A Cold War
There’s a new “cold war” going on—and your body is the battle-ground! Every day—especially during the winter months—you encounter viruses that can lead to diseases like the cold or flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 60 million Americans suffer from at least one bout of the flu each year. Colds are even more common: the CDC estimates that Americans get approximately one billion colds each year. Children are most affected, suffering an average of 6–10 colds per year.
Cold or flu sufferers often seek out syrups, lozenges, tablets and pills for relief. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that Americans spend approximately $40 billion each year on doctor visits, over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription drugs to fight colds and flu. But such “remedies” only suppress various symptoms; they don’t cure the symptoms’ cause.
The Enemy: Viruses
What Are Viruses?
To understand how to defeat colds and flu, you need to know what your body is up against. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, which are among the earth’s smallest organisms. Viruses are dependent on a host to reproduce and live. A virus invades a host cell and commandeers the cell’s genetic material as its own, breaking it down and eventually merging with it. In its reproductive processes, the virus destroys the host cell. Left alone, the virus eventually destroys all of the body’s healthy cells.
How Do Viruses Cause Sickness?
The immune system’s response to viruses creates the majority of symptoms that accompany a cold or flu. Such symptoms—including a fever, cough, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes—provide a basic defense against invaders. For instance, many viruses can’t survive at higher temperatures, so a fever is the body’s attempt to raise the body temperature to make the body an inhospitable environment for viruses. Coughs, sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes result from immune system cells flooding the eyes, nose and throat to fight viruses and prevent them from invading other areas of the body. When your nose runs, or you sneeze or cough, the body is attempting to expel the virus from the body. As immune system cells gather to fight the virus, blood vessels swell, causing congestion.
In addition to symptoms caused by the body fighting a virus, the virus itself can do some damage. In large numbers, viruses can damage or destroy the vital organs they invade. In addition, depending on the extent of the infection in various organs, coupled with the magnitude of the overall viral invasion, a virus can significantly wear down the immune system, increasing susceptibility to future infections.
Prevention: The Best Medicine
Since there are no known cures for colds or flu, prevention is often the best medicine. And taking preventative measures against the cold and flu also improves your overall health. Here are some things you can take into consideration when trying to prevent catching colds or the flu:
Keep It Clean: Washing your hands is a simple yet effective way to avoid flu or cold infection. Note: antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than regular soap and may contribute to bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics.
Avoid Touching Your Face: Touching your face is a risky practice when trying to avoid becoming sick. Cold and flu viruses often enter the body though the mouth, nose and eyes.
Clean House: If someone in the home is sick, keep his or her room (and the whole house) well sanitized. Change and wash bed linens daily; use alcohol wipes daily to clean commonly touched surfaces; always cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not your hands; and periodically air out rooms by opening doors and windows.
Diet and Nutrition
Food Matters: The immune system needs energy provided by nutritious food to fight infection. Consuming nutritious foods can help prevent viral infections and promote overall good health.
Drink Plenty of Fluids: Water is necessary for most of the body’s defense functions, so it's very important to keep the body’s fluids at optimal levels. Many experts recommend consuming half of your body weight in ounces of water daily—a 150 pound individual should drink about 75 ounces (about nine glasses) of water daily.
Exercise: Aerobic exercise is especially beneficial; it speeds up the heart to pump more blood and makes you breathe heavier and faster, which aids in transferring oxygen from the lungs to the heart. It also helps the body flush out toxins through sweat as the body’s temperature rises.
Avoid Smoking: Smoking not only promotes the onset of colds and flu but also encourages more severe bouts of such illnesses. Smoking dries out nasal passages and damages the cilia, delicate hairs that line the mucous membranes in the nose and lungs. Cilia play an important role in immunity by trapping and sweeping toxins out of nasal passages.
Reduce Stress: Stress is one of the most common factors that contributes to the onset of colds and flu. While stress is a natural part of life, it can sometimes be overwhelming.
Natural treatments for cold and flu can range from herbal remedies to homeopathic treatments. Certain nutrients, specifically vitamins, minerals and herbal and natural substances can have a large impact on how well the immune system functions.
If you are already sick, fluids such as tea, broth, fruit and vegetable juices and water, can help keep the throat moist and help break up congestion in the nasal passages and chest. Hot liquids may be particularly beneficial—they can help soothe inflamed membranes and are especially helpful for breaking up congestion. In addition, gargling with warm salt water may help moisten an irritated throat and loosen congestion, bringing some relief.
Get Sufficient Rest
Sufficient sleep is extremely important for optimizing the body’s ability to fight infection. Numerous studies show that Americans in general do not get enough good quality sleep. During sleep, the body essentially revitalizes itself, repairing damaged cells and producing essential immune boosting white blood cells.
Many caregivers turn to chicken soup to soothe a person suffering from a cold or flu. And recent research indicates that this may be more than just anecdotal. A study conducted at the University of Nebraska found that chicken soup with lots of vegetables helped reduce some of the inflammation that causes congestion and a runny nose. The salty broth helps keep mucus thin, much the same way a cough medicine works. In addition, cooking chicken releases an amino acid called cysteine, which resembles acetylcysteine, an ingredient in a prescription medication for bronchitis.
Some botanical supplements to help combat the cold and flu include:
- Andrographis paniculata
- Astragalus Root
- Elderberry and Elderflower
- Licorice Root
- Manuka Honey
- Olive Leaf Extract
The bottom line? Build up your defenses
When considering how to combat a cold or the flu, several therapies and natural products aid the body in not only preventing but also eliminating invading viruses. Prevention is the best medicine: healthful eating habits, nutritional supplements, exercise and good hygiene can prevent viral infection. Preventing and “curing” the cold and flu may still be elusive, but if you do contract a cold or flu virus, herbal and other natural products may provide support for healthful healing.