Ah, October. Halloween, cool, crisp weather, changing leaves—and the start of cold and flu season. This year, if sneezing, a runny nose, body aches, or fever crop up, don’t reach for over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Instead, give natural remedies a try.
What Remedies Really Work? Rest, of course, drink plenty of liquids, and, yes, eat chicken soup. It’s nutritious and has been scientifically proven to combat inflammation and soothe a dry, stuffy nose. You can get symptomatic relief with the cold and flu remedies that line the shelves of your drugstore. (Avoid the all-in-one combos. If your nose is stopped up, take a decongestant for a couple of days, or if you have a cough, use an expectorant. Don’t expose yourself to medications you don’t need, and use only for a brief period.)
But more important, you need to bolster your immune system so it can fight off these viruses and get you back on your feet. And time is of the essence. All of these natural remedies work best if you begin them in the earliest stages of a viral infection.
Take Your Vitamins From A to Zinc. Vitamin C is the best known of the immune-boosting vitamins, and with good reason. At least 20 double-blind studies have shown that taking this vitamin reduces the duration or severity of the common cold. I recommend taking 500-1,000 mg every hour you are awake. Be forewarned that high doses cause diarrhea in some people; if you are one of them, try 500 mg every two hours, or as tolerated.
Also important is vitamin D. For three or four days at the onset of a viral infection, I increase my patients’ dose of this vitamin to 50,000 IU for five to seven days. After a week, return to your usual dose, even if you still have symptoms. Zinc has become a favorite remedy since a study demonstrated that sucking on zinc gluconate lozenges cut the duration of a cold in half. I suggest trying zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold.
Bring on the Botanicals. My favorite herb for fighting infections is echinacea, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties, in addition to strengthening the immune system. It has been demonstrated in several studies to prevent the progression of colds. Take it when symptoms first strike or throughout the cold and flu season as a preventive.
Other useful herbals include:
• Elderberry, specifically studied for its ability to inhibit the replication of the flu virus
• Garlic and astragalus, other proven infection fighters
• Eucalyptus and menthol, ingredients in many cough drops that relieve congestion and cough
• Cayenne pepper, sprinkled in a cup of tea or on your chicken soup, which unstops a stuffy nose and opens airways
• Teas made with slippery elm, wild cherry bark, ginger, or chamomile, which are soothing to the throat and bronchioles.
Look for products containing these herbs in your health food store and use as instructed.
Prevention is always the best medicine. A healthy lifestyle, scrupulous hygiene, and a broad-based multivitamin and mineral supplement are the foundation of prevention.