Health & Medicine

Integrative Medicine: Prevent colds and flu

Now that the holidays are almost over, it’s time to recuperate and get ready for the new year. The busyness of the season leaves many of us overstretched and sleep-deprived, and at higher risk for illness, including colds and flu. Now’s the time to put in place some practices that will leave your immune system operating at peak performance.

There are a number of supplements and botanicals that can help to reduce your risk of getting sick. They include the following:

•  Zinc is important for a healthy immune system, and the elderly in particular are often zinc-deficient. Be sure to eat zinc-rich foods, including oysters, beef, liver, poultry, crab and pork. Zinc is not well absorbed from multivitamins, so if you need extra zinc, take it as a separate supplement. The RDA is 11 milligrams per day for men and 8 milligrams for women, though some people need more.

•  Probiotics may help to prevent colds or reduce the duration of symptoms. They seem to work by stimulating immune function. Try lactobacillus rhamnosus GG or a mixed probiotic containing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. The optimal dose is uncertain, but usually about 10 billion colony forming units per day for kids and 25 billion CFU for adults.

•  North American ginseng (also known as panax quinquefolius) may reduce the risk of developing colds or influenza if taken for three to four months during the winter months. It may also reduce the severity and length of illness if you do get sick. The dose is approximately 200 milligrams twice daily.

•  Some data suggest that vitamin C may reduce the incidence of colds, especially in people exposed to extreme stress, physical exertion, or cold weather; their incidence of colds was reduced by 50 percent when they took vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered to be a safe supplement especially if taken in moderate doses, such as 250 to 500 milligrams twice daily.

•  Green tea may have antiviral effects; preliminary research suggests that it may help to prevent colds and flu. Drink three to five cups per day.

And if you do get sick, here are a few things that can help to reduce the severity or length of your symptoms:

•  Zinc lozenges may also help to stop a cold; they must be started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Look for zinc acetate lozenges that contain 13 to 25 milligrams of zinc per lozenge; other formulations of zinc are not as effective. Dissolve a lozenge in the mouth every two hours until you have consumed at least 75 milligrams total per day; stop after seven to 10 days.

•  Elderberry may help to reduce symptoms of the flu by boosting the ability of the immune system to fight off the infection; it is active against both influenza A and B and may even be effective for swine flu. Sambucol by Nature’s Way is a standardized extract of elderberry that can shorten the duration of the flu by at least 50 percent and also reduce fever and muscle aches. The dose is 1 tablespoon four times daily for three to five days.

•  The herb andrographis may also help to reduce the severity and duration of upper respiratory infections. Kan Jang is the Swedish andographis product that has been studied the most; it is often combined with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus). It needs to be started within 48 hours of symptom onset. The dose is two capsules three times daily for five days.

•  Echinacea may help to reduce the length and severity of the common cold, though not all species are effective; Echinacea purpurea is the one that seems to be the best. It should be started at the onset of symptoms and continued for seven to 10 days. Try EchinaGuard by Nature’s Way.

•  Fresh garlic may help to thwart a cold – eat one raw clove of chopped garlic every hour at the first onset of symptoms. Stop after you’ve eaten six to eight cloves, or if you get GI distress (or if you start to smell like a garlic factory!).

•  Honey is an effective cough suppressor and can also ease a sore throat; take one or two teaspoons, either by itself or in some warm herbal tea. It can also be used safely in children over the age of 1.

•  Licorice is recommended by the German Commission E for inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. It fights viruses, helps to loosen secretions, and can soothe a sore throat.

•  Chicken soup seems to reduce inflammation, and if you throw in some mushrooms, onions and garlic, you’ll be supporting your immune system as well.

Help avoid illness by getting plenty of sleep, reducing your stress levels, working in lots of laughter every day (a great stress reducer), eating a healthful diet, getting moderate exercise, washing your hands frequently or using an alcohol hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, and getting a flu shot. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014.