Cold and Flu
The common cold and flu are two of the leading reasons children stay home sick from school and adults stay home sick from work. It is estimated that 30-50 million Americans get the flu each year, in spite of the prevalence of the flu vaccine. In actuality, the main reason kids and adults get more colds and flu in the fall and winter is because they are indoors more and exposed to more people who may be infected. It is not because it “gets cold outside.”
To the disbelief of many, there are safeguards and steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting a cold or “flu” bug, or at the very least, reduce its severity and duration. Colds and flu enter the body through the respiratory tract. If a person’s immune system is vulnerable (with excess mucous secretions, lung infections, stress, inflammation, excessive antibiotic use, damage of “friendly” flora or bacteria in the gut, lack of exercise, and other deficiencies), then their chances of getting a cold or flu will increase. There are over 200 different viruses known to cause the common cold.
Proper nutrition, rest, exercise, and refraining from alcohol and nicotine can help moderate your vulnerability over the long-term.
In Fall 2004, there was a nationwide shortage of flu vaccine that forced millions of Americans to seek alternatives. The people most at risk include the elderly, the very young, healthcare workers, and people with heart, lung, metabolic, and autoimmune diseases that weaken their immune system. Several natural options help normal, healthy adults protect against the flu, diminish flu symptoms, and/or shorten flu intensity and duration.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A COLD AND THE FLU?
Cold symptoms consist of a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes, and may take a week or more to resolve. The flu, however, can have immediate symptoms that are severe, sudden, and often land the person in bed for a few days, including fever, chills, headache, dry cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and a runny or stuffy nose. The fatigue and weakness may last two or three weeks.
If you must get a flu shot, it is suggested by leading herbalists that you never get the shot when you have a cold, flu, or general sickness because your immune system is compromised. Secondly, if you must get a shot then take an immune-boosting herb like echinacea for 5-7 days prior to getting the vaccine. Such supplementation will ensure a healthier immune system and minimize negative immune response that could be caused by the vaccine.
There is little doubt that eating foods that are mucous forming and phlegm producing will increase your chances of getting a cold or flu. Phlegm is a perfect medium for bacteria to grow. The most phlegm-producing foods are dairy (cow’s milk), sugar, eggs, meats, chicken, spices, and chocolate. Don’t drink milk or eat cheese and ice cream when you have a cold; they will only make it hang on longer. Here are some other dietary tips:
- Limit refined carbohydrates such as sugar, breads, and pastas made from processed flours, bagels, and soft drinks.
- Maintain a fat intake of no more than 15-20% of total calories.
- Drink plenty of pure mineral spring water daily.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, which will boost the immune system.
- VITAMIN C (ESTER)
This antioxidant vitamin boosts and supports immune-system function by promoting increased natural killer-cell activity and increased white-blood-cell movement to the site of infection. Dosage: 1,000 mg 2-6 times a day for acute flu or cold. Maintain 1,000-2,000 mg of vitamin C daily through the fall and winter cold/flu season.
Echinacea is one of the most effective herbal remedies available. Not only do the extracts from this purple coneflower treat signs and symptoms of the common cold, but they also prevent infections after exposure. Echinacea has antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-infective characteristics; it is effective for chronic infections of the respiratory tract and the lower urinary tract. Dosage: 400-900 mg daily; however, at the onset of a cold or flu take one dose (capsule or tincture) 3 or 4 times a day for 7-14 days. For maintenance protection and recurrent infections, take one dose daily for three weeks on, then one week off, and then resume. [NOTE: Long-term use may be contraindicated in people with autoimmune diseases. The best research on echinacea in Europe is a preparation combining the above-ground plant and the flower echinacea purpurea. Other preparations use the root or herb.]
- ZINC and ZINC LOZENGES
The mineral zinc gives the immune system an additional boost through assisting the development of T-cells which destroy body cells affected by viruses and other dangerous organisms. Dissolve one zinc lozenge in your mouth at the first onset of cold or sore throat. Repeat taking a lozenge every few hours as needed. Dosage: 15-60 mg daily.
- VITAMIN A
Vitamin A exerts a protective effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. It helps prevent the invasion of other disease-causing organisms. Dosage: 3,000-10,000 IU/daily.
- BERBERINE-Containing Herbs
These have long been used for their antibiotic action and toning effects on the respiratory tract. Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) all contain berberine. They boost the immune system and protect the body against infection.
Use of elderberry as a flu remedy dates back to ancient Rome. Elderberry has proven effective against eight strains of influenza and virus; it helps to eliminate mucous and inhibit viral reproduction. One of the best things about elderberry is that it is mild, safe, and tastes great, so it is good for kids. Dosage: As directed on package.
Astragalus is a popular Chinese herb used to enhance the body’s natural defenses. It has been scientifically shown to reduce the incidence and shorten the duration of the common cold, and it may be an excellent choice for preventing and treating influenza (in contrast to getting a flu shot). Dosage: As directed on package.
An all-natural product containing influenzinum 9C called Dolivaxil may be helpful as a homeopathic flu season defense, especially for individuals not choosing to get the flu vaccine. Dosage: One tube under the tongue weekly for 4 weeks, then wait 3 weeks for the fifth tube.
- VITAMIN B6
Pyridoxine encourages the immune system to manufacture other vital antibodies to help combat disease. Most Americans are vitamin B6 deficient. Dosage: 25-100 mg a day.
Garlic has an ability to fight infection because of its antibiotic and antiviral effects. Dosage: Regularly consume either fresh or in extract form, during cold and flu season.
Andrographis is used throughout Asia for its multiple health-promoting properties to support the immune system by stimulating white blood cells. It is safe and effective in treating upper-respiratory infections associated with colds and flus. Dosage: As directed on package.
A homeopathic combination, this works best when taken at the first sign of flu symptoms. Dosage: As directed on package.
Supplementing with ginseng throughout winter appears to help the immune system fend off cold viruses, according to research in Canada. A study by the University of Western Ontario found volunteers taking Panax ginseng had many less cold/flu symptoms than a placebo group. Dosage: As directed on label.
- PROBIOTIC with FOS
When the bowel flora is in balance, the body can better deal with the infections associated with cold and flu. Dosage: Take 1 dose (powder or capsule) 3-4 times a day during illness, preferably on an empty stomach.
This versatile herb has both immune-enhancing and anti-microbial effects. Dosage: As directed on package.
- REISHI, MAITAKE, and SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
These Chinese and Japanese mushrooms have been used to enhance the activity of macrophages and leukocyte-fighting cells that form part of the immune response. Dosage: As directed on package.
- COENZYME Q10
CoQ10 is a nutrient often overlooked as an immune-system supporter. Dosage: 20-100 mg a day for maintenance.
Bergner, P. Elderberry. Medical Herbalism, Winter 1996-97. 8(4); 1, 11-12.
Blumenthal, M. Americans Suggest Herbs are Promising Alternatives. Herbalgram.org, Online Resource 10/31/04.
Brown, DJ. Beyond Chicken Soup. Natural Pharmacy, Jan. 1997. 1(1a); 1, 14-15.
Fight a Cold with Ginseng? Vitamin Retailer, December 2005. 12(12); 48.
Sahelian, R. Achoo, A ‘How-to’ Guide for Squashing the Common Cold. Better Nutrition, Jan. 1999 P. 24.
Sisu Ester-EVC Fact Sheet. 1997.
Wagner, H. Herbal Immunostimulants for the Prophylaxis and Therapy of Colds and Influenza. The European Journal of Herbal Medicine, Spring 1997. 3(1); 22-30.
Weiss, D. Cold and Flu- Echinacea. Ask the Doctor. Brochure by Enzymatic, 2001.
Wolfson, D. A Shield of Immunity. Nutrition Science News, Sept. 1999, 4(9); 414-420.
Up Next: Crohn's Disease