According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu is widespread in 41 states. The CDC has reported 22,048 flu cases from Sept. 30 through December 31, 2012 compared with only 849 for the same period last year.
Since nobody is immune to catching a cold or the flu, it would help to be familiar with the treatment options available from nature, the kitchen, and the pharmacy as well as preventative measures.
The common cold is an infection of your nose and throat caused by viruses. We typically catch between two and four colds a year. Of course preventing a cold is always preferable to treating a cold so develop good prevention habits.
Symptoms of the common cold, which usually appear one to three days after being exposed to a cold virus, include: Runny nose, sore throat, cough, sneezing and nasal congestion.
When these symptoms appear it is important to get plenty of rest and make sure to eat lighter while focusing on foods that contain healing herbs like ginger and garlic. To prevent falling ill in the first place take extra precaution to avoid contact with people to are sick.
Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. Someone who has the flu sneezes onto his or her hand and then touches the telephone, the keyboard, a kitchen glass. The germs can live for hours only to be picked up by the next person who touches the same object. So wash your hands often. If you can't get to a sink, rub an alcohol-based hand sanitizer onto your hands.
Avoid touching your face. Cold and flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching their faces is the major way children catch colds and a key way they pass colds on to their parents.
Aerobic exercise speeds up the heart to pump larger quantities of blood; makes you breathe faster to help transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood; and makes you sweat once your body heats up. These exercises help increase the body's natural virus-killing cells.
Heavy alcohol use suppresses the immune system in a variety of ways. Heavier drinkers are more prone to initial infections as well as secondary complications. Alcohol also dehydrates the body -- it actually causes more fluid loss from your system than it puts in.
When cold symptoms first flare up you can start taking echinacea and astragalus to strenthen the immune system. You may also increase your daily vitamin C dosage to 1,000 or 2,000 mg daily and for further help you can turn to garlic and ginger. Kan Jang can also help boost your immune system particularly with the flu. Elderberry syrup can lessen the symptoms of the cold or flu and shorten the duration of the infection.
Echinacea is a great herbal cold-buster. A member of the aster family of flowers it is a antiviral, immune-boosting herb. Tinctures are the best, but you can also get echinacea in capsule form. Make sure to select products made with echinacea purpurea, the species found to be the most helpful in the treatment of colds. Bastyr University physician David Kiefer, MD, also suggests scanning product labels to find tinctures and supplements that come from cultivated plants, given concerns about sthe sustainability of echinacea gathered from the wild.
Although several studies over the years have deemed echinacea ineffective for combatting colds, a meta-analysis published in Lancet Infectious Diseases found that the herb lowered the odds of developing a cold by 58 percent and shortened its duration by about 1.5 days.
Vitamin C is a must in any illness resulting from a weakness in immunity. In 1968, Linus Pauling, PhD, proposed the theory that people had individual requirements for various vitamins and some needed amounts higher than the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs). Pauling proposed that 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily could reduce the incidence of colds for most people. Since then, vitamin C has become a popular cold remedy.
A review by the Cochrane Collaboration examined whether vitamin C taken orally in doses of 200 mg or more a day could reduce the incidence, duration or severity of the common cold. The researchers analyzed 30 previously published studies (involving a total of 11,350 participants) that met their quality criteria. They found that vitamin C didn’t appear to prevent the common cold. There was a slight reduction in the length and severity of cold symptoms. It appeared to markedly reduce the risk of catching a cold in people involved brief, intense physical activity (such as marathon running or skiing), or in those exposed to cold temperatures. Vitamin C in amounts over 2,000 mg may cause diarrhea, loose stools and gas.
Astragalus is an excellent herb to take when travelling during the cold season. This antiviral Chinese herb, the root of the plant is in the pea family, can also rev up your immune system. If you are especially prone to catching winter colds Dr. Kiefer suggests using astragalus every day all season long to shore up immunity.
Rich in antioxidants, amino acids, and minerals, astragalus was better than echinacea at activating immune cells in one pilot study (Phytotherapy Research, June 2006). Take two capsules of a standardized extract twice a day.
Ginger root is another folk remedy for cough, colds and sore throat. It's used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat coughs and is also for colds accompanied by runny nose with a clear nasal discharge, headache, neck and shoulder aches, and a white tongue coating. In ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, ginger is also used for cough and colds.
Hot ginger tea is a popular home remedy for cold symptoms and sore throat. Honey and lemon are sometimes added. Try this recipe: Slice up a two-inch chunk of fresh ginger root and cook in 4 cups of water for about 20 mintues. After straining the tea into your cup, stir in the juice of half a lemon and a tableshppo of honey.
Even though it's a natural anti-inflammatory and should be fine for most sore throats, ginger is spicy and can burn or irritate strep throat.
Antiviral, antibacterial and immune-stimulating, garlic offers several cold-busting benefits that prove most powerful when its cloves are eaten raw. At the start of a cold eat two cloves daily, usually mashing or chopping it up and letting it stand for five minujtes to activate its key compound (allicin) and mixing it in with food. If you must cook garlic, add it to your dishes just before they are done. Cooking can destroy the beneficial properties.
In one study of 146 volunteers, people who took a garlic supplement every day from November through February recovered fster from colds than did those who took a placebo during the same time (Advances n Therapy, July/August 2001). But because garlic supplements can vary widely in quality, you are better off stickin with the herb in its natural form, which is also cheaper.
Flu symptoms are more sever than those of colds and typically include fever, body aches and fatigue. The virus can also lead to serious complications such as pneumonia.
After pharmaceuticals such as tamiflu, the most reliable flu remedy is a combination of astragalus and andrographis(Kan Jang). Kan Jang is a popular cold remedy in Scandinavia. Kan Jang has two immune-enhancing herbs: Adrographis and eleutherococcus. Also known as Siberian ginseng, eleutherococcus belongs to a class of herbs called adaptogens, which help the body adapt to stress of all kinds. Andrographis is loaded with compounds that may ward off viruses and inflammation and help shorten the duration and lessen the severity of colds and flu.
Kan Jang resulted in a speedier flu recovery than the antiviral drug Symmetrel (Amantadine) in one study(Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, January 2003).
Another natural form of support for the flu is elderberries. Elderberries contain natural substances called flavonoids. They seem to help reduce swelling, fight inflammation, and boost the immune system.
Studies have found that elderberries ease flu symptoms like fever, headache, sore throat, fatigue, cough, and body ache. The benefits seem to be greatest when started within 24 to 48 hours after the symptoms begin. One study found that elderberry could cut the duration of flu symptoms by more than 50%. One research study suggests that elderberry extract in syrup form can cut flu duration by about four days(Journal of International Medical Research, March/April 2004). In addition, Lab studies have found that elderberry might be effective against H1N1, or swine flu. A few studies have suggested that elderberry could help with bacterial sinus infections or bronchitis. More research needs to be done.
Finally, stress has a large effect on the immune system. If you can teach yourself to relax, you may be able to rev up your immune system. There's evidence that when you put your relaxation skills into action, your interleukins -- leaders in the immune system response against cold and flu viruses -- increase in the bloodstream. Yogic breathing, meditation or mental imagery can help your relax and recharge your immune system not to mention improving mental performance. Train yourself to picture an image you find pleasant or calming. Do this 20 minutes a day for several months. Keep in mind, relaxation is a skill that can be learned, but it is not doing nothing. People who try to relax, but are in fact bored with their minds wandering, show no changes in blood chemicals.