Give colds the shoulder!

Natural ways to brush off colds & flu this season.

You've caught a cold and have a full-blown (no pun intended) case of nasal congestion, cough, and sore throat, and possibly fever and fatigue. Now what? You could rush to the local pharmacy to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicines. Or, you could visit your local health-food store and stock up on other, more natural, and safer options. This article discusses natural alternatives to the standard OTC drugs in the treatment of cold symptoms.

While cold and flu symptoms can be lessened with the natural remedies outlined in this article, do contact your healthcare practitioner if:

* Your symptoms persist for a week or more;
* Your fever exceeds 102 degrees;
* You have severe nausea, have vomited, and can't keep fluids in;
* You have a moderate or severe headache;
* You have difficulty breathing;
* Your mucus has turned thick yellow or green;
* You have a moderate to severe earache.

Keep in mind that cold and flu symptoms aren't necessarily your enemy. Many of these symptoms, such as mucus production and mild fever, are your body's way of making survival of the virus more difficult. And don't forget the basics when it comes to nursing yourself through an upper respiratory tract infection: get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.

During a cold, feeling "stuffed up" usually occurs following a runny nose. At first, it's a relief to not be blowing your nose every few minutes, but struggling to breathe through blocked nostrils is not very comfortable, either. The following natural remedies can help to clear things up.

If you don't mind spicy food, horseradish (the fresh root or prepared horseradish dressing), or the Japanese horseradish, called wasabi, provides temporary relief for stuffed sinuses.
Ma huang

Many over-the-counter decongestants contain ephedrine- and pseudoephedrine-substances that are derived from the ma huang herb. Ma huang is effective for relieving nasal congestion; however, along with this action, it can raise blood pressure and lead to insomnia and nervousness in some people. It is advised to not use this herb in children, and to use it cautiously and responsibly (and in small amounts) in adults. Maximum daily dose should not exceed 30 mg, and avoid its use after 4 p.m.
Aromatic oils

Aromatic oils, such as the oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, and menthol, can be used as inhalants to ease nasal congestion. To use an inhalant, combine the herbs with hot water in a bowl, cover your head with a towel, and smell the vapor.

Coughs associated with the common cold are very common. Please keep in mind that a cough is your body's natural way to expel mucus, and suppression is not always a good idea. However, if you have a dry, annoying cough that is making you miserable and interfering with sleep, then using natural cough suppressants can be helpful.
Wild cherry

The bark of this tree has a long tradition both as an expectorant (that is, to help expel mucus) and as a cough suppressant. It is commonly found as a syrup, but can also be drunk in tea form. The effects are weak, so don't expect it to be as powerful as codeine.
Slippery elm

This herb is another way to ease a cough. Slippery elm lozenges are helpful for coughing episodes.

Licorice has a long history of use for alleviating coughs, as well as soothing mucous membranes. Licorice tea can be drunk every few hours.
Other natural cough suppressants

Sucking on sugarless (organic) hard candy, drinking tea (or similar warm beverages), or inhaling steam can help ease a cough. Coughs that bring up mucus ("productive coughs") can be helped by drinking plenty of water to thin the mucus or using a humidifier to loosen mucus.
Sore Throat

A scratchy or sore throat is generally the earliest symptom of an impending cold infection. However, this same symptom can be the beginning of strep throat, a Streptococcus bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. Even experienced doctors sometimes have difficulty determining, during the early symptoms, whether a sore throat is caused by a virus or a bacterium. Both types of infections can cause fever and malaise. Look for symptoms that can differentiate the two; for example, it is rare for bacterial infections to be associated with a runny nose or nasal congestion.

Two commonly used herbs for soothing sore throats are the herbs slippery elm and marshmallow. They contain mucilage, a thick substance that has soothing properties.
Slippery elm

Slippery elm soothes throat pain and irritation, providing temporary relief. This herb is frequently found in many cold preparations either in the form of a lozenge, tea, syrup, tincture, or even as a popsicle for children.

This herb -- not the confection -- is effective for soothing irritated mucous membranes, including those in the mouth and throat. You can drink it as a tea or it can be found as part of a lozenge or syrup.

Zinc lozenges and vitamin C are very helpful in lessening symptoms of a cold, particularly in the very early stages of the infection. Once the full symptoms of a cold have started, vitamin C is not very effective, but zinc lozenges, used every few hours, are still helpful.

A zinc lozenge, among its other benefits during a cold, can temporarily ease a sore throat. Patients often report that symptoms of sore throat are relieved within an hour of using the zinc; symptoms may return if the zinc lozenge is not repeated within two hours. For maximum effectiveness, keep the zinc lozenge in your mouth as long as you can, for a minimum of five to 10 minutes. However, if zinc lozenges irritate your mouth and palate you are simply trading one pain for another and should reduce the frequency of use.

Fatigue is a message from your body telling you to take it easy. The best thing to do is rest when you feel fatigued and allow healing to take place. Along with a feeling of fatigue, many people find that they are slightly depressed. This is particularly true during the flu. It is believed that certain substances released by the immune system, such as cytokines, are able to go to the brain and interfere with the proper functioning of brain chemicals, such as serotonin. When a cold or flu drags on for a few days, it can feel interminable. Try to keep up a positive attitude and remind yourself that the feelings of tiredness and depression are not permanent. Eventually your infection will be over and you will recover your full energy and vitality.

Make sure, though, that you keep up your fluid intake. Soups and teas are great options. Eat small amounts of foods throughout the day. Your energy will return more and more during each day of your recovery.

Although natural stimulants, such as ginseng, are known to increase energy, their use is not recommended during a cold or flu. Your body wants to rest, so occasionally take naps. Being on a stimulant may interfere with your body's need to rest and relax. However, we do encourage you continue your multivitamins, especially vitamin C, as well as the B vitamins. If you were taking tonics such as ginseng, astragalus, reishi, and other herbs before your infection, it's time you take a break from their use.

Fatigue can sometimes be aggravated by a disturbance in the sleep cycle and lack of adequate sleep. Hence, you could consider taking melatonin at a dose of 0.5 mg to 1 mg about an hour or two before bed, only for two to three nights, in order to get a deeper sleep. Please keep in mind, though, that excess melatonin, such as more than 1-2 mg, can make you sleepier during the day. Herbal options for sleep include valerian, passionflower, and hops, available in both tea and supplement forms.

Fever is one of your body's inherent ways to fight an infection. The body's intent in raising temperature is to make it a more difficult and hostile environment for the invading bugs. Therefore, fever, up to a certain degree, is beneficial and could slow cold virus proliferation. We recommend you do not treat a mild fever right away. However, if you are uncomfortable, you can try one of the following natural fever reducers. There is no need to lower temperature all the way back down to normal. Try a lukewarm or slightly cool bath if you need to temporarily reduce fever.

This Native American herb was used traditionally to treat fevers associated with colds and flu, particularly if the fever was associated with aches and pains. Boneset can be drunk as a tea several times a day. Warning: the taste of boneset is terrible and, hence, you may wish to combine it with a small amount of honey or sweeten it with the herb stevia.
White willow and Meadowsweet

White willow is the parent material from which aspirin is derived. White willow, like the stronger substance aspirin, lowers fevers. (Caution: Children and people allergic to aspirin should not use white willow.) Willow bark extracts containing salicin, a compound chemically related to aspirin, are available as capsules. Another herb that contains salicin is meadowsweet. White willow and meadowsweet are not as powerful as aspirin in lowering fever or reducing aches and pains.
10 homeopathic remedies to help ease symptoms

Aconitum napellus (fever, chills)

Allium cepa (cold, flu, violent sneezing, laryngitis, sore throat)

Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis (flu symptoms)

Belladonna (fever, headache, colds, flu)

Calcarea carbonica (sore throats, bronchitis, colds) Dulcamara (colds)

Eupatorium perfoliatum (fever, flu, aches and pains)

Euphrasia officinalis (colds, flu, sneezing with nasal discharge)

Kali bichromicum (sinusitis, congestion, colds, sore throats, etc.)

Kali sulphuricum (colds, yellow nasal discharge)

PostScript: Breakthrough research by P. Belon, and others, which was published in the journal, Inflammation Research (Supplement 1, S17-S18, 1999) now definitively has proven -- using mainstream-medicine empirical parameters -- that homeopathic dilutions of histamine help boost our immune system.
Flu facts

* Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by viruses which infect the respiratory tract.
* Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue.
* The most common complication of flu is pneumonia.
* 90.4 million Americans caught the flu in 1994.
* 1-2 weeks is the time period in which most people with the flu will recover.
* 20,000 deaths, nationwide, and many more hospitalizations, are associated with the flu in an average season.


By Ray Sahelian, M.D. and Victoria Dolby Toews, M.P.H.

Adapted by M.D. and M.P.H.

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