Snuff The Sniffles
Natural medicine and sound nutrition can help you win the cold war

By James Rouse, ND

Americans struggle through some 1 billion colds every year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Children chalk up an average of six to eight colds a year, while adults average two to four colds annually (those who have young children catch even more).

Six ways to prevent colds
1. Wash hands frequently.
2. Throw away used tissues immediately after using them.
3. Take a multivitamin every day.
4. Take astragalus at the first sign of a cold.
5. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
6. Get plenty of rest.

Luckily, many natural tools can help your body prevent the common cold. Stress, allergies, and menstruation may make you more vulnerable to sniffles, so it's a good idea to bolster your immune system if any of those conditions affect you. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) are popular Chinese herbs that have been shown to increase immune system activity and prevent illness, making them good choices for the winter cold season. Additionally, I recommend vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, and bioflavonoids, such as quercetin, to ward off, as well as treat, a cold. You can take 1 to 4 grams of vitamin C daily, in increments of 500 mg to 1 gram, spread over the course of the day. Research supports the use of zinc lozenges for preventing and treating the common cold and sore throat. Be careful not to take too much zinc, however, because more than 100 mg daily can actually suppress immunity. The recommended dose of zinc is one 5-mg lozenge four to five times daily. You can take vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, in doses of 15,000 to 25,000 IU per day.

Once you feel a cold coming on, you can take proactive steps to shorten the duration of your illness. As a naturopathic physician, I believe the symptoms of the common cold are the body's way of mounting a response to the viral invasion. I don't necessarily want to suppress the symptoms with over-the-counter cold medicines because masking symptoms doesn't prevent, cure, or shorten the duration of the illness. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections such as the common cold; use them only when a cold has led to a secondary bacterial infection of the sinuses or the middle ear (symptoms include high fever, swollen glands, thicker mucous secretions, and a productive cough).

Instead, I recommend supporting your body in its fight against the virus. Start by eating less during a cold so that your body has less work to do in terms of digestion and can focus instead on attacking the cold virus. I recommend a simple diet of fluids, including soups and broths, and alkalinizing vegetables, such as cucumbers and cooked broccoli. Hot water with a teaspoon of sliced fresh ginger, the juice from half a lemon, plus a dash of cayenne pepper can help jump-start you in the morning and get secretions flowing. Because dairy and wheat products tend to increase the mucus in your system, exclude them altogether during a cold.

Many herbs can shorten the duration of a cold. Once a cold has settled in, echinacea (Echinacea spp), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), and osha (Ligusticum porteri) are my top picks. Other herbs that may be helpful include astragalus, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) to stimulate the immune response; and garlic (Allium sativum) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) to fight off infection. Some of the most common homeopathic cold remedies are aconitum, euphrasia, pulsatilla, and Allium cepa. Each remedy has different indications, so consult with a naturopath or a homeopath to determine which remedy is right for you.

James Rouse, N.D., is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.