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Colds and Flu Season:
Arming Yourself With A Holistic Approach
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
It is almost "that" time of year again, and you might be wondering if you will fall victim to that "nasty bug" that always seems to be going around. Colds and flu are both caused by viruses and they are both spread in a similar fashion, by contact with secretions of the nose and mouth of an infected person. Infection may occur through a handshake with a person who has just sneezed, or being in the " line of fire" of a sneeze. Sources of viral particles are as numerous as the viruses themselves; there are over one hundred known rhinovirus strains, causing forty percent of all colds. In the workplace, a computer keyboard or telephone can be a source, posing a strong case for frequent hand washing and disinfection of items that come in contact with hands and mouths. Colds usually manifest with a sore and scratchy throat, nasal congestion, and general malaise, which usually subsides in a few days. In contrast, influenza, or the flu, usually begins with a fever and malaise, and can develop into a more serious disease like pneumonia. Exposure to cold and damp conditions doesn't in fact, cause colds and flu, but can contribute to a weakened physical condition, which makes one more susceptible to viral or bacterial attack. Stress in any form can also weaken the defenses.

To understand what happens in illness is to explore the phenomenal innate intelligence of the human body system. First of all, symptoms are the body's way of calling our attention to something and putting us on "alert". Mucus in the nose is the body's way of trying to expel the invading organism and protect the membranes from further attack. But there are numerous over-the-counter drugs specifically designed to dry up that mucus, which may temporarily relieve the symptom, but prolong the illness. Fever is also a way that the body attempts to kill a virus. But in order for a fever to do its work, the body must be given rest, fluids, and proper medicine.

The "proper medicine" should address the symptoms, but also aid and strengthen the system. In the case of colds and flu, the appropriate remedies are anti-catarrhals (catarrh is the inflammation that usually accompanies mucus production in infectious processes), anti-microbials (anti-microbials help the body in resisting and/or destroying pathogenic micro-organisms), diaphoretics (diaphoretics promote sweating, helping the skin eliminate waste from the body), and hydrotherapy and aromatherapy in the form of inhalation and bathing. Demulcents (demulcents soothe and protect inflamed tissues) are also very beneficial in helping soften mucus, and expectorants to help the body rid itself of excess mucus.
The plant kingdom offers natural answers to all of man's ills. Herbs can be eaten or used as teas, tinctures, extracts of varying potencies, capsules, tablets, and in homeopathic form. One of the more beautiful aspects of herbal medicine is that usually if there are any other actions associated with an herb, they are beneficial to other systems in the body; in other words, they offer positive side effects. A good example of this is CAYENNE PEPPER. Cayenne most assuredly is a diaphoretic, but is also a tonic, an antiseptic, a carminative (easing digestion and expelling gas), and a rubefacient, or circulatory stimulant.

This quality of bringing greater blood flow to an area makes CAYENNE a powerful decongestant and anti-catarrhal, especially when taken in liquid and held in the mouth for a few seconds. Its essential oil has the ability to penetrate through the soft palate into the nasal and sinus cavities bringing rapid relief for congestion. Some other herbs helpful in colds and flu that just happen to also be culinary herbs are GARLIC, GINGER, and ROSEMARY. GARLIC is a natural anti-biotic, and anti-viral, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), anthelmintic (expels worms), anti-fungal and diaphoretic, it is simply a miracle herbal food. In fact, probably the only negative aspect of GARLIC is the lingering aroma, which seems to come through the pores of the skin. GINGER has similar properties, but can also relieve sore throats. ROSEMARY tea is carminative, aromatic, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressive, antiseptic, rubefacient, and anthelmintic. ROSEMARY can help in the depression and muscular pain of the flu.

An excellent herbal tea for colds consists of ELDER FLOWER, PEPPERMINT and YARROW in equal parts. The tea should be drunk at least three times per day and as hot as possible. Drinking herb teas assures adequate fluid intake and is quite soothing. If fever is also present, BONESET can be added to the tea. The name BONESET evolved for this herb, EUPATORIUM perfoliatum, in the last century when it was used as a cure during a flu epidemic. Settlers called it Breakbone Fever because of the severe muscular and neurological pain which accompanied the flu.

ECHINACEA and GOLDENSEAL bear mentioning and already are quite well known and popular immune system builders. GOLDENROD is also a wonderful combination colds and flu remedy. Demulcents play an important role in soothing membranes and softening mucus. Some popular demulcents are MARSHMALLOW, MULLEIN, SLIPPERY ELM, and OATS. HYSSOP, ELECAMPANE, COLTSFOOT and LICORICE are excellent expectorants. MULLEIN and MARSHMALLOW are both demulcents and expectorants. If a nagging cough is present, WILD CHERRY BARK tincture is an effective anti-tussive.

Inhalation therapy, breathing steam from a pot with eucalyptus oil can be very helpful in relieving congestion. Hot sea salt baths with lavender oil or oil of bergamot can be very relaxing and soothing.

A diet that is non-mucus producing is strongly recommended, which means avoiding dairy products, meat, flour products, and sugar in all its forms. One should eat whole grains and cereals, seeds, fresh vegetables and fruits, and a lot of raw garlic. Vitamin supplementation, especially with vitamin C ensures a speedy recovery. Sunlight and fresh air are also important components of healthy living. If after trying any of the above mentioned remedies, symptoms have not subsided, please visit your naturopathic physician or health care professional.

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