Echinacea, All-natural cold remedies
Giving the Cold Shoulder
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin
Sniffle season is well underway. Whether you’re coping with a common cold or a debilitating case of the flu, you’re likely searching for ways to feel better fast and prevent a recurrence.
But after years of research, no one has come up with a cure for the common cold. Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take now to stimulate and strengthen your immune system. You'll sidestep more bugs and, if you do end up getting sick, you'll recover more quickly.
Mother Knows Best
A good germ-fighting foundation starts with the three basic techniques that, most likely, you picked up from Mom. First, wash your hands – often. Scrub them with soap for a good 20 seconds – especially after using the bathroom, before eating, or after being around someone who is ill. Pay special attention to your nails and wrists, which often get missed when we lather up.
It’s also important to keep your mucous membranes moist, so they can better block viruses from entering the nose, eyes, and mouth. Drink plenty of water, wear lip balm, and use a humidifier during cold, dry weather.
Finally, get enough sleep. Most people need seven to nine hours a night. You'll know you're well rested if you don't need an alarm to wake up in the morning.
Move over Echinacea – American ginseng provides a one-two punch: Not only does it boost immunity, it also helps fight off viruses. In one recent study, 323 healthy people took either 200 mg. of an American ginseng extract or a placebo every day from November through February. Compared with those taking the placebo, ginseng users had 13 percent fewer colds. Plus, those who did get sick were laid low for 35 percent fewer days.
Try taking capsules or tablets providing about 2 grams of dried root powder daily or 3–5 ml. of a ginseng tincture three times a day. Benefits should kick in within a week or two and continuous use is safe.
Speaking of Echinacea, several poorly-designed, yet highly publicized studies have shown no beneficial effect. But don’t count this herb out just yet. Researchers from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy combined the results of 14 different studies on Echinacea's anti-cold properties and came up with a far different verdict.
In fact the UConn team found that Echinacea reduced the incidence of catching a cold by 65 percent. In one of the 14 studies, Echinacea was taken alongside vitamin C. This combination reduced cold incidence by a whopping 86 percent. Even when patients were directly inoculated with a rhinovirus - the most common cold-causing virus - Echinacea reduced the number of colds by 35 percent.
Want to get the most out of this natural cold remedy? At the onset of a cold, take 300 mg. of an Echinacea supplement every two hours for the first day of illness, then three times per day for a total of seven to 10 days.
C-ing is Believing
If you’re like me, you reach for the vitamin C when you feel a cold coming on. Well, contrary to popular belief, even high doses of vitamin C cannot prevent you from getting a cold. But can it help once a cold sets in?
A large review of 30 placebo-controlled trials of more than 11,000 people who took at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day found no reduction in the incidence of colds and a clinically insignificant decrease in the duration and severity of symptoms. The problem is, that paltry amount won’t put a dent in your symptoms.
Many previous positive results with C used doses of one to two grams. In one review conducted at the University of Helsinki found that two grams per day in children appear to be more effective than one gram per day in adults, suggesting that large intakes of vitamin C may be more effective than smaller amounts.
What about zinc? While zinc’s role in maintaining healthy immune function is undisputed, its effectiveness in fighting the common cold has always been a bit controversial. Multiple studies examining the use of zinc gluconate lozenges for colds have shown mixed results. But a new study reports that zinc lozenges reduce the severity of cold symptoms when taking within 48 hours of the onset of the illness. Earlier research found that zinc also cuts the duration of a cold.
One Last Thing . . .
Perhaps the best kept herbal secret in the fight against colds and flu is andrographis, especially if you have severe symptoms. A randomized double-blind placebo study of 158 patients at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile found that andrographis reduced tiredness by 30 percent, shivering by 50 percent, muscular aches by 48 percent and headache by 30 percent. Better yet, a clinical study by the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Germany, found that taking andrographis helped cold sufferers recover five times faster than participants taking a placebo.
The most exciting news about this promising herb may be its ability to prevent the common cold. Another Chilean study of 107 college students found that those taking 200 mg. of andrographis daily over a three month period were twice as likely to avoid catching a cold.
Andrographis is available in capsule form. Look for a standardized extract containing 11.2 mg andrographolides per 200 mg of extract. Most herbalists recommend taking 500–3,000 mg. three times per day, although most of the clinical trials used 100 mg. of a standardized extract two times per day to treat the common cold.
This Just In . . .
Those of us struggling with the inevitable New Year’s diet often lament that a slow metabolism keeps us from losing weight. Marketers of weight-loss products capitalize on this belief by offering ways to boost metabolism and “melt away” unwanted pounds. But is a faster metabolism really the key to weight loss? And can you really speed up your metabolism?
Metabolism refers to the way the body uses energy (measured in calories). The body uses calories in three ways: (1) To sustain vital body functions like breathing, heart rate, waste removal, cell growth and cell repair; (2) for physical activity and (3) for digestion and absorption of food. The speed at which the body burns calories when at rest is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR).
Everyone’s RMR differs and may in part be genetically determined. Some lucky people really do have a higher metabolic rate than others and therefore burn more calories even when they are doing nothing.
The only way to know your RMR is to have a health and fitness professional measure it with a hand-held device called BodyGem. It measures oxygen consumption, which reflects the rate at which your body burns calories. Cutting calories below your RMR is not smart, because your body then shifts into starvation mode, lowering your metabolic rate even more. So even if you are eating less, it can actually be harder to lose weight, because your body is fighting to conserve the energy it has stored in body fat.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to rev up your metabolism. One way is to make sure you get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity four to five times a week. Strength-train three times a week will also increase your lean muscle and the rate at which your body burns calories. While exercise can significantly boost your metabolism, the way you eat also plays a critical role. Eat breakfast to wake up your metabolism after a night’s sleep. Having breakfast gives you energy and helps prevent overeating at your next meal. And don’t wait more than five hours between meals. Skipping meals can slow your metabolism and deprive you of needed energy.
Certain herbs, known as thermogenics, can also speed weight loss by impacting your metabolism. Cayenne is used in Ayurvedic medicine to decrease body fat by increasing oxygen consumption. In fact, scientists have found that people who ate hot spicy foods (adding a teaspoon of cayenne pepper or red-pepper sauce to a meal) raised their metabolic rates by as much as 25 percent.
Green Tea contains an anti-oxidant called EGCG that increases the metabolic effects of caffeine as it decreases fat absorption. Other thermogenics include cinnamon, Garcinia cambogia and ginger. Just don’t expect miracles from these fat-burning botanicals. Hard work is the only way to achieve real weight loss – fewer calories taken in and more calories burned through exercise.
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