Hey watch that sneeze juice! Are you trying to kill me?

There is no such thing as a “cold and flu season”. Seasons are winter, spring, summer fall. There are times of the year we are more susceptible to the cold and flu. One of the major reasons we tend to get sick during the winter months is because we are trapped inside, with windows and doors closed, and other people’s cold and sneeze juices firing off all around us. Said sneeze juice is blasting our nasal and oral mucous membranes with viral particles at 40 mph and depending on size of the particles, traveling up to 160 feet per rocket blast. These viral particles don’t exist longer than 5 minutes outside on their own so their best bet for survival is to blast onto our mucous membranes where they will invade our surface cells to set up camp. Viruses, by design, cannot reproduce on their own, so they invade a “host” cell, hack into the cell’s DNA, stop production of host cell proteins and start production of themselves. When the cell has made all the viral particles it can, the cell breaks apart (dies) and now millions of new viruses are free to invade other cells as the host tries to sneeze or cough them out.

But hey, I wash my hands obsessively!

Well yes, washing your hands is an important step to keeping any viral particle that landed on your hand from getting into your naso/oral mucosa. If you don’t shove your hands into your face and nose (Good luck parents of small children!), the little viral particles aren’t going to get where they want to go by invading the skin of your hand. And since they only survive 5 minutes, if you can refrain from touching your mucous membranes they will be dead anyway. You have a grace period if you can’t get to a sink to wash with soap and water immediately. YES I said soap and water. Please stop using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It dries your skin and that makes your skin more susceptible to other infections. (What else is in this miracle sanitizer exactly?)

IMG_0102Even if you wash your hands, the mucous membranes of your nose and mouth are not being washed. You might not be aware how important these membranes are to both getting infected and combating infection. First, the shear size! The surface area of these membranes is 25 square inches, or 5 inches by 5 inches. Measure it out, it’s quite impressive. This membrane surface might as well be stuck to the front of your face as you walk around. Go ahead cut out a piece of paper and place it in front of your face. This is what is interfacing with your environment, sneeze juice or not, all the time! It just happens to be curled and folded up inside your nose. Wearing a simple mask that covers your nose and mouth is a very effective way to make sure you won’t infect others or be infected. “Oh, but it is so uncool looking.”

Why do the Influenza (flu) and Rhinoviruses (cold) love my mucous membranes so?

Just like in real estate, location, location, location. We already know any virus needs a host cell to reproduce. Every virus type has a particular temperature and cell type it reproduces best at. The cold virus prefers a cooler temperature so usually infects mucosal cells in the nose or sinuses. The influenza virus likes it a little warmer than the rhinovirus, but not too warm. It tends to infect the upper respiratory tract from the back of the nasal cavity to the lower end of the nasopharynx (just below the voice box). Both are deactivated/killed at 99 degrees Fahrenheit. This is good news for us, the host. We can run a one-degree higher fever and make life less hospitable for the invading virus or we can get in a sauna or steam room above 99 degrees and do the same.

I feel so vulnerable, how is my always-interfacing mucous membrane protected?

Our mucous membranes work best if they are moist. They manufacture mucous, which, acts like fly paper and physically traps any foreign cell, dust, viral particle etc that makes its way into the body. Once trapped, the little cilia escalator beats the particle-filled mucous up towards the mouth and nose to either be blown, spit, hacked out or swallowed. Trapping and moving are crucial to health. One of the reasons smoking is detrimental to your health is that it stops the cilia escalator. The only way to get the mucous out is to hack or cough it out. The next level of protection is in the layer just below the mucous membrane. This layer is filled with immune cells waiting to kill off any foreign cell or particle that slips by the mucous membrane. Finally, the production of excess mucous (snot) is the mucous membrane’s natural healing response to being injured by viruses or bacteria. The only way your body has to respond is through this inflammation. Acute inflammation is healing. We want to decrease inflammation of this system when it interferes with breathing or sleeping or is non-productive like in asthma and allergy.

How else can we help our sneeze juice interface?

Treat the Air

Keeping our air environment at home, especially the bedroom, filled with water, in other words, humidified. In the winter, the humidity of the home can easily drop to 5-10%. Studies show that placing a humidifier in the bedroom decreased incidence of cold and flu by 50% without any other intervention!

Kill viral particles in the air. Most other first world countries use some form of aromatherapy in institutions like schools and hospitals. Eucalyptus globulus essential oil is great in a diffuser for the whole the home. Aromatic herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano work great as well. Smudging with sage and cedar kill airborne viral particles.

If you want to use aromatic herbs or essential oils for a smaller environment, like a steam over a bowl or in the shower, limit the drops of essential oil to 2. More than two drops anesthetize the cilia escalator temporarily.

Stop rocketing your sneeze juice everywhere. Cover that thing when you sneeze or cough!

Open a window! Circulate some fresh air.

Help our Immune system do its job.

Let the Immune system have the energy it needs to fight the virus. When you’re fevering stop eating so much. Simple broths are perfect. Eating a big meal requires LOTS of energy to digest. Watch your dog and cat. They never eat when they have a fever. Sleep. Rest.

Stop shutting down your Immune system. Anger & sugar shut it down for hours.

Stop making it work harder. Take a break from mucous producing foods. Dairy, citrus (except lemon), wheat and anything else your body is sensitive to. “Oh no, what about the Vitamin C I need from orange juice?” There is an abundance of Vitamin C rich food….potato, pepper, wood sorrel, pine needle tea are just a few. Stick to the nonfood items when fevering.

Give your cells something to help fight the virus. Elder has been shown to increase your cell’s ability to keep the virus from getting in. If the virus can’t get in, it can’t make more of itself and is more visible to the immune system cells designed to come and kill it. Elder has been shown to decrease the virus’s ability to replicate itself as well. It also increases chemical messengers alerting the Immune system to come to the site of infection and do its job. Finally Elder increases the production of your antibodies to the flu. Plus Elder syrup is delicious and you will have no trouble with compliance.

Vitamin D3 supplementation. If you live above Atlanta Georgia, you can’t make enough Vitamin D from the sun from October-March, if you were going outside. (Most people don’t even get outside). Evidence suggests one of the major contributing factors to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was Vitamin D deficiency. Our Immune system needs this essential vitamin and most of the population is deficient.

Oh there’s more you can find about homeopathy, herbal medicine and more nutritional advice, but this is a great place to start. If you want more information on herbs and recipes, check out my free  webinar.

Of course, the flu shot. There is no cure for the cold or flu. Period. The flu shot does not prevent you from getting the flu. Statistically it has shown to decrease the duration of the flu by two days in some people. That’s it.

Finally why do you really think we get the cold or flu? Do we need some disengagement from regular life where we can rest, lay on the couch or in bed, read a book, drink some warm tea and have someone care for us? What would life be like if our body didn’t need to get sick for this to happen? I wonder if we would see a change in the incidence of cold and flu if we all did this a little bit more for each other and ourselves.


I'm a researcher, educator, guest lecturer, and co-founder of Heartstone Center for Earth Essentials in Van Etten, NY.