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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: Are there natural treatments for sinus congestion?

Columnist Nonie De Long shares tips from checking the humidity in your home, to adding vitamins to your winter routine
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Dear Readers, this week’s question came from Cynthia in Peterborough. She wrote asking about something many of us deal with when the seasons change and flu season hits and the heaters get turned on - post nasal drip and ongoing sinus congestion. Cynthia wrote in that sinus congestion plagues her every winter and wonders if there a natural treatment for it.

I’m happy to say there are natural things we can do to minimize this. Let’s look at my top natural suggestions.

1. Humidify

The first suggestion is to ensure that the air in the home, and the bedrooms, in particular, is properly humidified. It’s recommended to keep the home between 50 and 60 per cent humidity. In one study conducted in 2010, the absolute humidity was measured and determined to be a strong predictive factor in both the seasonality of influenza - including the timing of outbreaks. 

Likewise, the CDC has done studies on humidity and the transmission of influenza viruses.

“At humidity levels of 23 per cent, 70 to 77 per cent of the flu virus particles were still able to cause an infection an hour after the coughing simulation. But when humidity levels were raised to 43 per cent, just 14 per cent of the virus particles had the ability to infect. Most of the flu particles became inactive 15 minutes after they were released into the humid air. The virus just falls apart at high humidity levels," said study researcher John Noti, of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. source

In a 2019 study at Yale University, publishers concluded that not only did exposure to dry air increase the survivability of influenza viruses, but it also compromised the innate immunity of the host. 

“These results indicate that exposure to dry air impairs host defence against influenza infection, reduces tissue repair, and inflicts caspase-dependent disease pathology.” source

There are a few ways to humidify the home in the winter. We can use humidifiers (preferably cool air devices to avoid burns), and we can also do something very simple: leave the bathroom door ajar when showering without running the exhaust fan. The steam that is exhausted from home can then circulate through the home to help bring humidity levels up. 

2. Take Zinc

The immune system is our natural defence against viruses, but to keep it healthy, there are a few key nutrients we must get enough of. Zinc is one such nutrient. We only need it in small amounts, but many people I see clinically are deficient. There are a few reasons for this, including a low intake of foods high in zinc (red meat, shellfish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds) and low stomach acid, as well as a damaged gut from Celiac disease (on the rise) or a damaged gut microbiota. 

“Celiac disease primarily impacts the proximal small intestine, and the small intestine is fundamental in maintaining zinc equilibrium within the body… Baseline plasma zinc levels are shown to be greatly reduced in over two-thirds of children diagnosed with celiac disease.” source

In turn, research out of Cornell University now shows that “zinc deficiency – a condition that affects 25 per cent of the world’s population, especially in the developing world – alters the makeup of bacteria found in the intestine.” source

Zinc is essential for proper metabolic function and regulation of blood sugar levels. Often diabetics are low in zinc. It’s also integral for wound healing, skin health, and our sense of smell. Have you heard of colds or flus, where people lose their sense of smell? Low zinc is the cause. 

We also know zinc helps our bodies clean up old, damaged cells. Think of this as the pacman process of the body. When we fast long enough, we can actually induce this. It’s called autophagy - and it’s being researched for benefits in numerous disease states - including cancer. But it can’t happen in the absence of zinc. 

My first recommendation is to increase the foods that are rich in zinc and add a good digestive enzyme with HCL if there is low stomach acid. When supplementing with zinc, picolinate has been shown to be one of the most easily absorbed and accessible. It’s important to make sure to take less than 30-40 mg/day if supplementing long-term, unless you are supervised by a qualified practitioner. It’s also beneficial to ensure you take a bit of copper with the zinc, as the two balance each other out. Many supplements contain both. This does not necessarily apply when pyroluria or schizophrenia is present, nor if the person has copper pipes in their home, has ADHD, learning disabilities, or is taking oral birth control. In these cases, I suggest forgoing the copper, as these are often conditions of high copper to zinc in the body. I suggest instead consulting a professional who can test your levels to determine if there is a copper imbalance to guide supplementation.

3. Take Vitamin D

In one of the largest global studies on the issue, regular vitamin D supplementation was found to substantially impact respiratory infections, especially in those with already low levels. The study included data from 14 countries, including the UK, U.S., Japan, India, Afghanistan, Belgium, Italy, Australia and Canada. Researchers concluded:

“Daily or weekly supplementation halved the risk of acute respiratory infection in people with the lowest baseline vitamin D levels, below 25 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L). However, people with higher baseline vitamin D levels also benefited, although the effect was more modest (10 per cent risk reduction). Overall, the reduction in risk of acute respiratory infection induced by vitamin D was on a par with the protective effect of injectable 'flu vaccine' against 'flu-like' illnesses.” source

This is particularly important for Canadians in the winter, as we know we don’t get adequate exposure to the sun to keep our vitamin D levels optimal without supplementing. My advice is to have levels taken by your doctor to determine the right dose for your particular needs. Vitamin D works best when our levels are optimal. 

4. Take Quercetin

Do you know about this little nutrient? If you suffer from a regularly stuffy nose or hives or eczema or asthma, or any type of allergies, you really should! Quercetin is a bioflavonoid - or a plant antioxidant. It’s the most widely studied flavonoid, actually. And it packs a lot of punch for cold and flu season! It’s been found to be helpful in downregulating almost all inflammatory processes in the body, especially those that involve histamine. This means anyone with food or other allergies or sensitivities can benefit immensely from this nutrient. 

In a 2020 study on quercetin for allergic diseases, the researchers conclude:

“Allergic diseases are a big concern and have high healthcare costs. In addition, the use of current therapies such as Beta2-agonists and corticosteroids has been limited for long-term use due to their numerous side effects. Quercetin, which has a long story of usage in human history, has demonstrated sufficient efficacy and has no significant side effects. It has the potential to reduce the most significant pathologies of asthma, such as eosinophil and neutrophil recruitment, the activation of bronchial epithelial cells, collagen and mucus production and airway hyperactivity. It also can suppress the production of both periostin and periostin-induced eosinophil chemoattractants and result in the improvement of the clinical condition of AR (allergic rhinitis). In fact, it will be a good candidate as a supplement for the management and treatment of allergic diseases, especially rhinitis. Since medicinal plants have a low price, natural origin, and fewer side effects, quercetin seems to be a good therapeutic nominee for allergic diseases in clinical trials.” source

People with kidney disease should not take quercetin supplements. Dr. Weil, M.D. recommends 400 mg two times a day between meals for allergies. For general health, he recommends between 100 and 250 mg three times a day.  

5. Try Colloidal Silver Sinus Spray

Lastly, I suggest this little-known hack for anyone suffering from sinus congestion at the first signs of suffering. In addition to using a neti pot as part of regular hygiene, I recommend filling a clean sinus spray bottle with colloidal silver and using two-three sprays in each sinus cavity up to five times a day as needed. At the onset of any sinus issue, this can help prevent infection, and once a sinus infection has taken hold, this can be incredibly helpful, as silver is a broad-spectrum natural antibiotic. As someone who has suffered sinus allergies and infections, this is now my go-to at the first sign of trouble. It rarely fails to head off a full-blown infection! Try it and send me your feedback!

Thank you to everyone who wrote last week to support Jim and his family regarding living kidney donation and to those readers who wrote in to share their own stories of kidney disease. As noted by one reader, the herbal protocol I shared last week is not recommended for people who have kidney failure but for those with UTIs and for general kidney health. Those suffering from kidney failure have to adhere to strict dietary and supplement guidelines as set out by their physicians. 

If you have your own health issue or question, just send me an email at [email protected] And if you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website at hopenotdope.ca. If you want to learn more, you can find other articles like this one at askthenutritionist.substack.com

Namaste! 

Nonie Nutritionista



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