by Judith Boice, ND, LAc, FABNO

During the influenza pandemic of 1918 – 1919, between 20 – 40 million people perished, more than all the soldiers who died in World War I. Considered the most devastating epidemic in recorded history, more people died of the “Spanish flu” in one year than in four years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.[i]

The Coronovirus (Covid-19) has been likened to the Spanish flu of 1918. Does that mean you are helpless in the face of the flu? Absolutely not. During the flu outbreak in 1918, homeopathy was 27 times more effective in preventing death than conventional medical treatment[ii]. In my next post, Recipe for Curing a Cold you will learn about homeopathic remedies and other natural medicines you can use to speed the resolution of a respiratory infection.

Recipe for Catching a Cold

The following is a fool-proof recipe for catching a cold or the flu in one long, exhausting week. Mix the ingredients carefully. Some substitutions are allowed, e.g. substitute a sick spouse or co-worker for a child.

  • 3 – 4 hours of sleep per night
  • 4 – 6 cookies per day
  • 1 midterm exam for the evening MBA class
  • 2 presentations at work
  • 30 ounces of fluid per day
  • 2 sick children at home
  • 1 serving of fruits and vegetables per day (and some days that one serving is ketchup)
  • 3 difficult phone calls (one with your boss, one with your mother, one with your –ex)
  • 1 sudden weather shift, with a 30°F temperature drop overnight
  • 25 minutes waiting for the bus in the rain

This recipe includes the finest ingredients for stressing the immune system and creating the perfect internal environment for developing a cold or the flu. In truth we don’t “catch” a cold; viruses and bacteria surround us all the time. We become ill when a potent enough virus encounters a weakened immune system.

Let’s examine the ingredients to discover how to boost rather than undermine your immune system’s health.


Sleeping less than seven hours per night increases the risk for developing both acute and chronic diseases. Lack of sleep decreases the activity of natural killer cells and B cells, important components of our immune system’s ability to respond to acute infections.[iii] Regularly sleeping less than seven hours per night also increases the risk for developing gastric, colorectal, and lung cancer.[iv] [v] [vi] Increasing sleep is one of the most enjoyable ways of preventing colds and the flu.


Eating even small amounts of refined sugar can depress immune function up to 24 hours. Snack on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain crackers and almond butter, and fresh nuts. The most recent research suggests eating seven or more servings[vii] [viii] of fruits and vegetables per day supports optimal immune function.


What lands as “stress” is different for each person. Anticipating stressful situations, e.g. the two presentations at work, an exam[ix], or a conversation with an angry boss, can weaken the immune system. Sometimes the mind can handle more stress than the physical body. Many professional athletes, for example, are trained to ignore or override their bodies’ distress signals. They take that training into their daily lives, often with unhealthy consequences.

The phone call with Mom may trigger every childhood pattern you thought you had resolved. The difficult interaction with the boss may increase frustration or disappointment.

Plan ahead and minimize stressful phone calls and interactions during busy weeks, including holidays. Plan something relaxing or rejuvenating afterward, e.g. a walk or time to dig in the garden. Physical activity helps to “use up” the stress related hormones, e.g. epinephrine and norepinephrine, that are dumped during stressful encounters. Work with a counselor, minister, or mentor to resolve underlying issues.

Weather changes and exposure to the elements

In the West we like to think we are impervious to the elements. What could standing in the cold rain have to do with developing a cold? Chinese medicine recognizes the impact of the elements on the body. Colds, for example, are considered an invasion of wind, dampness, cold, or heat. From Chinese understanding, these elements are particularly prone to enter the body through the back of the neck. You can help prevent colds by wearing a scarf, especially during windy weather. Wear a silk or cotton scarf during warm, windy weather and an acrylic or wool scarf in winter. We lose the majority of our heat through the top of the head (darn, Mom was right about that!), so wearing a hat is helpful as well.


our respiratory tracts are lined with mucous membrane tissue rich with immune globulins to fight bacteria and viruses. When we are dehydrated, the ratio of immune globulins (IgA, IgG, IgM) changes, the immune system is suppressed, and neutrophil activity is decreased.[x] In essence the respiratory tract is more vulnerable to invasion by bacteria and viruses. Remember that drinks sweetened with refined sugars decrease immune function. Drink more water, herb teas and diluted 100% fruit juices.

Exposure to viruses and bacteria

Although we are surrounded by bacteria and viruses all the time, the virulence (strength) of the viruses and as their sheer number influence whether or not we will become ill. Two sick children are perfect vectors, as are travelers coughing on the plane and a coworker sneezing in the next cubicle. You can minimize these exposures by regularly cleaning commonly used surfaces (e.g. sink handles, doorknobs, light switches, refrigerator door handles, etc.) Using a neti pot can also reduce viral exposure.


Check back soon for Part 2 in this series, Recipe for Curing a Cold



[i] Billings, M. (1997, June). The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Retrieved from

[ii] Czeranko, S. (2018). A century after the Spanish flu: NDNR, 14 (4), 23-25.

[iii] Krueger JM and Majde JA. Sleep as a host defense: its regulation by microbial products and cytokines. Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology (1990): 188-199.

[iv] Thompson et al (2011) Short duration of sleep increases risk of colorectal adenoma. Cancer. Feb 15;117(4):841-7

[v] Hu et al (2104) Deregulated expression of circadian clock genes in gastric cancer BMC Gastroenterol. 2014 Apr 6;14:67

[vi] Luojus (2014) Sleep duration and incidence of lung cancer in ageing men BMC Public Health 2014, 14:295

[vii] Leenders M Boshuizen HC, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and cause-specific mortality in the EPIC study. Eur J Epidemiol. 2014 Sep;29(9):639-52. doi: 10.1007/s10654-014-9945-9. Epub 2014 Aug 26.

[viii] Ovebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2013-203500

[ix] Sribanditmongkol VNeal JL. Effect of Perceived Stress on Cytokine Production in Healthy College Students. West J Nurs Res. 2014 Aug 13

[x] Chishaki, T., Umeda, T. Effects of dehydration on immune functions after a judo practice session. Luminescence. 2013 Mar-Apr;28(2):114-20. doi: 10.1002/bio.2349. Epub 2012 Feb 24.