Winter is here and along with it the usual sniffles and sneezes caused by viruses that carry enough punch to lay us low for a while. Help your body, naturally, to prevent and fight colds and flu.
As autumn gives way to winter, cold and flu viruses abound, and before you know it you are fumbling for tissues and coughing up a storm. This winter try to take early action to minimise your chances of being targeted, or, at least, to zap the virus sooner.
WHY WE GET SICK IN WINTER
Cool air and low humidity
The flu virus thrives in winter and the reason is fascinating: This virus is largely an air-borne pathogen so flourishes when not close to the ground but rather floating above it. Winter temperatures cause the virus to form an outer coating that promotes its flight through the air. In addition to this, wet, humid, summer air holds the virus down while the lower humidity of winter in many parts of the country gives the virus wings, so to speak, by not holding it down at ground level and enabling it to be more easily inhaled at nose and mouth level.
Behind closed doors
We spend more time indoors in winter than in summer. So, if someone in the same room as you is hoarsely hacking away and sneezing explosively, the chances are you are in the direct line of fire for those virus-bearing air droplets. Children are probably more at risk here as they don’t always cover their mouths when they are in mid-splutter and they are often behind the closed doors of classrooms.
Less sunshine, less vitamin D
We spend more time indoors in winter and so do not benefit from the vitamin D manufacturing properties of the sun. Vitamin D plays a very necessary role in maintaining a strong immune system. There is solid research to indicate that those who have low vitamin D levels are at a higher risk of contracting the flu.1
As daunting as the cold and flu onslaught may seem, there are simple ways to tackle viruses and curb illness.
Boost your immune system with a healthy lifestyle
The vast majority of upper and lower respiratory infections (80 to 90%) are of viral origin, meaning antibiotics have no effect on the infection; the body’s own immune system must deal with the infection.
So, boost your immune system with a healthy lifestyle, including, most importantly, a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, winter squashes and kale. Stay well hydrated, and get enough sleep and exercise. If you are under the weather, moderate exercise, such as walking, will still boost the immune system and help you feel energised.
Moist mucosal membranes
The membranes of the nose, throat and lungs play a role in allowing colds and flu to take hold but they are also important for the clearing of them once they have occurred. They keep airways clean and remove dust, bugs, particles etc. Membranes of the nose, sinuses and bronchi need to be moist and clean to perform this task.
Don’t use medication that ‘dries up colds’ – rather use a hypertonic solution in the form of a nebuliser for the lungs or a spray or rinse for the nose and sinuses.
Practise good hygiene
If you have a cold or the flu, wash your hands often and if you sneeze or cough cover your mouth with the crook of your elbow rather than your hand as this means you won’t touch and infect surfaces.
When it comes to those floating flu bugs you obviously can’t not venture outside but it may help to cover your mouth and nose with a scarf.
Strengthening the immune system through a herbal or homeopathic approach will go a long way in protecting you from colds and flu.
So often a physical illness is a manifestation of what we are feeling spiritually, mentally and emotionally. When we are compromised on any one, or all, of these levels, our immune system may flounder and we become particularly vulnerable to the viruses and bacteria that surround us daily, and in winter even more so. Herbs are plants with intrinsic medicinal properties and not only nurture us through an illness, but support and strengthen the immune system so that we do not fall ill in the first place.
Echinacea, also known as the purple coneflower, is one of the more popular herbal remedies in the fight against cold and flu viruses. Echinacea, as an immune modulator, supports, rather than stimulates, specific immune system functions. The preferred species of Echinacea are E. angustifolia and E. purpurea.
Tincture or tablets made from extracts (not the powdered herb) are best for optimal therapeutic effect. A tea made from 1 to 2 g of dried Echinacea can be taken three to six times a day during infection. Gargle with 5 ml Echinacea tincture mixed into some warm water three times a day if you have a sore throat.
Elderberry extract can be particularly effective against flu viruses, fever, aches and pains, and sore throats and coughs are more short-lived in those who use elderberry. Elderberry reduces sinus mucus secretion which means better drainage, recovery from a sore throat and a milder headache.
Plant an elderberry tree in your garden: The blossoms make great fritters, cordials and wine! Elderberry is available in tincture and capsule form.
Eucalyptus radiata is the safest choice but it is not as cheap as E. globulus which is more commonly sold.
Eucalyptus is very popular as an essential oil and can be inhaled, used as a massage oil or added to bath water. It is excellent for acute and chronic bronchitis, and respiratory problems. Six drops of eucalyptus oil (diluted first in a bit of full-cream milk) added to your bath water will relieve mucus congestion, bronchitis, sinusitis, and aches and pains. The safest way, however, to use eucalyptus is via inhalation – place a few drops on a tissue or put a few drops in an electric diffuser, candle vapouriser or burner, or in a humidifier. Eucalyptus oil taken internally can be fatal.
Garlic contains allicin, an extremely effective natural antibiotic that fights infection. In addition to its antibiotic properties, garlic also relieves clogged sinuses and is an immune-stimulant.
Garlic is largely available in tablet form, and smelly garlic breath can be avoided by choosing capsules with a garlic/parsley combination. Garlic has excellent health benefits when eaten raw: Introduce it into soups and salads.
Pelargonium sidoides (geranium) fights bacteria and viruses as well as boosting the immune system. It is particularly beneficial for bronchitis.²
This herb is available in tablet, capsule and tincture form as well as in some cough mixtures.
The active ingredient in olive leaf extract, oleuropein is beneficial in the treatment of a range of viral and bacterial problems including influenza and the common cold. Olive leaf may also be used long-term as a preventive agent in people with recurrent infections. It is also a proven immune system booster.³
Olive leaf is largely available in capsule and tincture form. A tea made from olive leaves can be used to gargle with if you have a sore throat.
Caution: Consult your health practitioner before using olive leaf extract if you are taking blood pressure or diabetic medication and other drugs such as warfarin and antibiotics.
Ivy is an evergreen climber endemic to Europe. Ivy leaf is derived from the common ivy plant (Hedera helix) and used medicinally to bring respiratory relief. It has been shown to increase oxygen in the lungs of children suffering from asthma and is beneficial as an anti-inflammatory and decongestant in the management of chronic bronchitis. It is also helpful in relieving coughs.
Coughing is the body’s natural reflex to get rid of foreign particles that are irritating the lungs. Many patients with colds, flu or bronchitis will have a cough. There are many cough treatments available but more and more people are choosing natural products instead of the chemical-based treatments with side effects.
Ivy leaf extract may help to manage productive coughs. The leaves of the plant contain saponins, which are thought to reduce swelling of the airways, break down chest congestion, and relieve muscle spasm.
In order for the correct homeopathic remedy to be administered an accurate diagnosis of the patient must be made. Once this is done, patient and remedy can be confidently paired.
Aconite is for the start of colds and sore throats from exposure to cold dry air. Aconite would be the first remedy option for a dry, violent croupy cough. Hepar sulph should be used if aconite does not help the early sore throat and silicea may be needed for a severe case of tonsillitis.
This remedy is for a dry, hard and painful cough, which needs medical attention if improvement is not made.
Gelsemium is particularly beneficial as a cold and flu remedy as it eases muscle aches, headaches, a runny nose, inflamed tonsils, sore throat and the hoarseness associated with bronchitis.
To be used at the onset of inflammatory conditions and is effective against dry, red, sore throats.
This remedy is useful for the kind of flu that starts with a classic cold which then goes straight to the chest. It is a good choice for a loose cough accompanied by yellow/green mucus from the chest and the nose.
Pulsatilla is for patients who have changeable coughs with a looser form during the day and a dry one at night accompanied by thick white, yellow or green mucus at night.
Belladonna is useful for the early stages of inflammation and for fever.
Vitamins and minerals
It is important to supplement with certain vitamins and minerals to support your immune system in winter. Vitamin C in the form of camu camu powder has the highest amount of vitamin C of all known plants. Try making a juice with pink grapefruit, kiwi fruit and camu camu. The pink powder has more vitamin C (5%) than the darker tan-coloured powder (3%). Vitamin A and natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) are antioxidants and are central to healthy cell functions while vitamin D3 boosts the immune system. The mineral zinc helps keep the immune system strong and can reduce the duration of cold symptoms.
Propolis, or bee glue, consists of 55% resinous compounds, 30% beeswax, 10% aromatic oils, and 5% bee pollen. It contains flavonoids which are well known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial activity. These substances support the immune system, treat mild aches and pains, reduce fever and fight infections such as colds and flu caused.
Boosting immunity and using natural antiviral agents will go a long way towards protecting you from winter ills. Remember, also, to rest up, eat well, drink enough water and, for your sake and everyone else’s, stay home until you are better.
- Laaksi I. et al. An association of serum vitamin D concentrations < 40 nmol/L with acute respiratory tract infection in young Finnish men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007; 86(3):714-7.
- Agbabiaka TB, et al. Pelargonium sidoides for acute bronchitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytomedicine. May 2008;15(5):378-85.
- Soni MG, et al. Safety assessment of aqueous olive pulp extract as an antioxidant or antimicrobial agent in foods. Food Chem Tox. 2006; (44):903-15.