7 Tips To Recover From A Cold Quickly + What Not To Do, From Experts
Wintertime can be a cozy, festive season, but it's also the time of year for runny noses, sniffles, and sneezes (aka cold and flu season). It's no secret that colds are unpleasant, so if you're looking to speed up the recovery process, these expert-approved tips and tricks may help.
How to get over a cold, fast:
Get more zinc.
There are plenty of essential vitamins and minerals that help support immune functioning. Zinc is one of them1. The mineral has been shown to support proper immune functioning by activating T-lymphocytes2, a major player in the adaptive immune system and critical for our immune response, attacking infected cells.
There are plenty of common foods that contain high levels of zinc, including chicken, chickpeas, and cashews, to name a few. To address a dietary gap or to consume a guaranteed amount, zinc can also be taken as a supplement.
Get more vitamin C.
This probably comes as no surprise, but vitamin C is important for immune health. In addition to its essential role in immune cell development and function, the antioxidant neutralizes free radicals to help immune cells do their job properly, Joanna Foley, R.D., CLT, previously told mbg. Vitamin C can be found in citrus foods and some cruciferous veggies, and it can also be taken in supplement form.
Get plenty of rest.
Resting when we're not feeling well goes beyond giving our minds and bodies a break. The process actually helps us to recover from a cold. "In order to clear a rhinovirus from our system, we need boatloads of sleep to support our immune system," integrative immunologist Heather Moday, M.D., says. "One of the reasons is that excess cortisol secretion (our big stress hormone) weakens our immunity and makes it hard to heal."
Elderberry may have conflicting reviews in terms of effectiveness, but studies have indicated it may limit activity against pathogenic bacteria, influenza, and the common cold, integrative medicine doctor Alejandra Carrasco, M.D., previously told mbg.
What's more, "elderberries are an excellent source of antioxidants, which help to maintain a strong immune system," functional medicine doctor Tiffany Lester, M.D., previously told mbg. "Especially against viruses."
It can be taken in gummy or syrup supplement form, but look out for added sugars when purchasing elderberry. If you're eating the berries themselves, Carrasco recommends cooking them to kill any toxic substances that may reside in an unripe berry.
Eat and drink for your immune system.
Along with all the zinc and vitamin-C-rich foods, there are plenty of other foods and drinks that can support healthy immune functioning, promote rest, and ease the symptoms of a cold. Think nutrient-rich veggies like spinach3, red peppers4, and mushrooms; fruits like kiwi, watermelon5, and acai; spices like turmeric and ginger; plus fermented foods. (Read: 23 of the best immune-supporting foods and nine of the best drinks to sip on when you're sick for more great options. )
Clear out your sinuses.
There are a few ways to clear out your sinuses at home. One commonly recommended tool is the neti pot with water, sea salt, and a pinch of baking soda. "By irrigating the nasal passages and sinuses, you can wash out bacteria and viruses, hydrate swollen and irritated membranes, and also deliver soothing and natural remedies to the mucus membranes," Moday says.
Another helpful way to clear out the sinuses is with steam. Integrative doctor Erika Schwartz, M.D., suggests using a humidifier in the bedroom while sleeping and taking a steamy shower once or twice a day.
Adequate hydration supports immune functioning by keeping the mucous membranes lubricated. This keeps viruses and bacteria from latching onto the tissue, Roxanna Namavar, D.O., and Catherine Waldrop, M.D., explain.
Want extra support? Consider adding honey to your water. Studies have shown that honey is an effective cough suppressant and may promote better sleep in children over the age of 2. Plus, honey contains antioxidants that help lower oxidative stress and inflammation. "Through this mechanism, honey can contribute to reinforcing our immune system and could potentially shorten the length of a cold," registered dietitian Titilayo Ayanwola, MPH, R.D., L.D., said.
What not to do:
1. Don't take antibiotics.
Unless a doctor prescribes antibiotics for a specific bacterial infection (unrelated to the cold), there's no reason to be taking antibiotics. "Colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not treat viruses but lower your resistance to bacterial infections," Schwartz explains. "Best to let your body treat itself," she adds.
While exercising is one way to support overall health, overdoing it at the gym while you're sick won't help with recovery. And, unfortunately, the idea that we can sweat out a cold is actually a myth.
If light movement feels good to you, walking or taking a gentle yoga practice may be OK, but family medicine physician David Cutler, M.D., says anything more strenuous "can cause you to sweat more, become more dehydrated, and expend energy on exercise instead of on fighting off the illness." Overall, prioritizing rest and hydration is more beneficial when you're sick than getting in a quick workout.
How to stop a cold when you feel it coming on.
Keeping the immune system supported every day, not just during cold and flu season, can help protect the body against future colds. To do that, Schwartz suggests sleeping eight hours each night, staying hydrated, moving your body regularly, and eating a diet high in lean proteins, healthy fats, and veggies. You can also consider immune-essential targeted nutrients and bioactives like vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, lactoferrin, and probiotics.
Stress management is another helpful tool for supporting both the gut and the immune system, so engaging in meditation, yoga, or other stress-relieving techniques may keep a cold at bay.
Avoiding unnecessary inflammatory foods or drinks is an essential component to offsetting a cold. Things like refined sugars, processed foods, alcohol, and tobacco lower the immune response and will only lengthen the duration of the cold, Schwartz tells mbg.
The bottom line.
Anytime you feel unwell and become concerned, it's a good idea to consult with a doctor. If your cold symptoms seem manageable, however, some of these at-home remedies may be beneficial. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper hydration and a nutrient-rich diet can help support immune functioning and may make you more prepared when the season of sniffles comes around.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.