Flu can give you similar symptoms to the common cold, as well as fever, headaches, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting. Fast action on your part can mitigate some of the misery caused by flu.

At the first sign of a sniffle, turn to these remedies, which can unstuff your head, boost your immune system and speed your illness on its way.

Initial treatments for flu

  • At the first sign of flu symptoms, take 20-30 drops of elderberry tincture 3 or 4 times a day for 3 days. Elderberry has been used in Europe for centuries to fight viruses, and one research study found that people who took it recovered from flu significantly faster than those who didn't. You can buy elderberry tincture from herbalists and from some specialty health food shops and herb shops. Look for a product containing between 500mg and 1g dried herb equivalent. You can also eat fresh elderberries when the fruit is soft and black. (Caution: Do not use elder products if you are pregnant.)
     
  • Naturopaths recommend Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy for reducing the severity of flu symptoms. It is sold online and in some pharmacies and health food shops under the brand name Boiron. Be sure to use it within 12 to 48 hours of the first appearance of your symptoms. Take according to the manufacturer's instructions.
     
  • Try N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a form of the amino acid cysteine. It helps to thin and loosen mucus and reduce flu symptoms. Take according to manufacturer's instructions.
     
  • As soon as you notice cold or flu symptoms, start taking 200mg of vitamin C 5 times a day, with food. A review of 30 clinical trials found that vitamin C definitely shortens the duration of a cold. Look for a brand with added bioflavonoids, which have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of vitamin C by as much as 35 per cent, but if you develop diarrhoea, cut down on the dose. Eat foods high in vitamin C.
     
  • Take astragalus capsules or tablets according to the manufacturer's instructions until you recover. Look for a product that claims to provide an equivalent of between 1-2.5g of the dried herb. This ancient Chinese herb stimulates the immune system and seems to be highly effective at fighting colds and flu. To prevent a relapse, continue taking the herb for another week once your symptoms have gone.
     
  • Drink plenty of water–8 or more 250ml glasses a day–to keep mucous membranes moist and relieve symptoms.

Natural flu remedies

  • To help keep mucus loose, stay in a moist, warm, well-ventilated room. To keep the air in your bedroom moist, place bowls of water near heaters (in winter) or run a humidifier. Or open the lid of an electric kettle and let the water boil, which will fill the room with steam.
     
  • Chicken soup, the natural remedy of natural remedies, offers more than comfort for colds and flu. Modern scientists have confirmed that chicken soup stops certain white blood cells–neutrophils–from congregating and causing inflammation, which in turn triggers the body to produce copious amounts of mucus. It also thins mucus more effectively than plain hot water.
     
  • Add fresh, chopped garlic to chicken soup. The Egyptian pharaohs used garlic to fight infection and its healing powers are legendary. Among its active compounds are allicin and allin, shown in test-tube studies to kill germs outright. Garlic also appears to stimulate the release of natural killer cells, part of the human immune system's arsenal of germ fighters.
     
  • A rub made with essential oils will help soothe the aches and pains that often come with a cold or flu. Mix 20 drops of eucalyptus and 5 of peppermint with 125ml sweet almond oil in a small, capped bottle and shake vigorously. Massage a small amount to the chest and back.

 

How to treat a stiff neck

  • To ease a stiff neck, wet a hand towel, wring it out, put it in a plastic bag and microwave it for 60 seconds. Or simply dip a towel in very hot water and squeeze it out. Check that it's not too hot, then wrap the towel around your shoulders and neck and lie down. (Put something under you to keep the bed dry). To lock in the heat, wrap a dry towel around the wet one.
     
  • Lavender has anti-inflammatory and cooling properties and its refreshing scent helps to ease headaches caused by congestion. Add 5 drops lavender essential oil to a basin of warm water, soak a face washer in the liquid and use it to wipe over your face, the back of your neck, insides of elbows and the backs of your knees when you're feeling feverish and fretful.
     
  • Tiger Balm may help ease congestion and relax a stiff neck. Massage it into the chest and back and take care not to get it anywhere near your eyes, as it has as strong burning sensation.

 

The best flu cure: Prevention

  • Consider having a yearly flu vaccine. Health authorities advise it, especially for people with chronic heart or kidney disease; chronic lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema; or those with diabetes or who have depressed immunity for any reason, or people over the age of 65. Have the flu vaccination as early as possible, as it takes at least two weeks for it to work.
     
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, and don't touch your face with unwashed hands. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser gel to use when you're out and about. It may seem rude, but try to avoid shaking hands with anyone who has a cold.
     
  • In the winter, use a cool-mist humidifier to counteract the drying effects of central heating and keep indoor air moist.
     
  • Practise relaxation techniques all year round, but especially during the cold and flu season. Research suggests that the more stress you're under, the more likely you are to become ill.
     
  • Get some rest. Research shows that even if you are marginally sleep-deprived, your resistance to viruses declines dramatically. In one study, certain immune cells that stalk viral infections dropped by 30 per cent in people who got just slightly less sleep than usual in a single night.
     
  • Making love keeps you well. To keep colds and flu at bay, make love at least once a week. One study found that men and women who were sexually active at least that often had higher levels of immune-system molecules, called immunoglobulin A, which play an important role in shielding the mucous membranes from invaders, than people who weren't.

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