It's that time of year again: cold and flu season! While television personalities have been vaccinated against the influenza virus on live broadcasts, if you're reading this you are most likely looking for a more natural, holistic approach, one that could strengthen your immune system as a whole.
Both natural prevention and treatment of colds and flu, particularly when you're trying to stop an early infection in its tracks, are quite similar to each other. This includes the most basic way to fight a cold, which is getting enough rest and staying hydrated. Rest provides the energy your immune system needs to fight infection, so the "soldier on" mentality can actually lower your defences and keep colds lingering around for longer. If you aren't sick, making sure that you are sleeping enough and appropriately managing stress can go a long way in preventing illness.
Of course, there are plenty of natural remedies that can provide much-needed assistance during respiratory infections. One of these is bromelain, a mix of enzymes found in pineapple stems. In a clinical trial, 85% of people with sinusitis who were taking the bromelain capsules showed total resolution of the inflammation in their nasal cavities. Bromelain is both an anti-inflammatory, meaning it can inhibit compounds that make cold symptoms worse, and can thin out nasal mucous. Enteric-coated capsules taken away from food are best, as they bypass the protein-digesting enzymes in the stomach - enzymes are proteins too, and so are not exempt from digestion.
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is less well-known than vitamin C, but is a powerful antioxidant and decongestant. It can reduce inflammation, thereby relieving the symptoms of a cold, and can also reduce viral replication, making it easier for the immune system to clear the infection. In conventional medicine, it is even administered to patients with cystic fibrosis to thin out excessive mucous.
One of the more well-known, although often controversial, cold remedies is vitamin C. In a 1999 study, researchers tracked the number of cold and flu symptoms among 463 young adults who made up a "control" group, and 252 others who made up the "test" group. If anyone in the control group reported symptoms, they were given pain relievers and decongestants. If anyone in the test group reported symptoms, they were treated with 1000mg of vitamin C every hour for the first six hours, and then 1000mg three times each day until the symptoms disappeared. Everyone in the test group received three doses of vitamin C at 1000mg every day regardless of whether or not they were sick. The test group reported 85% fewer cold and flu symptoms compared to the control group. Vitamin C can help to boost the production and function of our immune cells, thereby possibly reducing the severity and duration of colds.
Zinc is another immune-boosting micronutrient, but deficiency is unfortunately common even in wealthy countries. When administered within 24 hours of the onset of a cold, a high-quality zinc supplement may significantly reduce the severity and duration of the infection. It has been demonstrated in research to reduce the production of inflammatory substances by the body and to help prevent viral replication.
These are just a few ways to naturally prevent colds and the flu, or stop them from taking hold. Overall, you don't have to rely on luck to stay healthy this winter. However, for best results, visiting a qualified naturopath is advised to access high-quality supplements and receive a holistic, individualised treatment plan.