According to the CDC, the peak of flu season can occur anytime between November and March. Now that February is here, rest assured that we only have a couple more months of hoarding tissues and doing extra laundry loads due to snotty sleeves (hey, we've all been there).
Whether you've got a case of the sniffles or are crossing your fingers you're in the clear, there are natural and science-backed remedies to start feeling better and boost your immune system. Plus, if you need to stay under the covers and a trip to the store is out of the question, there's a good chance you already have one of these four items in your kitchen.
The Mayo Clinic advises that a gargle of salt water can ease a scratchy throat, a common side effect of a cold or the flu. The salt actually pulls excess liquid out of inflamed throat tissues, making them less irritated and painful. When you gargle, you loosen the thick mucus trapped in the back of the throat that makes you feel "stuffed up" or have difficulty breathing. When you spit the salty mixture out, any lingering throat bacteria and fungi are released.
In one randomized study, researchers observed around 400 healthy volunteers for 60 days during cold and flu season. Some of the subjects were told to gargle three times a day while others were not. At the end of the study, the gargling group had a nearly 40 percent decrease in throat infections compared to those who didn't gargle.
Want to try it for yourself? Mix one fourth to one half of a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of water, per the Mayo Clinic's recommendation. Get to gargling!
Honey is anti-inflammatory, so it's helpful for calming your throat, glands, and stomach if they've become inflamed from tummy troubles, the flu, or a cold. Honey is also capable of fighting cold and flu infections due to its antibacterial properties.
Sometimes taking a more apothecary approach may treat symptoms more effectively than heading to the drugstore. Buckwheat honey was proven to treat a cough better than dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant found in Robitussin and Zicam) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine found in Benadryl and Dramamine) in a 2007 medical study.
You can find buckwheat honey at your local health foods store or order it online. We're fans of slathering it on toast or mixing it into oatmeal. Enjoying a spoonful is always an option, too.
Elderberry, a dark berry that comes from the elder plant, was first written about in Ancient Greece by Hippocrates (AKA "the father of medicine"). He described the elderberry as "his medicine chest" due to its ability to treat a variety of ailments. Years later, elderberry is still known as one of the most effective antiviral herbs.
In a 2004 medical study, 60 patients experiencing flu-like symptoms were given either elderberry syrup or a placebo syrup, four times daily for five days straight. On average, those who took the elderberry syrup were relieved of their symptoms four days earlier than those who received the placebo syrup.
You can usually find elderberry in supplement or liquid form. If you decide to try out a syrup, experiment by adding the recommended dose to your morning smoothie to up your immunity.
While garlic can add a not-so-nice kick to your breath, it can really help kick a cold or the flu. Studies show that consuming garlic can boost your immune system and increase your white blood cell count. These cells are largely responsible for fighting viruses like the flu or a cold.
For example, one study gave 146 participants either a capsule filled with garlic or a placebo capsule over three months. The group that received the garlic pill had a 63 percent lower chance of getting a cold and their colds were 70 percent shorter in duration.
Give garlic a shot in supplement form, just like the study participants. Adding a few cloves to your favorite dishes is also a great choice. Just make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.
Of course, we always suggest visiting your doctor if your symptoms are severe or aren't improving. But don't forget: Mother Nature's got your back. No matter whether you head down the medicine aisle or produce aisle, there's no harm in adding a dollop of honey to your tea (or some extra garlic on those fries).