Treating a cold the gut friendly way

Through years of mentoring and interacting with motivated and highly educated parents and with medical professionals, we have accumulated a comprehensive list of cold remedies that were tried by many reliable families and verified as helpful. Our earlier post from 2015 on the topic of cold and flu season provided a general overview. We now expand on this subject, offering more helpful details.

Maintaining gut wellness while fighting a cold is essential. The basic principle of gut friendly practice is to minimize the ingestion of medications whenever possible. Instead, prefer topical medications whenever those options are available. 

Nasal and chest congestion, cough

Saline nasal spray is effective at preventing and treating nasal congestion. Use the spray as a preventive measure before going to enclosed public spaces (e.g. prior to flights in winter time) and spray to ease symptoms when congestion is present.  

Brands of saline spray we use are:

A Nati pot nasal rinse is another effective congestion treatment. Following usage instructions is necessary. One must use a solution of sterile water and salt and clean the Nati pot regularly. Instructions on the box specifically warn to AVOID using a Nati pot if the ears are clogged.

Saline gargle helps nose and throat discomfort. Mix a half a teaspoon to one teaspoon of pure salt into a glass of warm drinking water and gargle several times each day while trying to prevent a brewing cold or manage an existing cold.
Another option, recommended by ENT doctors is to mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda in an 8 ounce glass of warm water. Then gargle, swish, and spit. The salt decreases swelling by drawing fluid out of cells. Both salt & soda work to clean and kill bacteria and viruses.

One more gargle option is BodyBio zinc drops in ¼ cup of water.
Read this about the efficacy of gargling in this issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  

Humidifiers- steam vapor inhalation.

Humidifiers moisten dry winter air, help soothe coughs, clear nasal passages, and loosen mucus in our airways and lungs. Running a humidifier overnight in a bedroom can promote better sleep.

Hot water vaporizers are humidifiers that releases steam heat. Steam vaporizers tend to be lower in price, and most come equipped with an ability to add menthol vapors to the warm mist. The big downside for steam vaporizers is the risk that hot water and steam could accidentally burn a small child.

Cool mist humidifiers are the safest choice to leave in a child’s room overnight.
It is important to follow manufacturer’s instructions and place the unit on the floor or other hard surface. Begin running the humidifier at least an hour before bedtime and periodically check the tank’s water level; refilling as necessary.

Water left sitting in cool mist humidifiers often leads to mold and bacteria growth in the unit. Re-starting a mold-contaminated humidifier could send bacteria or mold spores into the air. To prevent them from taking hold, clean and disinfect the reservoir tank on a regular basis (according to the manufacturer’s directions) and never leave water sitting in a humidifier when it is not running. Consider periodically spraying the water tank with a hydrogen peroxide and water solution .


Heat and steam ease and sooth symptoms, so hot showers can be helpful and Epsom salt baths help the body relax and absorb helpful healing magnesium.

Hydration is key to wellness.

Water, herbal teas, and light soups or veggie/chicken broth add hydration and nourishment.

Water is the best expectorant and the best decongestant available. The general recommendation is to drink a minimum of 1/3 – 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water. Consider adding electrolytes to your water to help keep the body well hydrated. When traveling it is especially important to drink a lot of water the day before and day of a flight. A dry throat or sinuses make it easy for bacteria and viruses to adhere and multiply more readily.
Hot beverages can also decrease the bacterial count in your mouth and throat.

Hot ginger root tea brewed from fresh sliced ginger helps minimize the impact of a cold when used at the first signs, and helps sooth an existing cold. Buy ginger root, peel and slice it thinly, and then steep in hot water for 10 minutes or so. One can add lemon (add a bit of honey only if it is an absolute must, because it is best to minimize sweets during a cold) and drink it warm. Note that ginger may act as a blood thinner – so don’t drink more than 2-3 cups at a time, or check with your doctor.

Pineapple juice (fresh pressed for juice, or fresh slices). Bromelain, an enzyme found only in the stem and fruit of pineapples, can help suppress coughs as well as loosen mucus. Bromelain may interact with antibiotics, so check with your doctor if you are taking any medications.

Other beverage aids include:

  • Honey-lemon-mint tea which helps sooth coughs.
  • Warm water with apple cider vinegar gelatin, and honey
  • Apple cider vinegar mixed in warm water with honey.
  • Garlic tea (with optional honey). Crush one clove of garlic, add hot water. Steep 5 minutes, remove the garlic. Make sure to pinch the nose (it helps!) when drinking the hot garlic water.

A turmeric latte is said to help with inflammation. Make it from fresh turmeric root or from good quality powder, and make sure to use nut milk and avoid dairy when fighting a cold. Follow one of many recipes online.

Topical ointments

Vicks Vapor Rub (or Tiger balm) on one’s chest, above the upper lip under your nose, and on the soles of your feet with a pair of socks at night works well to ease nasal congestion and cough at night.

Over the counter (OTC) or prescription decongestants

Otrivin Nasal Decongestant Spray is preservative free and available in both child and adult dosages. It was recommended by our friend who is an ENT doctor. Other brands of nasal spray include Afrin, Dristan, Sinexor, and Neo-Synephrine.
Use a nasal spray during the day if needed, and, most importantly, at night before bed time.

Albuterol (a prescription inhaler that works as a bronchodilator) was recommended by a parent-doctor, who claims it is the best remedy for cough.

Consider avoiding oral Phenylephrine (also known as Sudafed) if you can. Phenylephrine is used to treat nasal and sinus congestion, or congestion of the tubes that drain fluid from your inner ears, called the Eustachian (yoo-STAY-shun) tubes. It shrinks dilated blood vessels that can cause nasal congestion (stuffy nose) in the nasal passages. It is ingested orally and there are some concerns that Sudafed may thin the protective mucus layer in the gut, so ask your doctor about topical options like Flonase spray or Mucinex spray.

Important: If saline and OTC nasal sprays do not provide relief within 3-4 days check with a doctor about a prescription for a corticoid nasal spray.

Also, avoid Advil, Aleve, and similar non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs. Tylenol can be used to manage pain if needed.

Ear drops

A well-liked brand of ear drops is CiproDex. Parents say it works like a charm on ear infection and helps them avoid oral antibiotics. When treating mild ear congestion some parents like to use garlic oil drops (from a health food store)
Other parents have been putting a clove of peeled garlic directly in the ear to ease pain fairly quickly.

Simply massaging behind the ear and around the ear might help too. An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor can use a mini-vacuum device to suction out congestion fluids from deep in the ears. It can provide instant relief, as per testimonies of patients.

Sucking on honey drops hard candy may ease ear discomfort. It increases swallowing, which helps decrease pressure in the medial ear.

Warm heated pads

Microwavable heated eye pads bring comfort and can ease congestion when placed near the nose or the ear. Warm shoulder pads are soothing, and the enhanced relaxation supports healing.

Essential oils

Diffusing essential oils at home can be helpful, especially at night. Use essential oil breathe sticks on the chest (like Vicks). Follow the bottle instructions, dilute properly, and rub diluted oils on forehead, under the nose, on the chest, feet or neck.

  • Peppermint oil is a great decongestant (apply to wrist and sniff periodically to clear up sinuses) or use a diffuser in your room.
  • Oil of oregano is also mentioned as helpful by many, but ingesting essential oils must be done with caution and guided by advice and supervision of professional herbalists or naturopaths.
  • Lemon oil & orange oil are known as being energizing and help lift the mood during illness.
  • Lavender & frankincense help calm and balance mood.
  • Cloves & cinnamon oils can help ward off bacteria.

Check more essential oil options online and use them to ease symptoms, uplift and energize while healing.

Cold Sox Treatment

CST is a therapeutic technique that is effective for relieving nasal congestion in bed at night. Many parents swear by the efficacy of this strange treatment, saying that cold symptoms completely disappeared after two-three days of cold sox nightly treatment. Directly before bedtime simply put on a pair of cold wet cotton socks, and then over them, put on dry wool socks, keeping the feet covered through the night. You can find many descriptions online. Here is one example and here is another.


Elderberry syrup is recommended by some parents to shorten duration of colds. The syrup is made from filtered water, pure raw honey, and dried elderberries (do NOT use fresh elderberry juice). For homemade elderberry syrup check this link.

You can also use gelatin elderberry cubes as a convenient alternative.

  • Mix 1 cup elderberry syrup with 3 TBS gelatin
  • Quickly whisk together using hand held blender
  • Pour in small rectangular Pyrex dish and refrigerate until firm.
  • Cut cubes and enjoy as candy.

Sambuca pills and syrups may also be used for similar reasons.

Fire cider

Fire cider is another winter time favorite. It tastes horrible, but works like magic per testimonials of many users. One can buy it at natural food stores or order it online. Most advocates prefer to make their own concoction by mixing horseradish, garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, chili pepper, lemon juice, orange juice, herbs and honey. Many recipes can be found, but here is a favorite one.

Massage therapies

A lymphatic self-massage can help alleviate sinus congestion – some claim it works miracles. 

Acupuncture and acupressure can be amazing and effective in easing cold symptoms, as some parents noted.


Wash hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer often to avoid contracting and spreading colds. Hands are the most common mode of cold and flu virus transmission. When hands touch your nose or eyes they can move cold and flu viruses down the tear ducts into the nose, then to the back of the throat. Avoid antimicrobial soaps that contain triclosan – use an alcohol based hand sanitizer instead, and wipe thoroughly all around.

Dietary modifications

Avoid dairy and avoid sweets during a cold, as many people have noticed that these two food groups tend to aggravate symptoms.

Supplements like herbs, vitamins and minerals may help boost immune function, decrease inflammation and ease symptoms. Zinc, high doses of vitamin D or high doses of vitamin C are commonly mentioned as helpful by many. It is important to tailor the use of supplements to individual needs and sensitivities, so this is better done with professional guidance.

Probiotics keep the immune system strong year-round. During illness, many benefit from increased consumption of good sources of probiotics and prebiotics year-round: yogurt, fermented foods, and fiber-reach foods are all important.

Important Note:

If symptoms persist longer than several days, you should seek medical attention as these might be signs of more serious conditions such as infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.


  1. Thank you for this post! Great info all in one place. Hope we don’t need to reference it often and stay healthy. I really notice a different in amount of illness my kids get now on scd.

  2. Please revise. “ or congestion of the tubes that drain fluid from your inner ears, called the Eustachian (yoo-STAY-shun) tubes”

    Eustachian tubes drain fluid from the MIDDLE ear. If fluid was draining from the inner ear/cochlea, that would be a major problem.

  3. Great post! Thank you, especially for the warning about not using the nasal sinus rinses when the ears are plugged or painful. We like the NeilMed brand of nasal sinus rinse products, finding it easier to clean and easier to administer than a Nati/Neti pot. I also just found this page:, which does list some NON-SCD legal products (use them on your other kids perhaps), but does list a few SCD options, as well. I particularly like the looks of the Maty’s product line, which I had never heard of before.

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