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  • Alexandra Inman, RD & Stephanie Dang, RD

How to Stay Healthy this Cold and Flu Season

With summer coming to an end, we are fast approaching cold and flu season. Here are our top tips to stay healthy this flu season and, if you do happen to get sick, how to decrease the duration and severity of your illness.

Firstly, what is the cold and flu? How are they different?

The common cold is a mild upper respiratory illness caused by a variety of different viruses. It is the most frequent illness in the developed world. Due to their frequency and economic burden, significant research has been conducted on how to reduce their frequency, duration, and severity. Common signs and symptoms are:

  • Rhinitis (irritation/inflammation of mucous membrane inside nasal passages)

  • Nasal congestion, discharge, obstruction, sneezing

  • Headache or sinus pressure

  • Sore throat

  • Cough

  • Malaise (feeling of being unwell)

  • Low-grade fever, more commonly in children

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye), sometimes

The flu (short for “influenza”) is an acute respiratory illness caused by Influenza A or Influenza B viruses, and spreads seasonally worldwide. For the general, healthy population the flu will be an uncomplicated illness resolving in 2-5 days. However, the flu can be potentially life-threatening for certain populations, such as those who are immuno-compromised, the elderly, etc. Signs and symptoms can be similar to the common cold, and can vary widely from person to person making identification of the flu more difficult. Flu symptoms may include:

  • Nasal congestion, discharge, obstruction, sneezing

  • Non-productive cough

  • Sore throat

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Myalgia (muscle pain)

  • Anorexia (poor appetite)

  • Fatigue, weakness, dizziness

  • Vomiting and diarrhea, more commonly in children

The easiest way to beat a cold or flu is prevention. Optimizing your health and immune system will help minimize your risk of becoming sick in the first place. So how do you do that?

  • Wash your hands frequently

  • Sneeze or cough into facial tissue or your elbow

  • Get adequate rest

  • Manage your stress

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet

  • Exercise

  • Avoid cigarettes and limit alcohol

  • Get the flu vaccination annually

  • Avoid contact with infected people, when able

Even if you follow the above recommendations, there is still a chance that you will succumb to a cold or flu. If you do, here are our top tips to reduce the duration and severity of the illness:

1. Get adequate rest

Anyone with children knows that when a child is sick, all they want to do is sleep it off. As adults, we try our best to continue on with our busy lives and going to work, we forget that the first thing a sick body needs is rest! If you cannot incorporate a nap into your day, try going to bed earlier in the evening! If you can, take 1 or 2 sick days to prevent the illness from getting worse - and preventing the spread of the illness to others.

2. Drink extra fluids

It can be easy to become dehydrated when sick, especially if you have a fever. Not only that, but adequate fluid intake can help with thinning out/loosening mucus and making it easier to get rid of. Water, tea, coffee, milk or alternatives, soups, smoothies, etc. all count towards your daily fluid intake!

3. Try hot fluids with honey

Hot fluids can help relieve a sore or itchy throat and the steam from the mug can help clear nasal congestion, as well as counting towards your overall fluid intake for the day. Honey has both antioxidant and antimicrobial properties which can help your immune system fight off unwanted bacteria and viruses. In one study, reviewed by The World Health Organization, they found that kids (already sick) who were given honey, showed more improvement than the kids who were not given honey as a treatment. (It is important to remember that honey should be avoided in children less than 1 year of age due to risk of botulism.) Honey can also act as a great cough suppressant and can help soothe sore throats. Feeling nauseous? Try adding fresh ginger to your hot tea, as ginger is a natural anti-emetic!

4. Vitamin D

Isn’t it interesting that most people get colds and flu during the fall and winter seasons when there is less sunlight? Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, plays a key role in many body functions including the immune system. Researchers found that people with low levels of vitamin D in their blood were significantly more likely to develop a respiratory illness. It is likely that a supplement is needed in order to reap all of the benefits of vitamin D, supplement doses vary from person to person. Click here to read our blog post all about vitamin D and check with your healthcare practitioner about supplementation.

5. Vitamin C

It’s been a long standing piece of advice if you’re sick, reach for some vitamin C! Finally, there is emerging research to back this claim up. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and plays a vital role in immune defense mechanisms to help your body fight off infection. While reaching for more vegetables and fruit (often the best sources of vitamin C) is always a good idea, there is new evidence that high doses of vitamin C (1-2 grams per day* for adults) can help reduce the duration and severity of your cold symptoms.

6. Zinc

Zinc has been shown to help with decreasing the length of your cold by up to 33%! High food sources of zinc include meat, seafood, nuts/seeds, whole grains, and legumes. If you want to try a supplement, discuss with your healthcare practitioner first.

7. Flavonoids

Flavonoids, which provide vegetables and fruit their colour, have been found to reduce your chance of getting infections, especially infections of the upper respiratory tract. A review found flavonoids are effective in boosting immune system function due to their anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-oxidant properties. Flavonoids are found in vegetables and fruit, but particularly rich sources include blueberries, dark chocolate, and green tea.

8. Try echinacea

Echinacea extract has been shown to help with recovery from illness as well as preventing the common cold. A study found that, over a period of 4 months, supplementation with echinacea did help with treatment and prevention. Recommended adult dosage for echinacea is 2400 milligrams per day* for prevention and 4000 milligrams per day* for treatment. You can purchase echinacea as a tablet, liquid, cough drop, and even as a tea!

*It is important to discuss with your healthcare practitioner prior to starting or changing any supplements to ensure that they are safe and effective for you.

We hope these tips help you stay healthy this cold and flu season! What are your go-to home remedies for when you or your family members are sick? Drop us a line in the comments section below!


1. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials (Ernst, E., Pittler, M. H., 2000)

2. Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study (Cohen, H., Rozen, J., Kristal, H., Laks, Y., Berkovitch, M., Uziel, Y., Kozer, E., Pomeranz, A., Efrat, H., 2012)

3. Vitamin C and Immune Function (Carr, A., Maggini, S., 2017)

4. Effect of Flavonoids on Upper Respiratory Tract Infections and Immune Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (Somerville, V., Braakhuis, A., Hopkins, W., 2016)

5. Cough and Cold Remedies for the treatment of Acute Respiratory Infections In Young Children (World Health Organization, 2001)

6. Self-Care for Common Colds (Rondanelli, M., Miccono, A., Lamburghini, S., Avanzato, I., Riva, A., Allegrini, P., Faliva, M., Peroni, G., Nichetti, M., Perna, S., 2018)

7. Zinc for the common cold (Singh, M., Das, R., 2013)

8. The common cold in adults: Diagnosis and physical features (UpToDate, accessed October 1, 2018).

9. Clinical manifestations of seasonal influenza in adults (UpToDate, accessed October 1, 2018)

10. Vitamin D, Colds, & The Flu (Doug Cook, RD

11. Dietary Reference Intakes, Health Canada (

12 Echinacea purpurea, Health Canada (

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