How to be an Inhospitable Host for a Virus
Why do some people regularly get colds and flus while others seem immune? It has a lot to do with lifestyle. Bacteria and viruses are everywhere, all of the time, and those who have poor resistance are the ones most likely to end up sickened by them. As Louis Pasteur, the father of the germ theory, said on his deathbed: “The germ is nothing; the terrain is everything.”
In other words, we are hosting the germ, and how good a host we are has a lot to do with how well the germ does in our body. If we feed our virus guests with lots of sugar, alcohol and stress, they will feel welcome and reproduce. If we eat wholesome foods, get plenty of sleep and manage stress, our immune systems will be more likely to fight off the germ and kick it out the door. This is likely why the flu is much more virulent in developing countries, where nutrition is generally poor and stress levels are generally high.
Stop the Virus at the Door
When you feel cold or flu symptoms, act immediately by using some of the virus fighters listed below. Even a few hours can make a big difference. Get to bed early, stay warm, avoid junk food, and drink plenty of clean water and hot herbal or green tea. Too much sugar will depress your immune system, making you more susceptible to opportunistic germs.
Colds and flus are passed on from one person to another more through shaking hands than any other cause. This is a good reason to keep your hands away from your face and to wash your hands before you eat, just like your mother told you!
An Ounce of Prevention
The number-one, all-time most-effective medicine for colds and flus is an ounce of prevention: a nutritious diet, plenty of clean water, exercise, enough sleep, and relaxed time spent with loved ones. However, since these simple guidelines are easier described than adhered to, here are some natural helpers for fending off and alleviating colds and flus. One of the most important keys to warding off a cold or flu is to start treating it early, at the first signs. If you wait until you have full-blown symptoms and feel miserable, the medicines only alleviate the symptoms somewhat.
Once a flu is in progress, see it as an opportunity for the immune system to build resistance and create some immunity for the next time that strain of flu comes around. Rest, stay warm and drink plenty of fluids.
The Chinese have dozens of tried and true herbal remedies they have used for thousands of years. Two of the most popular Chinese cold prevention remedies are Yin Chiao and Zong Gan Ling. The Chinese use Yin Chiao for prevention, at the first sign of a cold or flu, and they use Zong Gan Ling to reduce the symptoms of colds and flus and shorten their duration.
Many people respond well to homeopathic medicines. The best known and most widely available is Oscillococcinum, which can often be found in your local pharmacy. Taken every 4 hours at the first signs of a flu, it can keep those germs at bay. It comes in small plastic vials which can easily be carried in a purse or briefcase.
Taken at the first sign of a cold or flu, echinacea can help boost the immune system. Many herbalists like to combine echinacea with goldenseal and astragalus. If you feel worse after taking these herbs or any others, stop taking them, as you may be allergic to them. Those with seasonal allergies are more likely to be allergic to echinacea.
Studies have shown that 100 mg a day of ginseng extract can significantly cut your chances of catching a cold or flu bug.
If you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, you can take 2,000 mg a day of vitamin C. The esterfied C type works best for a sensitive stomach. Along with its antioxidant activity, the vitamin C can lower your histamine level, giving you relief from sinus congestion, watery eyes, sniffling, and sneezing.
Alternative health professionals have been telling us for at least a decade to suck on zinc and vitamin C lozenges to shorten the duration of a cold, and finally a scientific study has been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirming this. Of 100 cold sufferers, half were given lozenges with zinc and half without. The zinc group got better in an average of four days, while the non-zinc group got better in an average of seven days.
If anyone tries to tell you that only one special type of zinc works, you can be assured that this is hogwash. Any type of zinc chelate will work just fine. Look for a zinc lozenge that contains at least 5 mg of zinc, and follow directions on the container.
Medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi have long been revered in Asia for their immunity-boosting effects. Modern research demonstrates that their most active ingredient is a carbohydrate called beta-glucan, which is also found in oats, barley, and baker’s yeast. Beta-glucan encourages the bacteria- and virus-eating potential of white blood cells, which helps the body knock out cold and flu bugs and secondary infections. You can add beta-glucan to your diet by taking 250 mg per day of purified beta-glucan or a concentrated medicinal mushroom supplement.
Protecting Your Sinuses and Throat
Rinsing the sinuses with a saline solution is one of the most effective ways to prevent allergies and fend off a cold or flu.
Many colds and flus begin with an infection in the sinuses, which then drips down the back of the throat and infects the throat and then moves on to the lungs. Allergic irritation and inflammation can contribute. Rinsing your sinuses with a warm water, salt, and baking soda mixture once or twice daily will reduce congestion, rinse mucus and allergens away, and open up sinuses and nasal passages. Combine 1 cup of body-temperature warm water, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of baking soda. You can use a neti pot, or nasal irrigator, which can be found at most health food stores and even drugstores. These look like little ceramic or plastic pitchers with a long spout that fits snugly into one nostril. Or use a rubber ear syringe, a shallow cup, or the palm of your hand.
Do this over a sink. Tip your head to one side, (not back) insert the syringe into the top nostril and gently squeeze or pour the water in, allowing it to drain out of the other nostril. If you have mucus in the throat, you can plug the lower nostril so that the solution drains into the throat, but try not to swallow it.. If you’re doing this with your palm, you have to gently sniff the water up the nostril—this takes a bit more finesse.
If you have a sore throat, go after the bacteria on the throat by gargling with salt water, a strong mouthwash, or an herbal spray that contains goldenseal and propolis.
Selenium is a trace mineral that we need only in microgram amounts, but a deficiency can make us much more susceptible to the flu. There is new evidence that taking larger doses of selenium can make a major difference in helping the body fight off a virus. A normal daily dose of selenium is 50 to 200 mcg, but if you’re fighting a cold or flu, try taking up to 800 mcg daily for three days.
European black elderberries (Sambucus nigra L.) have been used as a folk remedy for flu, colds, and coughs for at least 2,500 years. Even Hippocrates mentioned it in his writings. If you’re from the American Midwest, chances are your grandparents made elderberry wine and sipped it on winter evenings as a tonic. You can find elderberry extracts in pill and liquid form at your local health food store.
Quite a few tea mixtures can help with cold/flu symptoms. Chamomile tea works well, and Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime tea contains chamomile and other soothing and relaxing herbs. The same company makes Mama Bear’s Cold Care tea, which is mostly peppermint and licorice and works well for soothing a cough. For respiratory ailments, look for teas containing licorice, fennel, and horehound. For sinus ailments and headaches, look for chamomile, echinacea, goldenseal, and bayberry. Again, if your symptoms get worse you may be allergic to the herb, so stop taking it.
Once you have a cold or flu, it’s worth trying hyssop. This ancient herb has been used for at least two millennia to treat sore throats, chest colds, and laryngitis. In the 1800s, herbalist Culpeper prescribed hyssop for ear infections and “all griefs of the chest and lungs.” It’s an excellent aid for getting tough mucus moving up and out of the body. You can make a hyssop tea by adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb to a cup of boiling water and allowing it to steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink a cup of this infusion up to three times a day. Children should take a smaller dose: half a cup of infusion three times daily for kids aged six to 12 and one-quarter cup for kids aged two to six. Never take essential oil of hyssop internally; instead, use it for steaming out coughs, flu, bronchitis, and asthma. Put two drops of hyssop oil and one drop of peppermint oil in a small pot of water. Heat until steaming, turn off the heat, drape a towel over your head, and gently inhale the steam (be careful not to get too close to the steam). Ten drops of hyssop added to 1⁄3 tablespoons of almond or sunflower oil make a soothing chest rub.
This article was excerpted in part from the book Prescription Alternatives by Earl Mindell and Virginia Hopkins.