Episode 98: Naturally Boosting Your Immune System To Prevent Colds And Flu

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Thanks for joining us for episode 98 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering the following question from a listener:

“I was wondering if you can talk about your recommendations around natural cold care, boosting your immune system, and the best way to support yourself after you’ve been sick? Everyone around me seems to have the flu or a cold and I’ve been trying really hard to keep my immune system up. Any suggestions would be great!”

During cold and flu season it seems there is always someone around us that’s sick. But trying to keep our immune system healthy is no small task in our hectic world and eventually at some point we all find ourselves scrambling to find relief from the symptoms.

Today’s information packed episode is all about natural strategies to prevent colds and flu and and the best ways to recover if you do become sick. Join us as we discuss immunity boosting foods and nutrients, share specific probiotic and supplement recommendations, and remind you of the vital role rest plays in recovering from illness.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • How chicken soup and broth can prevent and treat upper respiratory illnesses
  • How the allicin compound found in garlic and onions is effective against viruses and bacteria
  • The three teas that have anti-inflammatory, mucus inhibiting, and antiviral effects
  • Why honey should be included in a cold and flu recovery plan
  • The importance of Vitamin A and zinc to your immune system and which foods are good sources
  • Three specific strains of probiotic bacteria that research has shown useful in preventing illness
  • How prebiotics prevent infections as well as maintain gut health
  • The role of vitamin C in reducing severity of colds
  • The specific type of zinc and recommended product to take to actually treat a cold
  • Supplements helpful for recovering from cold and flu
  • The vital role of rest in recovering from illness


Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone, welcome to episode 98 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hi guys!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidelines that combine science with common sense. You can find me at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com and Kelsey at KelseyKinney.com

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and share our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

We’ve recently changed the format of the show so that any updates we have to share will happen at the end of the episode. If you do enjoy our updates, be sure to listen through to the end in case we have anything to share with you. Let us know if you like this new format by contacting us through the contact tab on our website, theancestralrds.com.

Kelsey:If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. While you’re in there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well! And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to theancestralrds.com to submit a health-related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Laura: Today on the show we’re going to be discussing natural cold care.

Before we get into our question for the day, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Laura:Welcome back everyone. Here’s our question for today’s show:

“I was wondering if you can talk about your recommendations around natural cold care, boosting your immune system, and the best way to support yourself after you’ve been sick? Everyone around me seems to have the flu or a cold and I’ve been trying really hard to keep my immune system up. Any suggestions would be great!”

Laura:I feel like everybody has been sick this year. I don’t know what it is. It’s funny because we’ve had such nice weather. I really don’t understand why everyone has had either the flu, either a stomach flu or some kind of upper respiratory thing. You were just sick just very recently. I know I was sick a couple of…I almost want to say it was a week and a half ago or two weeks ago. I’ve been sick a lot this year. I think a lot of that has to do with stress, but for some reason it seems like everybody has been super sick.

I feel like this is a relevant question. Hopefully by the time this episode publishes it’s still relevant to people. But either way it’s something that we hope will help you prepare for next year’s cold season as well.

When we talk about colds, I think it’s important to understand what a cold is because that will affect the way that you actually go about treating it. Colds are typically caused by transient infections at the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract which is usually your nasal passages, your sinuses, maybe it gets into your lungs, but that’s usually going to be something more like bronchitis.

Colds are caused by viruses. Flu which is another type of significant illness that people are getting right now, that’s a specific virus called influenza. Generally when we’re talking about cold and flu, we’re talking about viruses. There could be some type of bacterial infection that people misinterpret as colds, but I don’t think that’s as common as you might think.

Most people that are getting sick if they go to the clinic or doctor’s office they’ll find out that it’s a viral issue and that they can’t do anything really to treat it. That can be a little frustrating when you’re feeling really sick and you want something that will make you get better quickly. But things like antibiotics which is a treatment for bacterial infections won’t help with a flu.

When we’re looking at things to help you get over and prevent colds and flus, we want to try to focus on things that are antiviral specifically, anti-inflammatory as well since most of the symptoms that come during these upper respiratory tract viral infections most of the symptoms that you’re having for that are from the inflammatory response. Even though you want to have some inflammation since that’s how our immune system works, if you modulate it will help cut down on some of the more severe symptoms and help you feel better faster. Antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and then anything that’s specifically promotes mucosal immunity will help with both the recovery from colds and flus and prevention.

Kelsey do you think it was a cold that you are just recently getting over?

Kelsey:Yeah, for sure. You guys might be able to hear it a little bit in my voice and certainly in my sinuses. I’m still a little bit stuffed up. Just like you in the last probably six months I’ve been sick quite often which is really, really unusual for me actually. I used to be one of those people that I just never got colds at all really. For some reason this past year my body has decided to turn on me and now I get every cold that I come in contact with.

Yeah, I think it was a cold, certainty not a flu. But my husband at the beginning of the year got some stomach virus and I was so happy to not have gotten that because it did not look fun. But this time around it was a cold and I did some things actually which we’ll talk about a little bit later that I feel like cut down a little bit on the severity and the amount of time that I was stuck sitting around with symptoms.

The last few times I’ve had a cold like this, and actually it’s been pretty much the exact same type of cold the last couple times I’ve gotten sick, I was kind of laid out at least feeling some type of symptom from it for maybe a week and a half, which is I feel like a long time for a cold.

Laura:I’m going to blame our weddings for why we’re getting sick this year.

Kelsey:Yeah, seriously.

Laura:I don’t think it’s an age thing since you’re younger than me. I think that’s the really only common factor that we have is that we’re both stressed about planning a wedding. You’re not anymore, so now you have no excuse.

Kelsey:I’ve got a program I’m building. That’s what I’m blaming this time around, for sure. I’ve been working way, way too much.

Laura:Yeah and the joys of self-employment is nobody telling you to stop when you’re not feeling well.


Laura:Let’s start by talking about what kind of foods you can focus on for boosting your immune system. Again we’re looking at treating colds and flu when they’re happening as well as preventing these things from occurring. Either if you are around someone that’s sick, if your significant other, spouse, roommate, anyone who’s around you is sick and you’re trying to prevent getting what they have, or if you start to feel something coming on and you want to kick it really fast without getting the symptoms, all of these foods are appropriate for that.

The first thing I feel like everyone always thinks of when we think of food that is immune boosting is chicken soup, or chicken broth, or broth in general. Broth has been a remedy for infections for hundreds if not thousands of years. There’s a lot very ancient writings about broth as being a treatment for illnesses.

It’s something that I think has this kind of folklore type atmosphere around it when people think of chicken soup, they’re like that’s just an old wives’ tale that that actually is what you should do for a cold. But it’s cool because there’s actually a lot of research that exists that supports the use of chicken soup and chicken broth specifically for preventing and treating upper respiratory infections.

Chicken soup, there’s a couple of research studies that we’ll link to in the show notes, but there’s two things that it seems to help with more so than just the nutrients found in chicken or the vegetables in the soup. They’ve actually tried to separate the different ingredients to see if it’s specific ingredients or it’s the soup itself, and it does turn out to be that the soup itself has some special extra benefit.

Basically chicken soup reduces upper respiratory inflammation by inhibiting neutrophil migration in the mucosa. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that attack infections and when they get overly migrated into the mucosa, that’s when you get a lot of those symptoms of congestion, and pain, and inflammation, and all of that. That’s one thing that chicken soup helps with.

It also appears to increase something called mucus velocity which actually helps clear out congestion and stuffiness. If you think about when you’re stuffed up and you’re not really producing mucus that’s being cleared, you’re just kind of super congested and not able to really get rid of it, a lot of times you think about taking nasal decongestants or different medications that are mucus thinners, like I think Mucinex is a mucus thinner. Chicken broth actually has a similar effect where it will thin out and help get rid of that congestion. When they actually compared chicken broth to other hot beverages, which drinking hot beverages actually does help with that somewhat, but the chicken broth seemed to actually increase the mucus velocity even more.

Hot chicken broth and chicken soup would probably be one of the best things to eat when you’re getting sick. I’d say generally making that yourself is better than getting a store bought can or box of chicken broth. A lot of those chicken broths that are sold on the self are not really the same thing as a homemade bone broth from chicken carcasses.

The one product I think that could actually be a good substitute for if you can’t make it yourself or if you’re sick and you don’t feel like making bone broth is Kettle and Fire the company that we had sponsor our show a couple months ago. They actually have a chicken broth that they have just come out with. I haven’t tried it yet, I have a box that’s going to be delivered. But I’ve heard that it’s actually very similar if not even better sometimes than homemade chicken broth. If you are getting sick or if you want to have some chicken broth on hand because their product is shelf stable, you can get that and have it available just in case you do start to get sick and that way you don’t have to run out and get chicken carcasses to make chicken broth.

Kelsey:Right. That’s the last thing I want to do when I’m sick. I’m thinking about it.

Laura:I barely like making broth when I’m well let alone being sick.

Kelsey:Yeah, right? I tend to get ramen from a local place which I think has two benefits. One is that I think it’s the real deal kind of broth because when I put it in the fridge it gelatinizes and it totally looks like it when you make it at home. I don’t think it’s chicken broth. I assume it’s a pork broth just because there’s pork in it as well, but I’m not entirely sure. And then it’s also kind of spicy, which I think for a lot of people helps to clear out a lot of that congestion and mucus. I find that combination to be especially helpful.

Laura:I think the spiciness is definitely something that helps with congestion. I’m not sure if it has any sort of immune boosting properties.And it also just tastes good. I remember I was sick a couple months ago and I was having Pho from a Vietnamese place. I might have not said that right, but I really tried.

Kelsey:You did, I think you did.

Laura:Oh is it? Okay. But I just remember eating a ton of it and ordering more from the restaurant because I was like this is literally the only thing I can taste right now because I’m so congested.


Laura:If nothing else, it makes it actually have a flavor when you’re super stuffy. But I do think chicken broth is one of those things that it is, even though it’s kind of old wives’ tale type wisdom, it actually does show benefit in the research. I like to recommend that as a food, or a beverage, or kind of both. You can drink chicken broth on its own or you can make the soup as a meal and it’s a little bit easier to eat than maybe if you’re not feeling up to chewing a lot of stuff.


Laura:The soup kind of makes everything a little softer.

Something else to add to your soup or your broth would be garlic and onions. Garlic and onions contain a…I guess it’s a compound. I don’t know if it’s a fat or what kind of thing it is. It’s an antimicrobial called allicin. Not like the name Allison, but the compound allicin. It’s in garlic and onions and there’s a lot of research that shows that it has an ability to slow and also kill a variety of viruses and bacteria.

Those research studies are done in vitro. In vitro just means basically in a test tube. But there is some evidence that it could actually show efficacy in vivo, which means in people or animals, just in life basically.

The clinical trial in vivo that I saw was using a high dose of extracted allicin which is about 20 times the amount in a single garlic clove. That was helpful to prevent colds. That’s not something you’re going to be able to really do with just fresh garlic. But I would say a combination of using some fresh garlic and onion chopped up or crushed in your soup would be a good thing to get some natural allicin.

And then if you really want to pump up the potency you can actually get allicin as a supplement and use that to get that really high dose that you’d be getting from the 20 times the amount of a single clove. Unless you’re the kind of person that can tolerate 20 cloves of garlic, which I don’t think most people can, you’d really want to use a supplement for that.

Kelsey:Do you know off the top of your head, because I don’t actually, if allicin is only in raw when you chop it up or crush it? I’m wondering what the effect of putting in a hot soup would have on that compound. I just don’t know.

Laura:I’m not totally sure about the heat sensitivity of allicin. I know that from a fresh garlic or onion bulb, you need to crush or slice it because the allicin is formed by the enzyme that’s released when the plant cells get crushed.

As far as fresh garlic is concerned, I know some people suggest swallowing whole cloves of garlic, which whether or not that’s a good idea, I think depends a lot of different things. But if you do that, you would want to crush the garlic first and leave it out a little bit so that enzyme can have some time to work and to create the allicin.

It’s the enzyme itself has some sensitivity to heat that I’m seeing. That’s why you want to wait a little bit before you put the crushed garlic into the soup. I wouldn’t do it right away, like crush it and throw it in the soup. I would crush it and leave it out for a little bit before you put it in.

Whether or not the allicin itself is heat sensitive, some people are saying it is, some people are saying it’s not. Maybe if you want to have the most efficacy, you don’t boil the allicin and just put it in to some warm chicken broth. The main thing that I’m seeing is just trying to avoid heating either uncrushed cloves or crushing it and then throwing it in super hot soup right away.

Kelsey:Got it, yeah. Even if you are cooking it and let’s say it destroys all the allicin, I think there’s still a lot to be said about garlic and onions outside of that one compound that is still very helpful to your immune system and inflammation markers. Even if you’re getting rid of all that allicin, there’s a lot of other great things about garlic and onions. But I was just curious about that because a lot of those kind of beneficial compounds either can be activated by heat or destroyed by heat so it’s good to know that.

Laura:Right. Like I said, it’s a little confusing because I think most people are just talking about the heat sensitivity of the enzyme that triggers the conversion.


Laura:There’s an enzyme that called alliinase which converts something called alliin into allicin in the chopped or crushed garlic and that’s the enzyme that you need to give some time to have an effect.

Honestly if somebody is really super sick, I would say taking the allicin supplement might be worth doing because of its potency. But again, putting it into your soup or the broth that you’re making is always a good extra to do, as long as you’re not garlic or onion sensitive. Or if you’re super FODMAP sensitive, you might not want to do that. But otherwise, it should be something that’s helpful.


Laura:We had mentioned hot beverages in general being helpful so you can imagine that lots of different types of teas would be useful. There are some antioxidants in black and green tea that could be helpful. However, the teas that I’m going to focus on are the ones that kind of have more of that combination anti-inflammatory, mucus inhibiting, and kind of antiviral effect.

The three that I would say to try out would be fresh ginger tea. Ginger root has anti-inflammatory compounds in it that help with relieving inflammation. If you have a sore throat or just overall inflammation, it should be helpful. It does inhibit mucus production so if you’re super congested, taking some fresh ginger tea would be helpful. Fresh ginger also has antiviral activity as demonstrated by research. Unfortunately this research found that powdered or dried ginger didn’t have that same activity so that’s why I’m mentioning fresh ginger tea as being the necessity.

There’s lots of tea bags out there that have ginger in them, which there’s nothing wrong with that, I just don’t know if it would be as effective as if you got some fresh root ginger and boiled it in water. You can also shred it up to make it even more potent and then put that into some hot water and make a fresh tea out of it. You probably want to strain it since it does tend to be kind of hairy if you use the shredded root itself. But that would be something that has that antiviral, mucus inhibiting, and anti-inflammatory benefit.

Peppermint is another tea type that would be helpful. Menthol is one of the compounds in peppermint that actually thins mucus and works as a mucus expectorant so it loosens up phlegm and it breaks up your cough. It also is soothing and calming for a sore throat and for dry coughs as well. That’s maybe not going to have the same level antiviral activity as ginger, but peppermint is another good one for just that upper respiratory type symptoms.

Then the third one which is a little bit unusual, I don’t want to say unusual as in it’s hard to find, it’s just ne that maybe isn’t talked about as much, but licorice actually has a lot of antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefit. I think it could have some direct anti-inflammatory benefits and then it helps covert cortisone into cortisol, and cortisol is an anti-inflammatory. It could have a twofold benefit there. But it actually does act directly on viruses as an antiviral as well as boosting the immune system by activating T-lymphocyte proliferation which is another type of white blood cell. It suppresses post cell apoptosis which is basically programmed cell death. It would make more T lymphocyte cells and then also prevent those ones from dying as they’re trying to fight off the virus.

Licorice is one of those ones that there is a word of caution if you have high blood pressure or any sort of HPA dysregulation, be care with it. I don’t think a little licorice tea is going to send anyone into a hypertensive crisis or anything like that, but they do sell licorice extracts that are promoted as antiviral or kind of immune boosters that you would want to be careful with if you have any reason to suspect high cortisol levels or like I said high blood pressure. It can make your blood pressure go up again.

Kelsey:Yeah, I think you’re definitely better off going for the tea version of this versus a major supplement that got probably a lot more licorice or it’s highly concentrated in some way. You can buy licorice root just on its own. I’ve bought licorice just off amazon before and it’s kind of like crushed up and I’ve put that in a tea bag or one of those tea balls that has the strainer. That works really, really well.

I think like Yogi Tea makes a licorice tea. There’s definitely tea companies out there that include at least some licorice in their tea. It may not be the only ingredient in it but it’s a good base. Actually some people might think of licorice as the black licorice flavor which is really I think it’s anise seed is what you’re tasting when you think about black licorice. But licorice root itself it a pretty tasting herb. It’s actually sweet so it’s sometimes used just as a sweetener in a lot of different herbal teas. I think that’s why it’s often included in those kind of tea combinations.

But like I said, you can use one of those tea combinations with licorice or you can just buy licorice root on its own. If you’re thinking eww, I don’t want to drink licorice tea because I hate black licorice, you should give it try because it’s actually quite a delicious tea I have to say.

Laura:It’s got kind of like a sweet flavor. Certainly if you hate licorice in general, you might not like it, but it’s not the same flavor. You might find that it’s better or more enjoyable. I personally love licorice. I was the weird kid that really liked “Good & Plenty” when I was growing up.


Laura:Yeah, I don’t know, I’m weird.

Another thing to think about adding to your tea is honey. Honey in general, but there’s a specific type of honey that’s even more beneficial called Manuka Honey. All honeys have been shown to demonstrate inhibitory activity against the influenza virus, so the flu causing virus. Basically they combine honey with the flu virus and they actually see that it’s deactivated by honey.

I know there’s a lot of question about honey because it’s a sugar and there’s a lot of anti-sugar type beliefs out there, but honey actually would be something really good to include in a cold or flu recovery plan. It also can be an effective cough suppressant. They’ve done studies in children to see how it works and it not only helps suppress the cough but it also helps them sleep better.

Just a caveat, I’m pretty sure children under the age of one are not supposed to have honey. I may have to double check that. It may be either one or two. I’m positive at least under the age of one should not be given honey. But older children and adults can benefit from using honey.

Actually our sponsor today, Maty’s Healthy Products has an all-natural cough syrup made primarily with buckwheat honey and other immune supportive ingredients. You can either use these type of honey based cough suppressant or anti-cough products. Or if you just want to put honey into your hot tea, that’s a great way to get it in. You can just take spoonfuls of honey. I know that might sound weird to some people, but it is a great way to just get the honey directly without getting any heat damage to it.

If you do use especially raw honey, don’t put it into the boiling water. Let the tea cool down somewhat before you add it because some of those beneficial properties of raw honey will get destroyed by heat. But again, if you want you can just take the raw honey by the spoonful. I know they sell Manuka honey to be taken that way, which it’s a very expensive honey, but you’re not supposed to use it as a sweetener. It’s really meant to be more of a medicinal type product.

Kelsey:Mm hmm.

Laura:As far as just some other foods to throw in there, I know that this is probably the last thing people want to eat when they’re sick, but liver is really something that could at least be good to eat to prevent getting sick if not good when you’re sick to eat to get some extra vitamin A as well as other nutrients.

The reason that vitamin A is so important is because it’s actually required for both innate and adaptive immunity. It enhances the immune system and allows it to have an appropriate antibody response to infectious agents. It also helps maintain and restore the integrity and function of all mucosal surfaces. That includes your gut barrier, that includes the lining of the lungs, anything that you would consider a mucosal lining is going to be benefitted by getting enough Vitamin A.

If you’re able to eat liver when you’re sick, it’s great to help enhance the immune function. Otherwise we can talk in a minute about some supplement options, but I would say liver is one of this things that eating regularly should help with your immune function in general.

Then other foods might beef and shellfish. Those are very high in zinc and zinc is important for a variety of different factor and immune function so it can affect the barrier function of those mucosal linings again. Vitamin A and zinc really work together there. Then it also regulates the genes in the lymphocytes to help them replicate and function optimally.

There’s a lot of research out there that shows that zinc deficiency actually increases susceptibility to lots of different pathogens including viruses. If you don’t get enough zinc you’re going to be much more prone to those illnesses. That’s mainly because zinc is required for normal development and function of the cells that mediate that immunity such as the neutrophils and natural killer cells, different white blood cells that actually impact your recovery from those illnesses. You might get a little bit stronger of symptoms because of those being more effective, but you’ll get over it a lot faster.

Another food to consider adding would be mushrooms. There’s been antimicrobial and antiviral effects discovered for both whole mushrooms that you would eat and also the isolated compounds that have been extracted from mushrooms. Mushrooms are able to stimulate the immune response against the viral invasion.

Basically eating mushrooms or using mushroom extracts would be a great idea to do when you’re sick or if you’re trying to prevent getting sick. A lot of times it’s these more exotic type of mushrooms that have the most benefit, things like cordyceps, shitake, reishi, enoki, maitake, those ones that are little bit more bizarre than button mushrooms or something. Those would be ones that would be more beneficial. You can find in extracts supplemental form as well.

Kelsey:Cool. I think this is probably a good time to talk about the microbiome a little bit because we can eat probiotics in fermented foods. I think that’s a really important thing to do especially from a preventative perspective. We can also think about probiotics and prebiotics in supplemental form too. This will be a good segue into our supplement section as well.

To speak about the food side of it a little bit first, obviously we are big promoters of fermented foods in general and doing anything to promote good gut health because a healthy microbiome is going to help your immune system work better. That means that you really should be doing things on a regular basis that help to promote a diverse microbiome.

We’ve seen that a diverse microbiome leads to essentially less risk of all types of diseases and I would argue that any type of an infection would fall into that category as well. You definitely want to make sure that you have a diverse microbiome, that you don’t have a lot of pathogens hanging around, that you’re gut lining is tight and that it’s not becoming leaky all of the time because you have an unhealthy microbiome. Anything that you can do to take care of your gut on a regular basis is going to be a big help in preventing an infection.

Along those lines, fermented foods definitely fit in there. I would say that foods that contain prebiotics, so high FODMAP foods if you tolerate them, would also be a good addition. I’m going to talk a little bit about some specific strains that can be very, very useful. But just know that in general as well any type of prebiotic or probiotic is going to help rather than hurt the situation whether you actively have a cold or flu or just during cold or flu season you want to try to prevent it as much as possible.

A couple strains of bacteria that we can talk about here, I think I have three that I want to discuss. A quick note before I jump into them is that these are very specific strains so this is not something you can apply and just say I’m going to just take this random probiotic that I already have or that I’m just going to buy at CVS or whatever. It’s not going to be the same effect, or at least we don’t know that it would be the same effect. It’s possible that it could, but these are very specific strains that have been studied for this purpose and so we don’t know if strains outside of this are going to have the same effect.

I know we talked about this a really long time ago. In fact I think it may have been back in the “Ask The RDs” days. But when you’re talking about probiotics in general and you want to see what the specific strain is, like if you’re looking on the back of a probiotic bottle and you want to see what the strains it contains are, you want to look for something that has three different names and/or numbers. For example, one of the strains that we’re going to talk about today is called Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. That’s got three separate sections there. The lactobacillus is one, rhamnosus is two, and then GG is the third.

A lot of probiotics will only tell you the first two and it means it can be any other strain of this type of bacteria. Again, it’s not going to necessarily give you the same effects that are seen in some of the studies that I’m going to talk about. Just make sure if you’re looking for a specific probiotic that you actually find exactly the strain that we’re going to talk about.

I will recommend the products that I know of that have these strains, but a lot of times it’s a particular company that makes a specific strain and then people that make a supplement can buy that strain to use in their product. It’s not like only one supplement company can use that strain. Typically more than one company can use it if they want to purchase it for use in their product. It’s possible it’s in other products, but I’m going to recommend at least one that has each of these strains.

For Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, that strain has been shown to reduce the number of infections in children in daycare. That ended up meaning that these kids had fewer antibiotic treatments, which is great of course, which is interesting too because this may have been done a little bit of time ago. I can’t remember what year the study was done in, but certainly our ideas about antibiotic treatment of viruses in the first place have changed. A lot of times years ago doctors would just give antibiotics for pretty much anything including the common cold. Now I think we’re starting to realize that that’s not a great idea.

But regardless, when this was done fewer antibiotic treatments were given to these kids because they weren’t getting sick as much. It also showed that there was 34% reduced risk of respiratory infections in children and a 43% reduced risk of infections lasting longer than three days, which is pretty cool. 43% reduced risk of infection lasting longer than three days is pretty awesome. I certainly would sign up for that if I knew I could have a cold that lasted less than three days.

This was done in kids obviously. There’s actually a couple different studies that I’m getting these numbers from. But they were all done in kids. A lot of this stuff that you’ll see if you’re looking into the research on the common cold is done in kids just because they tend to get it more than adults do because they’re surrounding by germs all day. But I think this applies to adults as well and I would certainly recommend that if you want to prevent getting sick that the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain is a good choice.

That particular strain is found in a lot of the Culturelle products. Those you can buy in pretty much any drug store at least I see them in pretty much every drug store. I typically just buy, I think it’s just called Culturelle, it’s nothing specific. That one definitely has it, but I think they make a kid version. They have a couple other versions. But whichever one you buy, just make sure you look on the back and see that it contains the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain.

I like that product for a lot of other reasons too. It’s a really good strain. It’s also quite effective for antibiotic associated diarrhea as well. It’s got a few different great uses, but one of them apparently is to prevent the common cold. Definitely you could use that.

Another strain is Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM which reduced fever incidence by 53% and coughing incidence by 41%. Again, this was in children, and it reduced the use of antibiotics by 68%. Again, really good results here done on children but I still think it is applicable to adults certainly. I don’t see any reason why it could hurt to take a bacterial strain that has been shown to have these great results on kids. That one is found in Garden of Life RAW Probiotics Colon Care. Again actually another strain that I like a lot and that I use for a lot of my patients. I think that one again works really well for antibiotic associated diarrhea too.

It seems to be that these kind of I would say general strain probiotics meaning that they tend to work well for a lot of different conditions also seem to be effective against the common cold. This is more, as you can tell, it’s more from a preventative perspective that these would be useful. I’m not sure if taking these during an active cold would do a lot at least from the research I’ve seen. I don’t know that that would be the case. Again I say I don’t think it could really hurt to take it, but I think with the research that we have right now on these strains, they’re definitely looking at it from a preventative perspective.

The last one I’ll talk about here is Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003. Aren’t these names fun? That one was shown to reduce the number of days of respiratory illness symptoms in endurance athletes. These were adults, which is good to see. And it also reduced the severity of symptoms compared to a placebo.

Again I’d say this is a little bit more focused on prevention, but it also seemed to show that if you’re taking it consistently and you do end up getting sick that your symptoms won’t be as severe as somebody who isn’t taking it. This would be one that I would probably say at least you’d have maybe a bit of better luck if you’re taking it as you get sick to reduce the symptoms, but we don’t know of course based on this research if you would have had to been taking it for months at that point to get any benefit of reduction of symptoms or severity of symptoms, or if you could just start taking it as soon as you get sick and it would help reduce symptoms. But again, can’t hurt certainly.

That one is found in a product called Pharmanex ProBio PCC. We can link to all of these as well. I would say the Culturelle product is certainly the most widely available product. The other two you don’t see them in any drug store. Laura, do you see Culturelle in every drug store where you are?



Laura:I’d say that’s probably one of the ones that’s almost always available.


Laura:Garden of Life is fairly popular I think at least at Whole Foods and different types of health food stores.

Kelsey:Yeah, definitely.

Laura:But yeah, Culturelle is all over the place.

Kelsey:Worst case scenario, if you actively are sick, you just got sick, you have a drug store around the corner, I would say it can’t hurt to go and grab a box of that and start taking it. But I would say it’s probably more useful if you can either just take something like this all the time, or at least eat fermented foods all the time and maybe ramp this up during cold and flu season. Maybe add on one or two of these additional specific strains that have shown to be helpful during the time where you have an increased risk of getting cold or flu.

Prebiotics are also really useful in preventing infections. Of course they’re awesome for your gut bacteria and for gut health in general. It’s one of those things that if you can tolerate FODMAPs like I was talking about before, it’s great to include some of those high FODMAP veggies because they’re chock full of prebiotics which are great for your gut.

Again, if you can tolerate them, then it could be something that you ramp up during cold and flu season. Maybe you start taking a supplement during cold and flu season that you don’t normally. That can be something like a FOS power, GOS powder, maybe something like Sunfiber, any of these prebiotics that are out there. Personally I really like FOS just because it tastes the best. I find that most people will take it most consistently. GOS tends to be a little bit more easier digest for people that have FODMAP issues, but it’s not entirely without problems. It just tends to be the one that’s better tolerated between FOS and GOS, but both are great.

If you are like me and you know that if something tastes bad and you have to take it as a powder, I would recommend going for FOS. It tastes like cotton candy, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. It’s a really great, easy supplement to take. You can get it in capsules. You can get either of these in capsules, but it ends up being a lot more expensive to take it in encapsulated form than it is to take it as a powder form. If you can tolerate the FOS and you like the flavor, I would say go for that. But otherwise, if you’re worried about some kind of digestive issues with taking prebiotics, you might want to start with the GOS and just see how it tastes. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. See how you like it. If you absolutely hate it, you could do the encapsulated form as an alternative.

These are mostly studied in kids again and they’re very, very useful for preventing infection. I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t apply adults as well. We’ve certainly seen the benefits of prebiotics outside of infection prevention in adults as well as children. I don’t see any reason why the common cold prevention would be any different here.

Again for both of these things, for probiotic and prebiotics, there’s certainly things that you could take year round. I consider them to be just maintenance supplements in some form whether that’s an actual supplement form or whether it’s a supplement to your diet like fermented foods or high FODMAP vegetables where you’re really making a conscious effort to include those things on a regular basis. But in some way, they should be a part of your everyday diet and then you can just ramp them up when cold and flu season comes around if you tend to be somebody who gets a lot of these things.

Laura:Cool. That’s all you need to know about probiotics and prebiotics for cold prevention, right?


Laura:We were just talking about supplements in general, I think one thing that came up in what you just shared and then in general what comes up is the difference between something that’s helpful for preventing colds and flu versus treating it, and then also versus reducing the severity. Because I think there’s like three different functions of a lot of these supplements and sometimes people think that because that’s helpful to prevent cold and flu it must help with healing from cold and flu. It doesn’t necessarily work that way.

Kelsey:Mm hmm.

Laura:Some of the more popular supplements that are discussed with cold and flu care would be things like vitamin C. Vitamin C is something that does not actually reduce the frequency of colds so taking it on a regular basis isn’t necessarily going to stop you from getting sick. But there is some evidence that can actually reduce the severity and duration of a cold. It would be worth taking when you’re getting sick or if you just want to take it around cold and flu season. It’s not going to kill you to take a little bit extra, but it’s not necessarily going to be some amazing cold preventative technique.

Zinc is another nutrient that has two different functions. It does depend on the type of zinc for what function it’s going to have. Zinc in general helps prevent illness and boots your immune function and just generally supports good immunity, but it’s not actually going to treat a cold unless you get the right type of zinc.

I’m going to link in the show notes to Chris Masterjohn’s podcast on this topic. He has a whole episode on zinc for colds and basically explaining what you need to look for in a zinc product for it to actually do anything against an active cold virus. I’m going to kind of summarize what he says and the recommendations, but there’s a lot of information in there about why he chose this particular product. For example, he said that it has to be a lozenge and it can’t be one that you swallow because it has to be dissolved in your mouth. Also the specific type of zinc need to be either zinc gluconate or zinc acetate with zinc acetate being twice as effective as gluconate.

Ultimately with all the different factors that Chris did research on and to determine what the most appropriate type is, he discovered that the only product that actually fits all these criteria is something by Life Extension called Enhanced Zinc Lozenges. That’s something that we can link to in the show notes if people want to check that out. They also sell it on Fullscript which is the dispensary company that Kelsey and I use for our patients. If you’re a patient of ours listening to this and you want to order that, it is available on Fullscript.

You would want to be taking it every two hours while you’re either fighting an active cold that you think you’re getting, or if you’re full blown sick it can actually help you get better. The thing about this is you really need to order it before you get sick because by the time you get it in the mail if you’re ordering it now if you are already sick, you’ll probably be mostly over it anyway. It really needs to be while the virus is active and you’re either in the beginning stages of getting sick or you had just gotten sick. That product would be a lozenge that you let dissolve in your mouth and do that every two hours while fighting off an active cold.

Other types of zinc are fine to take other times or just in general to promote good immune function, but it’s not going to treat a cold the way that the zinc acetate lozenge will.

Kelsey:Yeah, I was kicking myself for not ordering that lozenge earlier. I ended up getting something just from the drug store which I do think helped. Certainty I would say the length of my cold is definitely shorter this time around that it has in the past and that’s one of the main differences that I did was take that every few hours which is what they recommend. It is a lozenge, it does dissolve in the mouth. I don’t think the type is perfect, but I tried to get something that sounded sort of like it was acetate related. I don’t know if it actually is, but it sounded like it was. I just decided why not? It can’t hurt. I do think it helped at least a little bit.

Laura:There’s nothing wrong with taking zinc if you have it, but I would say if you’re preparing for a cold season, having this Life Extension product would probably be a good thing to have available when you think you’re getting sick.

Kelsey:For sure.

Laura:That way you’re not scrambling to fix it later.

Then Vitamin A and D are two that would definitely good to take both around cold season and then also when you’re sick. The vitamin A as I described before is really important for mucosal immunity.

Vitamin D is one of those that I don’t know if it helps in the short term. I heard a lot of people recommend taking high doses when you’re actually sick. I honestly don’t know if there’s any research to support that. I didn’t see anything. The only research I really saw was that deficiency could increase susceptibility to infection. If you have low vitamin D levels, yeah that’s going to make you more likely to get sick. But if you already have good vitamin D levels, I don’t know if taking a lot extra is really going to impact getting healthy faster. Questionable whether that would help.  I do think getting the extra vitamin A both in cold season and when you’re actually sick would be super healthful.

There’s a lot of other products that I’ve use with clients and even in myself with cold recovery. We were mentioning mushrooms before. They sell some mushroom extracts, specifically a company called Host Defense. I really like their products. They have a product called Mycommunity. That is some mushroom extracts specifically for immune boosting.

Then there’s some other herbs like Elderberry. I guess Elderberry isn’t quite an herb, it’s more of a fruit. But elderberry liquid, Astragalus root is an herb, Echinacea is an herb. That can all potentially help the immune system. I think the evidence for these are a little bit weaker than some of the stuff we just talked about, but again probably not going to do you any harm to take some elderberry or Echinacea during a cold.

I’d say Astragalus and Echinacea being herbs, anytime you’re playing around with herbs you do want to run that by your doctor in case you’re on any medication or if you have any conditions that might get exacerbated by it. Any of these recommendations really should be taken with caution from someone who has an autoimmune disease because some of these things boost immunity and if you’re dealing with an autoimmune condition you want to be careful about over boosting it. Most of the food recommendations are really going to be pretty applicable to most people.

Kelsey:I think before we wrap up that we would be leaving out a big piece of this puzzle if we didn’t a little bit about resting and making time to rest when you’re sick. This is something that I think everybody struggles with.

I was watching some show on Hulu the other day. Of course they make you watch commercials even though you’re paying for the service. But anyway, there was some commercial for a cold remedy of some sort. I can’t even remember what it was, but basically it was encouraging you to just go through your life as normal and just take this medication so that you could do so even when you’re dying of all these horrible cold symptoms and you feel like you just need to lay in bed. I was like wow! I get it from a commercial perspective and certainty that is appealing to be able to go through your day even when you’re sick, but man, is that the wrong approach.

I think it’s really important to remember that if you’re sick, you really, really need to rest. This is something that’s hard for me too. I’m sure you guys know I’ve been working really, really hard on my gut health program lately and I’ve been working too much on it obviously because I got sick. I do really blame it on working too much and just kind of it being a huge part of my life right now. My husband had to tell me, Kelsey, you really need to just take a day off and not even think about your program and just watch TV and….(throat clear) Excuse me. Now I can’t talk, I’m talking too much today.

Laura:Not record podcasts.

Kelsey:Yeah, not record podcasts, right, exactly. I pushed back a little bit at first because I was like I have so much to do. I can’t just take a day off and not do anything. I really want to get this out and I have so much to do to do that. Of course he’s like no, I’m taking your computer away, you can’t do this. I relented.


Kelsey:Yeah, exactly. I just laid on the bed all day and watched TV, slept. I do think that’s the other piece of this that really shortened the duration of me feeling really terrible. I felt bad that day and I felt pretty bad the next day, but it was really those two days of feeling pretty sick and then the next day I really felt like I had a good amount of my energy back. I’m still stuffed up and stuff, but I feel okay. That’s a really good sign to me that I’m at least on the right path here.

I think as much as possible you need to rest. I know that’s hard if you’ve got work to do, you’ve got a job, you’ve got kids to take care of, whatever. All of that of course makes it difficult. I do think that you need to delegate anything that you can whether that’s in your work or whether that’s in your home life. If your husband, or your wife, or roommate, or whoever can take over some of the daily chores to make your life a little bit easier, anything that you can do to just leave as much time as possible open to you just relaxing and laying on the couch, laying on the bed, watching TV, reading, sleeping, just doing nothing that is stressful, even if it’s just for one day, I think can make a huge difference.

Laura:Unfortunately it seems like a lot of people just, there’s so many things going on in life that prevent them from being able to rest and I think that’s what that commercial was trying to hit at like you’re a mom, you don’t take a sick day as a mom, obviously you need to just keep working through it.

Even though I’m sure that’s true in certain circumstances that you literally cannot rest for whatever reason, but anytime that’s an option I think a lot of people tend to just not…it’s almost like they don’t take the option even though it’s there. They don’t ask for help, they don’t take a day off from work.

Kelsey:They don’t think it’s an option. I was like I have so much to do, I don’t have an option to just take a day off. But then when I really sat down and thought about it I was like okay, I can give some of these tasks to somebody else and it’s not going to be the end of the world if I do this tomorrow or something. I think a lot of times it’s that mental barrier of thinking that it’s impossible to take time off too.

Laura:Yeah. It’s funny, I know my fiancé gets unlimited…well unlimited I guess is a strong word, but there’s no limits to sick days. There’s not a certain number that he gets that after that he’s not allowed to take a sick day. But I think he’s taken like one and a half sick days this year and this is the first year he’s ever taken a sick day as a teacher in the last 10 years that he’s worked as one.


Laura:It’s funny, I’m like you’re really sick, you need to stay home. He’s like, I can handle it. I’m like, no! First of all, you shouldn’t be around kids when you’re sick.


Laura:This is why people get sick because nobody will stay home. It’s like you don’t have to go to work because you can take a day off to recover.

It’s just funny because I do similar stuff. I’ll still work with clients even if I’m sick, and luckily with the virtual setup it doesn’t really affect them very much. But there are some times that I’m like man, I really probably shouldn’t take clients today because I’m just my brain isn’t even functioning optimally. There have been a couple days this year that I did reschedule people just because I was like okay, first of all I need to sleep, and rest, and recover. Then also it’s not really fair to them that I’m not working at my best for them.


Laura:It can be tough to take the time, but I feel like if you don’t take the time when you can, then the recovery is just going to take so much longer and then you’re ending up being less productive the next few days. I almost feel like it’s almost like six in one hand, half a dozen in the other.

But that’s a personal decision. People obviously need to have support structures. If you live with a significant other and they’re able to take up some of the slack for you and let you rest, that’s always helpful. I think ultimately if that is available to you, you definitely want to ask for it and not be a martyr and try to say I can handle it, they don’t need to help me. Because I think in any good relationship they’re going to want to help you and want to take care of you when you’re sick. You just have to let them do it.

Kelsey:Yeah, I know. Sometimes that’s hard for people, but you’ve got to do it. It’s worth it. I really feel like I probably ended up wasting less time by just taking a full day off because I would have slogged through the day and then I would have been sick longer I think. I would have just extended the misery and probably gotten the same amount done anyway. I think it just makes a whole lot sense to just take the day off.

Laura:Well, we promised 30-45 minutes. You guys got close to an hour.


Laura:Sorry about going a little over. We had a lot of information share. Hopefully what we shared today was helpful. If you have any follow up questions or want to get more information about anything we talked about, or if you just have your own question that you want to ask, head over to TheAncestralRDs.com and click the contact tab and you can submit a question to us that way. We might answer it on a future show.

Anyway, thanks for joining us. We’re always happy to have you here and will look forward to seeing you all next time.

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I'm a women's health expert and a registered dietitian (RD) with a passion for helping goal-oriented people fuel their purpose.

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