Preventing and Treating Colds & Flu

Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Or are they? Is it the germ or the health of the host that leads to disease, or the symptoms of a cold? Really, it’s both! Dr Elson Haas shares some tips on preventing and treating viral illnesses.

There is always ‘something going around’. Lowered resistance to those ever-present germs can result not only from compromised immunity, but also from the state of congestion (stagnation) resulting from a poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and inadequate sleep. All these influence our vulnerability to viral illnesses.

Another thing to add to the list of factors that make you more susceptible to common seasonal head colds, earaches, sore throats and bronchitis is sugar in your drinks and foods, which has been found to decrease the number of white blood cells and weaken their ability to fight germs. A deficiency of nutrients such as protein, vitamins A and C and zinc also plays a role, so taking nutritional and herbal supplements may have a protective effect.


As the nights grow longer, and in colder and damper weather, the body tends to condense wastes and cleanse excess mucus and congestion from the tissues in order to make them less stagnant and improve circulation. This allows us to be more in harmony with the external climate and season. In natural medicine, we call this process cleansing or detoxification, but it often looks and acts like a cold or flu.

In many healing systems, these illnesses are considered detoxification – the body’s cleansing of waste to make it healthier. Know how to support this process and move through those symptoms quickly with simple remedies such as drinking more water, teas and soups, and taking increased amounts of vitamins C and A, Echinacea and goldenseal, garlic (in food and as capsules) and ginger tea. Other detoxification herbs may also help, although they may temporarily intensify these cleansing effects. Exercise and sweating also help the body clear toxins, but use your common sense, since exercise can be counterproductive if your body is depleted or fighting an infection. Make sure you have a balanced exercise plan for the year. In this season, your exercise plan may bring you indoors to health clubs or your home.


Getting a seasonal flu jab has become commonplace in recent years. The vaccine was developed to reduce the serious consequences of severe flu in people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly or the infirm, but the shots are now promoted to everyone. That is a potential concern. It’s definitely not my idea of preventive medicine. Basically, the vaccine involves giving a small dose of a number of viruses to trick the immune system into making antibodies against them, so that when we are exposed to them again, our bodies are prepared to counteract them. The problem is that there are many more viruses around than those in any given year’s flu vaccine, and also some people get sick with mini-flu infections from the shot. This winter in the US, I saw so many sick people with flu symptoms, more than ever before, and many had had a flu shot.

A deeper question involves the longer-term effects on the immune system and what happens to people over time when they have the ‘energetic pattern’ of all those viruses in their system through immunisation. Over the past three and a half decades there has clearly been an increase in allergic disorders, asthma and auto-immune problems that I believe could be associated in part with the growing use of immunisations, as well as from increasing exposure to chemicals. My way of preventing colds and flu does not involve injecting foreign substances into my body, but taking care of myself and keeping my body clean and healthy.

Should you have a flu vaccination?

My suggestions are that vaccination is probably appropriate for people with chronic illness or severe asthma; for the elderly, in whom a case of the flu might carry a risk of prolonged illness or death; if you have been prone to the flu in previous years; or if you can’t take the chance of getting ill because of your life demands. I do not suggest giving flu shots to basically healthy people. Taking care of your health and keeping your immunity strong is the best way to prevent colds and flu’s.


To a large extent, prevention involves common sense personal care and positive lifestyle habits. Vital and energised bodies don’t get sick as easily as stressed, toxic and tired bodies. To prevent most illnesses, it’s important to eat a wholesome and balanced diet, get regular exercise and proper sleep, and learn to deal healthfully with daily challenges.

Some specific tips

  • Avoid excess sugar, alcohol and chemicals in your diet, as these can weaken immune function.
  • Take a basic multivitamin/mineral appropriate for your age and gender.
  • Take additional vitamin C, at least 500 to 1 000 mg once or twice a day.
  • If you’re particularly prone to colds and flu, consider taking thymus extract (animal glandular) or a combination formula containing thymus (maybe also including spleen and liver) along with other immune-supporting nutrients.
  • If you are vegetarian or don’t wish to use animal glandulars, consider taking maitake or reishi mushroom extracts a couple of times a day between meals.
  • Herbals and immune supporters that may protect you against colds and flu include Echinacea, Astragalus, Siberian ginseng, garlic, co-enzyme Q10 and DMG (dimethlyglycine).
  • You can’t hold your breath all winter, but do minimise your exposure to people who are ill, be careful about the spread of germs, and wash your hands frequently during the day to protect yourself because the germs do often play a role and why take the risk?


  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water, fresh juices and hot herbal teas. Exercise to sweat if you have enough energy. Take a sauna or steam, as the increase in body heat may stimulate your immune activity.
  • Consume lots of vegetable soup with added ginger and garlic. Press a few cloves of fresh garlic into your bowl of soup, as fresh garlic has better antibiotic effects. Homemade chicken soup is also known to be helpful.
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Take a break from your daily grind and let go of stress.
  • Take 1 000 mg (even 2 000 mg) of vitamin C every hour or two. If your bowels get loose, cut back on your vitamin C intake.
  • Vitamin A (not beta-carotene) can help fight off early infections as it supports immune action. I suggest a high-dose, short-course treatment of 100 000 IU daily, taken in three doses for three days, then 50 000 IU a day for two days, then 10 000 IU twice daily for a few days to a week. Note: Vitamin A can be toxic in high amounts over time, but most people can easily handle these higher amounts when they are sick.
  • Echinacea and goldenseal tinctures or capsules taken three to four times a day may be helpful in knocking out early infections if you start as soon as you notice the first symptoms. Again, remember not to take these herbs for longer than three weeks at a time.
  • Zinc lozenges may be helpful for sore throats. For coughs and sore throats, also try slowly savouring and then swallowing a mixture of honey (1 teaspoon) with 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • For chest congestion, drink ginger root tea (simmer a few slices of root in a cup or two of water). Also, use some of the hot ginger tea to make a compress and place the soaked cloth over your upper chest. This is warming (which tends to stimulate blood circulation) and helps break up congestion.
  • Consider the ‘master cleanser’ drink (lemonade) and a few days of juice cleansing at the onset; this can flush the congestion and germs and support your healing.
  • Try other antiviral herbs besides Echinacea and garlic. These include elderberry (good for fevers), liquorice and Astragalus. Grapefruit seed extract and olive leaf also have some antiviral/antibiotic effects.


Prevention is better than cure, and the time to treat a cold or flu is when you don’t have it. Help your body look after itself, and remember that the same herbs and lifestyle habits that keep viral illnesses at bay will also help you get rid of them faster. If you do get sick this winter, listen to your body, take time out, and cosset yourself. You might even find that you enjoy the experience!


Please follow and like us:

Preventing and Treating Colds & Flu

Dr Elson Haas
About The Author
- He is a practising physician of Integrated Medicine, and Medical Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California. He is the author of several books including the classic preventive medicine text Staying Healthy with the Seasons (fully revised 20th Anniversary 2003 edition).