The best way to beat colds and flu’s are to avoid them in the first place. You can do this by making it difficult for the germs to gain entry, and by enhancing your body’s natural defenses. This is not so difficult to do when you know your enemy and understand your body’s natural defense mechanisms. Here are some important points to understand:
Let’s make sure we mean the same thing when we use words like “cold” and “flu.” Here are some definitions:
- Influenza: Any of various contagious viral respiratory illnesses characterized by: high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Complications can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.†
- Cold: Any of various contagious respiratory illnesses caused by rhinoviruses and parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs), characterized by inflammation of the mucous membranes, fever, chills, coughing and sneezing. Colds share most symptoms with the flu, but are usually milder and result in fewer complications. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.†
- Gastroenteritis (aka: Stomach Flu, 24-hour flu, intestinal flu, food poisoning): Inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines, characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Although many people use the term “stomach flu” to describe gastroenteritis, it is not caused by influenza viruses; it can be caused by many other viruses (viral gastroenteritis), by bacteria, or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu – particularly in children – these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.† We are not referring to gastroenteritis when we talk about fighting the flu and the discussion herein does not apply to it.
† Source: US Center for Disease Control (CDC)
The information presented herein is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose nor prescribe treatment for any medical condition nor ailment. Some of the opinions expressed herein may conflict with standard medical practice in your area. Your doctor may not agree with it. Furthermore, serious illnesses can mimic colds and flu. Life-threatening secondary infections can arise from colds and flu’s. Consult a medical professional when appropriate.
Contrary to some news reports, relatively few people die directly as a result of the flu. However the flu, especially if neglected or improperly treated, can lead to pneumonia or other deadly conditions. Most of the thousands of deaths attributed to the flu each year are actually from pneumonia or other secondary conditions. The flu, therefore, should always be taken seriously. Rapid recovery is the best way to avert complications, or spreading it to others. That means acknowledging your illness and prioritizing your recovery above going to work, school, a ball game, a date, etc. Those most at risk of complications are individuals aged 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart and lung disease and diabetes.
Avoiding Colds and Flu’s
To avoid colds and flu’s you must understand your enemy, know its weaknesses, and know how to parry its attacks. The other line of defense is to maintain a strong immune system and not do anything to undermine it.
Colds and flu’s are caused by viruses. They tend to enter our bodies through our noses and eyes, although the flu may also enter through the mouth as well. From there, they make their way into our sinuses where they set up camp and breed. Usually we infect ourselves by placing our own virus contaminated hands to our faces (such as by rubbing our eyes or noses). Less frequently, we catch them from airborne sources. We will discuss how to best avoid both sources.
Infectious disease is currently one of the top five causes of death in the United States. 80% of all infectious disease could be eliminated by more frequent and proper washing of the hands with soap and water. This is also the first line of defense against colds and flu’s. The first rule to avoiding infection is: Never put your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth without washing them first. The eyes are especially important as we often rub our eyes, or flick out the “sand” from our tear ducts, without thinking about it. This nearly automatic response can get us into real trouble. A good way of avoiding this is to wash the “goop” out of our eyes each time we wash our hands. Out of consideration for others, you should also wash your hands immediately after putting them in your eyes or up to your nose. If everyone did both of these things, colds and flu’s would be uncommon in our society.
Regarding hand washing. Soap kills some of the germs on your hands directly, and helps to loosen those it doesn’t kill outright so they are more effectively washed off your skin. You should lather up your hands well for at least 20 seconds, then rinse-off the soap thoroughly for at least another 20 seconds. Be sure to include the areas under you nails when you wash your hands, as they are a lurking ground for germs. Lather up between your fingers, including the tops of your hands, from fingertip to wrist. Studies have shown that drying your hands is also an important step in removing germs. So at home, it is a good idea to have a separate hand towel – which is changed frequently – for someone who is sick, because germs will accumulate there. In public restrooms, using a paper towel, where available, is more effective than use of a hand dryer. Also, in public restrooms, use a paper towel to turn off water faucets and open restroom doors after washing (to keep from reinfecting your hands, or picking up new germs). [Note: Use of antibacterial soap is neither necessary nor recommended. Regular soap does the job; antibacterial soap can lead to a buildup of super-germs in your environment.]
Airborne risks. You should make a habit of keeping your nasal passages clear and of breathing through your nostrils. Your nose is designed to filter out airborne dust and germs. In his book The Nature Doctor, Dr. H. C. A. Vogel writes:
“The nose is designed in such a way that the mucous membranes keep dust and bacteria from entering the body, provided, of course, that we breathe in and out through the nose and that it is not blocked. It is true that we can also breathe through the mouth rather than the nose, but this will make us lose the benefit of the built-in screening device, exposing us to a higher risk of catching colds and infections. Mouth-breathing poses a definite threat to the throat, the bronchial passages and the lungs.”Our modern, generally polluted environment can present a challenge to our nasal passages and sinuses. Daily use of a neti pot can be very useful in keeping the sinuses and nasal passages clean and open. You can also give your nostrils a little help by using a xylitol (pronounced zie-li-tall) nasal spray or wash, as described below. This spray is useful in prevention (it makes it difficult for viruses to gain a foothold) as well as treatment (it dislodges viruses from their colonies, reducing their numbers. This same nasal wash formula can be used in a neti pot for a more thorough cleansing.
It is important to keep your feet warm. Yes, your mother has told you this time and time again, but you thought this was just an old wives’ tale. After all, colds and flu’s are caused by viruses, right? Well, most folklore has its basis in fact. Cold feet cannot cause a viral infection, but they can undermine your defenses thereby opening the door to them.ŗ Interestingly, there is a connection between your feet, your nasal passages, and therefore the likelihood of getting sick. Dr. Vogel, once again in The Nature Doctor, writes:
“The nose walls (conchae) react to cold feet. When the feet are cold the walls contract, become cold and dry and cause the glands to stop functioning, so that dust and bacteria are no longer filtered out. It is easy to see why a cold will almost inevitably result, followed by catarrh or a runny nose. You can now understand why it is important to avoid getting cold feet…”So if your mucous membranes are functioning properly, you are unlikely to catch colds and flu through the air. But if your feet are cold, this defense is weakened and you are at greater risk.
[ŗ Some studies were done years ago to see if cold feet could cause colds. A seemingly pointless study with a foregone conclusion, as it was already known at the time that colds are caused by viruses. The studies involved placing the feet of test subjects in tubs of cold water for several hours without exposure to viruses. Hardly a simulation of the real-world conditions. It confirmed what we already knew: People who are not exposed to cold viruses do not catch a cold, even when their feet are chilled. These studies are often cited to suggest that there is no connection between cold feet and catching colds. That is an incorrect conclusion because the study did not examine that question. This is an example of junk-science, and the need to understand a study’s methodology before drawing conclusions about its results.]
It should be noted that you are usually exposed to far more cold or flu germs on your hands than through the air. You are therefore much more likely to catch a cold from putting virus-laden hands to your nose (or eyes) than from breathing the same air as a person who has a cold or flu. However if an infected person is doing a lot of sneezing – particularly without covering their face – the risk is increased. But the more your mucous membranes are functioning properly, and you breathe through your nose, the lower your risk from all sources. This is usually sufficient to eliminate normal airborne risks, but will only mitigate the risk of hand-to-face infection. Use of a neti pot or xylitol nasal spray can reduce the threat further by making it difficult for viruses to gain a foothold, and by washing away those that have.
It is also valuable to make a habit of breathing deeply most of the time. Very often, we get into the habit of shallow breathing. There are a number of things bad about this, but as far as this discussion is concerned, it has to do with expelling old, stale air completely out of the lungs and replacing it with fresh air. Obviously, there are times when more shallow breathing might be in order (say perhaps while one in a crowded elevator where the air may be sickly). Most of the time, however, it is best to more completely replenish the air in the lungs and not allow stale air to linger for long periods.
Keep an eye on the humidity of your environment. Artificial heating tends to be very drying, so you may consider buying a humidifier for home to keep your air moist enough that it doesn’t dry out or dehydrate your sinuses. (Use of a neti pot will also help to hydrate the sinuses.) Likewise, an air filter in an indoor environment, especially a HEPA type filter, can help remove airborne dust and germs. Negative ions have a demonstrated air cleansing and germicidal effect. Some filters incorporate negative ion generators. Negative ions also make the air smell fresh (it’s the same smell as after a refreshing thunderstorm). An unfortunate side effect of negative ion generators is that they will tend to blacken a nearby wall (over a course of many months or years). This is because the negative ions attach themselves to airborne germs (killing them) or to dust particles in the air, and pull them toward the positively charged wall.
If someone in your household takes ill, it is wise to put up a separate hand towel in the bathroom for the healthy folks to use. This extra precaution costs nothing and just may prevent a loved one from getting sick. Remember, sick people aren’t feeling well and might not be as diligent as they should about lathering up properly. Also, as mentioned previously, it has been shown that the process of drying hands on a towel is part of the germ removing process of washing, so some germs are being transferred to the towel. This is reason enough to have a separate towel for those who are sick, and to change the towel frequently.
Try to keep sick folks out of the kitchen, and assume that things like door knobs and light switches are infected. Turn off water faucets, open doors and flip light switches with your elbows.
Be very careful after handling money. Money passes from hand to hand, person to person, frequently. You can bet that the money in your wallet has plenty of germs any time of the year. During cold and flu season, money is a potential source of infection. Credit cards and checks are less of a problem, however the clerk to whom you hand your credit card or check cashing ID may be sick (or been in contact with someone who was). Beware of any pens at the counter — like money, they’ve been in quite a few different hands lately. Get in the habit of carrying and using your own pen for signing credit card vouchers and writing checks. ATM keypads and public telephones fall into the same category as pens and money; consider them potential sources of infection.
Shopping cart handles. These have been tested and actually found to have more germs than restroom door handles! Some stores now offer wipes to clean the handles of your shopping carts. Of course, if you are picking up a small number of items, you can always bring your own bag to carry your purchases around in the store.
Clerks (and baggers) at your local grocery store are another potential source of infection. Since they handle money during cold and flu season, they are very likely to get sick during that time of year (especially if they rub their eyes without washing their hands after handling money). Since the clerk (and the bagger) handles every item you’re buying, your first line of defense is to try to pick a healthy cashier. This can be difficult if the clerk is using medication which suppresses cold or flu symptoms. Watch and listen for signs of illness and change lines if necessary. Complain to store management about their policy of allowing infectious people to handle your purchases. I have told obviously sick baggers not to touch my purchases and have bagged the items myself. Some stores now have self-scan isles. I generally dislike these as a general rule, but do use them during cold and flu season because it reduces the number of hands touching my food items. The touch-screens and other items at these stations, however, have to be considered infected. Use your knuckles to operate the controls.
Be wary of the mail. Was your letter carrier ill? You probably have no idea. How about someone in the mail sorting room? Mail passes through many hands – and touches many other pieces of mail – before it gets to you. Avoid putting your hands to your face after handling the mail during cold and flu season. Open envelopes and discard them, then wash your hands and read the mail. Of course what’s inside the envelope might contain viruses too, so still exercise caution about putting your hands to your face.
Avoid hospitals and doctor’s offices. If you can’t avoid them, be extra cautious in these environments. Sick people congregate in these places, so you can expect the air, door knobs, elevator buttons, hand rails, etc. to be infested with infectious agents of all kinds. Best to plan routine visits around this season, to avoid exposure.
Door knobs and handles. Anything commonly handled by the public, such as door knobs, elevator buttons, hand rails, etc., are suspect especially during cold and flu season. Avoid putting your hands to your face after handling these. Wash your hands frequently.
Avoid flying on commercial airlines. Several investigations have implicated the air recirculation systems aboard modern jets with the spread of infectious diseases. The problem isn’t limited to just colds and flu either. Virtually any airborne disease is a problem, and drug resistant strains of Tuberculosis have spread this way. When you do fly, remember to keep your hands away from your nose and eyes, breathe through your nostrils not your mouth, use a xylitol nasal spray, and do everything to enhance your immune system a few days before and after the flight, including taking elderberry extract (mentioned below), a probiotic with fiber, increasing your vitamin intake (a full spectrum multi-vitamin), increase your vitamin C intake, eat raw, freshly-crushed garlic, and abstain from alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods. Use of a neti pot before and after flights is also a good idea. Nonbreakable plastic and metal neti pots are available.
Get plenty of sleep. Potent immune enhancing compounds are released during sleep and many immune system functions are greatly increased by an adequate night’s rest. Studies have demonstrated that people who are consistently deprived of sleep have impaired immune function. If you require an alarm clock or some other external stimulus to wake, you’re not getting an adequate night’s rest. During the winter months your body requires more sleep, so it’s perfectly normal to sleep longer on winter nights.
Drink more water; avoid soft drinks. Many people are chronically dehydrated and this impairs the immune system. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages do not count toward “drinking more water” and, in fact, subtract from it (as they generally act as diuretics). Consider using Emer’gen-C or Ola Loa (in moderation) in lieu of soft drinks (see section on vitamin C below).
Selenium. Selenium is a nutrient which plays an important role in the immune system. One way selenium performs this function is by “recharging” vitamins C and E, and coenzyme Q-10. Vegetables grown in selenium rich soils are a good source, but vegetables raised in selenium deficient soils are not. (Most of China has selenium deficient soils, which may explain why so much influenza originates in China.) Brazil nuts have the most selenium of any food, but pre-cracked nuts usually have dramatically lower amounts than those in the shells (because of the soils in which they are raised). Brewer’s yeast, eggs, turkey, mushrooms, tuna and other seafood are often good sources, but the amount can vary dramatically, depending on various factors. If you buy selenium supplements, look for the organic amino acid form “selenomethionine” (L-selenomethionine is the naturally occurring form) as this is more bioavailable than the inorganic form “selenite.” 200 mcg/daily is recommended by some authorities.
Probiotic. A probiotic will fortify your intestinal flora, which are essential for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. This is key to good health and a strong immune system. Studies have shown that patients who begin a course of probiotics with fiber a few days prior to surgery are less likely to pick up a post-operative infection during their hospital stays. This demonstrates a strong connection between intestinal flora and immune function. The fiber – which provides the friendly bacteria both food and sanctuary – can be as simple as an apple or banana. Primal Defense is a fine probiotic product. Other ways of fortifying your intestinal flora include eating unpasteurized* fermented or cultured foods, such as yogurt (without added sugars), sauerkraut, miso, (real) cheese, natto, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, etc. Unfortunately our society is enamored with pasteurization, so finding beneficial unpasteurized live foods can be difficult. For this reason, a probiotic regime is recommended for optimal health.
* Pasteurization is not necessary if proper sanitation procedures are employed in food handling and processing. Too often pasteurization is used to cover up poor sanitation practices. Pasteurization always results in a nutritionally inferior food product. Avoid it whenever you can.
Drink chlorine-free water. Healthy intestinal flora is key to good digestion and nutrient absorption. Chlorinated water kills beneficial intestinal flora. Don’t drink it. Use a filter, if necessary, to remove chlorine (and its byproducts) from your drinking water.
Elderberry extract. Elderberry, a relative of the blueberry, has been found to have powerful anti-viral properties. Elderberry extract may be used to treat a cold or flu, or taken as a prophylactic to fortify the immune system. Sambucol is a popular brand, however it is mostly glucose syrup. My feeling is that the Apitherapy Honey Organic Elderberry Extract with Propolis product by Honey Gardens is superior. It contains raw honey and propolis (both of which are immune boosting) without added sugar.
Red Wine. It has been found that those who drink a glass of red wine daily are about 20% less likely to contract the flu. It is believed that this may be related to the vitamins and antioxidants, like resveratrol, present in red wine (but largely absent in white or blush wines). Although alcohol tends to depress the immune system, drinking a glass or two of red wine when sick with a cold or flu is probably not detrimental and may prove beneficial. Other studies have shown a daily glass of red wine is beneficial to the heart, and lowers the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of age-related dementia (probably due to the resveratrol). Excessive alcohol use, however, is definitely detrimental to health.
Eat raw, freshly-crushed garlic. Garlic has powerful anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-fungal properties and boosts the immune system in general. It also tends to kill parasites in the intestines.
Deodorized garlic tablets are ineffective in this regard because it is the “smelly” compounds in garlic which give garlic its anti-viral and anti-bacterial effect. Also, it is likely that no single compound in garlic confers all its therapeutic effects. It is likely to be a synergy of compounds. Any refinement, such as deodorizing, is likely to remove beneficial compounds. One example of the synergy of compounds contained in garlic are alliin and an enzyme called allinase. In whole garlic, these two constituents are segregated, but when a garlic clove is “damaged” (e.g. crushed) the two mix together to quickly produce allicin: A pungent, potent antibacterial sulphur compound which is not present in whole garlic! Heat destroys allicin, and so does age (it is most potent when consumed within the first hour). One final note: “Allicin potential” of deodorized garlic supplements is a marketing gimmick to convince you the product has value as an anti-viral; it does not. Don’t be fooled and don’t waste your money on this sham.
Exercise. Regular exercise is important to support general health and immune function. It stimulates beneficial biochemical processes, promotes healthy circulation of the blood, and drives the lymphatic system. Lymph flow, essential in removing toxins from the body, is absolutely dependent on physical movement because the lymphatic system lacks a pump (like the heart). Therapeutic massage can also be helpful in facilitating lymph movement.
Note: Extreme exercise can actually weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to infection. Quercetin can help mitigate this effect.
Echinacea has a reputation as an immune system booster, and research seems to validate this. If nothing else, it makes a delicious tea.
Vitamin C. See discussion in section below.
Vitamin D. See discussion in section below.
Quercetin, in addition to its powerful antioxidant characteristics, has been found to have immune boosting capabilities, particularly when under stress, and especially when taken with Vitamin C. It is also an anti-viral. Quercetin is a phytochemical found in the skins of apples (red apples have the most, although any variety is a good source), and in sun-exposed† red or dark grapes, red wine (especially when made from made from sun-exposed grapes), sun-dried raisins, red or yellow onions, broccoli, berries (particularly blueberries, cranberries, lingonberries, bilberries, and Eurasian black currants), citrus fruits, cherries, pears, green tea, grapefruit seeds, ginkgo biloba, buckwheat, hawthorn, Chinese scullcap, and black tea. Smaller amounts are found in leafy green vegetables and beans. Bromelain and papain are reported to increase absorption of quercetin.
† Quercetin accumulates in grape skins to protect against damage from ultra violet light. There are high concentrations of quercetin in sun exposed grape skins and in red wines made from sun exposed grapes.
Notes: Quercetin may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In some wines, particularly Sangiovese, quercetin may settle as a precipitate at the bottom of the bottle. Avoid taking the drug cisplatin along with quercetin as there is theoretical risk of genotoxicity in normal tissues.
Avoid Cortisone. It depresses the immune system; that is how it works. Cortisone stops pain, inflammation, itching, swelling, etc. by blocking and suppressing the normal response of your immune system. It doesn’t matter if you use it topically, orally, or by injection.
Note: For acute inflammation, turmeric can be as effective as either cortisone or the drug phenylbutazone (both of which are associated with toxicity to humans).
Avoid sugary foods. Sugar can decrease the activity of the immune system for up to five hours. If you have a sweet tooth, discover stevia or xylitol. Stevia is economical, but somewhat tricky to use in cooking. Xylitol can actually stimulate the immune system.
Stevia is a natural herb which is between 100-300 times sweeter than sugar. Unlike aspartame (NutraSweet) or sucralose (Splenda), stevia is actually safe and even has many beneficial properties. Aside from containing no calories, it can actually help stabilize blood-sugar levels (thus it is both safe and beneficial to diabetics), can help fight gum disease, and has many other benefits too numerous to mention here. Stevia is temperature stable, so unlike most artificial sugar substitutes, it can be used in baking. Ironically, the US’s FDA has banned stevia as “an unsafe food additive” while sanctioning its use as a “food supplement.” So according to the FDA, it’s “unsafe” in small amounts (as a sweetener), but safe in larger doses (as a supplement). Most observers feel this is a wholly political move to protect both the sugar and artificial sweetener industries. Unfortunately, this means you won’t find commercially prepared foods containing stevia in the United States, although you will find them in many other countries throughout the world. You might find stevia in some teas in the US, however, if it’s included for “medicinal purposes.” For more information on this remarkable herb, visit: http://www.stevia.net/.
Xylitol, technically a sugar-alcohol, is neither a sugar nor alcohol in the conventional sense. It too is a safe “sugar substitute” (use 1:1), but is low on the glycemic index (7) so it can be safely used by diabetics. It is actually good for your teeth (it will help harden tooth enamel and discourages bacteria which can harm your teeth) and can help boost your immune system. Even more interesting is the fact it can be used in a nasal spray wash which can be used to fight colds and flu (see below). It occurs naturally in many fruits & vegetables and is even produced by the human body. Commercial sources are usually birch trees and corn cobs. It tends to be rather pricey when used as a sugar substitute. It cannot be used in yeast breads as the xylitol inhibits yeast growth, nor in hard candies because it won’t crystalize like sugar. Other than that, it is a complete sugar substitute with half the calories. [Note: In large quantities, it can lead to loose bowels; the effect diminishes with regular use.]
Honey. Although honey contains various sugars, it is also packed with vitamins and nutrients which can enhance the immune system. Raw honey is best. Avoid pasteurized honey. Pasteurization is unnecessary as honey does not spoil (even after 5000 years in an Egyptian pyramid), and the heat destroys some of the nutrients. Raw honey is also useful as a dressing for burns (as it prevents infection and promotes healing).
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and an immune stimulant. Taken internally, it may tend to thin the blood. When applied topically to a bleeding wound, it will help to clot the wound, prevent infection, and promote healing.
Warning about flu vaccination: Five successive flu vaccinations increases your risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease by a factor of 10, likely due to the mercury (thimerosal) and aluminum in the vaccine. Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease, and one of the worst possible ways to die. Only 0.01% of the US population (1 in 10,000) will die from complications related to the flu each year. And 90% of those deaths will be senior citizens (a group with an already high mortality rate). You are more likely to die in an automobile accident in your life (1%), than from the flu. Given the dubious effectiveness of the flu vaccine from year to year, and the treatable nature of the flu, is this a sensible trade-off?
Vaccinations are neither risk-free nor as safe as the public generally believes. Virtually all vaccines contain toxic preservatives, carcinogens, and other harmful non-vaccine compounds, such as mercury (considered a toxin at any level), aluminum, formalin (formaldehyde), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), phenol (carbolic acid), etc. After all, the viruses must be killed (or weakened), and the serum preserved while in storage. Long-term effects and accumulative toxicity must be part of any rational consideration of vaccines, especially for a vaccine which is administered yearly.
For more information about potential dangers of vaccinations in general, and certain vaccines specifically, visit these web sites:
Okay, if you couldn’t elude the flu or a cold, what to do? With early and aggressive treatment, it is possible to limit your symptoms to a single day. But if you allow it to gain a foothold, symptoms will be more persistent. Although you may limit your symptoms to a single day and even feel good, it is important to understand that your body is still fighting off an infection; proper care is essential to preventing a “relapse.” Especially important is to get adequate sleep.
If you begin treatment the first day with a couple xylitol nasal washes, elderberry extract, vitamin C, a garlicky meal, and drink plenty of water and get lots of rest, you may find your symptoms disappearing within 24 hours. The nasal wash, water intake and rest are likely the most important elements. The nasal wash is important because it washes away many of the viruses which have been multiplying the previous 72 or so hours, and the water and rest are essential for optimal immune system function, which is necessary to kill the remaining viruses which you can’t wash away. Elderberry, vitamin C and garlic further support and enhance the immune system. Note: a nasal wash may not be appropriate for everyone. Children and seniors may have difficulty following the regimen. For those, a nasal spray may work.
First, get plenty of rest. Sleep is one of the most powerful immune system stimulants. Drink lots of fluids. Many people are chronically dehydrated and water is essential to proper immune system function. Don’t exert yourself. Your body needs its energy reserves for a strong immune function. Stay home from work or school. You will not be productive there, you’ll prolong your illness, and you’ll unnecessarily expose others. Be considerate to everyone: Stay at home, get plenty of bed rest, read a good book, and wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading it to others.
Remember to cover your face when you sneeze, and have something to sneeze into, such as a handkerchief; use your shirt sleeve if you have to. Wash your hands afterward.
Drink lots of water, natural fruit juices, or vegetable juices. Adding 5-15 drops of liquid GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) 2-3 times a day to your juice will have an immune system boosting effect.* Avoid soft drinks, alcohol, coffee and caffeine. You should try to drink at least 8oz of non-chlorinated water each hour. Try to drink continuously throughout the day. Water is essential to help your body fight illness; your immune system cannot function properly without adequate quantities of water. It will also combat dehydration. Dehydration, in severe cases, can be fatal. Drinking adequate amounts of water will also help to abate cold and flu related headaches.
[* NutriBiotic makes a liquid concentrate GSE containing CITRICIDAL,® a formulation which has been endorsed by Dr. Julian Whitaker, Dr. David Williams and others. GSE comes from the seed of grapefruits, as well as the white pulp next to the skin. NutriBiotic’s formula comes from organically grown grapefruit.]Caffeine and many soft drinks act as diuretics which will actually deplete your body of water. Caffeine or sugar can undermine your body’s immune system (caffeine can also cause a spike in blood-sugar levels). Alcohol, while generally beneficial in moderate amounts when healthy, will both depress the immune system and dehydrate you when you’re sick. It will prolong your illness. The exception might be a glass or two of red wine, which is vitamin and nutrient rich.
If you are having trouble drinking enough water, perhaps due to a sore throat, try adding some lemon juice, natural fruit juice, warming it a bit, or making a naturally non-caffeinated herbal tea. You might also consider making some hot lemonade from fresh lemons, or hot grapefruit juice. If you feel the need to sweeten it, use Stevia (liquid or powder), orange juice, honey, or grape juice — never refined sugar nor aspartame (NutraSweet). Xylitol (a natural Sugar-Alcohol compound), is an acceptable “sugar” substitute, and actually has immune system benefits which could help to combat cold and flu (however it is still relatively hard to find on store shelves in the US).
Elderberry extract is a potent anti-viral (see previous section).
Selenium & Probiotics are both valuable in supporting and enhancing immune function (see previous section).
Eat raw, freshly-crushed garlic. Garlic has anti-viral properties and boosts the immune system in general. It is possible to stop a cold dead in its tracks in three days (with no other treatment) by eating four cloves of freshly-crushed raw garlic three times a day (along with lots of water, vitamins and rest). Although you may find yourself oozing garlic from your pores and smell offensive to your loved ones! However it is more effective to use garlic combined with nasal irrigation and an elderberry extract. And this combined approach requires far less garlic. Deodorized garlic tablets are ineffective (see note about garlic in the section above).
Sore throats (from colds and flu’s) result from irritation by drainage of nasal fluids into your digestive tract. A simple lukewarm salt water gargle will sooth a sore throat and promote healing far better than any drugstore concoction. Pickling salt (sea salt) is preferred, but regular table salt will do. Make the water as salty as you can tolerate, without making it more salty than is comfortable. The salt will tend to sooth the inflamed tissue and promote healing. Adding a few drops of liquid GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) can be beneficial. For a gargle, add one drop per ounce (so about three to six drops for the average gargle preparation). GSE has an anti-bacterial and anti-viral effect yet is safe if ingested (in fact many people take it as a supplement to boost overall immune system function).
Runny nose. The best treatment for a runny nose is to use a xylitol nasal wash in a neti pot. If you don’t have a neti pot, you can use it in a nasal spray, or sniff up a xylitol wash (or salt water). Some people find that lying down is helpful. A natural decongestant, such as Herbal Vapors salve (a non-petroleum based Vicks/Mentholatum alternative), available from Mountain Rose Herbs and other outlets, may provide relief. You’re best off avoiding decongestant medications you find at the drugstore. While these can be effective in suppressing symptoms, they will also prolong your illness. Aggressive treatment with a xylitol wash will wash away the viruses from their habitat in your sinuses, thus reducing the burden on your immune system. That is key to a rapid recovery.
Let your appetite be your guide. Do not force yourself to eat unless you are hungry. If you are hungry, soup is often a good choice. It will help warm you as well as provide nourishment. If you are not hungry, consider drinking natural fruit or vegetable juices for nourishment. Ice cream is best avoided due to its sugar content and cooling effect. A fruit sherbet or sorbet, while not ideal, would be a better choice. So you have a sore throat and you ate the ice cream, sherbet, or sorbet anyhow: Follow it with a hot beverage to warm you back up.
Increase your intake of vitamin C. Those studies suggesting vitamin C is ineffective against colds and flu are flawed (usually because too small a dose was used). The “Recommended Daily Allowance” (RDA) is far too low. A healthy adult should consume around 2000-4000 mg’s (2 to 4 grams) of vitamin C daily. For a sick person, the amount increases. Your body can actually tell you how much vitamin C you should be taking. Vitamin C, taken in sufficiently large doses, loosens the bowels. When you reach the level of vitamin C intake which causes loose bowels, you are taking too much vitamin C (assuming your bowels aren’t loose due to diarrhea, of course). Take up to that amount, then back off slightly. This is called the “bowel intolerance test.” When you’re sick, the amount of vitamin C required to loosen your bowels will greatly increase, thus indicating an increased need for this vitamin. Don’t be surprised if this goes up to 18-20 grams of vitamin C. In very rare instances, this has been known to go as high as 100 grams in certain individuals. In general, Dr. David Williams and Dr. Julian Whitaker each advise: When sick, take 1 gram of vitamin C every hour you’re awake.
Dr. Linus Pauling personally took 18 grams of vitamin C daily, and suggested a minimum of 12 grams for the average person. Although Dr. Pauling based this recommendation on some very compelling reasoning,* this amount seems excessive (as it would be hard to acquire this much vitamin C through diet alone). This begs the question of bioavailability and the form of vitamin C used. Dr. Pauling’s recommendations may have been based on ascorbic acid, which is what most vitamin manufacturers call “vitamin C,” even though it is only a vitamin C precursor. Bioavailability is thus an important factor in considering vitamin C dosage. Most vitamin C supplements are based on ascorbic acid because it is relatively inexpensive, chemically stable and stores well. Ascorbic acid is only an intermediate form, which the body must convert to mineral ascorbates to use; it is not particularly bioavailable. More bioavailable forms are offered by only a few companies. Also, bioflavonoids are known to help the body utilize vitamin C and enhance vitamin C bioavailability.
Two good sources of vitamin C, both of which come in (1000mg) packet form and are dissolved in a glass of water, are Emer’gen-C and Ola Loa. Ola Loa is a more complete multi-vitamin product, contains fewer sugars, but is also more costly. A good compromise is to take one Ola Loa daily, and use additional packets of Emer’gen-C as needed for your desired daily dose of vitamin-C. It is a good idea to distribute your vitamin C intake throughout the day; do not take it all at once.
[* Dr. Pauling found that most mammals’ bodies, except those of humans and guinea pigs, manufacture vitamin C. What’s more, he found that they all seemed to manufacture the same amount of vitamin C per pound of body weight. Dr. Pauling took that constant and multiplied it by the weight of the average human to arrive at his recommended daily dose of 12 grams of vitamin C. Dr. Pauling said that vitamin C strengthens the tissues in blood vessels and that adequate vitamin C intake would virtually eliminate heart disease and stroke. Extreme vitamin C deficiency is known to cause scurvy, a condition in which the blood vessels literally fall apart, so there seems to be merit to Dr. Pauling’s reasoning as regards heart disease and stroke.]
Take Vitamin D3 supplements, and increase your sun exposure. Vitamin D is an under-appreciated nutrient. It plays an active role in a strong immune system response, is known to help prevent at least 22 types of cancer, protects against heart disease, regulates blood sugar levels, regulates nerve function (and useful in treating depression), can protect children from type 1 diabetes, increases muscle strength in older adults, protects against rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, maintains healthy calcium and phosphorus levels for strong bones, and more.
Ultraviolet light from sunshine (not tanning beds) on our skin turns cholesterol into vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). The greater the amount of skin exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D is produced. However the darker one’s pigmentation, either genetically or by tanning, or the older a person is, the less efficiently one produces vitamin D from sun exposure. Using sunscreen or wearing clothing virtually eliminates all vitamin D production in the covered areas. Cold and flu season (and seasonal affective disorder, aka SAD) usually begins as the weather starts to cool and cloudiness increases, or at the same time as our sun exposure (and therefore vitamin D production) dramatically decreases. Vitamin D supplementation is recommended for darker skinned people, the elderly, people with minimal sun exposure, or for everyone not living in the tropics beginning in the autumn.
The US recommended daily allowance (RDA) is too low. Canada has established 2,000 IU/day as the recommended dose, and the Canadians are considering raising that to between 4,000-6,000 IU/day. Up to 10,000 IU/day is considered safe. The lowest dose that any form of vitamin D toxicity has ever been observed is 40,000 IU/day, which can cause hypocalcemia. Supplementing with D2 (calciferol, aka ergocalciferol) is only 20-40% as effective as supplementing with D3 (cholecalciferol).
A note on sun exposure and skin cancer: Most skin cancers which have been associated with sun exposure are benign cosmetic cancers. Melanoma, a dangerous and highly malignant skin cancer, doesn’t tend to occur on the most commonly sun-exposed skin (i.e. face, arms, and legs), but rather on less commonly exposed body trunk areas. Furthermore, occupational exposure to sunlight has been shown to reduce the risk of melanoma, and vitamin D has been shown to inhibit melanoma in cultured tissue samples. Interestingly, five out of ten studies indicated that people who used sunscreen were more likely than nonusers to develop melanoma; three of those studies found no connection with sun exposure; only two suggested sunscreen might confer some cancer protection. It seems a reasonable conclusion that, for caucasians who begin developing a natural, gradual tan in the milder spring sun, or for those with genetically darker pigmentation, unprotected sun exposure is completely safe and beneficial, whereas abrupt, intense summer sun exposure leading to sunburning is unwise, risky behavior. Only in the latter case does sunscreen seem beneficial, to prevent burning, and to promote the gradual tan which should have been acquired earlier in the season, when the natural sunlight was less intense; the SPF would have to be very low, around SPF 2-4, to emulate the spring sun; possibly as high as SPF 6-8 if a fair-skinned individual expected to be out in the hot summer sun most of the day, or on water, with reflected sunlight. A person with freckles is the exception as they are incapable of tanning evenly; regulated sun exposure, or a low SPF sunscreen, may be indicated during extended summer sun, or in tropical regions.
Keep warm. Do not neglect your feet; keep them warm too. Put on extra socks, maybe wool socks, wrap them in a blanket, whatever it takes. If you are cold or chilled, drink hot herbal tea or some other hot, non-caffeinated beverage. Nothing is quite as warming as drinking a hot beverage. You need to be drinking lots of fluids anyhow.
Take zinc. Zinc lozenges, dissolved in the back of the mouth and allowed to flow down the back of your throat has been known to stop a cold dead in its tracks in certain individuals. It is thought to shorten the duration in others (but not everyone). This must be administered at the first sign of a cold to be effective! Note: If you feel nauseous, discontinue use as this is a sign of zinc toxicity.
Do not take commercial cold or flu remedies from the drugstore. These preparations do not fight infection and can actually lengthen the duration of illness. Symptoms like a runny nose and fever actually help your body fight infection; suppressing them with drugs undermines the healing process. A saline-xylitol nasal wash, on the other hand, works synergistically with your body to mechanically flush out viruses and prevent them from re-establishing a foothold. It also provides relief. There is another drawback to commercial medications: they can mask your symptoms, making you feel artificially well. This entices you to over-exert yourself when what you really need is to be taking it easy and getting lots of rest. This usually prolongs your illness and the time you remain infectious to others. (Smart employers insist that sick people take time-off rather than come into work and spread sickness around.)
Pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc. should not be needed if you’re adequately hydrated and keeping your nasal passages clear (e.g. with a saline-xylitol wash).
Fever, in most cases, should not be viewed as a problem; it is the body’s natural reaction to infection and actually helps to shorten the duration of illness. Excessive fever (or prolonged duration) is, however, a concern and may require the attention of a health care provider. Aspirin should NEVER be given to children with fevers!
Make sure your environment is not too dry. Adequate moisture in the air is important. Use of a humidifier, vaporizer, or breathing steam from boiling water on the stove-top can help.
Brush your teeth with a combination of salt and baking soda — or use a tooth powder containing these ingredients. This will not irritate a sore throat and will make your mouth feel clean (at least for a while). The salt will also help to fight gum disease — a side benefit. Also pour a little hydrogen peroxide on your toothbrush before you brush and again as you put it away. Actually, disinfecting your toothbrush like this is good to do from time to time even when you’re healthy. Even better is to allow it to soak overnight in a glass filled high enough to cover the bristles. You may use either 100% hydrogen peroxide, or dilute it down to a 50-50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. (Actually, since a typical bottle drug store “hydrogen peroxide” is a 3% solution, a 50-50 mixture would be a 1.5% solution.)
Crushed eucalyptus leaves or oil and water in a potpourri pot, or eucalyptus oil in a vaporizer, often makes the sinuses feel better.
Avoid using alcohol and tobacco. The exception is a glass or two of red wine.
This formula is useful for treating and preventing colds, flu’s and allergies. It can be used either as a nasal spray or wash. The spray is most useful as a prophylaxis, or for anyone who might have difficulties using a wash (e.g. children and seniors). A nasal wash will more aggressively fight an infection and treat symptoms. A neti pot is the best way to administer a nasal wash, although you can sniff it up if you don’t have a neti pot.
|Nasal Spray/Wash Formula
|1 cup (8 fl. oz.)
|¼ – ½ level teaspoon †
|1.25 – 2.5 ml †
|1 level tablespoon (3 tsp.)
|4 drops NutriBiotic®
Grapefruit Seed Extract
|A pinch or two (optional)
Instructions: First, wash your hands with soap and water. Mix ingredients using warm (not hot) water. This helps to dissolve ingredients and, when used as a wash, is comforting. Stir mixture occasionally until the ingredients dissolve completely. Water should be non-chlorinated, filtered or distilled.
Salt is both soothing and therapeutic (in the proper concentration). Too little or too much salt will cause the water to “burn” or irritate your nasal passages and sinuses. Pickling salt, which is usually pure salt, is preferable to regular table salt. Table salt usually has undesirable additives (e.g. iodine and flow enhancers). And additives make it more dilute (per volume) thus throwing off the saline concentration of the formula. Do not use a salt substitute! You want real salt (i.e. sodium chloride, NaCl). Be sure your pickling salt is pure salt and does not contain “alum” or aluminum! Morton Canning & Pickling Salt is pure salt.
†: For a 0.9% isotonic saline solution, the amount normally found in bodily fluids, use 1/3 teaspoon (approx. ¼ heaping teaspoon, or 1.85 ml) of salt. Anything less than this is hypotonic, anything greater is hypertonic. Some research suggests a hypertonic solution may be best when combating a runny nose (as it would have a drying effect), so you might want to go to the higher end of the salt range. You may also want to add a pinch or two of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to help buffer the solution. A hypotonic solution, however, would tend to be moisturizing (i.e. the lower end of the salt range), and may be what you want in a nasal spray for general prophylactic use. Any amount of salt within the range indicated shouldn’t be irritating to the nasal passages/sinuses of most people.
Note: “Neti pot salt” (or “aromatic salt”) is just a marketing gimmick to sell salt at a higher price. It usually has some essential oils added, which might have some therapeutic value, or which some people may find pleasing. However it should be viewed as a luxury at a premium price, with relatively little practical value. Use it if you wish, but pickling salt is usually just as pure and free of additives, is widely available, and generally inexpensive.
Xylitol. While the xylitol is optional, it helps to wash away germs and pollutants in your sinuses, and makes it difficult for germs to colonize or re-establish themselves.
GSE. The GSE is useful to attack germs and acts as a preservative. Without GSE, use formula within a few days or discard. If mixing for immediate use in a neti pot, the GSE may be omitted without much consequence; its primary purpose is as a preservative for a nasal spray. If you have liquid NutriBiotic GSE, add 4 drops. Other brands may have different sized drops or potencies, so adjust as needed. NutriBiotic has fairly small drops and is 33% Citricidal. Some GSE brands are triple strength, or 100% Citricidal. Too much GSE will “burn” or irritate your nasal passages and sinuses.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Baking soda is optional. It may be useful as a buffering agent when using a hypertonic saline solution.
Garlic nose drops. In his book The Healing Power of Garlic Paul Bergner writes: “Garlic nose drops directly kill the viruses that cause cold or flu.” He also writes about a study with mice where some were inoculated with garlic, and some were not. The flu virus was introduced to the nasal passages of each mouse. Those mice that received the garlic remained healthy, where all the others got sick. To make nose drops, Bergner instructs us to crush some garlic to obtain juice, and add ten parts water and mix well. It could be added to the saline-xylitol formula above, if you like, to enhance its germ killing abilities.
In addition to the nose drops, eating raw garlic is also helpful and has a systemic effect. Note: deodorized garlic tablets are not useful in fighting viral or bacterial infections.
As a wash. There are several ways to administer a nasal wash. Some recommend using a bulb syringe or plastic bottle, however a neti pot is by far the easiest. But if you don’t have a neti pot, here is how to “sniff it up”: First, blow your nose and wash your hands with soap and water. Then, over the bathroom sink, put one or two teaspoons of nasal wash mixture in the cupped palm of your hand, close off one nostril with a finger and put the other nostril in the water, then inhale briskly. Try to take the water far up into your sinuses. Then let the water drain out your nostril and into the sink. Repeat this several times then switch to the other nostril. If done correctly, you’ll have a sensation in your nose which is very similar to having recently taken a swim (at least with a salt water mixture; the xylitol mixture may produce a somewhat different sensation). Repeat this process, alternating between nostrils, until your nose is feeling relatively clear.
Neti pot. First, blow your nose and wash your hands with soap and water. There are two ways to use a neti pot. The standard way (Jala Neti Stage 1) is to tilt your head and insert it into the upper nostril and pour, letting it drain out of the lower nostril. However this method may not be sufficient to attack an active cold or flu infection as it primarily washes only the lower sinuses. My method to more aggressively wash the (upper) sinuses is to lean over a sink and, with the forehead tilted slightly forward, plug one nostril with a finger, insert the neti pot spout into the other, and gently inhale, then remove the neti pot and allow the liquid to drain back down my nostril and into the sink. Anyone who has tried the “sniff up” method described in the paragraph above will find the neti pot draws the nasal wash up with far less effort and in much greater volume (thus doing a better job of washing the sinuses). This technique is similar to “stage two” neti and takes a little practice to master. The key is to proceed slowly when learning how to do this. Sometimes a little fluid goes down the back of the throat. Although not harmful (and actually the goal of stage two neti), for our purposes here it is a sign to stop inhaling, and to not inhale quite so much the next time. We can adequately flush out the viruses by allowing the fluid to drain out our nostrils, and this is less difficult than learning how to master stage two neti technique. None of this should be painful nor induce coughing, nor should you be inhaling so hard as to draw fluid into your lungs! Warning: Inhaling fluid into the lungs can lead to pneumonia!
Once the sinuses have been irrigated with a neti pot, particularly if the more aggressive technique is used to irrigate the upper sinuses, it is normal for the sinuses to retain some of the nasal wash. Ideally, one wants to expel all the wash, but this is not always possible. I sometimes find the nasal wash formula draining, usually in small amounts, hours or even days later. Usually this occurs after leaning forward. Standard practice after using a neti pot is to make a series of short, forceful exhales (without blocking either nostril). I do this to clear out the lower sinuses, then (to drain the upper sinuses) add some forward bends (holding them for 10 or so seconds), and come back to an upright position, then add some side bends and back bends, and repeating as necessary. This helps to minimize drainage later on. Here is a more complete and detailed procedure from The JALA NETI Booklet:
Drying The NoseDrying the nose properly is a very important part of the practice. Never neglect to do this part properly. People with high blood pressure should be careful of this part. If dizziness results when draining the nose, drying should only be done standing upright.
1. First bend forwards from the waist and hang the head upside down with the nose pointing towards the floor, letting any residual water drain from the nose. Then point the nose towards the knees. In each position, gently breathe in the mouth and out the nose about 10 times. A few droplets of water may run down.
2. Then stand up to do some rapid breathing through the nostrils. First, do 10 breaths through both nostrils together, sniffing in and out moderately with a bit more emphasis on the exhalation. Then close off the right nostril with one finger and do 10 rapid sniffing breaths through the left nostril only. Then do 10 sniffing breaths through the right nostril only. Finally, do 10 breaths again through both nostrils together.
This should clear and dry the nose. If it feels as if there is still some water in there, repeat the whole drying process again. Failure to dry the nose properly may manifest the symptoms of a cold for several hours, or leaving dirty water in the sinus passages or eustachian tubes may result in infection.
About the wash. The salt in the water helps to cleanse and soothe the mucus membranes and sinuses, and helps make you feel better (at least for a while). You are attacking the flu and cold viruses where they live, and diminishing their numbers (particularly if you’ve added xylitol, GSE or garlic juice). Repeating this procedure as often as needed during the day will help to shorten the duration of your illness, and make you feel better. Doing this before going to bed can help to promote sleep. This procedure can also be effective against seasonal allergies as it cleanses the sinuses and washes away irritants. In theory, it should help eliminate or prevent sinus infections.
Important note: Once you start feeling better it is vitally important to continue drinking plenty of water, getting good nutrition & and plenty of rest, and to allow your body to recover before returning to normal activities and habits. Failure to do so can result a very nasty relapse. Remember your body is still fighting an infection, even though your symptoms have abated.
If you cannot or do not wish to make your own nasal spray, a commercial formula is available for purchase called Xlear (pronounced “clear.”) It is a very good product.
The initial symptoms of anthrax, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and smallpox often mimic symptoms of colds and flu’s. While SARS and anthrax are more lethal than colds & flu and their outbreaks make headlines, relatively few people die from them each year. There are many more deaths (by orders of magnitude) from complications of the flu than from these other diseases.
One thing we learned from the anthrax attacks in the winter of 2001-2002 is that a runny nose is a rare feature of anthrax. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “A person who has a runny nose along with other common influenza-like symptoms is by far more likely to have the common cold than to have anthrax.” So maybe you can take some comfort in your runny nose!
Smallpox has been declared eradicated by the WHO (World Health Organization), however the virus has been preserved by a number of countries as a potential bio-warfare agent, so it could reemerge.
While avian influenza is exotic and scary, and the possibility of an influenza pandemic needs to be taken very seriously, the truth is even ordinary influenza can be a very serious disease which could lead to pneumonia and death. Although avian influenza’s primary mode of transmission may be somewhat different, our best defense is still appropriate hygiene and building a strong immune system. The CDC maintains a page about the current situation.
This page was last updated on 14-October-2008