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December 2005

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Health and Wellness News

Fighting the Cold War

by Andy Klay, Health & Wellness Staff

You get to bed late and have to wake up early the next morning. The following day is hectic and stressful at work. You’re on your way home when you are suddenly struck with a dull headache and a sense of great fatigue. What can be done to avoid getting sick when you’ve already felt that telltale tickle in the back of your throat?

I like to have some of the following remedies in my backpack so they are always with me during the fall and winter months, when catching a cold in the early stages can mean not having to catch it at all!

The homeopathic remedy Dolicoccil is new to our shelves and a great method of flu prevention. According to Randall Neustaedter, OMD in FLU: Alternative Treatments and Prevention, Dolicoccil is “a proprietary preparation...produced by Dolisos pharmacy each year using the flu virus strains recommended by the World Health Organization for the year’s vaccine production.” Neustaedter states that, “the typical dosage is once per week for four weeks beginning in October or later, followed by another dose three weeks later.” This remedy can also be taken once you feel the first signs of the flu – simply empty the contents of one tube under the tongue, and allow all the pellets to dissolve fully while under the tongue. Repeat every 6 hours as necessary.

The Nature’s Acres certified organic Echinacea tincture is locally produced using locally grown plants, and is a great choice for staving off an oncoming virus. It is a blend of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia, which is a less common but some say a more potent variety of Echinacea. The Chinese formula Yin Chiao (chieh tu pien) is another excellent remedy to take when you feel the first signs of a cold. The suggested dosage is four tablets, three times daily. The homeopathic remedy Aconite (Aconitum napellus) is helpful for “a fever that comes on suddenly,” when brought on by “exposure to cold, dry winds [or cold weather],” according to The Family Guide to Homeopathy by Dr. Andrew Lockie. Aconite is only called for in the first twenty-four hours or so of the illness. Fresh raw garlic with meals, and fresh ginger root (perhaps in a fresh juice from the Willy Street Co-op juice bar) can also help you overcome a developing cold.
If the virus has already made itself at home, here are some remedies that may help make the symptoms more bearable.

Cough suppressants and expectorants

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus & V. olympicum) leaf and marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root can be quite helpful for dry coughs; marshmallow can be helpful with sore throats as well. Grindelia (Grindelia robusta), according to herbalist Ed Smith, is useful for “harsh, dry, unproductive coughs with wheezing and constricted chest.” Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can be useful for “soothing coughs and clearing phlegm,” says Smith. Elecampane (Inula helenium), Smith advises, is helpful for “all affections of mucous membranes with excessive mucous secretions, [and] bronchial and lung irritation with teasing cough and abundant discharge.” To relieve sore throat pain and some types of coughs, one can also suck on a clove bud. The numbing properties of clove will likely provide temporary relief.

We also have a wide variety of homeopathic cough syrups that may provide some welcome relief from an annoying cough. The B&T Nighttime Cough and Bronchial Syrup is often very helpful for those situations when one needs rest but cannot sleep because of their cough.

Salvation for sore throats

There are some excellent throat sprays available that can reduce the discomfort and duration of a sore throat. Herb Pharm’s Propolis-Echinacea Throat Spray is one of these. According to herbalist and founder of Herb Pharm Ed Smith, this spray “fights infection, relieves swelling and soothes pain...[it] can be useful in the treatment of pharyngitis and laryngitis.” Propolis is a bee product that is rich in minerals, B-vitamins and antibiotics. According to literature from Y.S. Organic Bee Farms, propolis is a “resinous substance gathered by bees from leaf buds and barks of various trees. This amazing substance is made as the bees treat the tree resins with wax flakes secreted from special glands on the underside of their abdomen.” Propolis is used to coat the bee’s entire hive to “protect from harmful bacteria, virus, fungi and other microorganisms.” Finally, bee propolis is one of the best sources of biologically active bioflavanoids known to humankind.

Nutribiotic’s GSE Throat Spray includes the soothing herbs licorice and slippery elm bark, as well as grapefruit seed extract, which is effective against a wide variety of bacteria and viruses.

There are a number of herbs that are very soothing for sore throats when made into tea. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is soothing to mucous membranes, an expectorant, and also has antiviral properties. It should not be taken in excess, however, as it depletes the body of potassium. According to the online Physicians Desk Reference at www.pdrhealth.com, a good daily dosage is between 1 1/2 and 5 teaspoonfuls made into tea daily. It is also a good idea take it for a week, and then abstain for a week, to give the body a break from it. It is important to consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking this herb, as with any herb, as it may not be right for you.

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra or fulva) is also excellent for sore throats due to its high mucilage content. According to Phyllis A. Balch, CNC in her book Prescription for Herbal Healing, “Since slippery elm is also a food product, there is no upper limit on dosage, but taking 2 teaspoons dissolved in 1 cup of water is the minimum amount that works, and 5 teaspoons is the maximum that will dissolve in 1 cup of water.” She adds that, “Slippery elm is regarded as safe. However, because of the high mucilage content, it may interfere with the absorption of medications taken at the same time.”

Fighting nasal congestion

Nasal congestion can sometimes be the symptom that breaks your spirit. You wake up with a mouth made of sandpaper as a result of not being able to breathe through your nose all night, and sometimes the stuffiness hinders your breathing all day long. I know I feel exasperated if I can’t breathe freely through my nose. But do not despair, there are ways to conquer the congestion.

A Chinese remedy called Pe Min Kan Wan is a remedy you may want to seek out. According to National Board Certified Chinese Herbalist Mark Taylor, author of Chinese Patent Medicines: A Beginner’s Guide, this formula “dries phlegm and opens nasal passages, eliminating stuffy nose, sneezing, and allergies.” (As a side note, “It can be taken long-term during allergy season to eliminate or reduce the symptoms of hay fever and other allergic reactions.”) So, if you still have some Pe Min Kan Wan left over come spring, it may not just sit in your medicine cabinet all summer. The Willy Street Co-op carries the Plum Flower brand of this product, which is a very high-quality Chinese herb company.

Simplers Sinus Oil is a great remedy for congestion and can also soothe coughs. It is a blend of the following essential oils: eucalyptus globulus, rosemary cineol, and inula. According to the Simplers First Aid Guide, this essential oil blend is a “clearing blend of oils [which] opens the sinus and lung cavities, increasing circulation and helping expel mucous, while healing inflamed mucous membranes.” Inula is also an antispasmodic specific for the lungs, so it can be quite helpful with coughs as well. A facial sauna can be prepared by boiling water, pouring it into a large bowl, and adding 10 or so drops of this oil. Cover your head with a towel, making sure the towel is blocking the sides, then relax and enjoy.

For those colds that just won’t go away

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is an herb that can be particularly helpful with colds and flu that seem to linger for a long time, although it can also be very beneficial when taken at the onset of a cold, especially the type with chills and muscle aches. According to Stephen Harrod Buhner, in his book Herbal Antibiotics, Boneset can increase phagocytosis to four times that of Echinacea. (Phagocytosis is invader-engulfing activity.) Buhner asserts that clinical trials have also shown that boneset is analgesic (at least as effective as aspirin), and reduces cold and flu symptoms. Finally, it can be helpful for chronic coughs, bronchitis, and pneumonia (of course, see a qualified healthcare practitioner for these types of conditions!). Be aware that large doses can cause nausea and that this herb has a somewhat laxative property. It can cause vomiting if large doses are taken hot.

One of my favorite herbal compounds that utilizes boneset’s healing power is the Immune Defense Tonic by Herb Pharm. Eupatorium perfoliatum can also be very helpful when taken homeopathically for severe cases of the flu.

Osha (Ligusticum porteri), too, is “very useful for stubborn respiratory conditions and viruses that linger,” according to Balch. “It is ideal for viral infections of the sinuses, throat, and upper and lower respiratory systems,” she continues. “It helps bring up respiratory secretions and relaxes smooth muscle, making it beneficial for coughs and asthmatic breathing difficulties.” The Willy Street Co-op carries osha root in tincture form, which is the medicinal constituents extracted into alcohol (or glycerin). We also offer a formula called Osha Root Complex Syrup by Herbs, Etc., which is a perennial favorite with customers. (It does have a celery-like flavor, just to warn those who detest celery.)

Persistent conditions should always be assessed by a qualified healthcare practitioner, as they could be indicative of a more serious problem.

Strengthening your immune system

Ideally, of course, we would like to not catch any viruses in the first place. I feel that a positive attitude, abundant rest, healthy meals of whole foods, and big mugs of steaming tea are the best ways to keep yourself well. There are, however, many herbal allies that can help you if your immune system needs bolstering. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) root is a stellar herb in this realm. Astragalus root, according to Buhner, is an “immune enhancer, stimulant, and restorative; antiviral; adaptogen (herb that aids the body in adapting to stresses and in general maintaining optimal function); tonic; diuretic; enhances function in lungs, spleen, and digestion.” In addition, research has shown that astragalus “protects the liver from a variety of liver toxins.” It is important to note that the liver is an important organ in the body’s immune support system, and that immune system function can suffer greatly if the liver is even slightly damaged by a toxic chemical. “No toxicity has ever been shown from the ingestion of astragalus...This is certainly one of the top herbs to use to restore a depressed or damaged immune system,” Buhner says. However, while this herb is a great choice to strengthen the immune system when in fairly good health, this herb should not be taken during a fever, cold, flu, or acute inflammation.

Medicinal mushrooms are an often-overlooked, yet extremely powerful way to enhance one’s immunity. Shiitake, Reishi (Ling Chi), Cordyceps, and Maitake mushrooms have all been extensively researched and shown to have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and immune-enhancing properties. We also carry a product by New Chapter called Host Defense, which is a blend of 17 different species of organically grown mushrooms. According to the world-famous mushroom expert (and formulator of Host Defense) Paul Stamets in his book, Mycomedicinals, “to maximize a host-mediated response—that is, to ‘awaken’ the immune system—a panoply of polysaccharides and medicinal mushroom constituents is best. These constituents increase the number and activity of macrophages, killer T and NK (natural killer) lymphocytes. Combining medicinal mushroom species sends the immune system multiple stimuli, awakening the body’s natural defenses.”

I hope this article ensures a healthy and happy winter season for all. Remember, being sick is nature’s way of reminding us to be grateful for the good health we enjoy most of the time....and, it’s a great way to catch up on all those books and movies we’ve been wanting to spend time with.