Colds and flu (influenza) are both viral infections. Head colds tend to be affairs of the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and sinuses) and chest colds affect the lungs; Influenza or flue is felt all over the body with muscular aches and pains and often fever. Influenza is a much more serious condition than the common cold, although treatment is similar for both conditions.
Naturopathic old-timers consider that having a cold once every couple of years is an effective way to eliminate toxins from the body, or at least a good excuse to spend a day cuddled up in bed. Certainly, there is a difference between a ‘good’ cold, where symptoms progress rapidly from sore throat to drippy nose, all over in a few days, and the ‘bad’ kind that persists for weeks and escalates to something nasty like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Cold symptoms include:
- Stuffy nose.
- Sore throat.
- Sore chest.
Flu symptoms can be the same as for a cold as well as:
- Extreme exhaustion.
- Aches and pains in joints and muscles.
What causes it?
- Viruses abound in the air we breathe. There are over 200 varieties of virus that can cause a cold or flu. - In many cases, a cold or flu is a signal from the body to let us know we need rest. Have you ever noticed that you tend to get a cold during or at the end of a stressful period? If we take heed of this eloquent request for a couple of days in bed, the cold is more likely to resolve itself easily and quickly. Unfortunately, many people battle on with an arsenal of nasal sprays, decongestants, cough syrups and pills, refusing to take so much as an afternoon off. Even with the best intentions, there are a few malevolent viruses to which even the healthiest person will succumb. - Cold and flu season is often in the middle of winter. It’s due to the change of seasons when the weather is unpredictable that you are more likely to catch a cold.
What To Do
- ‘Feed a cold and starve a fever’ is an old proverb that has been misinterpreted in the past to encourage eating voraciously during a cold and abstaining from food only during a fever. However the saying originally meant: don’t feed a cold and you won’t get a fever.
- Fasting, or eating very little during any short-term illness is old wisdom and is still valid. If we took our cue from the animal kingdom we would fast through the days of fever and flu. Sadly we’ve lost this intuitive response to illness. Appetite will return as soon as your body is ready to digest more solid sustenance. However, it is important to consume plenty of fluids.
- ‘If you have a cold build a fire in your stomach’ is a wise Chinese saying. Ginger, cinnamon, chilli, garlic and horseradish are all traditional ‘warming’ remedies, which will speed you through a cold or flu.
- Drink copious quantities of fluid, which means about 3 litres daily. Fluids, especially if they’re hot and clear, help to mobilise the lymphatic system, which carries white blood cells, and to thin out mucus, which tends to become infected if it thickens up.
- Soup is a winner on several fronts. It provides warmth, fluid and easily digestable nourishment. Make a broth from vegetable, fish, chicken or beef stock, add vegetables, onions, beans and garlic and you have a couple of days’ worth of nourishing and healing food. Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish physician, recommended chicken soup for a cold. He was probably passing on his bubbe’s (Bub-beh, Yiddish for grandmother) favourite recipe. Chilli hot soups, like the Thai favourite, tom yum, is also an excellent choice, and one you can order as a takeaway from your sick bed. Avoid soups based on cream, cheese or milk.
- Avoid sugar. Studies have shown that within a few minutes of sugar consumption lymphocyte activity is reduced markedly. Lymphocytes (white blood cells) are major players in the immune system. Sugar also tends to increase mucus. A little raw honey is better and soothes a sore throat.
- Nasturtiums are very good for coughs. If you have nasturtiums growing in your garden, gather the leaves and a few flowers and add to a salad.
- Garlic helps the immune system and is excellent for clearing mucus from lungs, nose and sinuses.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol swells the mucous lining of the nasal passages and bronchial tissue, exacerbating inflammation.
- Milk and milk products, especially milk and yellow cheese, may increase mucus during a cold, so avoid them during this time.
- Increase eating foods that are high in vitamin C including citrus, papaya, kiwifruit, strawberries, pineapple, guava, rockmelon, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, capsicum.
- The herb echinacea is one of the best herbs for stimulating immunity and treating the effects of a cold or flu. If you are prone to viral infections, start taking echinacea as a precaution before cold season begins.
- Other excellent herbs for times of infection include garlic, andrographis, cat’s claw, golden seal, olive leaf and elder. Andrographis is ‘the’ herb to use in an acute infection. Brilliant for reducing symptoms and if you get to it in time, may stop the progression of the virus.
- This following tea is guaranteed to prevent and treat even the most evil cold. In your favourite teapot, plunger or thermos, combine the juice of one lemon and add half of the lemon rind, chopped up, half a stick of cinnamon, a handful of fresh thyme crushed or chopped, 2 to 3cm of fresh ginger root thinly sliced or grated, and a good dollop of honey. Add boiling water and stand for 5 minutes (or hours in the thermos). Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
- The change of seasons (depending on where you live in the world will occur 2 to 4 times a year) is when you are most vulnerable to catching a cold or flu is also the time to boost your immune system. You can’t go wrong with a combination of garlic, echinacea, vitamin C and zinc. Throw in a cod liver oil capsule if you are prone to lung infections.
- Increase body temperature and encourage perspiration. Increasing body temperature during infection is a treatment that goes back hundreds of years. The principle behind the ‘sweat it out’ theory is that an increase in body temperature by a celsius degree or two is thought to slow down the rate at which viruses replicate. Heat also revs up action in immune cells.
- Vitamin C not only reduces the signs and symptoms of the common cold, but helps you to avoid them in the first place. Take 500 mg to 1 gram of vitamin C every couple of waking hours. If you develop flatulence or diarrhoea (the signs of overdoing vitamin C), reduce the dose accordingly.
- Vitamin A plays an essential role in maintaining all mucous membrane surfaces such as the lungs and throat areas, which become sore and inflamed during coughs and colds. Vitamin A also has been shown to stimulate and enhance numerous immune processes.
- Cod liver oil contains vitamin A and Vitamin D, another important vitamin for the immune system; take one or two cod liver oil capsules daily as a preventative before the change of season.
- Zinc and vitamin C lozenges soothe an inflamed throat, and boost immunity.
- Sucking on propolis lozenges will soothe the throat and helps if there is an infection of the tonsils or throat. Propolis is a resinous bee product that combines the soothing effect of honey, with the potential to slow down the growth of the flu virus.
- The homoeopathic remedy Allium cepa is very good for colds where there is clear, runny mucus.
There is a ‘window’ of opportunity in which you can avoid getting a cold or flu. This window is literally hours long. Most of us know our own particular ‘uh oh….I’m getting a cold’ set of symptoms. They may include feeling a wave of fatigue, sneezing or tickling at the back of the throat. The moment you feel these signs is the time to act; wait a few hours and virus will have taken hold. If you are able to catch it in time, take very large doses of natural remedies such as echinacea, andrographis and vitamin C throughout the day, and if you are lucky you will escape the infection, or if not, you will minimise its duration and intensity.
The beauty of natural remedies as opposed to antibiotics is that they enhance the body’s natural ability to fight the infection, building up your resistance to future infections.
- Don’t attempt your normal exercise program when you have a cold or flu. A stroll in the sunshine or a couple of stretches is all that is necessary while you have a cold. Avoid strong winds or draughts. Some people go for a jog on the ‘sweat it out’ theory already mentioned, but vigorous exercise is recommended only for the very early or very late stages. Remember your body is trying its hardest to get you to rest. Cancel the triathlon.
- A sauna or steam bath increases body temperature, thus invigorating the immune cells, but again is recommended only for the very early or fading stages of a cold as it can be very draining for your body. A few drops of eucalyptus oil in the steam bath or thrown with some water on the hot sauna rocks will help clear nose and throat, and bring healing to the lungs. Have a sauna only if your body craves the heat, otherwise it will sap your strength. Wrap up warmly afterwards and hop straight into bed.
- Vicks Vaporub is a decongestant that holds a place of honour in most Australian cupboards, as it makes an excellent inhalation base. Place a blob of it in a basin of boiling hot water, inhale the vapours deeply and feel how much more easily you can breathe. Rub Vicks on your chest, back, under your nose and even the soles of the feet before bed.
- A hot foot bath takes congestion away from the head. Truly. Dissolve 2 teaspoons of hot mustard or chilli powder in a little water, then add to a bucket or basin of tolerably hot water. Soak your feet in this for about 15 minutes, rinse well, put some woolly socks on, then go back to bed.
- Inverted postures, to which the yogis are so partial, improve immunity probably by stimulating the thymus gland (located in the chest) and the lymphatic system. ‘Inverted’ means a position where the legs are higher than the heart and is a very restorative posture. If you are in the throes of a cold, the only inverted posture you are likely to cope with is lying with your legs up the wall. To boost your immunity against colds and flu, practise the inverted postures regularly.
- Another old Chinese proverb tells of colds that enter the body at the back of the neck, via the wind. Good advice – wear a scarf in cold or windy weather.
- The fastest way to turn a ‘good’ cold into a ‘bad’ one is to refuse to rest. Learn to accept that a cold is your body’s way of telling you to slow down and rest in bed. Give yourself time to regenerate and contemplate. If you cannot completely surrender to the cold because of unavoidable responsibilities, then try to minimise your workload and ask for support.
- Viruses spread easily via coughs and sneezes. Remember germ etiquette and keep your hands clean (soap and water or alcohol wipes), dispose of tissues after use, and if you have forgotten your hanky or tissue cough into the crook of your elbow rather than your hands.
- 6 drops of sandalwood – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, reduces congestion.
- 4 drops of ravensara – antimicrobial, antiviral antiseptic, immune stimulant, expectorant.
- 4 drops of cajeput – analgesic, febrifuge, antiseptic, expectorant.
This is a wonderful anti-viral, anti-microbial and soothing blend. The above blend may be used as a room spray by combining it with distilled water an essential oil dispersant. For dry inhalation, put 6 to 8 drops of the essential oil blend onto a tissue or into a bowl of steaming water as a steam inhalation. Blend with unscented vitamin E cream and use as a chest rub.
At a glance
- Avoid sugar. Sucrose decreases immune capability. You need all the help you can get right now.
- If dairy products increase mucus, avoid them too.
- Drink plenty of clear hot fluids to allow the mucus to flow out. Soups are an excellent choice, anything that involves chicken, garlic and is spicy.
- Garlic is antimicrobial and mucolytic (decreases stickiness of mucus). Eat plenty of it while your cold is raging.
- Ginger, cinnamon, chilli, garlic and horseradish are all traditional ‘warming’ remedies, which will speed you through a cold or flu.
- Herbs to choose to ward off and cure a cold include Echinacea, andrographis, astragalus, cat’s claw and propolis (the last one is a bee product not a herb).
- Vitamin C, zinc and vitamin A are a winning combination. Take together to help get through your cold or flu quick-smart.
- This winning tea tastes fabulous and contains herbs and foods that are guaranteed reduce the symptoms if not send that cold into oblivion. In a teapot or plunger combine the juice of one lemon, half the lemon rind, chopped, half a stick of cinnamon, a handful of fresh thyme crushed or chopped, 2 to 3 cm of fresh ginger root, thinly sliced or grated, and a dessertspoon of honey. Add boiling water and stand for 5 minutes Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
- You are bound to get a cold or flu just when you least want it, usually when you are tired, stressed and rundown. Don’t let it happen to you. Or at the very least acknowledge you are not at your best and take some preventative herbs and supplements.
- Keep out of the cold and draughts. If you are in them, wear a scarf.
- Put a hold on your gym membership until you fully recover. You will only prolong the infection if you push yourself too early.