Strategies for cold and flu season
Heidi Fritz, MA, ND
This cold and flu season choose a natural solution.
Although colds and flu are usually benign, they are responsible for many irritating and/or temporarily debilitating symptoms, as well as significant interruptions to daily life. As cold and flu season approaches, we discuss some simple, natural strategies that can help offset its impact on your life this year.
In addition to basics such as good handwashing techniques, adequate sleep, and good nutritional habits, supplementation with a few key nutrients can reduce your chances of coming down with a cold or flu.
Probiotics are best known for their benefit on digestive function; however, many people are not aware of their ability to impact immune function. These beneficial bacteria are thought to interact with the immune cells present in the gut, which creates a cascade effect on the rest of the immune system.
Several controlled human trials have demonstrated that probiotics can reduce respiratory infections by up to 27 percent in infants, and decrease the incidence of common cold in adults, as well as reduce the severity and duration of symptoms in those who did become ill.
A study in children found that a combination of prebiotics and probiotics decreased the occurrence of the common cold by 25 percent compared to placebo and decreased the number of school days lost to illness.
Vitamin D is an important supplement since Canadians are frequently found to have sub-optimal or even deficient levels of vitamin D. Supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to reduce the incidence of the flu in schoolchildren by 42 percent when given at dosages of 1,200 IU per day.
You can request to have your vitamin D level tested by your health care practitioner in order to determine the most appropriate dose for you.
A high quality multivitamin delivering therapeutic doses of the B vitamins, vitamin C, and zinc is a good way to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of these important immune-boosting micronutrients. A multivitamin is particularly important in the elderly, who are commonly undernourished.
Astragalus is an immune modulating herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as part of a combination therapy to help prevent or treat colds. Astragalus may be particularly useful for individuals with susceptibility to protracted colds or flu, or with frequently recurring episodes.
Echinacea is a popular herb used to help prevent as well as treat the common cold. Echinacea has been shown, in a recent study by experts from the Cardiff University Common Cold Centre, to reduce the number of colds and duration of the illness by an average of 26 percent.
Echinacea should not be used by individuals with autoimmune disease or given to children under the age of 12.
For those who do succumb to a cold or flu, there are various natural agents to help limit the course of illness and speed recovery.
At the first sign of symptoms, vitamin C is often prescribed. In a Cochrane review vitamin C had a modest but consistent effect in reducing the duration and severity of common cold symptoms.
In addition to its role in helping prevent the cold and flu, echinacea may help reduce the severity of illness. A Lancet meta-analysis found that echinacea reduced the duration of illness by approximately 1.4 days.
Garlic and oil of oregano
Garlic and oil of oregano are unfortunately not well researched for the treatment of cold or flu specifically, but based on our clinical experience either one can be highly effective when used acutely for this. Consult with a health care practitioner about an appropriate product for you.
Oil of oregano should not be used by pregnant women, since safety has not been demonstrated through sufficient study.
Ginger tea is a safe, easy, and delicious way to stay hydrated while sick. Simply cut 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5 cm) of whole ginger root into slices, place in a pot with 3 to 4 cups (750 mL to 1 L) of water, and bring to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. You can add lemon and a little honey to this tea and drink frequently throughout the day.
Other home remedies for the common cold include: