Colds, Flu and You!
It starts with a sniffle, or maybe a scratchy throat. The next thing you know, you have a pounding sinus headache and all you want to do is crawl in bed and hibernate until spring. Guess what? You have a cold. But of course you already knew that, or did you think you had the flu? “It doesn’t really matter,” I hear you say. “I’ll just pop a pill and head off to work.”
Colds and the flu are different. Although they are both due to viruses (which are not killed by antibiotics), colds are generally less severe than the flu. The first symptom is generally a dry, scratchy throat, followed by sneezing and a runny nose. If a fever is present, it is usually very mild. A cold lasts from two to seven days. The flu, on the other hand, starts with aches, fever and extreme exhaustion. This can then develop into a respiratory infection with a cough and congestion. The flu can last for weeks and can develop into pneumonia or other life-threatening complications in the immune compromised population.
The good news is that in both these illnesses your body is healing itself, all you have to do is rest and let it. The symptoms of a cold or flu are actually the effects of the steps your body takes to heal itself. We can see this by looking at the individual common symptoms at the physiological level.
A fever is a scary event for most people. The first urge when one’s temperature rises slightly above normal is to take medication to lower it. However, the fever plays a very important role in the healing process. Bacteria and viruses are very sensitive to temperature and the increase in our body’s temperature by a few degrees is enough to kill them. In fact, a moderated fever is ideal temperature for fighting an infection, even though this is when most people think they should take something to lower it. If you are still concerned, here’s a general rule of thumb. If you feel hot during a fever, the body’s thermostat is set lower than the body’s temperature. Therefore the fever is dropping and you are on the road to recovery. If you feel cold during a fever, the body’s thermostat is set higher than the body’s temperature. Therefore the fever is rising and still hasn’t peaked. Continue to carefully monitor the temperature and take gentle interventions (promote sweating, the body’s natural cooling mechanism). Fevers that are considered high and/or have other symptoms, such as convulsions or hallucinations require careful attention and medical care.
Muscle aches and fatigue are a message from the body to slow down, not to drink some coffee and pop a painkiller! Fatigue forces you to rest and allows your body to take care of the most important thing, getting well. It also allows to you get that deep restorative sleep you need to return to 100%. This is especially true for people who don’t get adequate sleep on a regular basis, and are over-tired.
Mucus is not merely a disgusting aspect of getting a cold or flu. The flow of mucus is the body’s way of flushing out bacteria and viruses from the system. Also, it traps dust and potentially harmful particles from the air in the environment.
As seen above, mild cold and flu symptoms are actually helpful in the healing process. By repressing these symptoms, one only extends the required recovery time. It is important to support these bodily processes, not repress them with analgesics, antihistamines and other drugs. Although this information goes against much of our modern common sense, it is time to start listening to the common sense of our bodies.
Despite all of this common sense, we still feel we need to do something, or take something to make us feel better. There are still many things you can do to support the natural actions of the body. Many of these are the logical home cures we were all brought up with. The most important of these home remedies is rest. As was stated above, rest gives your body the break it needs to heal. Also, a recent report by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that for “colds and flu, time is the only sure cure.” And resting while sick lessens that time.
Mom’s chicken soup is always thought of as the number one cure for colds and the flu. There are many good reasons for this. Mom’s chicken soup is nutrient rich, so it provides the body with all of the vitamins and minerals it needs to heal, without the MSG or artificial colours and flavours found in processed soups. As a fluid, chicken soup helps to prevent dehydration for those with a fever. Fluids are also important to help flush out the bacteria and viruses from the body. A fluid soup is also easy to digest. This means that the digestive system isn’t taxed and this saved energy can go to the immune system. And finally, chicken soup is high in protein, which is essential for a healthy immune system. In fact, proteins make up the building blocks of antibodies and immune cells.
Another common home remedy home remedy is spicy foods. These support the body’s fever response in killing viruses and bacteria by initially heating the body. The sweating that follows causes subsequent cooling when it evaporates, which is a gentle way of reducing a high fever. Also, spicy foods increase the flow of mucus, which, as discussed above, aids in eliminating microorganisms from the body.
Growing up, moms are always after us to “wash our hands.” She was right. Common sense hygiene goes a long way to prevent the spread of colds and the flu. Washing hands often is one of the most effective ways of stopping this spread. Also, immediate and proper discarding of used tissues prevents others from coming in contact with these bacteria and viruses.
You can also take steps to prevent getting sick. A strong immune system goes a long way to prevent colds and the flu from establishing themselves in your body. Once again, common sense prevails. Treat your body well. Eat regularly, at least three nutritious, balanced meals a day. Make sure to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. These are high in vitamins and minerals, essential for immune system health. Get 8 hours sleep a night. Allow your body its nightly rest to recover from the stresses of the day. There are also herbal remedies and hydrotherapy techniques available from your Naturopathic Doctor that support the immune system and prevent colds and the flu.
Even with these preventive steps, it is still possible to get a mild cold or flu every once in a while. This is actually beneficial in allowing the immune system to adapt to ever evolving bacteria. So the next time you get sick, listen to your body, and give it the rest and care it deserves. This is the surest and fastest way to cure.
WAYS TO PREVENT COLDS AND THE FLU:
- Contrast Showers – While in the shower alternate between as hot as you can tolerate (2 minutes) and as cold as you can tolerate (30 seconds). Repeat 3 times, ending with cold. This increases circulation and boosts white blood cell (immune cell) counts.
- Nasal rinses or a Neti pot – This helps to keep the mucous membranes of the sinuses healthy, which is the body’s first defence against respiratory infections.
- Influenzinum or MucoCoccinum – Homeopathic flu prevention remedy. A 1998 French study showed approximately 90% effectiveness in a study of 453 patients. Generally one dose is taken weekly or every other week throughout the flu season. MucoCoccinum is not appropriate for pregnant women or people with auto-immune disease.
- Deep Immune by St. Francis Herb Farm – Contains a combination of herbal remedies to support and strengthen the immune system as well as anti-viral herbs. Some herbs in this combination may be contra-indicated for certain individuals, especially those with high blood pressure.
- Hand Washing – Regular hand washing, even with regular soap, destroys bacteria living on the skin and prevents their spread to the mucous membranes where they can start an infection.
- Adequate Rest – Excess stress and lack of sleep taxes the immune system, therefore decreasing the body’s ability to fight infection.
- Adequate Nutrition – Nutrient dense foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes) contain vitamins and minerals that are essential to the optimal functioning of the immune system. Protein is also important as it provides the building blocks for immune cells.
WAYS TO DECREASE THE SEVERITY OF COLDS AND THE FLU:
- Warming Socks – For congestive headaches and sinus colds. Before going to bed, put on a pair of thin, cold, damp, cotton socks. Cover with a pair of wool socks. Go straight to bed. The body will sense the cold and draw the blood to the feet and away from the sinuses. (Yes, it works!).
- Alternating Compresses – Alternate hot and cold wet compresses three times over the sinus areas of the face. End with a cold compress. This increases circulation and promotes the flow of mucus out of the body, thus eliminating congestion.
- Steam Inhalation – Place your face over a bowl of steaming water and cover with a towel. Can add a few drops of lavender, tea tree or eucalyptus essential oil to the water for a greater effect. Be careful not to burn your face. This also increases the flow of mucus to decrease congestion. The essential oils are anti-bacterial/viral in function. This can be followed by a nasal rinse if there are no ear symptoms.
- Oscillococcinum – Studies have shown that taking this remedy at the first sign of illness can significantly reduce intensity and duration of symptoms. MucoCoccinum can also be used acutely.
- EchinaSeal by St. Francis Herb Farm – A combination of anti-viral and anti-bacterial herbs to fight the organisms that cause colds and the flu. Also available is EchinAce, a throat spray to provide these herbs directly the affected area.
- Oregano Oil (e.g. – Oreganum by St. Francais Herb Farm) – a strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal remedy. Contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Dr. Erika’s Lemon Drink – Lemon, fresh garlic, fresh ginger, raw honey and cayenne pepper in hot water. This will help to thin mucous and has anti-bacterial properties to boot!
Written by Dr. Erika Buckley-Strobel, Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute to full diagnosis or treatment by your naturopathic physician or other health care professional.