19 June 2009

A natural approach to colds

It's stuffy nose season again and you can fight off colds and upper respiratory tract infections with natural weapons.


A natural approach to colds

In this series of articles, we take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure common ailments naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):

Natural Steps for Colds (check the Evidence rating)
*** Good Evidence of a health benefit.
** Some Evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.

Improve your lifestyle habits ***

  • Stop smoking
  • Wash Hands appropriately

Avoid foods that weaken the immune system:

  • Refined and processed foods.
  • Dairy and high fat products.
  • Sugar and high sugar products.
  • Alcohol.

These nutrients have been shown to help Colds:

  • Vitamin C **
  • Vitamin E *
  • Selenium *
  • Zinc *
  • zinc lozenge **

The following herbs are normally used for Colds:

  • Echinacea **
  • Elderberry **

Homeopathic remedies to help Colds:

  • Aconite*
  • Arsenicum album*
  • Bryonia*
  • Nat Mur *
  • Belladonna*
  • Gelsemium *
  • Hydrastis *
  • Allium Cepa *

Alternative/Complementary Therapy
The most commonly used Complementary Approaches to Colds are:

  • Herbal Medicine **
  • Naturopathic Medicine **

Please Note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.

Consultation with your health professional is extremely important if you are experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of Colds.

What is a Cold?
Current guidelines from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that Antibiotics should NOT be prescribed for symptoms of Colds or an upper respiratory infection unless symptoms have persisted without improvement for more than 10 to 14 days. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses.

Colds are superficial viral infections of the nose and throat. Colds can go on to involve the sinuses, ears, larynx (vocal cords), trachea and bronchi directly or through secondary effects. The presence of the virus causes inflammation of membrane linings, so that there is swelling with obstruction (stuffiness) and increased mucous secretions.

Colds are the most common type of respiratory infection; they are usually mild illnesses that naturally come to an end and only occasionally lead to further problems.

Where do colds come from?
Up to 50% of colds are caused by one of the more than 100 rhinoviruses (rhino = nose). A person with a cold is probably contagious from 24 hours before the beginning of symptoms and then as long as the symptoms last, usually about a week.

Rhinoviruses are most often spread by direct contact with infected secretions e.g. touching objects such as handkerchiefs, door-knobs or eating utensils that a person with a cold has touched before, and then touching one's nose or mouth. Rhinoviruses are probably less often spread by airborne particles, such as when an infected person sneezes in your vicinity.

Antibiotics don't help colds
It is a well known fact that there is no cure for the common cold. Even antibiotics will not improve cold symptoms and will not prevent a bacterial infection from developing after a cold. However, antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial complications such as sinusitis or otitis media. So your best defence would be to take preventative measures.

The minute your nose and throat start to itch and you get that familiar feeling of a cold coming on, take the following natural plan of action to stop a cold in its tracks.

Natural remedies

What to do

1. Mini steam bath
Fill a bowl with boiling water and add five drops of eucalyptus or camphor essential oil. Bend over the bowl with a towel over your head to trap the steam, and slowly breathe it in.

2. Run a hot bath to beat a cold
Mix together two drops each of lavender, bergamot and tea-tree essential oils to four teaspoons of carrier oil (sweet almond, jojoba and avocado oils work best) or full cream milk. Add to a hot bath, get in and relax for a minimum of 20 minutes. Caution: This bath should not be taken by pregnant women or people with sensitive skin.

3. Wash your hands
It has been suggested that Japan has had the lowest number of SARS cases in the whole of Asia thanks to the hygiene habits of her people who frequently wash their hands. To prevent a cold then it is advisable to wash your hands often, especially when you are around people with colds.

When you have a cold, avoid sneezing without covering your mouth. Also avoid spreading nasal secretions on your hands and use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief.

Stop smoking too because smoking irritates the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses, and lungs, which may make them more susceptible to infections. Also keep your stress levels under control. If you are exposed to cold viruses, a high level of stress may increase your chances of catching a cold.

What to take

1. Nuke your cold with vitamin C
Ask your pharmacist for non-acidic vitamin C tablets and take a high dose daily for the duration of your cold. High doses can be divided into smaller doses throughout the day. If you find that you get a runny tummy, you should lower the dose. Caution: Very high doses of Vitamin C can alter oestrogen levels and might affect the contraceptive pill, so use additional forms of birth control.

2. Supplements
To boost immune function and bolster white blood cell troop morale, take a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement and an antioxidant complex.

It has been suggested that use of vitamin C can alleviate symptoms, especially if taken early on in the course of the illness. However, no scientific evidence exists as to whether vitamin C actually fights cold viruses. Doses of 1 to 2 g a day do seem to shorten the duration and severity of colds, but certainly this is variable. Remember that continuous use of high doses can lead to kidney stones.

3. Echinacea – a fearless defender
Ten drops of this herbal tincture two to three times a day will make most cold viruses surrender.

4. A zinc lozenge
Suck on one of these bombs every three hours, but make sure that you don't take more than 100mg of zinc every day.

5. Homeopathic help
If you are shot down following the above plan of action, then it's time to bring out the big guns – homeopathy - the most effective natural way to beat a cold. Match your symptoms to the following homeopathic remedies:

  • Aconite: Take this remedy when you feel the first icy fingers of a cold coming on. A high fever, a runny nose and restless, anxious feelings are all indications of an oncoming attack. You do however feel better outside in fresh air.
  • Arsenicum album – for when the patient is chilly and restless. For the kind of person that sits on top of the heater to get some heat. If you have a thin, watery discharge that excoriates your upper lip, then you should use this remedy, so too should people who feel worse in a cold room but wants something cold to drink.
  • Bryonia: The enemy has rapidly marched from your nose to your throat and chest and you're left with a dry and painful cough. You feel irritable and want to mow down anyone who gets in your path or on your nerves. On top of all this, you feel like you're in Operation Desert Storm because you've developed a serious thirst.
  • Natrum Muriaticum (Nat Mur): Your cold started straightaway with machine-gun sneezing and you have enough clear or white mucus to drown an army. Your mouth is possibly encrusted with cold sores and you can't venture outside or do any physical exertion. You can't even taste that ghastly cough mixture and you prefer to be left alone in your misery.
  • Belladonna: The cold strikes you down rapidly and your cheeks go bright red, while your pupils dilate. Everything hurts and your head feels like a canon ball has hit it. Your nose is blocked, your throat is raw and all you want to do is to retreat into a dark, quiet, warm cave with a glass of lemon juice.
  • Gelsemium: This homeopathic remedy is the best when it comes to surprise attacks early on in a cold. Use it if you experience the classic "hot and cold" fever and your head feels full. Your body feels war-weary and weak and you don't even want to drink anything. This remedy is at the top of the list when it comes to summer colds.
  • Hydrastis – used when sinusitis accompanies the cold. The discharge is thick and yellow.
  • Allium Cepa: Your nose feels like an open mucus tap. Your facial orifices are red and sore and are slightly burny.

Caution: If you have a chronic illness or routinely take prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) medication, or you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, or pharmacist before taking any new medications.

Do not stop taking any prescription medications without the guidance and consultation with your doctor.


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