Both the common cold and the flu are among the most prevalent health complaints. Each year, approximately half of all Americans experience at least one cold, and 40 percent develop the flu, also known as influenza. Both health conditions exhibit the same symptoms, with the primary difference being that flu symptoms are usually more severe, last longer, and can be potentially fatal.
While conventional, drug-based medicine places emphasis on suppressing cold and flu symptoms with both prescription and over-the-counter medications, practitioners of natural medicine seek to address and correct the underlying reasons people become susceptible to colds and flu, especially focusing on stimulating the immune system. These natural cure approaches also have the additional advantage of being free of harmful side effects, unlike medicinal drugs, including many popular over-the-counter medications that contain the common ingredient phenylpropanolamine (PPA), which has resulted in a number of fatal strokes. In addition, the widespread use of antibiotics to treat colds and flu are not only worthless—since antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and both colds and flu are caused by viruses—they can also cause secondary infections and impair bowel function, leaving you weaker and more susceptible to other more serious diseases.
Typically, each year at the start of “flu season,” flu warnings appear in the media, along with recommendations that people receive an annual flu vaccine. The value of such vaccines is questionable, however, and many people who receive it come down with the flu anyway. Moreover, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that the ingredients in flu vaccines may actually be harmful, and capable of causing serious damage to the immune system. For these reasons, practitioners of natural, alternative healing methods advocate a health regimen that can significantly improve your ability to resist colds and flu or, if you do develop them, quickly recover from them.
Types of Colds and Flu
There are a variety of colds and flu, but all of them are due to respiratory viruses, primarily a class of virus known as rhinoviruses. Colds fall into two main categories, head colds and chest colds. Either class of cold, if left untreated, can lead to more serious respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
There are literally hundreds of different flu strains. Unlike colds, which can strike at any time of year, flu outbreaks are generally seasonal in nature, usually occurring in late autumn and during the winter. For this reason, the time in which flu epidemics occur is often referred to as “flu season.” The flu can also result in bronchitis or pneumonia, as well as other serious diseases, such as croup, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), and Reye’s syndrome, a disease that primarily strikes children and which affects the brain and liver.
Symptoms of Colds and Flu
The difference between cold and flu symptoms is one of degree. As a general rule, flu symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer, and also tend to develop more quickly, compared to colds. The most common symptoms of both conditions are body aches, cough, fatigue, headache, runny nose, sneezing, and sore throat, as well as dry, sore, and/or stuffy sinuses that can make breathing difficult.
Fever is another common symptom, and is more likely in cases of the flu. Diarrhea and vomiting can also occur.
Ironically, although conventional medicine seeks to suppress coughing, runny nose, and sneezing, these reactions are actually healthy and a part of your body’s attempts to cleanse itself of the infectious viruses and toxins that cause colds and flu to develop. Fever is another effective immune response, and should be allowed to run its course naturally, except in cases of fever that exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Mucus buildup is also part of the immune response as the body tries to prevent the spread of the invading virus. As the virus becomes engulfed by mucus, it is then expelled by the body in the form of phlegm. In general, such immune responses are completely ignored or misunderstood by conventional physicians. As a result, the conventional medications they prescribe interfere with this process and further weaken the immune system, causing both colds and flu to last longer than they might otherwise.
Causes of Colds and Flu
Both colds and flu are primarily caused by viruses. However, being exposed to such viruses does not mean that you will develop a cold or flu. In addition, the severity of the symptoms a person develops if he or she does contract a cold or flu can vary dramatically. For example, three people exposed to the same virus to the same degree can have three completely different reactions to the virus. One person may not develop any symptoms, the second person might develop a mild cold that only lasts for a day or two, yet the third person might wind up bed-ridden with the flu and go on to develop pneumonia. It is the health of your immune system, not the viruses themselves, that determines if you will develop a cold or flu and, if so, how mild or severe your symptoms will be. This is a principle that is well understood by practitioners of alternative medicine, yet mostly ignored by conventional doctors. Therefore, relying on conventional medical approaches to treat and prevent colds and flu will most often end in failure. As the late Emanuel Cheraskin, MD, DMD, a pioneering integrative physician, once declared, “It is time to put to rest the notion that germs jump into people and cause diseases.” What matters is not the virus, but the internal health of your body.
Other practitioners of natural medicine point out that colds and flu may actually be one of the methods of detoxification that the body employs to rid itself of toxins in order to bring itself back into a state of health and balance. Based on both of these perspectives, it is easy to see that attention needs to be placed on the various factors that can cause you to have a weak immune system and therefore be more likely to develop a cold or flu. The primary factors that weaken immunity and increase susceptibility to colds and flu are allergies, poor diet, stress, and the use of certain pharmaceutical drugs.
Allergies: The primary allergies associated an increased likelihood of developing a cold or flu are food allergies that increase your body’s production of mucus. The most common offenders are cow’s milk, wheat, and all food products derived from dairy and wheat. Such foods have a high mucus content and trigger allergic responses that further increases mucus production, while simultaneously weakening your immune system and increasing the risk of respiratory infections.
Airborne allergens such as pet dander, dust, mold, and pollen can also increase your risk of colds and flu because of the way they also affect your respiratory tract. As a result of an allergic response to such substances, your nose, sinuses, and throat are more apt to become congested and inflamed, making it easier for cold and flu viruses to gain a foothold in your body.
Poor Diet: In addition to a diet containing foods to which you are allergic or sensitive, regular consumption of unhealthy foods such as commercially processed foods, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, soda, coffee, alcohol, and foods high in artificial sweeteners, food coloring and dyes, flavorings, and preservatives can also severely compromise immune function. So can foods containing natural sugars, such as honey, dried fruit, and fruit juice, as well as foods high in partially hydrogenated oils, such as most brands of commercial cereal. Commercial meats and animal products can also weaken your immune system because of the antibiotics, bacteria, hormones, and pesticides they contain.
According to William Wolcott, author of The Metabolic Typing Diet, a diet that is inappropriate for your individual metabolic type can also create havoc in your immune system, causing a state of high acidity in your body’s cells and tissues, leaving you more susceptible to colds and flu, as well as many other disease conditions. Go to pH Test Procedure for more information on your metabolic type. Finally, overeating and improper food combinations can also lead to an accumulation of toxins in the body.
Pharmaceutical Drugs: According to the Physicians’ Desk Reference the following drugs can all increase your risk of developing a cold or flu: Actimmune, AeroBid Inhaler System, Aerobid-M Inhaler System, Alferon N Injection, Asacol Delayed-Release Tablets, CHEMET (succimer) Capsules, Intron A, Lopressor HCT Tablets, Nipent for Injection, Permax Tablets, ProSom Tablets, Rowasa Rectal Suppositories and Rectal Suspension Enema, Videx Tablets, Powder for Oral Solution, and Pediatric Powder for Oral Solution.
Stress: Stress is estimated to be a primary contributing factor in over 95 percent of all disease conditions, and is especially responsible for increased susceptibility to the common cold and flu. When you are experiencing stress, your body releases hormones that cause your thymus gland to shrink. Since the thymus gland helps to maintain a strong immune system, as it shrinks, your immunity is lessened, thus increasing your risk of cold and flu viral infection. Among the most common causes of stress are anger, anxiety, depression, divorce, the death of a loved one, fear, job loss or a new job, moving to a new location, and nervousness. Lack of or fitful sleep is also a major source of stress. When you fail to get enough healthy sleep, your body’s natural killer (NK) cells, a vital part of your immune system, can be impaired, making it easier for invading viruses and other pathogens to escape being attacked and destroyed.
The key to treating colds and flu is to increase your body’s immune function activity. The following natural therapies can help you accomplish this goal safely and effectively.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture helps to restore your body’s supply of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, which is produced in all cells and responsible for energy) and cortisol, a hormone necessary for properly adapting to stress. Both of these results help to improve immune function. Acupuncture can also help to balance and improve digestion, endocrine gland function, and the health of the lungs, and other organs, all of which also helps your body fight off and resist cold and flu infections. In addition, acupuncture treatments can help prevent colds and flu from ever occurring.
Aromatherapy: Add any of the following essential oils to a pot of hot water: camphor, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, peppermint, pine, rosemary, or tea tree oil. Cover your head with a towel and bend over the pot, inhaling deeply.
Ayurveda: Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine treat colds and flu by helping the body to eliminate indigestible toxins, which attract viruses and impair immune function. Among the ways that this is accomplished is through the use of herbs such as ginger, cayenne, black pepper, long pepper, and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), all of which stimulate digestion. Patients are also advised to drink plenty of warm water throughout the day, as well as ginger tea, in order to break up mucus and phlegm. Ginger tea can easily be prepared by adding a few slices of fresh, raw ginger root to boiling water, and letting the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes before drinking. In cases of colds or flu accompanied by a dry cough, adding pieces of licorice root to the mixture is advised.
Another common Ayruvedic practice for treating and preventing colds and flu is the cleansing of nasal passages. This is done by filling a teapot with a quart of warm water and one teaspoon of sea salt, and then slowing pouring the water into one nostril and out the other. Doing this to both nostrils once or twice a day keeps the nostril linings moist and free of germs, and helps to open up the air pathways.
Bodywork: Bodywork techniques such as trigger point therapy and lymph drainage techniques can relieve chest and sinus congestion, headaches, and post-nasal drip. Acupressure, reflexology, percussion massage, and shiatsu can also help to break up cold congestion and increase your body’s immune activity.
Chiropractic: Many cases of cold and flu occur as a result of dysfunction in the nervous system due to spinal misalignments, which can significantly decrease immune function. Chiropractic adjustments help to correct this problem. It can also be helpful for people who are susceptible to frequent congestion and ear infections due to misalignments of the spine along the neck and near the cranium. In addition, chiropractic adjustments help to boost the overall functioning of the endocrine system, including the thymus gland, which can become impaired due to misalignments between the shoulder blades.
Diet: To improve your ability to resist colds and flu, emphasize fresh, organic vegetables, such as carrots, leafy greens, onions, and orange squash, that are eaten raw or lightly steamed. You can also make fresh vegetable juices and soups, which will help your body remain in a slightly alkaline state, free of over-acidity. Also be sure to drink plenty of water during the day, and avoid mucus-forming foods such as milk and dairy products, wheat, and most grains (millet and brown rice are acceptable exceptions). Also eliminate all processed foods and commercial poultry and meats, choosing organic whole foods and free-range chicken, turkey, and beef.
Herbs: Herbs have long been used by most world cultures to treat and prevent colds and flu, due to their ability to stimulate immune function, as well as their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-catarrhal properties. Herbs that can increase immune function include astragalus, echinacea, goldenseal, licorice, and St.John’s wort. Goldenseal is also excellent for helping to reverse inflammation of the mucus membranes.
Another important herb that can protect against colds and flu is lomatium, which acts as an antiviral agent and an immune stimulant. It is particularly helpful for treating cases of the flu, often bringing about complete recovery in 24 to 48 hours. Some herbalists recommend mixing lomatium with echinacea for even better results.
Other useful herbs are boneset, which stimulates the immune system, encouraging white blood cells to destroy viruses and bacteria; elder flower, which acts as an immune stimulant, anti-inflammatory, and anticatarrhal agent; elecampane, which helps to soothe irritating coughs and bronchial infections; eyebright, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps heal irritations in the nasal pharynx and the sinuses; and yarrow, which is particularly useful for colds and flu associated with fever, loss of appetite, and overall malaise.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is another excellent herbal remedy for colds and flu. For best results, take garlic in high doses at the same time as you take your nutritional supplements. High-quality deodorized garlic capsules are more effective in this regard than garlic cloves because they offer more concentrated doses of allicin, garlic’s active ingredient, which has been shown to increase immune function and to stimulate the production of flu antibodies.
According to Jonathan Wright, M.D., a leading holistic physician, the following herbal combination formula is also excellent for both colds and flu: cayenne pepper, echinacea, myrrh, osha (also known as Porter’s lovage), and red clover. This combination can be taken as a tea (3-5 cups per day) or as a tincture (30 drops of each herb, four times daily).
Homeopathy: Useful homeopathic remedies for colds and flu include Aconitum napellus, Allium cepa, Belladonna, Baptisia, Belladonna, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Natrum muriaticum, Nux vomica, and Viscum album (mistletoe), an homeopathic remedy that can be taken both orally or by injection.
Another popular homeopathic remedy for colds and flu is Oscillococcinum, which is widely used in Europe. For best results, at the onset of your symptoms, take six pellets dissolved under the tongue, every six hours. As with other homeopathic remedies above, avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes before and after each use.
Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy is the application of water, ice, steam and hot and cold temperatures to maintain and restore health. Treatments include full body immersion, steam baths, saunas, sitz baths, colonic irrigation and the application of hot and/or cold compresses. Hydrotherapy is effective for treating a wide range of conditions and can easily be used in the home as part of a self-care program. Many Naturopathic Physicians, Physical Therapists and Day Spas use Hydrotherapy as part of treatment. We suggest several at-home hydrotherapy treatments. Please seek the advice of your alternative health care practitioner before undergoing these procedures to make sure they are appropriate for you.
Hyperthermia: Hyperthermia involves artificially creating fever in the body for the purpose of boosting immune function. Hyperthermia can be a highly effective method of eliminating toxins and heavy metals, as well as infectious bacteria and viruses that cannot survive in elevated body temperatures. We suggest several at-home hyperthermia treatments. Please seek the advice of your alternative health care practitioner before undergoing these sweat-inducing procedures to make sure they are appropriate for you.
*Purified water is essential for any hydrotherapy and hyperthermia treatment. The section Remedies for Treating Chlorinated Bath Water offers clear instructions and recommendations.
Another useful approach is to make a throat or chest compress before bed. Do this by applying a warm washcloth to your throat and chest, followed by a cold cotton wrap to the same areas of your body. Cover your neck with a wool scarf and your chest with a wool sweater and go to sleep.
Juice Therapy: The following juice combinations can be helpful: carrot, beet, and cucumber; carrot, beet, tomato, green pepper, and watercress; carrot and celery; carrot and spinach; and lemon, orange, pineapple, black currant, elderberry juice. For added benefit, you can include garlic, ginger, and/or onion in any of the above juice combinations.
Nutritional Supplements: The following nutrients can be extremely helpful for dealing with colds and flu: vitamin A (50,000-100,00 liquid vitamin A 3-4 times a day for no more than five days total; avoid using if you are pregnant), vitamin C (2,000-5,000 mg of a powdered, mineral ascorbate twice a day until all symptoms have subsided), zinc (30-50 mg, once a day), selenium (200 to 800 mcg, once a day), and N-Acetyl-Cysteine, or NAC (600 mg, twice a day). Other useful nutrients include colloidal silver, colostrum, thymus extract, and beta-1,3-glucan.
The late Robert Atkins, MD, founder of the Atkins Diet and an acclaimed holistic physician, recommended the following nutritional formula, which he advised taking every hour for up to ten doses during the first day of cold or flu symptoms:
•Beta carotene: 5,000 IU
•Vitamin A: 3,333 IU
•Quercetin: 80 mg
•Zinc: 25 mg
•Vitamin C: 500 mg
•Calcium pantothenate: 80 mg
•Citrus bioflavonoids: 80 mg
•Selenium: 30 mcg
•Magnesium: 15 mg
•Garlic capsules with allicin: 160 mg
•Folic acid: 400 mcg
•Dimethylglycine HCL: 20 mg
•Pyridoxine HCL: 4 mg
•Riboflavin: 2 mg
•Copper (chelate): 1 mg
•Niacinamide: 15 mg
As a general preventive measure, Dr. Atkins recommended supplementing with this formula once or twice a day, and up to three times a day for people who were very susceptible to colds and flu.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): In addition to acupuncture, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine also recommend the following herbal remedies for treating colds and flu: Bi yan pian, for sneezing, sinus congestion, itchy eyes, and/or hay fever; Bo ying powder, for fever, headaches, cough, upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting, especially in children; and Yinqiao, at the first sign of a cold or flu. Loquat syrup is also advised to help eliminate phlegm and relieve sinus congestion. Another common Chinese herb, ephedra (also known as ma-huang), has been used in China for thousands of years to treat colds and flu. Although recently banned by the Food and Drug Administration, ephedra is still allowed to be used by practitioners of TCM. In addition, many over-the-counter cold and flu medications contain ephedrine, a synthetic derivative of ephedra. Caution: Ephedra can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and therefore should be avoided by people with most heart conditions or high blood pressure, and by pregnant women.
Topical Treatment: To treat head colds, spray your throat and nasal passages with witch hazel.
Alternative Professional Care
The following therapies can also be helpful for treating and preventing colds and flu: Alphabiotics, Applied Kinesiology, Biofeedback Training and Neurotherapy, Detoxification Therapy, Environmental Medicine, Energy Medicine (Light Beam Generator, Ondamed), Fasting, Flower Remedies, Guided Imagery, Magnetic Field Therapy, Orthomolecular Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, and Oxygen Therapies (hydrogen peroxide, ozone). (See Glossary for descriptions of these Alternative Therapies.)
Quick Action Steps for Treating/Preventing Colds and Flu
As with all other disease conditions, prevention is the best way to deal with colds and flu. In this case, prevention means improving the health of your immune system so that it can swiftly respond to attacking cold and flu viruses and eliminate them before you develop any symptoms. The following recommendations can help you do so:
1.To prevent colds and flu, be sure you get enough sleep each night and minimize stress. Also be sure to wash your hands throughout the day and avoid rubbing your eyes, nose, and mouth.
2.Eat lots of fresh, organic vegetables and drink plenty of pure, filtered water and fresh-squeezed vegetable juices throughout the day, and avoid processed foods, and foods containing sugar and simple carbohydrates, as well as milk and dairy products, and wheat and grains.
3.Take a daily high potency multivitamin/multimineral supplement.
4.Engage in regular exercise. One of the easiest and most effective exercises for all age groups is a daily 45 minute walk, which can dramatically boost NK cells and help keep your body’s lymphatic system free of toxic waste buildup. Yoga, particular the “cobra pose,” is also useful for keeping your respiratory tract healthy. To perform the cobra pose, lie on your stomach and raise your upper body backwards off the ground, bending at the waist as you inhale deeply. Hold this position for five seconds as you continue breathing. Then, as you exhale, return to your starting position. Repeat five to ten times. This exercise helps to expand your chest and lungs and can free up trapped mucus and phlegm.
5.At the first sign of a cold or flu, supplement with vitamin A, vitamin C, garlic capsules, selenium, zinc and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). Colloidal silver can also be very effective.
6.Helpful herbal remedies include astragalus, cayenne pepper, echinacea, goldenseal, licorice, lomatium, and St. John’s wort.
7.At the first onset of symptoms take the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum (six pellets under the tongue every six hours).
8.Should you develop congestion in your sinuses or chest, massage your chest with menthol-based lotion or ointment (avoid products that contain petroleum) before you go to sleep. This will help clear your air pathways and increase the supply of blood to your thalamus, one of the organs that controls your immune system.
9.Throughout the day, tap your chest over your thymus gland, located in the center of your chest approximately one inch below your collarbone. This will help to stimulate your thymus gland, which in turn will help to boost your immune function.
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