Nip That Bug in the Bud: Herbal Solutions for Colds and Flu

You wake up with a sore throat, a runny nose, and achy joints. Your brain feels like it's swimming in cotton, and your stomach is off kilter. You are experiencing the first signs of a cold or flu. Unless you take care of these early symptoms promptly, by the end of the day, you will be another statistic.

Each year Americans suffer approximately a billion colds and spend several billion dollars in over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications. Between 10,000 and 20,000 individuals-almost all of them elderly, newborns, or chronically ill-die annually from flu complications, usually pneumonia. And it's estimated that 15 million workdays a year are lost in the U.S. due to colds or flu.

Four-Point Plan of Attack
Developed over my 30 years of professional and personal experience, here are ways to nip that "bug" in the bud. Start by supporting your immune system and protecting yourself against secondary bacterial infections. For maximum benefits, initiate the following regimen at the very first symptoms of a cold or flu. Continue full force with this program until all symptoms have disappeared.

1. Herbs Every Hour. Take 40 drops of a liquid herbal extract or one capsule/softgel containing fresh or dried echinacea root extract (E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, and/or E. pallida), dried andrographis (A. paniculata) herb, or fresh elder (Sambucus nigra) berry extract.

2. Supplements. Take 500 mg of vitamin C every hour. Also consider zinc. Suck on a zinc lozenge containing approximately 15 mg of this mineral four times a day.

3. Chicken Soup. If you're a vegetarian, substitute vegetable or miso broth. Drink one cup of soup or broth every two or three hours.

4. Garlic (Allium sativum). Take one garlic clove, capsule, or tablet every two or three hours.

How Herbs Work
Echinacea helps your immune system tackle both colds and flu quickly and effectively in several ways. It brings more white blood cells to the area of infection faster by amplifying the distress signal sent out by cells being attacked. Echinacea also increases the aggressiveness of white blood cells toward intruding pathogens. No wonder that in a 2004 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, early intervention and frequent dosage with an echinacea product resulted in milder symptoms in people suffering from the common cold.

Andrographis appears effective in treating symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections, due in part to this herb's immune-enhancing effects. Recent double-blind human studies find that duration, frequency, and severity of colds or flu are considerably decreased by andrographis. In a study published in 1999, participants reported significant decreases in sore throats, nasal secretions, and earaches with andrographis, versus a placebo. In 2002, another double-blind, placebo-controlled study concluded that this herb improved acute upper-respiratory tract infections and inflammatory symptoms of sinusitis, as well as headaches, nasal and throat symptoms, and general malaise. When used as a preventive, andrographis (taken for three months) cut patients' susceptibility to colds in half, versus a placebo.  In 2003, a group of patients receiving andrographis had quicker recovery time, fewer days missed from work, and fewer post-influenza complications than the control groups.

Initial research indicates that elder berry is a safe treatment for most strains of flu viruses. When tested against seven strains of flu viruses (Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ann Arbor, Texas, Panama, and Yamagata) elder berry extract proved effective against all of them. A placebo-controlled, double-blind study showed that 93 percent of flu patients taking the standardized elder berry extract Sambucol had a significant improvement of symptoms, including fever. Within two to three days, almost 90 percent of those taking Sambucol had a complete cure versus at least a six-day recovery rate for those in the placebo group.

Garlic has true antibiotic properties. It's been called Russian penicillin because of its extensive use by the Russian army in World War II with impressive results. Today, garlic still impresses with its viral and bacterial deactivating action against disease-causing microorganisms. It is one of the few herbs that have direct antibiotic properties against viruses and bacteria.

Timing Is Everything
To date, no specific cure has been found for the group of viruses that cause the common cold and flu. Antibiotics are of no use in treating a cold or flu, since they kill bacteria and not viruses. When symptoms first appear, every minute you wait gives viruses the opportunity to produce more of themselves. Within five hours, one single virus will replicate to produce thousands of viruses. You are, in effect, at the tipping point. Do nothing and get sick. Take aggressive measures, and swing back to health. Remember and heed the adage: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

My years of experience have shown, time and again, that unless sufficient herbs and supplements are taken frequently enough during the first day of a cold or flu attack, a person ends up with a full-blown cold or flu. The key to my four-point plan is that it must be started at the very first sign of a cold or flu and continued until the symptoms are gone (usually within 8 to 14 hours).

selected sources "Andrographis paniculata in the Treatment of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections: A Systematic Review of Safety and Efficacy" by J. T. Coon and E. Ernst, Planta Medica, 4/04  "Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil chemotaxis in Vitro" by B. O. Rennard et al., Chest, 2000  "Efficacy of a Standardized Echinacea Preparation (Echinilin) for the Treatment of the Common Cold: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial" by V. Goel et al., J Clin Pharm Ther, 2/04  How Pathogenic Viruses Work by L. Sompayrac ($29.95, Jones and Bartlett, 2002)  "Preventing the Common Cold with a Garlic Supplement: A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Survey" by P. Josling, Adv Ther, 7-8/01  "Vitamin C Supplementation and Respiratory Infections: A Systematic Review" by H. Hemila, Mil Med, 11/04 

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