Thursday, February 22, 2018

Alternative (Complementary) Medicine for the Common Cold

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Category: Common Cold

echinaceaIn addition to home remedies for the common cold, such as getting plenty of rest and sipping hot chicken soup, there are a number of natural alternative (complementary) therapies for treating cold symptoms. Try taking echinacea preventively when those close to you—family or coworkers—are infected.

In addition, Dr. James Duke, Ph.D., a noted Maryland herbalist and author of The Green Pharmacy recommends several other herbs that also help rev up the immune system. Among them: chamomile, ginger, and goldenseal, which contains the immune stimulant, berberine. Several herb companies market tinctures that combine echinacea and goldenseal.

However, Dr. Duke cautions against taking echinacea or goldenseal daily. “Reserve these herbs for times when you are actually threatened with a cold or some other illness.”

Herbal Remedies for the Common Cold

Never treat children’s cold with aspirin or aspirin-like herbs. For fevers in children under 18 colds, flu, or chickenpox, do not give aspirin, or its herbal equivalents: willow bark, meadowsweet, or wintergreen. The combination of viral fevers and aspirin is associated with Reye syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal illness that affects the brain and liver. Instead, place the child in a tepid bath. When in doubt, call your child’s physician.


“Echinacea is my favorite herbal immune stimulant,” says noted Maryland herbalist James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy. “I take it whenever I have a cold, or any viral infection. Many studies show that it’s beneficial.” Tincture of echinacea is available at most health food stores. Follow package directions. (Echinacea causes temporary tingling or numbing of the tongue. This is harmless.)

Ginger for Colds

Dr. Duke also recommends ginger tea for colds: “It contains a dozen antiviral compounds, and unlike many other medicinal herbs, it tastes good.” Dr. Duke recommends one heaping teaspoon of grated fresh ginger root per cup of hot water. Let it steep 10 minutes.


Vitamin C and the Common Cold

Ever since 1970, when Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, this nutrient has been the nation’s most popular—and controversial—cold remedy. Some studies have shown clear benefit; others have not.

Wisconsin’s Dr. Elliot Dick was a skeptic—until he studied vitamin C himself. He gave cold-infected volunteers 2,000 mg of vitamin C a day (four 500-mg doses). Compared with untreated controls, the vitamin C group had significantly milder symptoms, showing a clear treatment benefit. Dick, the former skeptic, was won over: “At the first sign of a cold,” he says, “I take vitamin C.”

A Finnish review of 21 vitamin C studies corroborates Dr. Dick’s findings. At doses of 1,000 mg a day, the vitamin consistently reduced the severity of cold symptoms. The average symptom-reduction score was 23 percent. “The evidence in favor of vitamin C is overwhelming,” says Alan Gaby, M.D., past president of the American Holistic Health Association and a professor of nutrition at Bastyr University, the naturopathic medical school near Seattle.

What about the vitamin C studies that have shown no benefit? “They used too little vitamin C for too short a time,” says Alan Brauer, M.D., director of TotalCare Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, one of the nation’s oldest clinics to combine mainstream and complementary medicine. “The studies showing benefit involved at least 2,000 mg a day from the first throat tickle until the cold had completely cleared up.” Basically, there’s a threshold below which vitamin C provides no benefit, but if you take more than a gram a day, it works. Dr. Brauer recommends much higher doses, 5,000 mg a day or more. “The trouble with really high doses,” he explains is that they cause diarrhea. To prevent it, he suggests using calcium ascorbate powder, which is available at many health food and supplement stores. “Calcium ascorbate is the form of vitamin C least irritating to the digestive tract and least likely to cause diarrhea,” Dr. Brauer says. He recommends 1 teaspoon several times a day in juice.

Just don’t bet on vitamin C as a cold preventive. Dr. Dick’s subjects caugh the same number of colds with or without vitamin C supplementation. The Finnish review of 21 studies mentioned above also showed that the vitamin has no cold-preventive value beyond a possible placebo effect.

Zinc for Colds

When three-year-old Karen Eby, of Austin, Texas, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1978, her physician suggested zinc supplements to stimulate her immune system. Karen swallowed her zinc tablets whole, but one day she had a cold and sucked them instead. Soon after, her cold vanished. Karen’s father, George, became intrigued, and persuaded some researchers to test zinc as a cold remedy. Compared with control-group cold sufferers who took a placebo, those who sucked on one 23-mg zinc gluconate lozenge every two hours showed significantly briefer colds.

Since that original study, several others have also shown that zinc gluconate and zinc aspartate lozenges both relieve cold symptoms. (However, lozenges with other zinc compounds do not.)

In 1995, George Eby was granted a patent on zinc lozenges as a cold remedy, the first time any cold treatment had ever earned a U.S. patent. He has licensed zinc to several drug and supplements companies that now market zinc-based cold treatments.

William Halcomb, D.O., of Mesa, Arizona, a co-author of Eby’s original study, says zinc works best if you start sucking on the lozenges at the first sign of a tickle in the throat. “It’s best to take zinc lozenges on a full stomach,” Dr. Halcomb says. “On an empty stomach, zinc makes some people nauseous.”

Chinese Medicine to Treat the Common Cold

Expell Wind. Chinese medicine considers the common cold an invasion of Wind. “There are two types of colds,” says San Francisco Chinese physician Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D., co-author (with is wife and practice partner Harriet Beinfield) of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, “one caused by Wind-Heat, the other by Wind-Cold. Heat colds causes fever; they’re flu-like. Cold colds do not.” For Heat colds, Dr. Korngold typically prescribes formulas containing chrysanthemum flowers, mulberry leaf, mint, peppermint, honeysuckle, forsythia buds, burdock seed, and “the great harmonizer,” licorice. For Cold colds, formulas contain cinnamon twig, ginger root, asarum (which is similar to ginger) kudzu root and licorice.

Like the American drug companies, Chinese physicians have also developed over-the-counter cold formulas. Among the most popular is Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien (yin chow chee dew peein), which expells Wind from the respiratory tract, and “can really impress people who have not tried Chinese herbs,” says Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac., a San Francisco Chinese physician. At the first sign of a sore throat or runny nose, she says that taking six tablets of Yin Chiao every three hours can keep symptoms from developing into a full-blown cold. Yin Chiao contains several herbs, notably honeysuckle and forsythia.

Acupuncture. The United Nations World Health Organization says acupuncture can help treat colds. Among the many points used, Michael Reed Gach, director of the Acupressure Institute of America in Berkeley, California, recommends these three:

  • Bladder 2, which relieves itchy eyes and nasal and sinus congestion. It’s located in the indentations of the eye sokets on either side of where the bridge of the nose meets the ridge of the eyebrows.
  • Stomach 3, which has similar effects. It’s located at the bottom of the cheekbones, directly below the pupils of the eyes.
  • And Large Intestine 20, which relieves nasal symptoms. It’s located on either cheek, just outside of each nostril.

Homeopathy for Cold Symptoms

Make the most of microdoses. In a study at Vrije University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, researchers recruited 175 children with frequently recurring colds. They gave half the kids a placebo, and half homeopathic medicines individualized to their particular symptoms and constitutions. Those taking the homeopathic medicines showed some reduction in symptom severity.

For the common cold, homeopaths usually prescribe Allium cepa (onion), Euphrasia (eyebright), and Natrum mur (salt), says Berkeley, California, homeopath Dana Ullman, M.P.H., author of The Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy. Other homeopathic medicines sometimes used include: Aconitum (monkshood), Byronia (wild hops), Belladonna, and Phosphorus.

These days, you don’t have to consult a homeopath to take homeopathic cold remedies. Several homeopathic cold formulas are available at health food stores and some pharmacies. “They contain several of the most common medicines,” Ullman says. To use them, follow package directions.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Treat your cold gingerly. Indian medicine considers the common cold an imbalance of the constitutional principle, Kapha. A leading Ayurvedic cold-fighting herb is ginger, notes David Frawley, O.M.D., an Ayurvedic physician in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and author of Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide. In addition, he also suggests cinnamon, licorice, basil, cloves, and mint. Take 1 to 4 grams of powdered herb two or three times a day (4 grams equals about one heaping teaspoon). Or steep one ounce of bulk herb in one pint of boiling water, and drink it in two or three portions a day while you feel ill. Ayurvedic medicine also touts diet changes to treat colds—more whole grains and steamed vegetables, and less dairy products, meats, oily foods, nuts, pastries, and sweet fruit juices.

Naturopathic Medicine

The combination cure. Naturopathy is an amalgamation of all the other complementary therapies, so it should come as no surprise that naturopaths recommend a combiantion approach. Dr. Pizzorno suggests treating colds with 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C every two waking hours; sucking on zinc lozenges; using a beta-carotene supplement (200,000 IU a day), which has antiviral action; and taking echinacea and goldenseal, plus astragalus, an Asian immune-enhancing herb (1 to 1.5 teaspoons of tincture three times a day, or 250 to 500 mg of powdered herb three times a day).

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