We’ve all been there: Despite efforts to ward off sniffles, coughs, and sneezes, we still end up reaching for the tissues. And when we’re feeling blah, we just want fast relief. For your customers who find themselves under the weather, they’ll appreciate that their local health food store is stocked with products that help ease symptoms without worrying about some of the side effects that can come with OTC medications. And they’ll be especially grateful for clear signage that can help them quickly and easily find what they are looking for. Here, a look at just a few of the many natural remedies that can help with common concerns.
1. Minimizing Sick Days
Everyone who is feeling less-than-their-best is keen to speed up their recovery. You likely already stock a product known to help—elderberry. One 2004 study investigated the efficacy of elderberry syrup on 60 patients with influenza A and B infections. Those taking elderberry syrup found their symptoms relieved an average of four days earlier than the placebo group, and used rescue medication significantly less often (1). A 2016 study published in Nutrients looked at 312 passengers flying economy class out of Australia, and found that placebo group participants who got sick had a significantly longer duration of cold episode days than those taking elderberry, plus had worse symptoms over the course of those days (2).
However, all is not said and done in this area. Other research has found that elderberry didn’t work as well, albeit in a small study (3). One takeaway here: Not all elderberry is equal. Consider stocking supplements from brands that use research-backed ingredients; a more expensive product may be a harder sale, but vetting your products to ensure that you only sell supplements that work will make you the go-to.
Baker’s yeast may help, too. EpiCor, specifically, has been studied for duration of and symptoms of cold and flu viruses. In one trial, wherein the participants had been vaccinated for the flu, the EpiCor group had statistically significantly reduced number of incidences of cold and flu symptoms compared to placebo, and the average number of days with symptoms was reduced by 17%—4.16 symptom days for those taking EpiCor, while those on a placebo had an average of 5.01 symptom days (4).
In a non-flu vaccinated trial, the EpiCor group again had significantly reduced number of incidences of cold and flu symptoms compared to the placebo, although there was no significant reduction in duration or severity of symptoms (5). This may be a great way to remind your customers that besides working to decrease the number of health struggles we face, natural products—particularly those studied for this—can work synergistically with conventional medication to keep them healthy. It’s always important for consumers to discuss supplements with a healthcare provider, of course, but providing your customers with information on clinical trials showing that natural ingredients can boost conventional medication can be a helpful way for them to kickstart that conversation.
While probiotics won’t fix a cold that’s already underway, they can play an important role in easing symptoms when a customer has required antibiotics.
Antibiotics, while often medically necessary, can disrupt a person’s gut microbiome. This can impact digestive and immune health, making it harder to recover from an illness. And, according to Mayo Clinic, “nearly all antibiotics can cause antibiotic-associated diarrhea.” (15) This issue “typically clears up within a few days after you stop taking the antibiotic,” according to Mayo Clinic staff, and anything worse than that calls for a discussion with a healthcare provider, but nonetheless, your customers would likely prefer to avoid it.
Probiotics can help here. A 2017 meta-analysis set out to assess the effects of probiotics on antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) (16). The researchers found 17 randomized controlled trials with 3631 total participants to be included in the review. The overall quality of the included studies was moderate, but the pooled results still found that AAD was present in 8.0% of the probiotic group compared to 17.7% in the control group. Species-specific results were similar regarding the probiotic strains L. rhamnosus GG and S. boulardii. Besides the fact that “probiotic use may be beneficial in the prevention of AAD,” the researchers noted that probiotic use appeared to be safe.
It’s important to note here that not just any probiotic will do—different probiotics do different things, and there are a lot of probiotics. A customer who is about to take antibiotics may want to discuss a probiotic with several different strains with their healthcare provider, in order to best replace what the antibiotic is killing; a customer who has already taken probiotics may want to talk to a health care provider about a probiotic studied specifically for post-antibiotic use. Bio-K+, for instance, has been studied and approved in Canada for certain related uses, and as noted above, strains L. rhamnosus GG and S. boulardii have been studied for this purpose.
2. Soothing a Sore Throat/Cough
Sore throats—and coughing that can create and exacerbate them—can make it painful to swallow, making every moment a misery. One quick remedy: gargling salt water. Mix one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water, and gargle to help reduce bacteria and viruses in the mouth and to relieve sore throats (6). Ensuring that your customers have quality salt isn’t just helping them make food taste good—it can help them with a sore throat, too.
For a tastier remedy, consider suggesting a combination of ginger, lemon, and honey, either in a tea or by infusing honey with lemon slices and ginger root. Honey has natural antibacterial properties, offers pain relief, works to reduce inflammation, and can also act as a cough suppressant, according to Penn Medicine’s Charlotte Smith, M.D. (7). Dr. Smith notes that lemons can help break up mucus and relieve pain, while providing some extra vitamin C. Ginger contains compounds called gingerols and shogaols, which may have anti-inflammatory properties (8). Ginger has also been shown to have antimicrobial properties, and to contain antioxidants.
This concoction isn’t difficult to make: Fill a small jar with lemon slices, grating ginger in about halfway through. Add enough honey to fill in all the space between the lemons, and let sit for a day or so before using. It can be added to hot water, added to tea, or eaten alone. Encourage your customers to make it with local honey—besides supporting local beekeepers, it can help with allergies. This is a great opportunity to discuss the benefits of fresh herbs, as well. A couple notes: First, honey and lemon can keep for a long time, and preserve the ginger along with them, so this can be made in preparation for cold season and kept in the fridge. Second, honey can be dangerous to infants under one year old, so this is not for them.
And then, of course, there’s the easiest way to handle coughing and sore throats—cough drops and throat lozenges. While Hall’s is well-known, there are also natural brands like Zarbee’s—which offers a 99% honey cough drop for customers looking for just the healing power of honey without the mess, but also offers a honey cough drop with English ivy leaf extract. Research shows that extracts from this plant contain saponins, which can loosen up mucus to help clear it out faster while relaxing the muscles in the airway (9). Traditional Medicinals offers throat lozenges—including ones containing menthol, which is both a pain reliever and a cough suppressant.
Chicken Soup for the Cold
Chicken soup delivers an array of cold-reducing ingredients, according to Shannon Wongvibulsin, associated with UCLA (14). It can help reduce inflammation, possibly via a compound called carnosine, which can help inhibit the proinflammatory conditions associated with initial stages of viral infections. Chicken soup may be more helpful than hot water in moving nasal mucus and clearing congestion—and Wongvibulsin cites a 1998 report that found that chicken soup may improve the ability of the tiny hairs in the nose to prevent infectious particles from making it into the body. Wongvibulsin also noted that chicken soup is often made with garlic and onions, which can also help: Garlic may help people recover more quickly from a cold, while onions contain quercetin, which may have antiviral properties.
3. Calming Congestion
Besides just being uncomfortable, congestion can prevent people from getting proper sleep, which can prolong an illness. One useful point to educate your customers about: A runny nose is a good thing. Mucus in the nose can help capture bacteria and viruses, reducing exposure to them, and can flush microbes out of the body altogether (10). Decongestants that dry the nasal passages out may be useful when customers are making a last-ditch effort to clear their nose so that they can sleep properly, but constant use prevents the body from making use of this natural clearing pathway. Besides that, Liza Torborg, with Mayo Clinic, writes that decongestants “can sometimes cause more harm than good, especially if taken repeatedly” (11). For one, it can cause a slight increase in blood pressure, which may be a concern for those who already have high blood pressure. And some can create the problem they’re supposed to solve: “Using nonprescription decongestant nasal sprays for more than three or four days can cause even worse nasal congestion once the decongestant wears off (rebound rhinitis),” Torborg writes. “All too often, people think their colds are getting worse, so they increase their use of nasal spray, leading to a downward spiral of medication use and worsening congestion.”
The advice here: Remind your customers to drink plenty of water—whether plain or infused with lemon—to help keep their nasal passages hydrated and to keep the mucus flowing. Selling sustainable tissues, like the bamboo-based ones from Who Gives a Crap, can help customers handle this symptom in a way that aligns with their beliefs.
For more stubborn congestion, consider essential oils—not for ingestion, but for inhalation. There are several options for getting these oils into the nose—add them to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam, add them to a diffuser, or add a few drops to a bath. All of these methods have a secondary perk of getting more moisture in the air, which will help keep the nasal passages moist. Peppermint oil is a great option: It contains menthol, which may affect the mucus receptors in the nose, helping to open the airways and clear mucus (12). Other options include eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, and rosemary oils, which are varying levels of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Remind customers to dilute them properly, and to be careful around animals—tea tree, particularly, can be harmful to pets, even when properly diluted.
There are also natural nasal sprays. Xlear makes nasal sprays with xylitol, rather than medication. The hypertonic solution draws moisture into the nasal cavity, cleansing it. Studies on the company’s website show that xylitol can also block bacteria from sticking to tissue and open up the airways, increasing airflow. This can be a rescue product, but it can also be used year-round to reduce the number of microbes in the nasal passages.
When it comes to an outright rinse, saline solutions and a neti pot may come in handy; Xlear offers a xylitol-based rinse solution, as well, which may work better for your customers.
Depending on the cause of the congestion, EpiCor may be useful here, too (13). The product has been studied for use in reducing allergy-induced congestion, and was found to significantly reduce the severity and duration of nasal congestion—those taking EpiCor saw a 43% reduction in the median number of days with nasal congestion when compared to placebo and a 25.34% reduction in the average number of days with nasal congestion.
- Z. Zakay-Rones et al., “Randomized Study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” Journal of International Medicine Research. 32(2). 132-40(2004). doi: 10.1177/147323000403200205. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15080016/
- Evelin Tiralongo, Shirley S. Wee, Rodney A. Lea, “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Nutrients. 8(4). 2016. Doi: 10.33390/nu8040182. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651/
- Michael Macknin et al., “Elderberry Extract Outpatient Influenza Treatment for Emergency Room Patients Ages 5 and Above: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Journal of General Internal Medicine. 35. 3271-3277(2020). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-06170-w
- Moyad, M. A., et al., Effects of a modified yeast supplement on cold/flu symptoms. Urol Nurs 2008, 28 (1), 50-5. Online reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18335698
- Moyad, M. A., et al., Immunogenic yeast-based fermentate for cold/flu-like symptoms in nonvaccinated individuals. J Altern Complementary Med 2010, 16(2), 213-8. Online reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pubmed/20180695
- Carissa Stephens, “What Are the Benefits of a Salt Water Gargle?” Healthline. Posted 03/29/2019. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/salt-water-gargle
- Charlotte Smith, “6 At-Home Remedies to Ease Your Sore Throat.” Penn Medicine. Posted 11/10/2020. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/february/sore-throat
- Adrian White, “How Does Ginger Help a Sore Throat?” Healthline. Posted 04/21/2020, Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/ginger-for-sore-throat
- Rena Goldman, “Everything You Want to Know About English Ivies.” Healthline. Posted 11/03/2016. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/5-fast-facts-english-ivy
- Tim Jewell, “Why Does Your Nose Run When You Cry, Eat, or Are Cold?” Healthline. Posted 06/10/2019. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/why-does-your-nose-run-when-you-cry-2
- Liza Torborg, “Mayo Clinic Q and A: Decongestants sometimes cause more harm than good,” Mayo Clinic. Posted 12/29/2015. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-decongestants-sometimes-cause-more-harm-than-good/
- Lana Burgess, “Top 7 essential oils for sinus congestion,” Medical News Today. Posted 02/27/2019. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324570#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
- Moyad, M. A., et al. Immunogenic yeast-based fermentation product reduces allergic rhinitis-induced nasal congestion: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Adv Ther 2009, 26 (8), 795-804. Online reference: https://www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19672568
- Shannon Wongvibulsin, “An Inside Scoop on the Science Behind Chicken Soup and the Common Cold,” UCLA. Posted 2013. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://exploreim.ucla.edu/wellness/an-inside-scoop-on-the-science-behind-chicken-soup-and-the-common-cold/#chickensoup
- Mayo Clinic Staff, “Antibiotic-associated diarrhea,” Mayo Clinic. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antibiotic-associated-diarrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352231
- Sara Blaabjerg, Daniel Maribo Artzi, and Rune Aabenhus, “Probiotics for the Prevention of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea in Outpatients—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Antibiotics. 6(4). 2017. doi: 10.3390/antibiotics6040021 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5745464/