You've got the sniffles, body aches, a fever and your head feels like it's stuffed with cotton batten. These simple—and natural—strategies will increase your odds of getting through cold and flu season with minimal suffering
1. Oregano Oil, Eucalyptus Oil and Friar's Balsam
Contrary to popular belief, there are no convincing human studies showing any curative properties for oregano oil on viral respiratory infections. However, popping a few drops of oregano oil, eucalyptus oil or Friar's Balsam in a pot of boiling water can inhaling the steam is soothing and can help relieve congestion.
2. Elderberry Extract
Used in folk medicine for centuries, research suggests black elderberry can help treat colds, influenza and sinusitis. Small studies on healthy adults have shown elderberry extract can shorten the duration of a flu-like illness by half when compared to a placebo. Based on its antiviral activity, it's reasonable to assume that elderberry extract may also help relieve cold symptoms.
Try taking elderberry extract in syrup form: three teaspoons, four times a day within 48 hours of your first symptoms. While the plant is considered safe, side effects can include stomach upset and, like all substances, possible allergic reaction. Due to a lack of research, children and pregnant women (as well as those nursing) should not take elerberry extract.
The average cold drags on for about seven-and-a-half days and 25 per cent of people may still have symptoms two weeks later. The Cochrane Collaboration (an international organization of experts that reviews bona fide health research) found that 30 milligrams of zinc (in syrup or tablet form) - if taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms - might help shorten the duration of a cold by a day or two.
Zinc lozenges may also be beneficial, but you'd have to take around 10 drops per day, which could cause side effects such as nausea and a bad taste in the mouth. No zinc studies have been done on those suffring chronic illnesses like asthma, so those who fall into that group should stay away.
When taken for 10 to 14 days at the first signs of infection, echinacea can be helpful in relieving symptoms in acute laryngitis and sore throats. But science has shown echinacea can help modulate the cells in your immune system - so when taken over a long period of time, it may conversely depress immunity. That's why Germany's Commission E (the gurus of phytotherapy) recommends that echinacea not be taken continuously: no longer than eight weeks for adults and two weeks for children.
5. Eat Well and Get Some Sleep
Your mom was right. Make sure you get enough sleep and eat a diet rich with immune-boosting antioxidants to help fight infection.
Finally, know when to wave the white flag. If you can't shake that flu or cold after 10 to 14 days, or if you become progressively sicker, it's time to chick in with your health-care professional.
*If you're uncertain about the proper dosages, or if you take prescription medicines on a regular basis, talk with your health-care professional beforehand to ensure there are no adverse interactions between the products.
Dr. Rhonda Low is a family physician, TV and radio health journalist in Vancouver. @doctorrhonda