Both the common cold and the flu are infections caused by viruses. Their incidence increases during the colder, drier winter months, in part because the viruses are easily spread when people spend more time in close quarters. And cold and influenza viruses typically mutate (change) from year to year, so it is difficult to develop permanent resistance to them.
Conventional Treatments for Cold and Flu
Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, so they are not an option. Immunizations are heralded for flu prevention, but they have limited effectiveness. Antiviral drugs come with side effects.
Eating Tips to Fight Infections
Maintain a healthy diet and minimize your intake of sugary foods, which reduce the body’s ability to fight infections.
Supplements for Fighting Cold and Flu
With the cold and influenza season drawing near, it’s worthwhile planning your defense against these infections with a targeted supplement arsenal.
- Zinc Lozenges. Timing may be the key for the effectiveness of zinc. Start sucking on lozenges every two hours on the first day you experience symptoms. (The lozenges will be less effective if you wait until the second day.) If you feel like you are fighting a cold or travel on an airplane, continue taking the lozenges for three days, after which you can reduce the frequency, then stop taking the lozenges when symptom free. Treatment: Follow label directions.
- Echinacea. This herb helps prevent and reduce symptoms of the common cold. In an analysis of 14 studies, researchers concluded that the herb reduced the odds of catching a common cold by 58 percent. Among people who did catch a cold, echinacea shortened its duration. Prevention and Treatment: Follow label directions.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC). One of the most versatile of all supplements, NAC is the precursor to glutathione, the body’s own powerhouse antioxidant. In one study, seniors took 600 mg twice daily. Although they caught the flu, symptoms were less severe than usual. Prevention: 500–600 mg twice daily. Symptom relief: On the first day of suspect symptoms, increase the dose to 1,000 mg three or four times daily. Continue taking until symptoms subside.
- Vitamin D. The increase in cold and flu incidence may be related to less sun exposure and decreased seasonal vitamin D production. Vitamin D-dependent immune factors actively fight germs, and some research shows that the vitamin can reduce the risk of contracting the flu. Prevention: 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 (the most bioavailable form) daily for adults and up to 1,200 IU daily for children. Symptom relief: For the first several days of a cold or flu, take up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, then resume your regular dose.
- Probiotics. Researchers have known for almost 25 years that healthy gut bacteria positively influence our immunity. In a recent study, British scientists found that a probiotic supplement boosted the body’s ability to fight infections. Prevention: A multi-strain probiotic that includes B. lactis.
- Vitamin C. With dozens of published studies, the evidence suggests that vitamin C might help prevent colds in children and stressed adults. It has been shown to reduce both symptoms and the length of infection, especially among people exposed to bad weather. Infections deplete vitamin C levels, so to avoid a rebound deficiency after fighting a cold or flu, continue taking your supplements for a couple of weeks. Prevention: 2–6 grams in divided doses daily, less for children. Treatment: Increase the amount to just below what loosens the stools.
- Elderberry. Elderberry extracts, in liquid or capsule form, rapidly reduce the aches and fatigue associated with influenza. One study found that 14 of 15 people taking elderberry extract had a significant reduction in symptoms, including fever, after just two days. Prevention and Treatment: Follow label directions.
Homeopathic Remedies for Flu
- Oscillococcinum is the best-known homeopathic remedy for the flu, but it must be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. A medical journal review of studies on Oscillococcinum described the remedy as ”promising.“ Follow label directions for its use.
- Another option is Influenzinum, which many naturopathic physicians consider an alternative to conventional flu shots. For Influenzinum, take one vial of a 9c potency once a week for four weeks; wait a month, and then take a fifth dose, beginning in the fall, before the flu season hits.
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