Herbal Cold Prevention
It’s that time of year again when cold viruses frequently find their way to Community Pharmacy, accompanied by their sniffling, sneezing, and miserable human hosts. Colds are a huge moneymaker for the drug industry. An estimated 62 million colds per year leave millions of sick people roaming the aisles of pharmacies and grocery stores, desperate for relief.
The cold virus, or Rhinovirus (RV), is transmitted via aerosol particles to hands, eyes and noses. Nasal epithelial cells are like a cozy little cottage for RV, providing the ideal pH and temperature for attachment and replication. A single sneeze may contain 20,000 viable droplets of RV that can be stable for 3-6 hours outside a host. That’s a lot of cold virus sitting on door knobs and checkout counters waiting for the next victim!
Cold symptoms start about 24-36 hours after infection. Affected cells trigger vasodilation, a natural part of the immune response, which leads to cough and runny nose. A healthy immune system will destroy most viruses within two days of infection. Within three to five days cold symptoms gradually diminish as cells start to heal from the inflammatory response. Collateral cell damage creates an opportunistic environment for secondary bacterial infection, which is why it’s crucial to rest, hydrate, and nourish the body during this critical period.
Obviously, cold prevention practices are easier said than done. Here are a few simple tips that can help keep pesky RV (as well as other viral and bacterial pests) at bay.
Stay well hydrated. Not only does dehydration weaken the immune response, it also impedes the function of mucus membranes in the nose and throat that protect us from invading viruses and bacteria.
Eat high fiber and fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, live sauerkraut, and kimchee every day. They support healthy gut microflora, which are an integral part of a strong immune system. Also consider taking a probiotic supplement. Research shows that regular probiotic use appears to lessen the chance of developing an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).
Have your vitamin D levels checked. Depending on the outcome, you might discuss the use of a vitamin D supplement with your health care provider. Vitamin D activates immune cells called T cells that kill foreign pathogens like RV. Low D levels keep the T cells from doing their job and are associated with a higher risk of URTI.
Wash hands frequently and keep them away from your nose and eyes. This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of RV.
Looking for some additional support during cold season? I’ve listed three of Community Pharmacy’s favorite herbal cold busters below.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) has been used in its native Southeast Asia for centuries as an immune stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and liver tonic herb. Current research shows andrographis to be very beneficial to the immune system, stimulating the immune response to infectious diseases of the respiratory tract. Its anti-inflammatory properties help calm the body’s natural inflammatory response to RV, lessening unnecessary cell damage and the subsequent discomfort of cold symptoms. When taken at the onset of symptoms, andographis has been shown to significantly shorten the course and duration of the common cold. For acute infections, a dosage of two grams daily has been shown to be most effective. Energetically, andrographis is a cooling herb; herbalists and naturopaths feel it works best when combined with warming herbs like ginger, cinnamon, and astragalus. In Southeast Asia andrographis is a tenacious tenant of farms, fields, roadsides, and even seashores. This extreme ease of cultivation means it’s unlikely to be overharvested.
Echinacea (E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, E. pallida) is like a “designer herb” designated for the part of the immune system that targets RV. Commercial echinacea preparations made primarily from E. purperea and E. angustifolia are widely used for the treatment and prevention of URTIs. Some years ago echinacea received a bad rap based on negative outcome studies published in reputable medical journals. This confused practitioners and consumers who found echinacea beneficial to lessening symptoms and shortening the duration of colds. It turns out these studies overlooked critical aspects of proper echinacea use. Harvest conditions, processing, manufacturing, as well as the part of the plant used, will determine how it affects the immune system.
Echinacea roots differ clinically from the aerial parts (flowers, seeds, leaves, and stems). Current consensus is that polysaccharides and/or lipoproteins in aerial parts of the plant have more immune-stimulating effects, while the roots block the inflammatory response and therefore lessen the cascade of symptoms it causes. Herbalists familiar with the most recent echinacea research recommend frequent dosing with echinacea root during the acute stages of a cold or flu. Lower doses of the aerial parts are generally reserved for stimulating and strengthening the immune system throughout cold season. When buying echinacea, look for companies like Gaia and Herb Pharm that are committed to providing fresh and high quality products.
Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) berries are like tiny vehicles custom built to transport immune-boosting flavonoid compounds. These flavonoids help the body block RV and other respiratory viruses from attaching to the host cell wall, preventing it from entering and starting the viral replication process. Recent research has shown elderberry to be highly effective against various influenza viruses. An added benefit is that it boosts immune messenger cells called cytokines that trigger a healthy immune response to viral infections like RV and influenza. Perfectly safe for daily consumption, elderberry preparations are available as tinctures, capsules, lozenges, and syrups. I like to make cordials from fresh or dried berries.
Hopefully the cold prevention tips and herbal allies I’ve discussed will help keep you healthy this winter. Stop into Community Pharmacy to browse our expansive selection of immune support products and let us help choose the right one for you. As always, it’s a good idea to check with your practitioner before taking any supplement.
Carole Blemker is a Registered Nurse and Registered Dietitian with many years of experience. She is also a former librarian who loves researching all things concerning plants and people, and teaching from both holistic and clinical perspectives.