Each year, Americans spend $8 billion on over-the-counter (OTC) cold medication. However, a recent study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, discovered that the active ingredient in many nasal decongestants commonly taken for colds and flus is no more effective than a placebo.
Despite advancements in medical care and treatment, traditional western medicine has little to offer in the treatment of colds and flus. Many remedies contain aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), all of which may suppress your body’s ability to produce antibodies and fight the cold or flu. This is the complete opposite of your goal to get better as quickly as possible.
Fever reducers, antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines may help you feel better – for a short period of time. However, they won’t help you get better any faster, even though that is actually on all of their labels!!! Over-the-counter medications also have so many side effects that many who regularly use them should not use them at all.
One of the most common warning labels on over-the-counter medications is:
This drug may make you dizzy or drowsy or cause blurred vision. Do not drive, use machinery, or do any activity that requires alertness or clear vision until you are sure you can perform such activities safely.
We take them in order to get back to work or everyday life, and we often put so much faith in these medications that we ignore the warning labels and potential interactions with other medications. Listed below are some common side effects and interactions of many OTC cold and flu medications.
Common Precautions/Side Effects Listed on OTC Cold and Flu Remedies:
- breathing problems (such as asthma, emphysema)
- high pressure in the eye (glaucoma)
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- liver disease
- stomach/intestine problems (such as ulcers, blockages)
- overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- difficulty urinating (for example, due to enlarged prostate)
Interactions with Commonly Prescribed Medications
- opioid pain
- or cough relievers (such as codeine, hydrocodone)
- drugs for sleep or anxiety (such as alprazolam, lorazepam, zolpidem)
- muscle relaxants (such ascarisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine)
- antihistamines (such as cetirizine, chlorpheniramine)
Most uncomplicated colds or flus last between two days and two weeks, depending upon the specific virus and your overall general health. Your physician may offer antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, which also carry specific risks – and may be more ineffective than advertised.
ALERT!! Antibiotics are NOT for colds and flus. They are for bacterial infections, not viral infections. So, even if you have mucous, don’t take antibiotics – they will either prolong your viral infection longer or cause other side effects. Rather, use a combination of lifestyle choices, herbal remedies, and vitamin supplementation to fight viruses and support your immune system in defense against viral attacks. Listed below are various vitamins, herbs, and home remedies that have been proven to help your body fight the cold and flu.
Vitamins for Colds
Zinc is nutritionally essential for immune function. Zinc lozenges and powder can shorten the duration of a cold or flu if you have a slight deficiency. Your body uses micronutrients in a balanced state. Too much zinc interferes with copper bioavailability and too much iron can reduce your absorption of zinc.
The recommended daily dosage is between 45-75mg. If you happen to get a cold or flu, it’s safe to take 75mg up to 4 times a day to combat sore throats and phlegm production.
Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrup reduce the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Some studies also show that taking zinc regularly might reduce the number of colds each year (which reduces the number of missed school days for your kids).
2. Vitamin C
There is evidence that this water-soluble vitamin will shorten the duration of your cold. Vitamin C is still one of the best antioxidants out there! You can take 1-3 grams of liposomal vitamin C every hour when you get sick with great results. If you don’t have liposomal, ascorbic acid at 3000IU every 2-3 hours works well too.
3. Vitamin D
Research studies have demonstrated that this fat-soluble vitamin is essential to the function of your immune system. It may not shorten the length of the illness, but is necessary for immune health. Low levels of vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response. Lower levels make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, flu and other respiratory infections, so it’s important to make sure your levels are optimized.
Herbal Cold Remedies with Clinical Effectiveness
This is one of the most popular Native American medicinal plants. Drink 2-3 cups of Echinacea tea per day within 48 hours of the onset of cold or flu symptoms to shorten the duration of illness.
2. Ginseng and Andrographis (found in Healing Blends Vi-Rid)
Double-blind studies demonstrate that specific Siberian ginseng and andrographis reduce the length and severity of colds when you begin taking them within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms.
3. Oil of Oregano
This concentrated oil of the oregano plant has potent antibacterial and antiviral effects. In one study, researchers found that oil of oregano in a spray combination with four other aromatic plants could immediately reduce the side effects of a cold. This treatment was no longer effective after three days of use. The use of other herbs or essential oils is needed for full effect of viral relief, yet this is still a great treatment. Oil of oregano should not be used by children, women who are pregnant, nursing or plan to become pregnant.
4. Olive Leaf Extract
A few studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of olive leaf extract at reducing the infectivity of the virus while also reducing the inflammatory response of the body. However, it needs to be used in combination with other herbs or essential oils for full viral relief.
5. Herbal Tea
Herbal teas from Goldenseal, elderberry, yarrow, boneset, linden, peppermint, and ginger may help support your immune system, soothe a sore throat, and shorten your cold by 1-2 days.
This is a substance collected by bees from leaf buds and tree bark. This extract can help reduce the duration and severity of your cold. Some clinical trials discovered that propolis reduced number of upper respiratory infections and length of the viral illness. Propolis can be a great prophylaxis for those with weak immune systems and those who are prone to upper respiratory infections.
Easy Home Remedies
Nasal Saline Rinse
Saline nasal washes can be effective in treating and preventing virus infections and recurrences. Use only sterile normal saline water in the rinse. Tap water can increase the inflammatory response in the sinus passages and carry parasites that can infect your brain.
Although the biological basis for using chicken soup is unknown, a team of researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found evidence that homemade chicken soup had anti-inflammatory properties that could prevent side effects of a viral infection, namely a stuffy nose and body aches. I strongly recommend avoiding any canned varieties in favor of a home-cooked version.
Before ending up sick in bed, you can take steps and make choices to prevent the cold and flu. Listed below are some ways you can support your immune system and prevent incidence of illness.
The health of your immune system ultimately resides in your intestines. Fermented foods provide your intestines with a good variety of bacteria to support your immune system.
Fermented foods will improve the health of your gut and therefore your immune system. Unfortunately, it often does not work fast enough to help reduce the length of a viral infection — but it can prevent contracting future viruses.
Lifestyle choices will help your body to heal or prevent getting a viral infection. Eliminate or drastically reduce your alcohol intake, illicit drug use and smoking. These habits negatively impact your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight viral infections.
Practice meditation, yoga or moderate exercise to support your immune system and prevent other damage caused by stress. Diseases linked to stress include obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal problems.
Hand washing is a deterrent for viral infection and further infection while you are sick. It will it will not shorten the length of your cold, but it will prevent the virus from spreading to other family members. Remember, though, that too much hand washing is almost as bad as too little hand washing. Frequent washing strips your skin of protective oils, causing the skin to crack and bleed.
Eat Real Food
Eating real food and avoiding processed foods will give your body the necessary tools to fight a viral infection. It will also reduce the potential of a recurrence, or relapse of the infection. Real foods are best described as those found in the outside aisles of the grocery store that require refrigeration to remain fresh.
Although colds and flus can make you feel miserable, take care of yourself. It’s tempting to try the latest remedy, but the best thing to do is to use one of the above solutions. Most over-the-counter medications do nothing to reduce the frequency of the viral infection, but a number of natural remedies listed either work as well as or better than Tamiflu. And remember, the best defense is a good offense so take preventative measures to avoid viral infections.