How to Deal with a Cold Naturally

A few weeks ago I was proudly telling a coursemate that I rarely get sick since I’ve gone paleo. Or when I do they don’t last longer than three days. You see, I have a Protocol for when I get a cold. Of course, less than a week later, I caught a cold away from home without my tools. Karma, maybe?

Anyway, the Protocol. This stems from frantic searching of all the paleo blogs everytime I get a cold to see how I can shorten the lifespan naturally. The Protocol is an amalgamation of the advice from Chris Kresser, Wellness Mama, Primal Docs and other random bits of info I’ve picked up over the years and can’t point you to. Of course prevention is key – and I always kick myself when I get a cold because it nearly always follows a period of stress, poor sleep or poor eating habits.

It’s important to be hyper aware of the early signs of getting a cold. For me I usually wake up with a scratchy, sore throat and that’s my first sign. As soon as I recognise the sign, I start the Protocol. This is not a hard and fast set of rules and my approach is throw everything I can at it. Sometimes I do everything, sometimes I do just some of them. But generally speaking my colds rarely last longer than three days and I rarely get completely floored by them.

Before I get on to the actual Protocol, it goes without saying that you really should rest and get good sleep (apparently even just a few nights of reduced sleep lowers your immune system’s capabilities) and keep to a whole food, paleo-style diet while nursing your cold. Eat warming foods such as soups and stews rather than cold salads. If you can, take a sick day from work on Day One – you might feel like you can actually manage a day at work but if you take a day off you will improve your chances of a quick recovery. Besides you’re contagious in the early days of your cold so it’s in your boss’s best interest to stay away from infecting all your collegagues.

So…here’s it is. The Protocol.


Coconut oil

DSC_0426How much? 1 tablespoon of coconut oil first thing in the morning and at night.

Why? Coconut oil has antimicrobial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Wellness Mama, the lauric acid in coconut oil is thought to dissolve the lipid coating around some viruses and make them more susceptible to attack by the immune system.

How? Let it sit in your mouth and allow it to melt slowly. It does take a bit of getting used to. Get one that you like the taste of. I use one brand of coconut oil for cooking with and another for eating raw because they do have slightly different flavours.

Apple cider vinegar

DSC_0432How much? A teaspoon mixed in some warm water.

Why? Wellness Mama says it can help with a sore throat and also may help kill viruses and bacteria. It burns a bit in your stomach which is a bit unpleasant but it FEELS like it’s working.

How? I started doing a full shot but I find this makes me feel a bit queasy, and my boyfriend straight up refuses to do this, so go with a diluted version. Try and get the version with the ‘mother’ as it contains probiotics. This is usually a little cloudy with sediment at the bottom. Shake it up before you pour it out so you get some of the sediment in your shot.

Probiotics – kefir or kombucha

DSC_0438How much?  I try and have some coconut milk kefir every day anyway (I make my own) but I make an extra special effort to drink it every day when I have a cold. I make it in a small jar, enough for one person at a time. I personally don’t take probiotic supplements as they’re quite expensive so kefir is my main daily source. My boyfriend prefers water kefir so go with whichever you like best!

Why? According to Chris Kresser, most of our immune system resides in our gut. This should be a preventative measure to keep your gut microflora populated with probiotic food.

How? Since we’re avoiding dairy (see below), use coconut milk kefir or water kefir rather than yoghurt or milk kefir. Kombucha is also good.

Hot ginger, mint, honey and lemon

DSC_0445How much? As much as you can manage in a day, but especially at the first signs of a cold.

Why? Ginger has anti-microbial properties and the fibrous nature of the root is anti-inflammatory; ginger also helps with nausea. Lemon has vitamin C and, along with the mint has antibacterial benefits. Honey is a natural antibiotic and soothing for a sore throat. (The original recipe and information for this came from the Neal’s Yard Healing Foods book, which is a fascinating read. I found the addition of mint to the usual honey-ginger-lemon complex to be easier and more refreshing to drink.)

How? Grate the ginger into a saucepan and boil it for ten minutes. Strain and add it to a mug with chopped mint, half a lemon and just enough honey to take the sharpness away. Top it up with hot water and stir until honey is dissolved. Chew on the mint leaves when you’ve drunk all the hot liquid. If this is too much of a hassle, I would suggest you do this once a day at least and then for the rest of the day just make a hot honey, lemon and ginger. Lots of ginger is good. You could also add cinnamon to a hot ginger-honey-lemon drink as it can help with congestion, and is a warming spice.

Bone broth

DSC_0447How much? As much as you can manage, but at least twice a day for the duration of the cold. Ideally keep this up in your general daily life!

Why? According to the Weston A Price Foundation, bone broth is rich in magnesium, phosphorus, silicone, sulphur, and other trace minerals which are easily absorbed by the body. The warm soup will also help soothe a sore throat, be gentle on the stomach, warm you up and keep you hydrated.

How? I always have some in the freezer in mug-size portions. If you make it fresh, cook the bones with lots of ginger and garlic. Use joint bones rich in collagen and marrow bones such as knuckle, chicken feet, pig trotters, oxtail. I like to add spices such as star anise and cinnamon too as they add extra warmth. You can also make clear soups with the bone broth with added slices of ginger, garlic and spring onions.

Avoid white food (dairy, sugar and grains) and caffeine

Why? Dairy can make you mucousy, exacerbating the problem. Additionally, the extra sugar and carbs can apparently feed the infection.

How? If you’re paleo you’ll be doing this anyway, but make a special effort when you’ve got a cold. Eat  easy to digest and comforting food such as soup and stews.

Optional extras

DSC_0449In my reading, many have suggested garlic to have good antibiotic and anti-viral properties.  I don’t use it personally because I can’t stand raw garlic, but if I was having a soup I would put it in. I love garlic roasted in its skin and squeezed out into a smooth, rooty soup. Wellness Mama suggest crushing a couple of cloves in a glassful of water and drinking it in one.

DSC_0452Turmeric is a wonderful spice and should be used in everyday cooking. It is anti-inflammatory and has antioxidant properties. You can make this lovely warming turmeric spiced tea from Ceri Jones of Natural Kitchen Adventures which has the added bonus of ginger. I would also add it to one of my soups – roasted squash and garlic, for example.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a qualified nutritionist so I don’t know whether any of these would have an adverse effect on you, especially if you have a particular medical condition or are pregnant/nursing. Please use common sense and consult a doctor if symptoms persist or something doesn’t feel right. Do your own research on natural remedies to decide whether they’re right for you.



  1. […] bacteria in the gut – good and bad! (If you’re interested, I’ve written about how I manage a cold using food including kefir, in a previous blog […]

  2. Hello, I read this blogpost and you convinced me to try your Paleo Protocol if I have a cold.
    I’m definitely a supporter of your hot ginger-honey-lemon drink, but I’m not sure about the bone broth though. If I were to leave this out, would I still be guaranteed a quick recovery?

    1. Hi Louise, lovely, great to hear this has inspired you! There’s no right or wrong here – do whatever makes you feel better! And there’s no guarantee that this will cure you – I’ve just found that over time i have fewer colds and they are shorter in duration but that could also be because my diet is generally much better now!

      I find bone broth comforting but if you’re not keen on it then leave it out. Or have a soup make from a good stock instead – just a small bowl of clear soup perhaps with slices of ginger sound like a lovely idea to me!

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