When fall and winter arrive, does it seem like you always get sick? Don't fear the changing seasons anymore - there is help. One of the most effective way to reduce the frequency of colds is by washing your hands on a regular basis. Studies have suggested that by washing your hands can reduce your chances of getting a cold by 50%. (1,2) Other ways of protecting your body from the dreaded yearly cold or flu is by taking an herb called echinacea.
Echinacea (pronounced eck-in-AY-sha) is a safe and effective herb to help the body fight off colds or prevent them entirely. When Echinacea is combined with other herbs that boost the immune system, you will get even greater cold and flu protection. (3,4)
You might be wondering what the difference is between having a cold and having the flu. Both have similar symptoms but very in severity. If you have a cold, you may experience sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, and runny nose. These symptoms usually last a week or so and make life miserable for a short time. With the flu, symptoms start out like a cold but taking a turn for the worst and escalating rapidly. Symptoms can consist of fever, chills, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny and stuffy nose, severe fatigue, weakness, body aches, and muscle pain. The fever, muscle pain, and aches may go away in a few days with the flu, but the tiredness and fatigue can last weeks.
There are over 200 different viruses known to cause the flu. (1) Influenza viruses are classified by types. Type A, B, or C, each type is capable of causing the flu. People tend to catch a cold when the weather is cool and wet. When it is cold and wet outside, people tend to stay indoors more and more close contact with others pass the flu virus from person to person.
You might wonder why there is not a cure for the common cold or flu. The flu virus continually mutates and changes each year making it difficult to fight. With the increased use of antibiotics these viruses have managed to build up an immunity making it harder to fight every year. Research has developed over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to help treat the common cold or flu, but consuming such medicines might prolong the length of the disease and increase the length of the misery. There are also potential side effects of using OTC cold and flu medications. (5,6)
There are a variety of OTC medications available today such as decongestants to dry up the runny nose and relieve sneezing and watery eyes. For those aches and pains there is acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Aspirin and ibuprofen can help bring down a fever. Both of these fever reducing products come at a cost, they can cause gastrointestinal upset. (7,8) Also, aspirin should not be given to children because it has been linked to the development of Reye's syndrome, a rare and possibly fatal illness. (1,2)
Acetaminophen used over a long period of time can cause liver and kidney failure. Daily doses of no more than 4000 mgs should be taken to prevent any kind of complications with acetaminophen. Decongestants can cause all sorts of problems such as high blood pressure, accelerated heart beat, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, anxiety, and insomnia. Decongestants can increase the length of nasal congestion so use should be limited if possible. (9,10) The common cold or flu can leave you suffering if left untreated, but nobody wants to prolong the symptoms. Lucky for us there is another answer, echinacea, cedar leaf, and wild indigo root are natural remedies that can help reduce the severity and length of the common cold.
Contrary to the medical establishment's belief, herbal extracts are really effective for colds and flu. Echinacea is one of the most effective remedies on the market today. This plant has a beautiful purple cone flower in the summer and helps treat common cold symptoms along with reducing infections after being exposed to them. (11)
Back when settlers came to America, they had trouble the first winter and the Native Americans inhabiting the land showed them echinacea to treat illnesses and injuries. Knowledge of herbs was passed down to settlers who discovered its ability to treat the common cold and flu. In 1920, doctors were prescribing echinacea and other herbs to help heal the body, but in the 1930s sulfa drugs came out and herbal remedies were quickly forgotten. Echinacea gave way to antibiotics to treat colds and flu in America, but over in Europe herbs are still used regularly. Scientists in Germany continued to study echinacea and its properties, now there are over 280 commercial preparations containing echinacea in Germany. (12) Also, in Germany a discovery was made by combining white cedar leaf and wild indigo root with echinacea, combined to increase immune system health which helps one fight off the common cold and flu.
Herbal extracts gained more interest in the early 1960's where echinacea gained a loyal following ever since. To date echinacea continues to be and impressive herb against colds and flu. There are three varieties of echinacea available in your health food store. These popular varieties are echinacea angustifolia, echinacea purpurea, and echinacea pallida. Most studies done on echinacea were the purpurea and pallida variety.
Because echinacea works so well, there has been quite a bit of research done to discover why it helps so well with colds and flu. Antibiotics kill the disease that causes sickness, echinacea on the other hand boosts the immune system, to be specific echinacea boosts the production of macrophage an aspect of the immune system that engulfs bacteria and viruses killing them. Macrophage is the body's first defense against invading bacteria and viruses. Echinacea also helps enhance the function of monocytes, blood cells that mature into macrophage. Echinacea boosts the number of natural killer (NK) cells and those cells activity in the body. NK cells are programmed to seek out and kill invading bodies such as viruses.
Echinacea also boosts the production of Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interferons. Along with echinacea, white cedar leaf and wild indigo both boost the production of TNF, macrophage and interferon production in the body.
Safety might be a concern to those who are considering echinacea, white cedar leaf and wild indigo as a remedy. The German Commission E recommends (GCE) the use of these herbs only if you do not have an autoimmune disease such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, HIV, or AIDS. Because these herbs boost the immune system, one with the above autoimmune diseases would not want over activation of their immune system which might progress the disease. Allergic reaction may occur in some who are allergic to rag weed or plants in the sunflower family. The GCE also recommends short term use of echinacea no more than 6 weeks. Wild indigo and white cedar leaf do not have this limitation and can be taken year round.
The amount of echinacea consumed by an individual should be measured by the age of an individual. For adults and children over 12, one should consume 7.5mg of standardized echinacea 3 times a day to fight a cold. White cedar leaf should be taken in 2 mg doses 3 times a day and wild indigo should be taken in 10 mg doses 3 times a day as well.
If you are around someone who has a cold, remember to wash your hands on a regular basis and the dosing of herbs mentioned above can be followed to help fight off a cold before it starts. Echinacea is used more often then any other herb in the United States this is because it works. Do not worry if you have not gotten a flu shot, there is hope in herbs such as echinacea, white cedar leaf and wild indigo root that can help boost your immune system to keep you strong and healthy throughout the cold season. These and many other wonderful herbs can be found at your local health food store.
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