Written by Heather McGinley

Although illness can strike any time, doctors’ offices and urgent care facilities become filled with cold and flu patients during  the winter months.

As Virginians spend more time indoors with family and friends, we begin to agonize over work and holiday plans and fail to adequately prepare for cold temperatures. As a result, the immune system tends to weaken, explains Dr. Carl Fusco, who specializes in naturopathic medicine and owns Natural Path in Virginia Beach.

To battle sickness, Fusco and two other local doctors offer their insights into the value of home remedies.

Dr. Christopher Dowd of Cornerstone Private Practice in Suffolk, and Dr. Diana Pengitore (Fusco’s partner at The Natural Path) agree with Fusco that, as with any new treatment, you should consult your doctor before attempting a home remedy.

Play It Safe
Home remedies are generally inexpensive and safe if used appropriately, but you still have to be careful. Something as simple as taking the wrong dosage of certain vitamins can lead to harmful interactions, health issues or even cancer, Dowd explains. “It’s the best course of action to have a discussion with your doctor so you do things for better health rather than things that can harm you,” he says.

Bring over-the-counter medications, prescriptions, oral supplements and vitamins when you meet with your doctor, and discuss how using certain home remedies will work with your body, Dowd advises. After meeting with your doctor, here are a few popular home remedies you may want to try:

Steam
A steam shower can be effective in calming coughs or bronchospasms. The moist heat from the shower can provide relief to muscles strained in coughing, Dowd explains. The steam provides warm moisture to the respiratory system, helping to break up mucous and remove it from your system.

Soup & Hot Tea
A warm bowl of soup, particularly chicken noodle and onion soup, can help with decongestion, providing moisture to the chest and sinuses while the warmth of the soup soothes the throat.

Soup provides a tasty means of staying hydrated, Pengitore says. Ingredients like onion and garlic have antiseptic qualities, potentially helping the body repair itself faster, while sodium (found in ingredients such as carrots and celery) can help the body metabolize and absorb nutrients.

Drinking hot green tea can also provide benefits, Pengitore explains, because the heat soothes the throat, and tea is full of antioxidants.

Orange Juice and Vitamin C
Orange juice is a very popular home remedy and best known for boosting the immune system; but its effectiveness in recent years has come into question.

Pengitore is a firm believer in vitamin C as a preventative measure. A daily dose is important because the body does not produce it, she says.  She recommends beginning with 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily as a preventative measure.

Dowd, Fusco and Pengitore agree that orange juice purchased from most grocery stores is ineffective as a home remedy, because it will lose most of its vitamin content before you even bring it home.

Saline Rinses
Saline rinses are an effective way to reduce congestion symptoms, Dowd says. Neti pots, saline mists and sinus rinse kits physically remove debris to help you breathe better.

The body’s defense when something harmful enters is to flush it out. This is why it creates mucus, Fusco adds. Rinsing out mucus and debris can help alleviate allergy and cold symptoms.

Honey
Pengitore and Fusco recommend ingesting local honey every day to reduce allergies, as long as you are not diabetic.

As bees gather nectar from plants to make honey, they are creating a homeopathic remedy for allergies—providing small doses of the allergen to the patient and building up their resistance. Mixing honey into hot tea actually breaks down the enzymes, so Pengitore recommends eating the honey directly from the spoon.

Cranberry Juice
Many people use cranberry juice as a remedy for urinary tract infections. While it has some antiseptic qualities, for a serious infection Dowd and Fusco say visit your doctor. “It’s not equivalent to an antibiotic, and it’s important not to let it go for a long time without going to your doctor,” Dowd advises.