Article Archive >> Featured Topics

Alternative Approaches: Beat the Cold and Flu Blues With a Little Help From Herbs

Alternative Approaches
Beat the Cold and Flu Blues With a Little Help From Herbs

What is a cold?
Cold symptoms arise when some kind of virus has gotten a lead in the body. It may be a rhinoviruses, coxsackieviruses, coronaviruses or parmyxoviruses. There are some 100 to 200 viruses that result in a cold. These viruses can shift their characteristics almost endlessly.
Whatever the virus, the symptoms of a cold are all the same: headaches, muscle aches and pains, back pain, earache, cough, hoarseness, sore throat, fever, runny nose, increased mucus production, congestion and a general feeling of fatigue.
Colds and flu viruses result in both upper respiratory congestion with a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion, a sore throat, and a cough. Flus tend to stay in the lower respiratory tract and colds in the upper respiratory tract. Flus tend to begin in the upper respiratory tract and then move into the lower respiratory tract.
Flu brings on general malaise, headache, muscle aches, fever, chills, exhaustion, and loss of appetite. Symptoms of a flu start to resolve after two to five days but the weakness and fatigue may stay around for a couple of weeks.
Both colds and flu are the result of viruses and, of course, antibiotics will have no effect on viruses. Colds and flu keep challenging you because there are so many viruses that can result in cold and flu symptoms. And these viruses can continually mutate and outwit your immune defenses.
If you've been interested in a more natural approach to colds and flu and in taking better care of your whole self you may be interested to know:
* Over the counter cold remedies are thought to do nothing to fight cold viruses or boost the immune responses so they can have little effect on the duration of colds.
* Of the five antihistamines commonly used to treat colds, research shows that only one of them may actually help dry a runny nose.
* The over the counter drugs that are designed to eliminate the symptoms of the cold - ease congestion, stop the cough, soothe the sore throat - actually interfere with the body's protective immune responses. The condition may seem to get better because of the masking of the symptoms but the body's natural immune response have been curtailed.
* Researchers have found that over the counter drugs may have no benefit for preschoolers.
* Decongestants can produce side effects like jitters and insomnia.
* Mucus, tears, and saliva are saturated with IgA antibodies. Mucus is a genetically engineered antibiotic substance that contains specific antibodies to your current infection. Thus when you take an over the counter decongestant that drys mucus secretions during a cold or flu you may be reducing your immune responses and contributing to lengthening the duration of your infection. It might be better to take substances that thin and liquefy the mucus and keep it flowing freely with plenty of liquids.
These days Echinacea and goldenseal are the most frequently used herbs for colds and flu in the United States but did you know:
* Clinically echinacea is not generally considered to be a major herb for working with the flu although it is often used as an auxiliary herb.
* Research suggests that echinacea may be particularly helpful at the onset of a cold or flu. If taken early enough in the appropriate dosages it may contribute to heading off a cold or flu.
* Once the cold is well established, though, echinacea by itself is not the most effective herbal approach. After the cold or flu has taken hold echinacea continues to be useful in combination with other herbs and it helps shorten the duration and severity of the infection. By itself echinacea does not usually knock out a cold or flu.
* Taking goldenseal in the early stages of a cold or flu may actually make the condition worse by drying up the mucus membranes. This inhibits the mucus, saturated with antibodies to fight the bacteria, virus or other microbes, from working.
* Clinically goldenseal is used for subacute and chronic infections of the mucus membranes but it is not thought to be appropriate for use in the acute stage.
* Goldenseal works as a cleanser and anti-inflammatory. It can be helpful at very specific times in very specific doses in a cold. But there is not a single study that shows that goldenseal works as a cold fighter.
Even better cold & flu herbs ...
* Black elder is a traditional herbal remedy that has recently been shown that it may have good effects on the flu. A recent clinical trail showed that a preparation of black elder ended cases of the flu within three days and also boosted the immune system responses.
* Oregon grape can be used as a contemporary substitute for goldenseal and may be much better than even echinacea for heading off with the common cold.
* Peppermint contains compounds that can relax the airways and open congested sinuses and nasal passages.
* Ginger appears to fight inflammation and pain. It also appears to acts as an expectorant and have warming effects that can be helpful if you are chilled.
* Yarrow seems to fight inflammation and muscle spasm and promote sweating. It has long been used against colds and flu.
* Thyme is an expectorant and appears to fight microbes. Its flavonoids may help decrease smooth muscle spasm, which may assists in opening tight airways.
* Mullen is a demulcent, which contains mucilagous substances that coat and soothe irritated respiratory linings. It may help to loosen a cough and fight viruses.
Plus more natural herbal remedies ...
* St. John's Wort has been shown in test tubes studies to inhibit influenza A viruses and parainfluenza virus but not rhinovirus (a cold virus).
* Osha has traditionally been used in the Rocky Mountains as the most important plant for treating respiratory infections. Osha is used extensively to treat colds, flu, and bronchial infections. The tincture or tea is antibacterial.
* Boneset is used as a traditional remedy for the flu. In the past boneset was used as a major remedy for the flu, fevers, and as a general tonic. It has been used to treat both acute and chronic conditions. In one study, the immune stimulating polysaccharides in boneset were found to be ten times more potent than echinacea polysaccharides.
* An herbal bath may be an effective remedy for easing cold symptoms and increasing immune responses. It may help to nip them in the bud. During the bath, the essential oils of the herbs are released by the hot water. These oils are believed to be absorbed through the pores of the skin and through the nose and mouth mucus membranes. Absorption through the mucus membranes may bring the oils into contact with the upper respiratory tract where they are able to exert their antibacterial effects.
* Herbs like licorice may deal with excess mucus through a moistening action, loosening mucus and making it flow more readily out of the body. Other herbs that may help to do this include marshmallow and slippery elm.
If you are taking anti-anxiety and/or anti-depressant medications, any other medications, have a diagnosed condition or illness, are pregnant, breastfeeding, elderly or very young it is important to work with a knowledgeable health care practitioner before using herbs.
The Food and Drug Administration has a program called MEDWATCH for people to report adverse reactions to untested substances, such as herbal remedies and vitamins (800-332-1088).
A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions.

Mary Ann Copson, a Certified Licensed Nutritionist and a Wellness and Life Coach is the founder of the Evenstar Mood & Energy Wellness Center for Women. You can visit her online at or reach her by phone at 434-263-4996.

Printable version

<< back to Articles on Featured Topics
<< back to All Articles