Preventing & Treating Colds & Flus
by Elson Haas, M.D. copyright 2000
Colds and flus are caused by viruses. Or are they? Is it the germ or the health of the host that leads to disease? It's both! Lowered resistance can result not only from compromised immunity, but also from the state of congestion (stagnation) experienced from poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, and inadequate sleep. These factors influence our vulnerability to the ever-present germs. Remember that there is always "something going around."

I just mentioned a short list of factors that tend to make you more susceptible to common seasonal head colds, earaches, sore throats and bronchitis. Add to that list sugar in your drinks and foods, which has been found to decrease the number of white blood cells and weaken their ability to fight germs. Deficiency of nutrients such as protein, vitamins A and C, and zinc also plays a role. Protective effects may come from taking nutritional and herbal supplements.

As we move into autumn and winter, the nighttime grows longer, and in the colder and damper weather, the body tends to condense wastes and cleanse any excess mucus and congestion from our tissues in order to make them less stagnant and improve circulation. This allows us to be more in harmony with the external climate and season. In natural medicine, we call this process cleansing, but it often looks and acts like a cold or flu.

In many healing systems, it is referred to as detoxification -- our body's cleansing of waste to make it healthier. Know how to support this process and move through those symptoms quickly with simple remedies such as drinking more water, teas, and soups, and taking increased amounts of vitamins C and A, Echinacea and goldenseal, garlic (in food and as capsules), and ginger tea. Other detoxification herbs may also help, although they may temporarily intensify these cleansing effects. Exercise and sweating help the body clear toxins. Use common sense, since exercise can be counterproductive if your body is depleted or fighting an infection. Also, make sure you have a balanced exercise plan for the year. In this season, your exercise plan may bring you more indoors to health clubs or home.

Flu Vaccine
The use of the flu vaccine has become commonplace in recent years with government and local programs providing inexpensive shots. The vaccine was initiated to reduce the serious consequences from severe flu in those who are vulnerable, such as the elderly or the infirm, but the shots are now promoted to everyone. That is a question and potential concern. Basically, the vaccine involves giving people a small dose of a number of viruses to cause (trick) the immune system to make antibodies against those viruses so that when we are exposed to that virus again, our bodies are already prepared to counteract it. The problem is that there are many more viruses than those in any given year's flu vaccine, and some people get sick with mini-flus from the shot. 
Also, a deeper question involves the longer-term effects on the immune system and what happens to people over time when they have the 'energetic pattern' of all those viruses in their system. In the last three decades, there has clearly been an increase in allergic disorders, asthma, and autoimmune problems that I believe could be associated in part with the growing use of immunizations as well as from increasing chemical exposure.

My suggestions for getting the flu vaccine are:

  1. It is probably appropriate for people with chronic illness or asthma;
  2. for the elderly where a case of the flu might lead to greater risk of prolonged illness or death, and
  3. if you have been prone to the flu in previous years or you cannot handle getting the flu because of your life demands.

I do not suggest giving flu shots to basically healthy people. Taking care of your health and strengthening your immunity is the best way to prevent colds and flus.

Tips on Preventing Colds and Flus
Much of prevention involves common sense personal care and positive lifestyle habits. Vital and energized bodies don't get sick as easily as stressed, toxic, and tired bodies. In the prevention of most illnesses, it's important to eat a wholesome and balanced diet, get regular exercise and proper sleep, and learn to deal healthfully with daily challenges. 

More specific tips include:

  • Avoid excess sugar, alcohol, and chemicals in your diet as these can weaken immune function.
  • Take a basic multivitamin/mineral appropriate for your age and gender.
  • Take additional vitamin C, at least 1000 mg once or twice daily.
  • If prone to colds and flus, consider thymus extract (animal glandular) or a combination formula containing thymus (maybe also with spleen and liver) along with other immune-supporting nutrients.
  • If you are vegetarian or don't wish to use animal glandulars, consider taking maitaki or reishitaki mushroom extracts a couple times daily between meals.
  • Herbals and immune supporters that may protect you from getting colds and flus include Echinacea, astragalus, Siberian ginseng, garlic, co-enzyme Q10, and DMG (dimethlyglycine).
  • Minimize your exposure to those people who are ill, be careful about the spread of germs, and wash your hands frequently during the day to protect yourself.

Tips on Treating Viral Illnesses:

  • Drink fluids, especially water, fresh juices and hot herbal teas. Exercise to sweat if your energy is sufficient. Take a sauna or steam as the increase in body heat may stimulate your immune activity.
  • Consume lots of vegetable soup with added ginger and garlic. (See the 2000 edition of A Cookbook for All Seasons for appropriate recipes.) Press a few cloves of fresh garlic into your own bowl of soup as the fresh garlic has better antibiotic effects. Homemade chicken soup is also known to be helpful.
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Take a break from your daily grind and let go of stress.
  • Take 1000 mg (even 2000 mg) of vitamin C every hour or two. If your bowels get loose, cut back on your vitamin C intake.
  • Vitamin A (not beta-carotene) can help fight off early infections as it supports immune action. My suggestion involves taking a high-dose, short course treatment of 100,000 IUs daily taken in three doses for three days, then 50,000 a day for two days, then 10,000 IUs twice daily for a few days to a week. NOTE: Vitamin A can be toxic in high amounts over time, but most people can easily handle these higher amounts when they are sick.
  • Echinacea and goldenseal tinctures or capsules taken 3-4 times daily may be helpful at knocking out early infections when taken immediately. Again remember not to take these herbs for longer then three weeks at a time.
  • Zinc lozenges may be helpful for sore throats. For coughs and sore throats, also try slowly savoring and then swallowing a mixture of honey (1 tsp) with 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper (all in a Tblsp).
  • For chest congestion, drink ginger root tea (simmer a few slices of root in a cup or two of water). Also, use some of the hot ginger tea to make a compress and place the soaked cloth over your upper chest. This is warming (tends to stimulate blood circulation) and helps break up congestion.
  • Consider Master Cleanser (lemonade) drink (see my books) and a few days of juice cleansing at the onset; this can flush the congestion and germs and support your healing.
  • Try other antiviral herbs besides Echinacea and garlic. These include elderberry (good for fevers), licorice, and astragalus. Also, grapefruit seed extract and olive leaf have some antiviral/antibiotic effects.

Anti-Viral Herbs and Research
(Article Courtesy of Tim Kuss and excerpted from Optimal Digestion, edited by Nichols and Faass, HarperCollins, 2000.)

A number of outstanding anti-viral botanicals are widely available. The most important of these include:

Echinacea (Echinacea, various species) has a great range of activity against viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa. Echinacea bolsters the immune defenses in various ways. 1) It strengthens the body's local defenses by use of a substance (echinacein) that deactivates germs' tissue-dissolving enzyme. This prevents germs from spreading and infecting other body tissues. 2) A study in Infection and Immunology showed that Echinacea stimulated production of white blood cells and phagocytes, and increased macrophage germ-killing activity. 3) A University of Munich study demonstrated that Echinacea boosted production of infection-fighting T-lymphocytes up to 30% more than standard immune-supportive drugs. In Germany Echinacea is used to treat flu, colds, bronchitis, tonsillitis, ear infections and whooping cough. Root extracts of Echinacea are believed to boost interferon levels, vital to the body's defenses. The German Commission E recommends Echinacea to be used for short periods of time not to exceed 8 successive weeks. It is best taken as liquid extract or in capsules.

Garlic (Allium sativum)is the botanical kingdom's best example of an herbal wonder drug for fighting infections. Garlic contains several anti-microbial compounds including allicin, one of nature's strongest broad-spectrum antibiotics. Garlic's anti-bacterial activity has been proven against Bacillus, Brucella, Citrobacter, E. Coli, Hafnia, Klebsiella, Salmonella typhi, Shigella, Vibrio cholerae, and various forms of Staph and Strep. Garlic is most active in raw form as a food or a fresh-pressed juice. A few cloves may be juiced along with carrots to make the medicine go down easy. Or it can be taken in capsules, 2 to 3 per day as prevention, or 2 to 3, three times daily in acute situations. Note: To help counter the powerful smell, chew one or more of the following herbal breath fresheners: Parsley, Fenugreek, or Fennel.

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)helps prevent and remedy infections, fevers and inflammation. It has broad anti-microbial activity against viruses, bacteria, yeast and fungi. Licorice contains at least 8 anti-viral and 25 anti-fungal substances. Licorice also possesses anti-viral compounds which promote interferon release, part of our body's anti-viral arsenal. By itself, Licorice is a dynamic herb that should only be used for short periods of time.

Caution: Use only DGL (DeGlycyrrhizinated Licorice) if you have high blood pressure. Avoid Licorice altogether during pregnancy, or if you're diabetic or have glaucoma, water retention, heart disease or a history of hypertension or stroke. Licorice has a naturally sweet taste and it may be taken as tea, liquid extract or in capsules, or as with DGL, in chewable tablets.

Astragalus (Astragalus, various species) is a supremely versatile and potent immune strengthener. Astragalus builds up the body's vitality, prevents and hastens infection's exodus. This is a commonly used herb in Chinese medicine and is part of many immune-supporting formulas as sliced herb for boiling, in extracts, or as capsules.

Honorable Mention Anti-Virals
Also antiviral but milder in their effects are:

Baikal Skullcap. Research in China shows Baikal Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)has broad-spectrum anti-microbial activity. It is used to treat pneumonia, flu and other respiratory infections. It suppresses flu viruses and pneumonia-causing fungi.

Cinchona Bark (Cinchona, various species) was the primary source for quinine until the drug was synthetically produced. Cinchona Bark has over 20 active compounds; in addition to quinine, it has anti-viral, anti-malarial, anti-protozoa and anti-yeast properties. Use in capsule form.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) possesses potent inhibitory action against various pathogenic microorganisms including the bacteria E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus viridans. It also possesses anti-influenza, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-yeast activity.

Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) is a general anti-microbial agent with specific anti-viral properties. This bitter herb (food extract) is known for its excellent application against Candida albicans. It's effective against a long list of other microorganisms as well, including Herpes simplex type 1, and Influenza A virus. Applications also include controlling diarrhea. It's especially helpful for infections of unknown cause, because it is nontoxic and its activity is so broad. GSE may be used in liquid concentrate form or in capsules. GSE may be taken internally, in minute doses such as 2 to 4 drops twice daily diluted in at least 4 ounces carrot, orange, pineapple or grapefruit juice.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)is much used in China to treat bacterial and viral conditions. It is taken as a liquid from flower extracts or as a tea.

Olive Leaf (Olea europea) has general anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. It usually comes in powder form in capsules.

Additional Anti-Viral Herbs
Other outstanding anti-viral herbs include:

Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) has been used as a remedy for flu, cough, colds, and upper respiratory infections for over 2500 years. Recent studies demonstrate Black Elderberry's effectiveness against all strains of influenza virus. An enzyme present in Black Elderberry (neuraminidase) inhibits the virus from piercing the cell membrane and entering the cell. Black Elderberry is most effective in either a syrup form or in lozenges.

Black-eyed Susan Root (Rudbeckia, various species) is about to be discovered for its virus-fighting capabilities. A recent report showed Black-eyed Susan is a more potent immune system stimulator than Echinacea.

Forsythia (Forsythia suspensa) is a traditional Chinese herb used for treating colds, flu, and other viruses. It is often mixed with Honeysuckle and sometimes Lemon balm and/or Ginger as a tea.

Isatidis (Isatis tinctora) is one of the best-known Chinese anti-viral herbs. Isatidis is an excellent remedy for any virus but appears to be especially good for hepatitis, because it helps reduce both swelling and liver inflammation. Isatidis is mild and can be used for children or those who don't tolerate heat well (described as pitta types in the Ayurvedic system). Less well known, Isatidis is also a good anti-bacterial agent.

Leptotaenia (Lomatium dissecutim) may be the most effective anti-viral herb of all. Leptotaenia also possesses activity against many forms of bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Research in 1948 demonstrated Leptotaenia inhibited the growth of all 62 strains of bacteria and fungi tested with varying degrees of success. An oil extract of Leptotaenia was shown in a 1949 in vitro test to completely inhibit growth of 10 microbes, equivalent to penicillin at the same strength. Leptotaenia is available in capsules or as a liquid extract. It is an herb known to be useful in treating pneumonia, flu, colds, and bronchitis, as well as viruses such as Herpes simplex I and II and hepatitis C.

Schizandra (Schizandra chinensis) has uses in Chinese medicine as an anti-viral herb, specifically in cases of viral hepatitis. Schizandra may be taken in capsule form or the dried berries may be found in herb shops.

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