Ayurveda Day 89: The Common Cold

Everyone has at one point or another experienced the common cold. Most of us are probably so used to it than when we get sick we just tend to ignore it, going about our work lives. The trickiness in this is we have this inherent understanding that the cold will eventually pass. So, knowing the discomfort is temporary, we place an expectation on ourselves and others to just “tough it out and get back to things as usual”.

This is a problem for various reasons, most noticeably that we endanger others and ourselves further by not taking the time to rest and heal properly.

From a western medical perspective the common cold is actually just multiple viruses that cause mucous infections in the upper respiratory tract. This can lead to runny nose, sore throat, loss of voice, cough, sinus inflammation, fatigue, fever…we’re all far too familiar with these symptoms. It’s a bit silly isn’t it? Just look at that list, the myriad of symptoms that run with the common cold. Yet, we ignore it! Downing medicine to suppress the symptoms instead of looking at the root cause and asking why we get the cold in the first place.

Why do we catch a cold?

When we have low ojas due to disharmony in the body and mind, we make ourselves more susceptible to colds. Combine that with improper rest, overworking, and poor dietary choices, and we end up building ama (toxins) that weakens the body further.

If we look at it from this perspective, then the reason we catch a cold is actually quite beautiful. The cold has a purpose: It is so common because it exists to force our bodies to rest and/or periodically purify. The cold is actually a gift!

Think of a cold as the first signs of low ojas and high ama in the body. Something quite minor and non-fatal comes along, the cold, to force us to slow down and rethink things. So it is at this point we have a choice:

– treat the cold as “just” a cold, ignoring it’s purposes and further mistreating our bodies, leading to further disease and suffering

– treat the cold as body wisdom that is indicating to us that we need to rest more, give our digestion a break to allow the liver and other organs to repair the body, and prevent illness from relocating elsewhere.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t do the latter. The body wants us to slow down. The cold is there to help us to heal. By not respecting the cold, we are just delaying the inevitability of further illness.

So what can I do when I catch a cold?

Treat it as a gift and be thankful! Take plenty of rest, give your digestion a break and eat lightly to devote all energy towards healing. Catch the warning signs early and immediately make changes. Don’t wait for it to become unbearable and drag it on for weeks. You can also do certain things to help the body:


– Zinc Picolinate: 30-50 mg per day for up to 10 days reduces intensity and duration of cold by 50%.

– Vitamin C: although data on this is inconclusive, some people have found that taking 2000-10,000mg per day helps. Vitamin C is an antioxidant (removes hydrogen from the blood that causes acidity and weakens all systems of the body. Alkalizes.)

– Take plenty of rest: the most important of all treatments.

– Do neti. For Vata, add a pinch of turmeric, and 2tbsp licorice tea if available. For Pitta, add 2 tbsp of licorice tea and 2-4 tbsp of gotu kola, brahmi, or skullcap. For Kapha, add a pinch of ginger and 2 tbsp tulsi tea. With all of these, make sure there is a 1/8th to 1/4 tsp salt, the water is warm, and that it is strained thoroughly. Do neti 1-3 times a day until symptoms improve.

– Drink the following teas: For Vata, turmeric, ginger, and/or black pepper with 1 tsp of ghee added. For Pitta, echinacea, burdock, or licorice. For Kapha, clove, cinnamon, or ginger.

– Make your own cough syrup:

  • 4 parts elecampagne: a lung tonic and cough suppressant
  • 2 parts licorice: a nutritive tonic that is antiviral
  • 1 part cinnamon: anti-viral and post digestive
  • consider adding 2 parts marshmallow, especially for dryness
    • Take one ounce of the herbs, preferrably cut and sifted, 1 cup maple syrup, and 1 cup water. Boil until all water is gone, then strain and bottle. It will be shelf stable up to one year or more so long as no moisture is present. Take 1-2 tbsp serving if you feel the cold coming no more than 2x a day. Take away from meals

– At night, take a nervine sedative tincture for sleep (especially for pittas/vatas) of valerian or passionflower.

– Take slippery elm lozanges (fisherman’s friend) for cough and sore throat relief.

All of these treatments are simple, natural ways to heal, that don’t interfere with the body’s wisdom. Usually if you recognize the cold early enough, you will find these treatments speed up your healing rate dramatically. But the most important thing of all to remember is to respect the cold and yourself. Take rest. There is no need to endanger yourself and others more by continuing the same bad habits that made you susceptible to the cold in the first place.

With gratitude,



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