Though we invariably associate wintry weather with getting sick, it’s actually a myth that being cold will make you catch cold. “You get sick when your immune system is impaired or you’re exposed to a virus or bacteria that your body can’t fight,” says naturopath and nutritionist Candace Paul, N.D., Ph.D., who practices in Valley Center, Calif. “If your body is healthy and in balance, you won’t come down with a cold – not even from winter weather.”
When you’re exposed to pathogens passed around by others who are coughing and sneezing, you need to take preventive precautions. “Try to feed your body in advance by taking extra vitamin C,” Paul advises. “This way when you’re exposed to an onslaught of germs, you won’t be as likely to come down with it.”
The best way to fend off the flu is to get plenty of rest, eat a low-sugar diet –sugar impairs your immunity– and pay attention to your body. When you notice the first signs of a sniffle, use natural remedies such as echinacea that will help the body heal itself. Then give your body a chance to recuperate by getting lots of sleep and drinking plenty of fluids. If you take the time, you may actually nip the crud in the bud.
Here are 10 natural ways to knock out a cold or flu using herbal remedies.
Remember, this information is not intended to replace the care or advice of a physician. If a flu persists, seek medical help.
1. Vitamin C to the rescue . Vitamin C can significantly reduce cold symptoms and help you get over it faster, say Steven Bratman, M.D., and David Kroll, Ph.D., the editors of The Natural Pharmacist Natural Health Bible (Prima, 1999). On days when you’re sick, take 500 to 1,000 mg. of vitamin C three to six times a day, they suggest. Reduce this amount if you develop diarrhea.
2. Help from echinacea . When you need to boost your infection-fighting capacity, try the herb echinacea (pronounced “ek-uh-NAY-shuh”). Taken at the first sign of symptoms, echinacea can speed your recovery and minimize your symptoms. Use this popular herb only while you’re ill – studies don’t report much success with people trying to prevent colds with it.
3. Go for the garlic . This antiviral, antibiotic herb is available in a number of high-potency preparations, including odor-free tablets. Its sulfur-containing oil has active properties that kill bacteria and infections and can be taken throughout the duration of a cold to fight infection, says Michael Murray, N.D., in The Healing Power of Herbs (Prima, 1995).
4. Zap colds with zinc . The human immune system doesn’t function properly when you’re zinc deficient. In addition, higher levels of this important mineral – especially when taken in lozenge form – can cause cold symptoms to improve faster than they would otherwise, according to Natural Health Bible. The usual dosage to take when you’re feeling sick is 23 mg. of zinc gluconate. That amount should be reduced to 10 to 25 mg. daily once you’re well again. Caution: High doses of zinc taken for more than a week can actually suppress immune function.
5. Homeopathic flu care . Nip the flu in the bud with a homeopathic remedy called Anas barberai, usually found under the brand name Oscillococcinum. Take this homeopathic at the very first sign of symptoms such as headache, fever, chills or cough, recommend Robert Ullman, N.D., and Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, N.D., authors of Homeopathic Self-Care (Prima, 1997).
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6. Feel better with elderberry. Native Americans used elderberry tea to treat respiratory infections, and now scientific evidence suggests that taking a standardized elderberry extract can shorten the length of time you’re sick by 50 percent, according to Natural Health Bible.
7. Soothe a sore throat . Sucking on zinc lozenges every few hours can alleviate a sore throat, although you’ll also benefit by drinking a tea made of mucilaginous herbs such as marshmallow or slippery elm, which coat the throat. To help wipe out infection in the throat, gargle with tea tree oil, a natural antiseptic. Add 3 to 6 drops of pure tea tree oil to warm water and gargle for a minute. Repeat three times a day. Caution: Do not swallow tea tree oil, which can kill the friendly flora in your digestive tract.
8. Stop the cough . When you can’t quit coughing, turn to an old standby: hot ginger tea. Ginger stimulates circulation and helps clear your sinuses and lungs of mucus. You may also get some relief with the natural cough suppressant, bromelain, an enzyme from pineapple. It can also soften and loosen hard, sticky mucus, according to Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Michael Murray, N.D., and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. (Prima, 1998).
9. Breathe easier . One of the best ways to open clogged sinus and bronchial passages is to breathe warm steam to which you’ve added essential oil of eucalyptus. For temporary relief of sinus congestion, there’s the herb ephedra, also called ma huang, which has long been used by the Chinese for minor respiratory infections. Because ephedra has serious side effects, use it only under a doctor’s supervision, and then for no more than a week. (Caution: People with high blood pressure or hypertension should not take ephedra.)
10. Sweat out a fever . Sip a hot tea brewed with feverfew, yarrow, catnip, ginger or peppermint. These heating herbs help the fever run its course and do its job, which is to burn off invaders. In addition, the tea will help keep you from becoming dehydrated. If you feel achy from fever, try willow bark, which naturally contains an aspirin-like, pain-relieving substance. Caution: High fever for a prolonged period of time can be dangerous. See your doctor if a high fever persists.
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Laurel Kallenbach writes about health, wellness and travel. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.