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Most children will develop at least six to eight colds a year. Every year, more doctor visits and absences from school and work are caused by upper respiratory infection–the common cold–than any other illness. According to Sharp Healthcare, during a one-year period, people in the US will suffer an estimated one billion colds. There is no cure for the cold, so what should you take? Although over-the-counter drugs may bring relief, many usually cause unpleasant side effects. Your drug store’s vitamin display hosts an endless selection of supplements, but it’s not easy to know what to try and what to sneeze at. Because the cold-bug has bugged people as long as there have been people, many old-time remedies are tried-and-true. Here’s a list of treatments with the most scientific evidence in their favor.
Echinacea(eck-in-ay-shah) can reduce the symptoms and duration of colds or even stop a cold. Until the 1930s, echinacea was the number one cold and flu remedy in the United States. It lost its popularity with the arrival of sulfa antibiotics. Ironically, sulfa antibiotics are as ineffective against colds as any other antibiotic, while echinacea does seem to be helpful.
Commission E, the German government agency charged with investigating herbs, recommends treatment of colds with echinacea purpurea, beginning as soon as you notice symptoms. Choose a preparation used in clinical studies, such as Echinaforce and EchinaGuard.
Elderberry, taken as a tea, is an old and effective remedy for relieving coughs, treating sinus congestion, and reducing the pain and swelling of a sore throat. Studies have found that elderberry extract interfered with the growth of multiple strains of both influenza A and B viruses in cell cultures. The tea is relaxing and produces a mild perspiration that helps to reduce fever. In a double-blind study performed in Israel, a standardized elderberry extract reduced the recovery time from a particular strain of epidemic influenza by almost fifty percent.
Garlic(Allium sativum) has antibacterial properties and helps detoxify the body. The story of garlic’s role in human history has filled countless books on health. Dioscorides wrote of garlic’s ability to “clear the arteries” as far back as the first century AD. The famous microbiologist, Louis Pasteur, performed some of the original studies proving garlic could kill bacteria. Garlic was called “Russian penicillin” during World War II because, after running out of antibiotics, the Russian government turned to this ancient treatment for its soldiers. After World War II, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals manufactured a garlic compound for intestinal spasms, and the Van Patten Company produced another for lowering blood pressure. In 2001, a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial provided meaningful evidence that garlic might treat or prevent colds. Results showed that participants receiving garlic were almost two-thirds less likely to catch cold. Even better, participants in the garlic group who did catch cold recovered about one day faster. As a commonly used food, garlic is on the FDA’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.
Zinc lozenges may be moving toward acceptance by practitioners of traditional medicine. In 1996 the Cleveland Clinic tested zinc gluconate lozenges and found using zinc in the first 24 hours after cold symptoms occurred shortened the duration of symptoms. Note: Excessive amounts of zinc can result in nausea and vomiting. Do not to exceed the recommended dosage. Choose a lozenge made without refined sugar.
Chicken Soup The healing properties are not an old wives’ tale! Researchers at Nebraska Medical Center set out to determine which components of the soup were cold-fighters, using samples of chicken and a portion of each of the vegetables, as reported in the October 2000 journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. The results of the study demonstrated that “a variety of soup preparations…presented evidence that chicken soup might have an anti-inflammatory activity.” However, that the sum is greater than its parts. “Pureed carrots or other vegetables are not recommended as a remedy while chicken soup is.” Dr. Douglas Hoffman recommends that you will feel “a whole lot better if you stay well-hydrated and keep the calories flowing in. Chicken soup is arguably one of the best things you can eat when you are ill with the cold or flu. One simple meal provides water, electrolytes, calories, and plenty of nutrients.” The Egyptian Jewish physician, Moshe ben Maimonides, recommended chicken soup for respiratory tract symptoms back in the 12th century which were, in turn, based on earlier Greek writings.
Love in a Bowl: Chicken Noodle Soup
3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (approx. 3 medium breasts) cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 medium stalks celery, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 (14.5 ounce) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup parsnips
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup uncooked rotini or favorite pasta Bring all ingredients except pasta to boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in pasta and return to boil. Reduce heat and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes, until pasta and vegetables are tender. Makes 8, 12oz. Servings; Calories: 157; Total fat: 1gram; Cholesterol: 25mg; Sodium: 490mg; Carbohydrate: 16grams; Protein: 22grams; Dietary fiber: 2grams
3 Bug Myths
1. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses. Many believe that when mucus turns yellow, it means that a bacterial infection has occurred for which antibiotic treatment is indicated. However, viruses can also produce yellow mucus.
2. Vitamin C is not your best defense. The late Dr. Linus Pauling was a famous and enthusiastic advocate of the healing powers of vitamin C. But 30 major trials prove no consistent evidence that taking vitamin C prevents colds. It has been noted, however, that the vitamin can help shorten the duration of a cold.
3. Getting wet or being in a draft does not cause a cold.
Am I Contagious?
When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, tiny fluid droplets containing the virus are expelled. If you breathe these in, the virus may establish itself.
If a person with a cold touches his runny nose or watery eyes, then shakes hands with you, some of the virus is transferred.
Don’t Touch That! Inanimate objects (doorknobs, telephones, toys) can become contaminated with the virus. If a child with a cold touches his runny nose, then plays with a toy, some of the virus may be transferred to the toy. When another child plays with the toy, then touches her contaminated hands to her eyes, nose, or mouth, she transfers some of the cold virus to herself.
Tips to avoid getting sick, in the homeroom or the boardroom:
- Wash your hands several times a day with soap and water.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Drink plenty of fluids, avoiding acidic juices, which may irritate the throat.
- Gargle with warm salt water, for a sore throat. Add one teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of water.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when you sneeze or cough. Then, wash your hands.
- Get enough rest, don’t smoke, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and exercise regularly.
- Don’t spread the virus! Avoid going to work or school with a fever or bad cough. People with colds are contagious during the first two to four days of the infection.
Speak with your doctor about these non-drug treatments, and be careful not to exceed dosage recommendations on the package of any supplement, prescription, or over-the-counter drug.
I Feel Like I’ve Been Hit By a Bus!
Exactly what causes the aches, pains and runny nose?
The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract (nasal passages and throat) caused by one of many viruses, most commonly from the rhinovirus family. As the cold virus multiplies in the body, the mucus membranes in the respiratory tract swell, causing the air passages to narrow, making breathing difficult. The sinuses become congested. The nose runs. Sneezing, a sense of fullness or achiness in the head, and tearing or burning eyes are all part of the process. At the most contagious phase of a cold, the nasal secretions are thin, watery mucus that is almost entirely composed of viral discharge. When the secretions turn thick and yellowish or greenish, that means the discharge is full of dead white blood (immune system) cells, dead viral particles, and dead bacteria. This is a sign of healing and the least contagious stage of a cold. A common cold, if uncomplicated, lasts about five to ten days. A child who is sick for more than 14 days in a row has probably contracted a series of viruses. While your child’s immature immune system is busy fighting the first virus, another can settle in. Colds usually strike 24 hours after the virus enters the body. Occasionally a cold can lead to more serious conditions, such as ear infection, sinusitis, bronchitis or influenza. Contact your health care provider if your fever goes above 102°F, if the lymph nodes in your neck are hard and swollen, or if you develop shortness of breath.