This week’s column comes to you from the comfort of my bed as I fight off the very nasty flu that is going around Los Angeles at the moment. So I figured what better time than now to teach you all my favorite and most effective strategies for getting rid of a winter virus, or any cold or flu for that matter. I’ve been applying these strategies for three days now and am so much better than I was at the outset. Here we go!
Though we tend to think of ginger for its prominence in Asian cooking, it also happens to be one of the most potently antiviral substances on planet earth. This rad little root will calm nausea, reduce fever (by stimulating sweating), reduce chills, and thin mucus in the sinuses and bronchial passages. It is strongly active against inflammatory proteins and also stops the bacteria that cause stomach flus to stick to the intestinal walls. Fresh ginger juice (straight up if you’re hardcore like me) or mixed into a tea formula and drank at the immediate onset of a flu or cold can reduce the illness time dramatically, and if taken while the flu or cold is in full swing will lower symptoms and shorten the duration of infection. This may go without saying, but ginger juice is STRONG. It’ll put hair on your chest (or “stings the nostrils” a là Ron Burgundy). Be brave, you can do this.
To make ginger juice you just need a juicer, or access to one. When I was really sick before I owned my juicer, I literally bought two pounds of ginger from the grocery store, walked into a juice bar, and asked them to juice it for me. After staring at me for a good thirty seconds, the girl agreed to do it, and though I offered to pay for her trouble, she didn’t charge me. That’s always an option if you don’t have a home juicer or a friend who has one and don’t mind looking like a weirdo to a juice bar employee. Once you juice your two pounds of ginger, either sip on it throughout the day or make a tea. Below is herbalist Stephen Buhner’s recipe for ginger root tea. (Note: you MUST use fresh ginger root. According to Buhner, the dried root is useless, and I believe him–he’s a plant genius). Drink 4-6 cups daily.
¼ cup fresh ginger juice
12 oz hot water
1 tblsp raw honey
One quarter lime (lemon is okay I think)
⅛ tsp cayenne
If you do not have access to a juicer and you don’t want to bring ginger into a juice bar (fair enough), you can also finely chop or grate the ginger root and steep it in 12 ounces of hot water for a few hours, keeping the lid on. Drink that straight.
Long before it was a fake red candy, licorice was a strong antiviral and synergist (i.e. a drug that helps increase the action of other drugs). Licorice, or rather its active constituent glycyrrhizin, stops viruses from replicating through a complex process I won’t get into here, but just believe me. It also has an added benefit of supporting the adrenal glands and if you’re taking antibiotics, it will help them work better. You shouldn’t take licorice if you’re pregnant or have high blood pressure, and you shouldn’t take it for longer than four weeks – it’s super safe in short time frames but over long periods of time can be too much. I’d recommend no more than ten days. You can buy a tincture bottle of licorice online or at places like Whole Foods. The general recommended dose is 30-60 drops up to three times per day. It also tastes sweet and is way more palatable than ginger, if that helps.
When we’re talking about symptom reduction with any type of infection, the main thing you always want to be doing is modulating the immune response. Notice that I said “modulating,” not “increasing.” I’m sure you have heard from the collective human thought machine that we should always be “boosting” the immune system, but this is not necessarily a good idea – in fact most deadly infections / reactions come from a dangerously overactive immune response (read: sepsis, ebola, anaphylaxis). Without getting too detailed, when overstimulated by infection, the body can release what’s called a cytokine storm, and this is not a situation you want to experience. In more minor forms, most of the symptoms we have during flus, colds, bacterial and other diseases comes not from the bugs themselves but the inflammatory response by the immune system.
What zinc does that’s so badass is essentially go into cells and stop this inflammatory process dead in its tracks. At the first sign of a cold or flu, start taking zinc daily. I like this zinc supplement because it contains all the zinc you need (in an easier to absorb chelated form) plus B6, taurine, molybdenum, and other minerals that support metabolic pathways and liver function.
REST & DESTRESS
I know that this one probably sounds pretty obvious, but it’s astounding to me how many people try to power through colds and flus, keep going to work, doing regular life, while they’re in the throes of a virus. But please, for your sake (and everyone else’s who you could infect), STAY HOME. Pushing your body while you’re sick will only lengthen the time that the symptoms last, and it will kick your immune system down even harder. Stay in bed, binge TV shows on your laptop, drink lemon water, drink clear broths, take hot baths, eat protein and vegetables, and let your friends or special someone take care of you if you’re too sick to move. Do NOT try to go to work (especially if you’re in the food service or other customer-facing industries), do NOT beat yourself up for giving yourself a few days at home, and do not drink any alcohol. For real. I’ve done it and it’s pointless. Hangovers are a billion times worse with a cold or flu; even if you think you’re on the mend, wait until you’re completely well to introduce booze again. Lay off caffeine and other stimulants, refined sugar (you should be doing this anyway), and eat very clean. Wait a day or two after you start feeling totally well to head back into your routine because if you jump the gun too soon you’ll be knocked back in bed.