{Tue 3 July 2007}   Fighting Back: 12 Things you CAN do to fight colds and ‘flu
First off: I’m not a doctor or any other kind of medical practitioner. However, like most people, I can claim vast experience in the wasteland of colds and ‘flu — waste of time, waste of tissues, waste of energy… we’ve all been there! What’s different for me now is that the various treatments and routines I’ve assembled over the years actually do work to reduce the intensity and length of each attack. Feeling empowered to take action also boosts my mood and enables me to continue being productive, so I think less about the way I’m feeling physically.

The actions basically fall into three groups: Boosting the Immune System, Detoxifying and Easing Symptoms. Now, everyone is different, so if you don’t already know that some of these practices are good for you, you should check them out with a medical authority you trust. That said, however, my husband and I are extremely different in temperament and in body type (in Ayurvedic terms I’m vata, he’s kapha), and these things work well for both of us:

    A. Boost Your Immune System

  1. Take echinacea (follow the instructions on the bottle or your health care provider’s advice). The Independent newspaper recently reported that this well-known remedy has now been proven to reduce the incidence of colds by at least 50% and to make recovery 1.4 days quicker (http://news.independent.co.uk/health/article2705326.ece). Like Vitamin C, you could also take it as a preventive measure, but note the advice that its effectiveness may diminish if used continuously. It’s possibly a good idea therefore to take it for the week before you travel, the day you fly and for some days while adjusting to your holiday or new work environment, but then give it a break.
  2. Take extra doses of Vitamin C the moment you begin to feel under the weather. I take 500mg a day normally as a preventative, but when I think a cold is starting, I double or triple this. (I also take extra Vitamin C before flying and before going into any crowded public space where germs are likely to be hopping about looking for victims.) Note: This idea has been challenged in medical circles, but even in this article http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/DSH/colds.html many of the trials quoted did in fact report a slightly faster recovery period for those on Vitamin C. The difference wasn’t judged significant, but it’s clearly there in the results. More recent articles confirm this: see http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/briefs/alternativemedicine/hb050628a.htm, http://www.webmd.com/content/article/62/71548.htm and http://www.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab000980.html. Most studies apparently show that the quantity of Vitamin C doesn’t matter, but one did find that a large dose of 8g was effective in a particular situation. Quite frankly, if I get better only half a day more quickly than someone on the placebo, I’ll still take it. It’s worth it to me.
  3. Eat light meals. Let fruit and veg predominate, and use only lean meats without sauces if you’re not a vegetarian, to reduce the stress on your body as a whole so that it can divert resources to fighting the illness, instead of coping with huge, heavy, rich meals.
  4. Go to sleep extra early. Even if this isn’t your normal habit, you’ll find that a good ten hour sleep for a couple of nights during the worst of the attack really makes you feel stronger in the morning. It lets your immune system get on with its work without interference or stress from any external factors. It also means that you can sleep through some of the symptoms, so feel less debilitated by them!
  5. B. Detoxify

  6. Drink Rooibos tea with a slice of lemon in it. If you’re not a lemon person, you can put a teaspoon of raw honey (preferably from bees not fed on sugar!) into this as well. Or just use plain hot water with lemon and honey. Either of these drinks is incredibly refreshing when you wake up with a thick head and stuffy nose. Rooibos tea and lemons both contain Vitamin C. The drink begins the rehydration and detox process immediately, and also eases a sore throat.
  7. Drink a lot of water throughout the day. I’ve found that this not only helps to flush out toxins, but also helps me with my sugar cravings, for some reason! (Remember that Vitamin C is water-soluble, so if you’re drinking a lot of water, the extra doses of Vitamin C are even more important).
  8. Cut all refined sugar out of your diet until you’re well again. Although when you’re feeling rotten it’s quite normal to try to make yourself feel better by indulging in something sweet, the simple truth is that sugar suppresses the immune system. It may give you a brief mental boost, but your body won’t thank you for it! See http://www.hps-online.com/foodprof1.htm or simply search on “sugar suppresses immune system” for a wealth of info on this topic.
  9. Avoid dairy products like the plague! They are gluey and mucus-forming, as well as being quite rich from a digestive point of view. You’re dealing with enough mucus already, why add more? Note: if you’ve been prescribed antibiotics due to sinus infection, your doc might also have suggested you eat yoghurt in order to supplement the good bacteria in your intestine that will be killed by the antibiotics. You can take a good dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free acidophilus tablet instead.
  10. C. Ease your symptoms

  11. Perform an ayurvedic salt wash (sinus irrigation) using a neti pot or suitable substitute, several times a day if necessary, but particularly in the morning after you wake up. There are various recipes, but essentially it’s a solution of salt with possibly some bicarb in warm water which you use to flush out your nasal channels and sinuses. It’s extremely simple and quick to do. HUGE relief usually follows. What comes out of your nose can be rather shocking, but how fantastic to feel that it’s out and no longer inside you! Note: there are some caveats to this practice, so do a bit of research if you’ve never tried it before. Start at http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/allergiesasthma/a/SinusIrrigation.htmThere are a lot of companies selling equipment for this process, some at ridiculous prices. If it makes you feel better to get extra-pure-totally-refined-medical-grade salt and a thing-of-beauty neti pot, by all means do so, but it’s really not necessary. Avoid table salt, but some good quality sea salt will do just fine. That said, a suitable spout on whatever container you do use does make the process a lot simpler and cleaner. Also, don’t be alarmed if your eyes water and you feel a slight burning sensation until you get the solution right for you. Once you’ve balanced it, these symptoms won’t trouble you again.
  12. Take a decongestant tablet before you go to bed at night. I don’t usually take tablets, and certainly not three times a day or whatever it says on the box, but I do find that I sleep better when I breathe freely. Also, the salt wash seems to work better when the mucous linings of the sinuses and nasal passages are less swollen.
  13. Don’t give up coffee completely while you have ‘flu. This may sound a bit counter-intuitive, and perhaps it doesn’t apply to everyone, but I’m one of those people who get terrible body pains from caffeine withdrawal. They feel very like those deep fluey aches that are only relieved by a hot bath. So if I’ve already got body pains from ‘flu, I’d rather not intensify them with withdrawal symptoms! See http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Press_releases/2004/09_29_04.html. Note: Caffeine is generally not good for you and does stress the body, so it’s a good idea to give it up in order to boost your immune system, but, in the acute phase of an illness, going cold turkey on caffeine isn’t a brilliant idea. However, you need very little to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay. A half-teaspoon of instant coffee does it for me. For the rest of the day I drink Dandelion Coffee, Barley Cup, Wake Cup, Rooibos Tea and Peppermint Tea. These are all delicious.
  14. Gargle with a solution of brandy and tea tree oil. Yes, seriously! This is the best thing we’ve ever discovered to ease a sore throat. A capful of brandy with a couple of drops of tea tree oil is all it takes. Gargle for 60 seconds with this stuff and you will likely kill every germ within a sniff’s distance of your throat. Both brandy and tea tree oil have antiseptic properties, and the brandy is also an anaesthetic, so this eases a sore throat wonderfully, especially just before you go to bed. I STRONGLY suggest that you don’t actually swallow the solution as it tastes absolutely foul (particularly for those of us who don’t actually drink brandy). However, it’s only 60 secs and your throat will feel calmer immediately afterwards. My husband and I have found that if we gargle like this at the first intimation of a sore throat, and every time it threatens again that day, it usually doesn’t develop. There’s some good info on tea tree oil here: http://www.life.ca/nl/52/teatree.html. BTW, I have no idea if any alcohol enters your blood stream via osmosis or whatever when you do this, so I can’t give any guarantees about what would show up in a blood alcohol or a breathalyser test…!

And after all that… get on with your day! You’ll find that instead of feeling like a victim tossed overboard in a sea of germs and mucus, it’s possible to feel in charge of your body’s responses, rather like a captain guiding a ship through a difficult but not impossible channel, knowing there’s a calm sea on the other side.

My mum’s concoction of honey, lemon zest, ginger and black peppercorns – Infused so strong as to work like a shock to the system, always doers the trick.

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