Some years ago I suffered a recurring string of chest infections, accompanied by the standard rattling cough and sore throat. Drinking water was akin to swallowing razorblades and nothing seemed to touch it. My doctor prescribed a dose of antibiotics each time and within 12 months I'd taken as many courses.
Though I come from a long line of antibiotics abusers who seem hell-bent on ensuring they won't work when humankind really needs them, this approach clearly wasn't working so I turned to my hippiest, naturopathy-studying friend for advice.
Following a lecture about how antibiotics only work on bacteria and not viral infections, she recommended a simple schedule consisting of two types of tea with each to be taken three times daily. The first was finely chopped fresh sage and thyme mixed with boiling water and steeped for three minutes, to help combat the sore throat. The second was equally simple: dice two cloves of garlic, a chunk of ginger roughly the same size and mix with hot water, the juice of a lemon and a teaspoon of honey and steep for up to five minutes. Though the flavour was intense, you'd be surprised how quickly you grow to love it.
Within three days the chest infection was gone and I was feeling better than I had in a year. In the intervening decade I've required antibiotics only once - for a nasty flu, which is a whole other ballgame. Though bed rest is also an integral part of recovery, often times work and family pressures make this an unattainable luxury. Instead, I drink my hippy potion at the first sign of a cold and haven't pulled a sickie that wasn't hangover-related since.
Thanks to the adoption of green living by the wider community, there's been a knock-on effect of acceptance when it comes to natural remedies. Whenever a virulent cold does the rounds throughout the office, there are always one or two people extolling the virtues of Echinacea or olive leaf extract. However, even the biggest champions don't always know why they're beneficial. So, I asked an expert to give you the rundown of the most effective weapons against fighting the symptoms that accompany the common cold - as well as dispel any myths.
In the spirit of responsibility, when it comes to children, pregnant women and asthma sufferers, it's best to consult your doctor rather than self-administering haphazardly. But that goes for medications you purchase at the chemist as well as natural fixes. And, if you've been struck down with a particularly virulent strain of the flu, by all means dose yourself up to the eyeballs with whatever you need to get you through.
If you have any of your own tried-and-trusted cure-alls not covered here make sure to mention them in the comments.
One of the most simple ingredients available when it comes to combating colds and flu, this species in the onion genus Allium has been used for medicinal purposes as far back as Ancient Egypt. "The sulphur-containing compounds in garlic - alliin and allicin - are believed to be responsible for the lipid-lowering effects and have been reported to have antimicrobial effects against bacteria and fungi," said Dr. Danforn Lim, associate lecturer of medicine at the University of New South Wales, adding that it also offers additional health benefits. "Its potential to lower blood cholesterol, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, has dramatically increased its popularity."
A fantastic anti-inflammatory, it's also a perfuse peripheral vasodilator which means it gives a warm sensation when ingested - perfect for making a cold body feel better. "Ginger is thought to help relieving nausea and vomiting which may be associated with URI [upper respiratory tract infections] when it affects the gastrointestinal symptoms as well," said Lim. "Furthermore, it is believed that ginger helps soothing the nasopharyngeal passage so that it unblocks the sinuses."
Perhaps the most widely debated herbal remedy, some naturopaths say it has the potential to reduce incidences of URI by 65 per cent - which increases to 85 per cent when taken in conjunction with vitamin C. A claim that Lim questions.
"Echinacea research is challenging because there are differing opinions regarding the best Echinacea species, plant part, active components and dose. Echinacea products used in studies are often not standardised," he said. "Several controlled trials of Echinacea for URI prior to 2000 showed a decrease in symptom intensity and duration. Criticisms of these include that the studies varied greatly in their methodological quality and the type of Echinacea used. Since then, several well-designed studies have found that Echinacea is no better than placebo for the treatment of URI."
Though its benefit following the onset of cold and flu symptoms has been questioned, research has shown that its main role is in prevention among those undertaking vigorous exercise as well as individuals living in colder climates.
"A randomised five-year trial performed in Japan found that vitamin C supplementation at a dose of 500 mg daily, compared to 50 mg daily, significantly reduced the frequency of colds, but these supplements had no apparent effect on the duration or severity of the common cold," said Lim, adding that in a separate study, "There was a 50 per cent decrease in the incidence of colds in a subset of patients exposed to vigorous activity, especially in extreme cold conditions - marathon runners, skiers and soldiers in sub-arctic exercises."
Olive leaf extract
One of the latest treatments to take hold outside the natural medicine community, olive leaf extract contains double the antioxidants of green tea and four times that of vitamin C - though Lim warns that it should not be used by individuals with gallstones and that it be approached with caution by those on insulin, hypoglycaemic and/or antihypertensive agents.
"Olive leaf extract has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic action. It interferes with certain amino acid production processes necessary for the vitality of various viruses or bacterium," said Lim. "It has been used for centuries as a medicinal agent. Olive leaf is used in infections and to improve natural immunity. It is also used to support normalisation of GI flora and immune support."
-Sydney Morning Herald
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