Winter is the time of year when we rug up and head indoors. The cold air drives us in and it is the closed, warm environment of the office and home with a lack of fresh air that is a breeding ground for the common cold and the dreaded flu. Combined with spending more time in confined spaces with other people, this all transmits the viruses really easily.
Natural medicines are excellent at fighting colds and flu, and all other variations such as earaches, sore throats, sinus headaches, sneezes and coughs. Herbs and vitamins work with the body to enhance the immune system and fight the virus. Many herbs and nutrients are also antiviral, they kill the virus, which is a real asset when suffering from a cold or flu. Antibiotics are useless against viruses, and actually need a strong immune system to work well. This puts the body under more pressure when sick, as it takes valuable resources away from the immune system, which should be focussing on killing the virus. Antibiotics have their place, but not in the initial stages of a cold or flu. They may be needed if a secondary bacterial infection develops.
The first weapons in your arsenal against colds and flu should be vitamin C and zinc. Vitamin C and zinc are used in large amounts by the body when it is fighting infection, so it is important to replenish the body’s supplies of these nutrients.
It is not known how vitamin C interacts with the immune system however it is found in many immune cells and is used up very quickly during an infection. It is more cost effective to use powdered vitamin C during illness, as you can get higher doses than tablets. A good vitamin C supplement will also have bioflavanoids in it, which help stabilise the vitamin C. As a very general dose, whilst fighting a head cold or flu, an adult could take 2,000mg every 2-3 hours. This dose obviously depends on how sick you are and needs to take into account your diet and lifestyle factors. If you are in doubt, consult your naturopath.
A couple of things to be aware of with vitamin C are:
- It helps the liver detoxify drugs, so if you are on any medications, including the oral contraceptive pill, you shouldn’t take high doses of vitamin C.
- It passes through breast milk. Due to its acidic nature, you should monitor high doses whilst breast-feeding to make sure your baby doesn’t get an upset tummy.
Zinc has an antimicrobial action, and being deficient in zinc results in a poor immune response. Zinc amino acid chelate is the form that is best absorbed. Don’t waste your money with zinc oxide as it is poorly absorbed. Always take zinc with food as it causes nausea on an empty stomach. However, try not to take it with a meal full of grains (such as breakfast) as it binds to the fibre in the grains like a strong magnet and passes straight out of us. It also competes with other minerals for absorption, so don’t take it with iron or calcium supplements. Approximately 30mg of zinc per day is a good amount to take.
Good old Echinacea boosts immune function. Studies have shown that taking Echinacea at the first sign of a cold or flu reduced the duration of the illness and also reduced the symptoms quicker than the placebo treatment. Echinacea can also be taken preventatively, so if you and your family are prone to colds and flu, then you may benefit from a good quality Echinacea supplement taken each day during winter. Please consult your naturopath for dosages for children. Most over the counter Echinacea supplements use the flower in their tablets, whereas it is the root that has the active properties. If in doubt, check the label or ring the manufacturer. Naturopaths have access to excellent quality echinacea, so if may be worth paying your naturopath a visit.
Olive leaf extract is another fantastic herb to take when you are suffering from a cold or flu as it has been shown to be antimicrobial in a laboratory setting. There is much anecdotal evidence for its cold and flu fighting properties, however more research needs to be done to ascertain how it works. As a naturopath, I prescribe this routinely to my patients and my family, and believe it works very effectively. It can also be taken preventatively through out winter, similarly to Echinacea.
Make yourself some soup, which is full of nutrients, and brew yourself up a honey and lemon drink. The lemon is full of vitamin C, and the honey is antimicrobial, which will help fight the virus too. If you really want to treat yourself, use Manuka honey with a UMF rating over 10 (preferably 16) as it has the highest antimicrobial levels.
You can also swallow fresh garlic cloves whole (if they are small enough). Garlic is an excellent antimicrobial food and will kill that virus dead in its tracks! If you cant swallow the cloves then cut them in half, or use them in cooking, however the more it is cooked, the less effective it is. Raw is best.
Finally, AND most importantly… REST!! You only prolong the life of the flu/cold if you “soldier on” and you also make everyone else sick in the process. It is a great excuse to go to bed, and the world will cope without you for a few days. Your work mates and family may actually appreciate you even more too – so everyone is a winner in the end! Plus if you follow my advice above, you will be smelling of raw garlic, so bed is the best place for you!