... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published May 31st 2012
Creating balance within our body, mind and soul is important in the fight against disease. Like gardens, our bodies need maintenance and proper care to perform at their peak.
Tackling colds and flu can be thought of as having three major thrusts:
1. Tackling the cause 2. Alleviating the symptoms 3. Strengthening the immune system (our bodies natural defence against disease) and replenishing your body.
Let's address these one at a time.
1. Tackling the Cause The flu is an acute viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. There are many viruses that cause colds and flu and these viruses are continually undergoing mutation. Because colds and flu have a viral cause, antibiotics don't work against them. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, however some GP's will still prescribe them just to rule out any possible bacterial causes and because (as one Medico told me) client's want to walk away with something and GP's want to cover themselves against potential law suits.
So, what can you do?
Although it's main weapon is against bacteria, garlic has some virus killing action. In order for it's active ingredient (allicin) to perform, it needs to be consumed raw. Some suggestions: on top of toast (think garlic bread without the roasting), in salad dressing, or scattered on soup or another meal. For some, suffering with the cold may be preferable to the thought of imbibing the anti-vampire remedy in the raw. Your call.
Ginger, another relatively inexpensive culinary herb, is your other ally. Ginger has natural antiviral action, and reduces pain and fever.
2. Alleviating the Symptoms
You well know what these are. They can include any of the following unpleasant stuff: mucous, runny nose, fever and chills, lethargy, pharyngitis, cough, headache, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and sometimes nausea and vomiting.
For symptom relief try these pantry remedies:
For nausea: Ginger tea. Lemon and honey can be added for taste. Sore throat: Try a concoction of lemon, honey (or manuka honey), cidar vinegar and hot water. Manuka honey has natural anti-bacterial action. Drinking hot liquids (like herbal teas) can also help with nasal congestion, sore throats and will hydrate you. For stomach upsets: Make a strong infusion of peppermint tea by letting the bag sit in the tea for twenty minutes. Peppermint is a natural anti-spasmodic and calmer of the gut, the reason it is used in the after dinner mint. It also has pain-relieving and infection preventing qualities (see headaches below for a further application of this wonderful herb). See this link for more about the wonders of peppermint. Coughs: If you can get hold of some herbal extracts of licorice and marshmallow from a health food store or naturopath, it will do your cough good. Take as prescribed. Gargle the herbs and let them settle on your throat. Both herbs have demulcent action, meaning they coat and soothe the area they are applied to. Fortunately, these are the better tasting of the often foul tasting herbal medicines. Licorice also helps with energy levels and cough spasms. Please note, licorice (the herb as opposed to the sweet) shouldn't be taken by people with high blood pressure or anyone on diuretics. Your naturopath will be able to assist you further with any queries you may have about taking herbal medicines. Mucous congestion: Rub a few drops diluted eucalyptus oil or water into your chest. Headaches, aches and pains: Peppermint and ginger oil have natural pain relieving properties. Massage some peppermint or ginger oil into your temples or wherever the pain exists. Avoid the eyes. I have personally used both of these for period pain and find them to be excellent. Fevers: Ginger helps to reduce fever. Steam Inhalations: Use 2-5 drops of oil in a bowl of hot water. Placing a towel over your head lower your head into the steam (eyes closed) and inhale). Steam inhalations can help reduce the formation of catarrh, clear congestion and are also anti-microbial if using oils with this action. Suitable oils include eucalyptus and thyme essential oils. Taking a steamy shower can also have the same effect as well as provide some relaxation. Gargles: These can bring some temporary relief by moistening a sore throat. Gargle with a lemon, honey and hot water drink.
Garlic: a potent ally against the flu and will also keep the vampires at bay. Picture source: Wikipedia
3. Strengthening the Immune System & Replenishing Your Body
The best way to defeat colds and flu naturally is to provide your body with what it needs to do its job. This means, excellent nutrition, sleep, relaxation and avoidance of stress. Doing this will also help to prevent further complications of the flu. When the mucous membranes of the nose and throat are inflamed by infection, they are far more vulnerable to attack by bacteria and this can easily give rise to secondary infections that are more serious than the original cold, eg. sinusitis, ear infections, bronchitis.
The most important supplements to achieve this goal are Vitamin C and Zinc. To be effective they need to be taken in the correct therapeutic dose. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which means any excess not used by the body will be excreted in the urine. When taking Vitamin C in high doses, it is best to thus take divided doses through the day. See a naturopath for further information. Many health foods stores employ naturopaths specifically to provide free advice to the public – and sell products.
Strawberries are a good source of Vitamin C and tasty too. Even better if picked fresh from the garden.
Follow this nutritional program to follow to help build up your body and conquer the cold.
Diet for the duration of the cold and flu
- Avoid all junk food, excess sugar. These rob your body of nutrients and tax the immune system.
- Avoid all mucous producing foods – dairy and gluten foods (found in wheat products).
- Drink lots of fluids in the form of broths, soups, juices, herbal teas and spring or purified water to replace lost fluids. It will also help lower fever.
- Increase foods in the allium family – onions, shallots, garlic.Increase ginger consumption.
- Increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables (full of vitamins), especially those high in vitamin C. These include: red capsicum, rockmelon, kiwi fruit and berries. Remember, that vitamin C is destroyed by heat, so raw is what we're talking here. Are you starting to see a theme?
- A mostly liquid diet and some fresh fruit and vegetable will speed recovery. Liquids are easier on the digestive system, thus don't tax your body in this time of sickness. You need to give it every help at this time.
Most important of all, however, issleep, rest and relaxation. It's vital to take time-out otherwise you will only prolong the duration of your sickness or possibly exacerbate it. Lie on the lounge and watch DVDs or stay in bed. Whatever you do, you must relax. Consider this Number 1 on the list on the Doctor's prescription. Stress of all kinds, must be avoided. Okay, so this isn't always possible, but do what you can. Don't check your email, ring in sick, put off that list of things to do till next week. Do what you can. Stress is probably the biggest cause of illness and burdens our bodies in innumerable ways.
Regular exercise has also been found to result in a quicker recovery time from colds and flu so stay physical through winter. See the link for more on this.
Rest and relaxation is essential for overcoming illness
Advice on Fevers
Fevers are part of the body's defence to destroy micro-organisms. Fevers up to 38ºC can be allowed to run their course. For fevers above 38ºC it is advisable to see a doctor to rule out conditions such as meningitis and other serious infections and to take measures to reduce fever. If unsure always see a medical practitioner. If using conventional medical drugs, you can use Panadol to lower fever.
Recurrent Colds and Flu
If you tend to suffer from recurrent colds, it could be that you have one of the following issues:
• Lowered immunity
• Various health issues causing immune suppression or deficiency (eg. auto-immune disease, underlying infections, eg. HIV, diabetes, other diseases affecting immunity)
• Increased exposure. This increases the risk. Influenza virus is easily caught from respiratory droplets and transmitted by hand. It's commonly spread among schoolchildren or wherever there are congregations of people.
• Stress – either physical and psychological
• Inadequate nutrition through poor diet
In this case, in addition to the above, you need to:
• Address stress in your life
• Address diet
• Take tonics
You can source these from the local health food store.
Olive Leaf Extract is a natural antibacterial and anti-viral herb that is excellent for colds and flus. It also assists with energy levels.
Licorice and marshmallow. See the above entry on coughs. Licorice has many other beneficial properties including the ability to reduce inflammation in the body.
Echinacea This herb is renowned for it's ability to increase white blood cells (basically our immune systems fighting team). For this reason, it is commonly taken to boost the immune system and fight infections of all kinds.
Put this one in the pantry - Peppermint - antimicrobial, mild pain reliever and all round wonder herb for the gut. Picture source: Wikipedia
Cold and Flu Natural Therapy Kit
A great basic natural therapy kit to stock for the cold and flu season could consist of the following:
Supplements and essential oils
Vitamin C (powdered form preferably as easier to digest)
Tea tree oil
Fresh garlic and ginger
If you want to get even better equipped, add these:
From the health food store:
Licorice herbal extract
Marshmallow herbal extract
Echinacea herbal extract
Olive leaf herbal extract
My final advice is to quote the old saying 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away'. Yes, mum was right all along. Keep eating those fresh fruits and veggies through winter and give your body lots of nourishment to fight off those bad germs that inevitably come our way.
Stay physical through winter. Exercise is thought by experts to boost the immune system.