By Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom
You feel unusually tired. You start sneezing. Your nose runs and you have a tickle in your throat. You feel “off.” Chances are, you’re getting a cold and the virus is starting to multiply in your nose. And whenever you sneeze, thousands of globules loaded with viruses are expelled into the air. Welcome to the world of the common cold.
A viral infection usually begins in the nose and the upper respiratory tract. Then the virus binds to receptors on respiratory epithelial cells. They are propelled by tiny hairs, called cilia, to the back of the throat. At that point, they may be propelled to the stomach where they are destroyed by stomach acid, or they may bind to cells in the nasal passageway. If this happens, the virus is able to make proteins that do everything it needs to infect cells and make more viruses. As the virus penetrates the cell, it unzips its protein coat exposing naked genes. These rogue genes take over the cell and start making copies of themselves, in fact, billions of copies. If you want to stop a cold, the best time is in the first 24 hours before the virus makes those billions of copies. As the virus replicates and spreads, infected cells release distress signals known as chemokines, cytokines and interleukin-8 that stimulate the release of inflammatory mediators such as kinins and prostaglandins. This can increase vasodilation and vascular permeability leading to classic cold symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, a sore or itchy throat or general malaise.
The common cold is the leading cause of doctor visits in the United States. In one year, the U.S. population contracts approximately 1 billion colds and this accounts for more missed work and school days than any other illness.(1) Because there are over 200 different kinds of viruses that can cause a cold, by the time our body has learned to recognize one virus by its structure and prepare antibodies that will attack and destroy it, along comes another virus with a slightly different structure. This is why it is difficult for the immune system to defend against the common cold and why medical researchers have not been able to find a cure yet.
While a cure for the common cold has eluded scientists, there are some natural treatments that work extremely well to stop a cold in its tracks. Based on research and consultations with health care professions, the following are the most effective natural treatments for a cold.
Chinese Medicine: While several formulas have been shown to be effective for the common cold, Cold Nip is our pick because it combines the best of the all the formulas.
Cold Nip is a combination of three classical Chinese formulas that have been used successfully for years for the common cold with the addition of three anti-viral herbs: Andrographis, Isatis leaf and Isatis root. Isatis leaf, Isatis root and Andrographis have long been used in Chinese Medicine for upper respiratory infections and have been shown in recent research to have potent anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.(2,3,4) Chinese Medicine maintains that if you activate the protective defense of the body, the wei qi, the virus will not penetrate. So you want to start Cold Nip right away. People report that if they take Cold Nip at the first signs of a cold, it usually stops it before it has a chance to take hold. If the virus has penetrated to the sinuses, throat and lungs, it will still help relieve symptoms and shorten the duration. It is also effective when used preventively in crowded areas or when flying in a plane where a multitude of viruses are circulating throughout the cabin.
Homeopathy: Homeopathy is the leading complementary and alternative medicine in Europe and is used widely for the common cold and influenza. One study of 499 children showed that children with a cold who were treated with homeopathy were more likely to feel and do better than those children who had been treated conventionally. They had fewer complications, their parents took significantly less sick-leave, and fewer children were treated with antibiotics.(5) Although there are many effective homeopathic remedies for all stages of a cold, including those for sinus infections, ear infections, coughs and sore throats (the topic of another blog), I am including two remedies that are particularly beneficial for the early stages of a cold or viral infection. Do not take a homeopathic remedy within 20 minutes of eating, drinking or taking any other medication for best results.
Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy for influenza, but it seems to activate a person’s defense systems against cold viruses as well. Take ¼ vial 3-4 times a day. It is particularly beneficial in the first day or so of a viral infection, so start it early. May people use Cold Nip and Oscillococcinum together with good results.
Aconite is a homeopathic remedy for the very first signs of a cold, especially when the symptoms come on suddenly and may have been brought on by exposure to cold wind or by being chilled. You may feel hot and dry, thirsty, anxious and restless. Take Aconite 30c every 20 minutes for 3-4 doses. If caught at the very first signs, the cold will often not progress to the next stages.
Neti pot: Since viruses replicate in the nasal passages, help your immune system to move them out by using the neti pot two to three times a day. Add a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of baking soda. The salt water restores moisture to nasal passages, lessens the inflammation of mucous membranes, washes out existing pathogens while both salt and baking soda make the environment inhospitable to the viruses and bacteria. Make sure you tilt your head at the right angle so that water only drains through the opposite nostril (you do not want it to drain back through the nose and throat). After using the neti pot on each side, blow your nose several times. All discharges should come forward and out – do not snuff up into the sinuses. Saline rinses are highly recommended by National Jewish Health; however, they recommend using boiled or purified water to ensure against the risk of bacteria or amoebas in tap water.
Gargling with Salt water: This is effective for a viral sore throat and helps reduce the soreness and shorten the duration of a sore throat. Both viruses and bacteria struggle to survive in a high-salt environment. Also, warming the water further creates an inhospitable environment for viruses and bacteria.
Vitamins & Minerals:
Zinc helps the immune system function more effectively. Research suggests that 15 mg/day during the winter months increasing to 15 mg. 2-3 x a day at the onset of a cold will help stop a cold in the beginning and reduce the symptoms and duration. Oral zinc is recommended over zinc nasal sprays since several people have experienced a loss of smell with zinc nasal sprays. (6)
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can be effective when every cold seems to go to the chest and turns into bronchitis. NAC thins mucus and has mucolyptic and expectorant properties.(7)
What to eat and drink when you have a cold?
Every morning squeeze the juice of one lemon into warm water and add a teaspoon of raw Manuka honey. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, but avoid dairy and orange juice since they seem to increase the amount of mucus. Freshly squeezed carrot and vegetable juices are also recommended, and a good homemade chicken soup with plenty of vegetables and shiitake mushrooms will support the immune system and also make you feel better.
With these natural recommendations, you should be able to say good-bye to your cold if you catch it early enough or at least reduce the symptoms and shorten its duration.
1 Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Roxas M, Jurenka J., Alternative Medicine Review, Volume 12, number 1 2007 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17397266
2. Use of visual analogue scale measurements (VAS) to assess the effectiveness of standardized Andrographis paniculata extract SHA-10 in reducing the symptoms of common cold. A randomized double-blind-placebo study. Phytomedicine 1999;6(4): 217-223
3. Experimental studies on immunostimulatory effects of the Isatis indigotica polysaccharide, Xu YM, Lu PC, Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1991; 11:357-9, 325-6.
4. Evaluation of antiendotoxic action and antiviral action invitro of tetraploid Isatis indigotica. Wang T, et al. Zhong guo Zong Yao Za Zhi. 2000 ;25 :327-9
5. Pharmacoeconomic Comparison Between Homeopathic and Antibiotic Treatment Strategies in Recurrent Acute Rhinopharyngitis in Children, Trichard, M, Chaufferin, Nicoloyannis, N., Homeopathy (2005)94, 3-9.
6. Colds and Influenza: A Review of Diagnosis and Conventional, Botanical, and Nutritional Considerations, Mario Roxas, ND and Julie Jurenka, MT, Alternative Medicine Review, Volume 12, Number 1 2007.
7. Reduction in days of illness after long-term treatment with Nacetylcysteine controlled-release tablets in patients with chronic bronchitis. Rasmussen JB, Glennow, C. Eur Respir J 1988; 1-:351-355.