How to stay healthy at home

Home-based alternatives for coping with colds and flus this winter

Chicken noodle soup helps clear out toxins from the liver and the intestinal system, says Diane Dawber, facilitator of the Health Pursuits Group.
Chicken noodle soup helps clear out toxins from the liver and the intestinal system, says Diane Dawber, facilitator of the Health Pursuits Group.
Photo by Eric Ferguson

What do you get when you mix bad weather, high stress, lack of rest and poor nutrition? A recipe for sick students. Although many students’ first reaction when they get sick is to head over to Health Counselling and Disability Services, there are home-based alternatives to help students to cope with colds and flues.

For Liam Mulligan, ArtSci ’09, a visit to the doctor when he was sick for almost two weeks was unnecessary.

“I just drank lots of water, took echinacea, Sucrets and Buckley’s, NeoCitran flavor in hot water,” he said.

Home remedies like Mulligan’s have been used for thousands of years. Indian Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine utilized natural therapies to prevent and treat disease. Western colonial families relied on home remedies, due to the high cost of visiting apothecaries. Honey, horehound, ginger tea and hot foot baths were standard cold remedies cross-culturally.

Most doctors, nurses and dieticians still recommend that students use home remedies for everyday ailments.

According to Diane Dawber, co-author of A New Spin On The Rotation Diet and facilitator of the Health Pursuits Group, lemon, honey and peppermint tea can alleviate a sore throat caused by dry air and cold weather conditions.

She said salt gargles or saline nasal washes reduce effects of the common cold.

“A salt gargle does kill unwanted bacteria,” she said. “That’s what zinc lozenges do too. The latter is more effective because it helps your immune system to fight back.” Dawber said fresh ginger eases sore stomachs and relieves any indigestion and Vicks VapoRub on the forehead, neck and chest eliminates sinus congestion and allows easy breathing. She also said having grandma’s chicken soup will make you feel warm and comforted.

“Any kind of soup is good because it has all of the nutrients in a soluble form,” she said. “Chicken soup in particular may really help. The ginseng … clears out the toxins from the liver and intestinal system.”

Dawber said the lack of specific vitamins in an individual’s daily diet may contribute to various stress-related disorders.

“Since our bodies stop making vitamin D in September and we can’t make it until May, not having vitamin D can cause mood problems, such as depression,” she said. “Students … should be getting more vitamin D in their systems.”

Essential nutrients such as the B complex vitamins, especially B5, activate proper immune function, Dawber said. Vitamin B and vitamin C deplete completely after half an hour of stress, so students should frequently take these supplements during winter exams.

Dawber said students, at the end of the day, will probably use their own remedies to prevent or treat illness.

“People should trust their instincts,” she said. “If they sense that something is very wrong, they should seek medical attention, but if they wake up one day and feel awful with a slight cough, they should use their home remedies [and] support the system with zinc, B complex and vitamin D to reduce symptoms with chicken soup, arnica and rest.”

Nonetheless, final exams and term papers can escalate stress levels beyond home-remedy control, leading to a variety of mood problems.

Dr. Kate Harkness, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor in the department of psychology at Queen’s University, deals with clients suffering from severe depression and anxiety related to stress.

“There are two things that we see during this high-stress time,” she said. “One is a rise in doctor and nursing appointments at Health Services and the other is a rise in appointments at Counseling Services.”

Harkness said avoiding harmful foods and activities can stop a bacterial infection before it starts.

“Students especially should limit their alcohol consumption,” she said. “It makes you more susceptible to infection when your body is already stressed.”

Although homemade concoctions do help, Harkness said it’s worthwhile to get a professional opinion.

“Chicken soup, eating well, lots of fruits and vegetables and vitamin C are all great home remedies to prevent illness but my number one advice to students would be to eat and sleep properly, limit their alcohol consumption and—if they feel really sick—make an appointment and go see a doctor.”

Vitamins to keep by your side

To keep your body regulated during the winter, be sure to get
your vitamins:

•Vitamin A: keeps your immune system running so you’re better able to fight off a cold. It’s found in milk, liver, oil-rich fish, apricots
and spinach.

•Vitamin B6: enables you to maintain a healthy nervous system and increase your red blood cell count. It’s found in eggs, whole wheat bread, soya beans and Marmite.

•Vitamin C: plays an important part in healing wounds and fractures and acts as an antioxidant. It protects the heart and is a great way to reduce the length of a cold. It can be found in numerous fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, berries, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes.

•Vitamin D: helps you absorb calcium and phosphorous, keeping your teeth, bones and nervous system healthy. The sun is a major source but because there isn’t a lot in winter, you can find it in milk, margarine, egg yolks and
oily fish.

•Vitamin E: defends against the
ill-effects of smoking and air pollutants and boosts the body’s immune system. It’s found in almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and vegetable oils.

•Iron: helps boost energy levels, intellectual performance and vitality. Lack of iron can cause tiredness, pallor and headaches. It’s found in lean meat, sardines, fortified breakfast cereals and green
leafy vegetables.

Where to purchase your supplemental vitamins
•Green Door Vitamins: 201 Wellington Street. 613-547-4584
•Tara Natural Foods: 81 Princess Street. 613-546-4439
•Loblaws: 1100 Princess Street. 613-530-3861
•Shoppers Drug Mart: There are 6 locations in Kingston. For more information check out

—Vidya Sri


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