A healthy immune system is the best defense for the common cold.
The common cold and the flu are caused by viral infections that result from a more or less suppressed immune system. Many factors can contribute to a less than optimally functioning immune system, such as stress, smoking, recurring or chronic illness, or an unhealthy diet. Also, environmental factors such as changes in weather and dry, overheated rooms appear to reduce one’s resistance as well. The obvious effect of a weakened immune system is an increased susceptibility to illness. Adults can expect to develop on average two to four colds per year, while children typically develop six to eight colds.
In an effort to win the battle over common cold and flu viruses, research has examined a variety of natural substances that demonstrate immunomodulatory potential. Immunomodulation is described as the ability of a nutrient, herb, or other substance to promote healthy immune function.
Herbs from around the world have traditionally been used for centuries to help strengthen the immune system, and to help relieve some of the unpleasant symptoms associated with colds and flu viruses. Indeed, a tremendous amount of research in the field of phytochemistry corroborates much of the purported properties of traditionally used herbs.
A cross-cultural approach to herbology, one that applies compatible herbs from different geographical areas, seems a natural evolution as research unfolds, although the practice of combining herbs is not new. Herbal mixtures, in the form of teas, or cooked decoctions, have long been used in many cultures because of the synergism that takes place among the herbs utilized. An effective formula is considered to be one that provides herbs that are carefully balanced to accentuate the strengths and reduce potential side effects.
Traditional herbal formulas typically contain one or more chief herbs combined with accessory herbs that aid or reinforce the effects of the principal herb(s). Among the vast amount of information that is available on both the traditional and modern-day uses of herbs, several herbs stand out as providing valuable support during the cold and flu season. Herbs such as echinacea, goldenseal, andrographis and the other herbs listed below are time-honored favorites, prized for their unique properties.
Echinacea is one of the most highly regarded immune supporting herbs available. Indigenous to North America, echinacea was traditionally used by Native Americans for a variety of ailments such as colds, coughs, sore throats, infections, and snake and insect bites.3 Today, echinacea is commonly recommended to help prevent and treat cold and flu infection and conditions associated with it. A number of clinical studies have demonstrated positive results in patients given echinacea to help boost immune function.
Goldenseal (hydrastis canadensis), also indigenous to North America, is commonly used in conjunction with echinacea for the treatment of colds and flu. Native Americans traditionally used goldenseal for a wide range of ailments, including the treatment of skin diseases, ulcers, gonorrhea and other infectious conditions.According to traditional herbalism, goldenseal is considered to be a tonic for mucous membranes. It is often recommended for infectious diarrhea, gastritis, infections and inflammation of the mucous membranes, and for digestive disorders. Goldenseal is not recommended for use during pregnancy.
Amla, or Indian gooseberry (emblica officinalis), a popular fruit cultivated in India, has long been valued for its rejuvenating properties, according to traditional Ayurveda. One piece of fruit about the size of a plum can contain between 700 and 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. The vitamin C is considered to be highly stable due to the presence of tannins and polyphenols.Amla is commonly used in Ayurveda as an antiscorbutic, a rejuvenating tonic, a carminative (helps to relieve bloating and gas) and a stomachic. Additionally, preliminary evidence suggests that amla may help to boost immune response, presumably due to its vitamin C content.
Lemon balm (melissa officinalis), an herb native to the eastern Mediterranean region and to western Asia, has been traditionally used as a diaphoretic and strengthening remedy with colds and flu, in functional disorders of the circulation, and for migraines. Several components (e.g., rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid) are reported to possess antibacterial and virostatic properties.
Cinnamon (cinnamomum cassia) is recognized in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic herbology as a carminative, and is used for most gastrointestinal complaints associated with colds and flu, including diarrhea and stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Cinnamon is often present in traditional Chinese formulas to help facilitate the action of the other herbs present. In both Chinese and Ayurvedic herbology, cinnamon is frequently used as an adjunct to formulas containing bitter herbs (such as andrographis) because of its “balancing” effects. Cinnamon is a “warming” herb that, from a biomedical perspective, acts as a cardiotonic, which helps to stimulate blood flow. This activity may help to explain its apparent antipyretic effects.
As with any supplement or OTC – make sure your prescriptions and these herbs do not interact with each other.