Archives for October, 2008

Germ Warfare
“…shore up your immune defenses with a good diet, plenty of rest, and immune-boosting supplements.”

The common cold is actually caused by one of 200 different viruses which all produce similar symptoms: sore throat, runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, cough, and general aches and pains. Influenza (the flu) causes many of the same symptoms and is also caused by a virus. Colds and flu can be spread person-to-person by coughing or sneezing. Infection can also be spread by touching a virus-contaminated object (like a doorknob, phone, or shaking hands with an infected person) and then touching your eyes or nose.

Surprisingly, whether or not a person comes down with a cold or flu is related less to exposure to a virus and more to the strength of the immune system. Now is the time to shore up your immune defenses with a good diet, plenty of rest, and immune-boosting supplements. In a recent Email received from Robyn Landis, author of Herbal Defense, she said she is now into her 8th winter without a serious cold. Her book will tell you how you can do the same.

General Immune Enhancement
A strong, resilient immune system is your best bet for thwarting cold and flu germs. Almost every nutrient is involved in proper immune function, so a fruit-and vegetable-rich diet is a great place to start, along with a multivitamin /mineral supplement (supplying 100-300% of the RDAs). Vitamin A (5,000 IU), the carotenoids (50 mg), vitamin E (100-200 IU), selenium (200 mcg), and copper (1-3 mg if taking zinc) play a particularly vital role in a strong virus-resistant immune system (Nutrition 1990;6:1-106). (The amount of copper in a multi is usually sufficient.)

Vitamin C: Cold Comfort
Vitamin C has been at the center of controversy regarding whether or not this vitamin plays a role in preventing and treating cold infections. After an exhaustive review of the research, Harri Hemila from the University of Helsinki, Finland determined that taking vitamin C (1,000-8,000 mg in divided doses throughout the day) at the onset of a cold while not having an effect on the incidence of cold infections, reduces both the severity and duration of a cold (Scand J Infect Dis 1994;26:1-6).

Other research has found that vitamin C supplements lessen the risk of catching a cold, but this beneficial effect is limited to individuals under physical stress or those with a low dietary intake of vitamin C (Br J Nutr 1997;77:59-72).

Powerful Cold Remedy: Zinc
The mineral zinc has a long history as an immune system supporter, and a recent study reports that zinc-containing lozenges can greatly shorten the life of a cold. When people who were just starting to develop cold symptoms sucked on zinc lozenges every two waking hours their colds only lasted for an average of four and a half days (Ann Intern Med 1996;125:81-8). Another group of cold victims unwittingly were given fake lozenges; their colds lasted almost twice as long.

The zinc lozenges used in this study provided 13.3 mg of zinc in a form called zinc gluconate. The downside, however, is that the people sucking on these lozenges sometimes felt queasy, developed mouth irritations, or could not tolerate the metallic taste of the lozenges. Two earlier studies using zinc lozenges have also proven the effectiveness of this therapy (J Antimicrobial Chemother 1987;20:893-901, Antimicrobial Agents Chemother 1984;25:20-24)

Herbal Defenders
Echinacea bolsters the body’s defenses to help fend off colds, flus, and other infections. Specifically, Echinacea stimulates immune cells that engulf and digest bacteria and other infectious invaders (Zeitsch Arzt Fort 1996;90:111-5). A single-blind clinical trial involving 32 cold sufferers found that a combination of Echinacea and vitamin C slightly shortened (by one day) the duration of the illness and the severity of the symptoms (Internat J Immunother 1995;11:163-6).

Echinacea can be used for several weeks at a time during high-risk times, but a break of a week or so should be interspersed with every six to eight weeks of use. Otherwise, the immune-stimulating effect of Echinacea seems to wane. There are many choices when it comes to Echinacea, including tea (drink several cups daily), tincture (3-4 ml three times per day), and capsules (300 mg. three times per day).

Elderberry shows a promising effect for treating influenza. An elderberry herbal extract was assessed in a double-blind clinical trial during an outbreak of influenza (J Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361-9). Within the first 24 hours of taking elderberry, 20% of the treatment group reported significant improvement of the symptoms for fever, cough, and muscle pain. After another day, 75% were greatly improved; and by the third day 90% were recovered. In comparison, the placebo group took until the sixth day before 92% reported recovery. The herbal extract can be used in the amount of 10 ml twice daily. !!