Preventing & Minimizing the Effects of the Common Cold or Flu (Influenza) : Information, Research, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Preventing & Minimizing the Effects of the Common Cold or Flu (Influenza)



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The Flu Shot: Pros and Cons



First of all: Is it a Cold or the Flu? Click here to find out (lists symptoms for each)




The following requires a visit to your ER:

  • A "cold" of unusual severity, marked by lethargy and the feeling of being too exhausted to get out of bed
  • A fever that suddenly spikes 102F or higher and persists for more than two days
  • Chest pain, difficulty breathing and coughing that expels thick phlegm
  • Poor appetite in infants and toddlers



Call Your Doctor

You usually do not have to call your doctor right away if you have signs of a cold or flu. But you should call your doctor in these situations:

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your symptoms last a long time.
  • After feeling a little better, you show signs of a more serious problem. Some of these signs are a sick-to-your-stomach feeling, vomiting, high fever, shaking, chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick, yellow-green mucus.

Prevention is best:

  • Keep away from those individuals who have the flu or at least avoid touching them or getting near them if they are coughing or sneezing. Never share glasses or utensils with someone who has the flu.
  • If possible without putting yourself at more serious risk, avoid hospitals and places where sick people most likely congregate - as these are the prime breeding grounds for infections of all kinds. If you need to go, wearing gloves, a good quality mask and protective clothing are good measures to follow. Also, making your appointment first thing in the morning will also help as fewer patients have contaminated the space.
  • Wash your hands often. You can pick up cold germs easily, even when shaking someone's hand or touching doorknobs or handrails. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Do not use antibacterial soap as they may lead to the appearance of resistant strains of bacteria. It's best to use Castille, coconut or olive-oil based soap.
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue and then throw the tissue away.
  • Clean surfaces you touch with a germ-killing disinfectant.
  • Don't touch your nose, eyes or mouth. Germs can enter your body easily by these paths.


  • In high-risk situations, wearing of special masks, gowns, gloves, as well as quarantining patients may be indicated.



Strengthen Your Immune System:

A strong immune system defends your body against infections of many kinds, including the common cold and even cancer!

  • Get rest and plenty of sleep. If your body is fatigued it will be harder for it to fight the flu.

  • Avoid stress: Stress weakens our immune system.

  • Exercise strengthens our immune system.

  • Nutritional deficiency causes susceptibility to the common cold or even the flu.
    • Those who live a healthy lifestyle and take their nutrition seriously rarely get sick.
    • On the other hand those who live on instant macaroni and cheese and other junk foods, and microwave their food, thus destroying most of the nutrients in any food they are heating up are those that keep getting sick.

  • Click here to find out why Massage Therapy so effectively strengthens your immunesystem

Please refer to below for supportive nutrition.



Supportive Nutrition: Foods & Supplements that May Shorten and Prevent a Cold or Flu:

  • Avoid Sugar, White Flour and Processed Foods. Sugar decreases the function of your immune system and we need a strong immune system to fight off disease pathogens.


  • Vitamin D:

A theory in the scientific community explains flu epidemics as a result of a dormant disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. This theory would explain why flu epidemics usually occur when vitamin D-producing sunlight is reduced by a winter or rainy season. Recent evidence confirms that lower respiratory tract infections are more frequent in those with low levels of vitamin D. Researchers have also found that 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day abolished the seasonality of influenza, and dramatically reduced its incidence.

The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu According to an article in the December issue of Epidemiology and Infection, vitamin D boosts expression of antimicrobial compounds in the respiratory tract, helping protect the lungs from infections, such as the influenza (flu) virus. Numerous studies confirmed that ultra-violet radiation and D-rich Cod Liver Oil both reduce the incidence of respiratory infections. Vitamin D stimulates our body to make a powerful germ-fighting substance called cathelicidin. Some scientists believe that cathelicidin just might be the most powerful natural antibiotic ever discovered! It all makes sense. We mainly get sick in the winter when our bodies make less Vitamin D as there is less sunlight. Actions to take: During the summer make sure to spend at least 15 minutes outside every day and during the winter, spring and fall, you may want to take a vitamin D supplement. A recommended doses for most people may be 5,000 i.u. per day of D3 (the same form of the vitamin our body makes) - discuss with your doctor. (Source:"Second Opinion" Magazine, Special Issue, Winter 2008). Vitamin D protects us against a host of other illnesses as well, including osteoporosis and cancer.

  • Eat foods that boost your immune system:

    • Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and turnip: "These vegetables are valuable sources of vitamins A, C and E. Broccoli is high in glucosinolates which stimulate the body's immune system. Broccoli also contains a high concentration of sulforaphanes, which are potent anti-cancer agents.
    • Yogurt / Kefir Yogurt: Contain good bacteria (probiotics) that line the intestinal tract and protect the body against harmful bacteria and infections. Studies have shown that probiotics contained in some yogurts and Kefir can lead to an improved immune response by increasing the body's white blood cell count. Those probiotics are only found in yogurts with live or active cultures -- specifically the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains. Traditional kefir is similar to yogurt but cultured with special kefir grains, so it contains slightly different bacteria. Unlike the bacteria in yogurt, which are transient and pass through the system over time, the bacteria in kefir are capable of colonizing in the intestinal tract. Kefir also contains good yeasts that help fight off pathogenic yeasts in the body.
      • Click here to learn more about the numerous benefits and applications of yoghurt -- including a very tasty and easy vegan recipe, which is also a great choice for those suffering from milk allergies.


    • Turmeric: This spice is found in every yellow curry, and its golden color is the result of curcumin, a polyphenol with strong cold and flu-fighting properties. A 2008 study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications found that curcumin prevents some immune cells from responding to stimulants and so has modulating and anti-inflammatory effects. Tumeric has antiseptic qualities when applied topically and often is used on cuts and burns.
    • Garlic: The immune-boosting properties of garlic come from its sulfur-containing compounds, which are effective against bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections; enhance the immune system and have anti-tumor and antioxidant features.
    • Oregano: This herb is popular in Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines; and is usually added to flavor spaghetti sauce or pizza. This herb has strong anti-bacterial properties, including having shown effectiveness against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Researchers found oregano to be more effective against Giardia than the commonly used prescription drug. In laboratory studies, oregano has demonstrated stronger anti-oxidant capacity than either of the two synthetic anti-oxidants commonly added to processed food - BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated bydroxyanisole). Additionally, on a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano has demonstrated 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.
    • Red Bell Peppers: Bell peppers are a good source of phytochemicals as well as beta carotenes and vitamin C. Research has shown that increasing vitamin C intake can reduce the length of time cold symptoms last as well as reduce the severity of those symptoms.
    • Green Tea: Tea is rich in plant antioxidants (polyphenols) and other chemicals that can help protect the body against cold or flu. Some studies highlight a compound called epigallocatechin gallate ( EGCG) which have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells without harming healthy tissues.
    • Pumpkins are rich in beta carotene, a nutrient that the body breaks down to make vitamin A. Vitamin A helps strengthen the immune system and also aids in cancer prevention. Research suggests that vitamin A may help keep the respiratory system healthy, which is particularly helpful when you have a cold or the flu. However, experts caution against too much vitamin A. Because it is fat-soluble, excess vitamin A can be stored in the body's fat cells and large quantities can be toxic. Eating foods naturally rich in beta-carotene may be safer than taking a vitamin A supplements.
    • Ginger: Ginger is often recommended as a tea or a bath for those with a cold or flu because it is helpful in increasing sweat production, which may help us get rid of germs and toxins. Ginger has also been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting.*Note: Ginger can decrease blood clotting and should not be taken by people with bleeding disorders..
    • Seafood and Lean Meats generally have a high zinc content and this mineral effectively protects the body against colds and flu. Zinc enhances the function of helper T cells, which are important in identifying foreign antigens and alerting other cells of the immune system to invaders. Even a mild zinc deficiency can have adverse effects on the immune system, particularly in children and the elderly. But too much zinc can be toxic. Lean meats such as beef, chicken and seafood are the best sources of zinc. Good sources of zinc for vegetarians would be pumpkin seeds, beans and mineral-fortified cereals.

  • Grapefruit Seed Extract: Available at your local health food store, this inexpensive yet very effective remedy is said to cut down on cold. In fact, one web visitors state that adding 10 to 15 drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract to drinking water or juice at the first signs of a cold will stop it dead in its track. Users report superior results to even Echinacea (below).


  • Echinacea: A recent analysis of echinacea studies has concluded that this popular botanical medicine significantly reduces the risk you'll catch a cold and also can cut a cold's duration. Yet it wasn't long ago that a New England Journal of Medicine study (July 28, 2005) stated just the opposite, calling the effects of echinacea not clinically significant in fighting colds. So which report should you trust?

    According to Craig I. Coleman, PharmD, assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Connecticut, who helped conduct this latest echinacea research, there are many possible reasons why one individual study might have found this treatment ineffective. For example, there are different types of echinacea, different dosages, different frequencies of dosage, etc. In the case of the New England Journal of Medicine study, Dr. Coleman points out that a less effective species of echinacea was used (Echinacea angustifolia rather than Echinacea purpurea), and at a dosage that was only a third what was recommended. Moreover, only one of the more than 200 viruses that cause cold symptoms was tested.

    To learn the truth about echinacea, Dr. Coleman and his colleagues combined data from 14 previous clinical trials involving nearly 3,000 people. Since many studies include less than 100 participants, he notes that the much larger meta-analysis packs more statistical power and is also likely to uncover effects of a treatment that might not have shown up in smaller studies. For the greatest accuracy, researchers also chose only randomized, placebo-controlled and peer reviewed trials -- the ones most likely to yield reliable results.

    The results were impressive. Researchers found that...

    • Echinacea reduces the chance of catching a cold by 58% when taken prior to or right at the first hint of a cold.
    • If you already have a cold, taking echinacea can shorten the duration of it by a day and a half.

    POWERFUL COLD PREVENTION AND TREATMENT

    "The take-home message from our study is that echinacea does indeed have powerful cold prevention and treatment benefits," says Dr. Coleman. Yet with more than 800 echinacea products on the market today, he believes more research is needed to determine the best product preparation and proper dosage. For best results, try taking it at the first sign of a cold. Daily Health News contributing medical editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, says his two favorite echinacea products are by Herb Pharm and Eclectic Institute.

    Source(s):

    Craig I. Coleman, PharmD, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut.


  • Zinc Lozenges: Research conducted at Wayne Stated University in Detroit, lead by Ananda S. Prasad and colleagues, as reported in the August 2000 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, yielded following results. Half of 48 cold sufferers were given zinc lozenges and half were given placebos -- identical lozenges with no active ingredients. The zinc group's cold symptoms lasted about 4.5 days. Cold symptoms lasted significantly longer in the group taking placebo lozenges: an average of 8 days. People joined the study within 24 hours of the onset of their cold symptoms, and they were told to take zinc acetate lozenges containing 13 mg of zinc (or placebo lozenges) every 2-3 hours while they were awake. They took no other cold remedies.
    • Coughing lasted an average of 3.1 days in the zinc group and 6.3 days in patients taking the placebo.
    • Nasal discharge lasted an average of 4.1 days in the zinc group and 5.8 days in the placebo group.

Study participants also recorded the presence of various potential side effects to zinc treatment, such as dry mouth and constipation.

Patients in this study took about 80 mg of elemental zinc each day for four or five days. Generally it is recommended to take 15 mg of zinc for men and 12 mg for women. The participants in this study were taking five times or more of the recommended amount. The authors of the study caution that this was a high dosage given for a short time only. Indiscriminate use of zinc is not advised, and long term (six to eight weeks) use of high-dose lozenges would likely result in copper deficiency and perhaps other adverse effects.

They recommend that if cold symptoms do not show improvement after three days of taking zinc, a patient should be examined to see if they have another type of respiratory tract infection or allergies.


  • Probiotics: Medical research into how our bodies fight off diseases, like the cold and the flu, has shown the most of our immune resistance takes place in the digestive tract. Research show that probiotics in general are immune-system enhancers. You can find probiotics in yogurt, in some fermented milk or juice products, and in miso, tempeh, and other fermented grain or soybean products -- as well as in supplements.

    Studies on probiotics demonstrate that these organisms can help the body resist respiratory infections, like the flu and the common cold. A study in Germany discovered that taking a supplement that contains probiotic bacteria with vitamins and minerals for three months during the winter and spring can alter our susceptibility to colds and flu (Intl Jrnl Clin harm Ther 2005 Jul;43(7);318-26). When the researchers compared the health of about 240 people taking the supplements with another 240 who went without, they found that:

    • the group taking probotics suffered 13 percent fewer respiratory infections.
    • In addition to suffering fewer illnesses when members of the group taking supplements did suffer from the flu their symptoms were reduced by 25 percent.
    • Plus, they only suffered fevers for half the time the unsupplemented group did.
    • Lap work performed by the scientists also showed that the people taking probiotics had more immune cells ready to take part in their immune defense.

The scientists concluded: "the intake of a dietary supplement containing probiotic bacteria plus vitamins and minerals during a period of at least three months in winter/spring may reduce the incidence and the severity of symptoms in common cold infections."

  • In one study, people who took a twice-a-day supplement of one particular probiotic strain -- Lactobacillus fermentum - cut their sick days in half compared to those people who did not supplement.

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