility, cardiovascular health, and potentially reducing the risk of some cancers. Ideally you want to be taking this BEFORE you get sick, but you can also up your dosage when you get ill. Don’t take more than 400 mcg a day it can make you sick!!!! Talk with your doctor about selenium in pregnancy.
- Cordyceps and other mushrooms. Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms. Another evidenced based tip- mushrooms are good for anti-viral activity! Cordyceps in particular, seems to have good antiviral properties. Other good mushrooms for anti-viral activity are shitake and enokitake. I really like this source for organic cordyceps because they test for heavy metals and pesticides. Dietary mushrooms are fine in pregnancy, but I’d ask your doctor before taking any pills.
- Liposomal Vitamin C. This stuff is incredible. The most bioavailable Vitamin C out there, and unfortunately it costs a ton. We use this Vitamin C spray more regularly in flu season, and save the Liposomal stuff for when we’re fighting something off. Vitamin C itself has a long evidence-based history of reducing cold and flu severity – but you need large amounts. Another great food-based natural source of Vitamin C is Baobab, and my favorite source for this is Organic Baobab Powder! Talk with your doctor about using Vitamin C supplements in pregnancy.
- Immune Boosting Herbs– I love WishGarden’s Immune Boosters and stock three different varieties in the closet- Kick Ass Immune for hubby, Immune Boost for Pregnancy (I also use this when breastfeeding), and Kick-It Immune for Kids. People also LOVE the Source Naturals Wellness Formula, which I do also keep in my cabinet. These combine echinacea, elderberry, with other herbs, so it could reduce the number of products you stock up on. I would only use the Immune Boost for Pregnancy while pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Thieves or OnGuard Essential Oils– I’ll admit there’s no way I would ever spend the money on name brand essential oils- instead I buy this version by NOW Nature’s Shield that is basically the same thing. It is 100% pure and undiluted, just like the fancy brands. You can make your own as well, you’re looking for clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, and rosemary. I would not use this in pregnancy.
- Resveratrol. A magic fertility supplement, resveratrol is also an anti-viral, which has been seen in mice as a safe way to lower the risks of Influenza A, modulate human immune cell functions, and potentially lower inflammation. It is also part of a treatment for asthma and COPD. This is the Resveratrol that I take every day. Not recommended in pregnancy.
- Açaí – Several studies suggest that açaí can boost innate immune responses, and reduce inflammation due to anti-oxident properties. I love this acaí powder because they test regularly for pesticides and heavy metals. Unstudied in pregnancy.
- Bronchial Herbal Remedies. I keep these in my cabinet in case of colds or flus that go into our lungs. I am not sure on the safety of these during breastfeeding, I would avoid in pregnancy. I keep ClearLungs by Ridgecrest herbals, and Deep Lung by WishGarden Herbs. This has got your lung herbs like mullein, yerba santa, elecampane, yarrow, etc. As far as I know, these are not evidence based.
- Other stuff that I don’t do that my readers suggested: I have not researched these for immune boosting, but I have readers who swear by them- research and use on your own! Collodial Silver, Celery Juice, Iodine, Ashwagandha, St. John’s Wort, Lions Mane.
Whew!! That’s it!! What else do you do? What is YOUR grandma’s secret recipe that you always make when you get sick? Leave a note in the comment, and let’s share our collective wisdom and stay healthy!!