Treating the Common Cold and Flu this Season
by Dr. Trevor Holly Cates
Cold and flu season is upon us. Luckily, many treatment options are available, including over-the-counter medications, antibiotic and antiviral drugs, vaccinations and more natural approaches. The trick to beating the cold and flu is finding the safest and most effective solution by weighing the risks and benefits of the choices available.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications may include a pain and fever reducer, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, antihistamines, decongestants and/or cough suppressants. But some of these medications bring potential side effects such as allergic reactions; drowsiness; dizziness; blurred vision; or excitation in children. Considering the side effects and possible drug interactions, OTC medications should be used with caution.
Antibiotics are not effective against colds and flu. Antibiotics fight off bacteria, but colds and flu are caused by viruses.
Another option is a flu shot. But a recent article in the British Medical Journal questions the evidence of safety and effectiveness of the flu shot.
A MORE NATURAL APPROACH
Natural therapies often provide a safe and effective alternative, and many parents are looking towards medicines that enhance the body's ability to heal itself. Some options include:
A study in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics concluded that supplementing the diet with a multivitamin-mineral and probiotic combination may help prevent and fight the common cold (2005;43:318). Multi-vitamin-mineral supplements help provide a good foundation for proper nutrition. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria residing in the intestines, which help support proper digestive and immune function.
Vitamin C is a popular immune-boosting vitamin. Multiple studies have shown it helps reduce the chances of catching the flu and shortens the duration of illness in some studies.
Zinc gluconate lozenges also help reduce the duration of colds in adults, but are not as effective for children.
Some herbal preparations can help reduce the symptoms of colds and flu and combat the viruses that cause them. Immune-stimulating herbs, such as Echinacea, help fight off infections. Various studies have shown that Echinacea can help shorten the duration of colds and the flu. The tinctures, or alcohol-based preparations, appear to have the most consistent research support.
Elderberry has immune boosting and diaphoretic effects, which help fight the flu. Elderberry syrup appears to help people with the flu recover more quickly (4 tablespoons/day for adults and 2 tablespoons/day for children).
Garlic has been shown to reduce the chance of catching a cold as well as its duration. As little as one capsule a day containing the active constituent allicin appears to help. Using fresh garlic in cooking is an easy and tasty way to enhance immunity during the cold and flu season.
Homeopathy is a gentle and effective way of enhancing one's immune system. The homeopathic approach looks at symptoms as positive, adaptive responses to the variety of stresses the body experiences, and seeks to stimulate the body's defenses. Homeopathy is safe for any age, including children. It is easy to use, does not have side effects, does not interact with medications and doesn't cause drowsiness or stimulation. Homeopathic medicines are available as individual remedies and as combination remedies.
A simple approach to homeopathy is selecting a combination medicine formulated for a particular health condition. For example, Hyland's makes combination remedies for the common cold and flu. Hyland's remedies come in quick-dissolving, easy-to-take tablets and are widely available in drug and grocery stores.
Some of the products that appear to be particularly helpful for colds are Hyland's Plus C Cold Tablets and Sniffles 'n Sneezes 4 Kids. These products contain a group of homeopathic medicines that help relieve symptoms of the common cold. In addition, For flu, Hyland's Complete Flu Care and Complete Flu Care 4 Kids include some of the top medicines for flu symptoms. For example, some of the medicines in Complete Flu Care 4 Kids specifically help relieve body aches associated with fevers. Other ingredients help with weakness, sleepiness and chills and relieving inflamed and eyes and runny noses.
Using natural therapies can reduce the need for conventional medicines, but if you are not quite ready to go all-natural, the natural treatments can be used safely in conjunction with mainstream medical treatments. Contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms continue or worsen despite treatment.
To avoid common colds and flu this season, here are some tips to help keep your immune system strong:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth since that is often how the viruses enter the body.
- Participate in moderate daily exercise (30 minutes a day), which has been shown to help boost the immune system.
- Try to keep stress levels low and incorporate daily stress-management techniques.
- Minimize your intake of alcohol and sugary and processed foods during the cold and flu season.
- Supplement with a high-quality multivitamin-mineral and probiotic.
- Vitamin C - 2 to 6 grams a day (in divided doses) taken during symptoms of a cold or flu.
- Zinc gluconate or zinc gluconate-glycine lozenges - 20 mg every few hours for the first few days of the onset of a cold.
- Echinacea - Start at the early onset of symptoms, and use it frequently and consistently, such as 3 dropperfuls (3 ml) of tincture 3 - 5 times a day.
- Elderberry syrup - 4 tablespoons/day for adults and 2 tablespoons/day for children.
- Fresh garlic used in cooking or 1 garlic capsule/day.
- For colds Hyland's Hyland's Plus C Cold Tablets or Sniffles 'n Sneezes 4 Kids.
- For flu - Hyland's Complete Flu Care (for adults) and Complete Flu Care 4 Kids
Dr. Trevor Holly Cates received a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine. Co-founder of the Santa Barbara Center for Natural Medicine, Dr. Cates provides individualized naturopathic care with a focus on women and children's healthcare. As a naturopathic doctor, her goal is to enhance the body's innate ability to heal itself though the use of natural medicine. Dr. Cates was the first woman in California to receive a license as a Naturopathic Doctor and was recently re-appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to the Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine Advisory Council.
For more information regarding single homeopathic remedies, please search our Boerke Materia Medica