Alternative Action for Cold and Flu Season

It’s that time of year. With kids heading back to school, families saddled with holiday travel, and the constant battle with germs at work and home, nearly everyone struggles with health in the winter. Rather than resorting to OTC medications that may have side-effects and only marginally treat symptoms, take steps now to boost your immune system and stock your cabinet with natural therapies that are sure to keep you and your family healthy this season.

Rest is crucial for optimal functioning of the immune system. Allow plenty of time for a good night’s sleep. And if you’re not sleeping well, try to uncover the cause. Make sure that you have a completely dark place to sleep. Even a small amount of light can throw off the body’s ability to produce melatonin, an important hormone for sleep and immune function.

Eat a whole foods diet. Processed foods don’t provide the body with the nutrients it needs to rest, recover and fight infections. Eat a balanced diet and load up on vegetables and fruits.

Keep sugar consumption to a minimum. Sugar depresses the immune system for four hours after consumption.

Regular exercise keeps the body’s defenses in good order and also helps to detoxify. Find an activity that you enjoy and can stick with.

Wash your hands. Most germs travel from the hands to other open mucus membranes, such as the mouth and the eyes, in order to get a foothold in the rest of the body.

Take a quality Vitamin C daily. Vitamin C has been shown in numerous studies to boost the immune system and help to fight off both bacterial infections, viruses, and help the body to heal from any trauma or illness. One of my favorite chewable vitamin C’s also contains Elderberry which has antiviral properties.

Neti pot nasal sinus lavage with salt water has been shown to decrease symptoms of colds and allergies in numerous studies. It has been used by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years, and is considered one of the important methods of cleansing. Sinus congestion continues to be a cause of significant symptoms in many cold sufferers, long after contagion and other symptoms. Since this is a local treatment, it offers a very safe and effective method of managing sinus symptoms of colds. With regular use it improves the quality of the sinus tissues.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has a long historical use in treating the flu, sinusitis, and allergic rhinitis. A randomized, placebo controlled study showed Sambucus to be effective in treating influenza A & B if given within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. The berries contain flavonoids that have an anti-histamine and mucus-draining effect. This herb is effective in treating sinusitis, conjunctivitis, tonsillitis and other upper respiratory conditions. The tannins will reduce phlegm, particularly helpful in sinusitis.

Due to it’s anti-viral properties it can be used for colds caused by other viruses. Elderberry is well studied and is proven to be safe and well tolerated.

Eyebright (Euphrasia) – Orally, eyebright is used to treat nasal mucous membrane inflammation, allergies, allergic rhinitis, common cold, bronchial conditions, and sinusitis. The tannin content gives Euphrasia it’s astringent characteristics, while the caffeic acid is bacteriostatic. It can also be used as a sinus decongestant.

Other herbs, such as astragalus and reishi mushrooms help boost the immune system, and have anti-bacterial properties. Found either alone or in combination with other herbs, they can ward of bacterial as well as viral illnesses. While Echinacea has gotten mixed reviews recently, it has a long historical use, is very safe, and several good studies have shown some benefit for cold sufferers.

Zinc decreases the duration of the common cold in adults when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Cough, nasal drainage and congestion are decreased by over 50% in zinc treated patients.

Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) has long been made into a tea for sore throats and upper respiratory illnesses. It is a soothing expectorant for the lungs, and helps reduce spasmodic coughing and decreases inflammation. Lozenges or teas will also provide symptomatic relief.

The stomach flu can hit at any time, and remedies to have on hand for that include probiotics (acidophilus, bifidus) to help restore the balance in your intestines and decrease diarrhea, as well as charcoal to help absorb the toxins in your GI tract.

When heading into the cold and flu season, it is important to make your body as healthy as possible so that viruses and bacteria don’t have a good place to take hold. But when you do become sick, natural therapies are safe and incredibly effective at restoring balance and overall health.

Resources

Blumenthal, Mark. Goldberg, Alicia. Brinkmann, Josef. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. American Botanical Council. Integrative Medicine Communications. 2000.

Blumenthal, Mark. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. American Botanical Council. Theime, New York. 2003.

Brinker, Francis. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, Third Edition. Eclectic Medical Publications. 2001.

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.

Guilbert, Larry J. There is a bias against type 1 (inflammatory) cytokine expression and function in pregnancy. Journal of Reproductive Immunology 32 (1996) 105-110.

Hemila H. Vitamin C supplementation and common cold symptoms: factors affecting the magnitude of the benefit. Med Hypotheses 1999;52:171-8.

Mossad SB, Macknin ML, Medendorp SV, Mason P. Zinc gluconate lozenges for treating the common cold. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Ann Intern Med 1996;125:81-8.

Newall CA, Anderson LA, Philpson JD. Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, UK: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.

Olsen SF, Sorensen JD, Secher NJ, et al. Randomized controlled trial of effect of fish-oil supplementation on pregnancy duration. Lancet 1992;339:1003-7.

Taccariello et al. (1999) Nasal Douching as a Valuable Adjunct in the Management of Chronic Rhino Sinusitis. Rhinology 37:29-32.

Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1:361-9.

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