Coughs and sneezes spread diseases (Part 2)

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Natural treatment options

This article considers the natural treatment options for colds and 'flu, specifically in the areas of Naturopathy, Homeopathy, nutrition and supplementation, and aromatic medicine.

Naturopathy, herbs and spices

Naturopathic and herbal medicines have been used for aeons to treat many illnesses, including symptoms like runny noses, coughs and muscle aches associated with colds and ‘flu.  Modern clinical research has shown several herbs to be powerful immune boosters and antimicrobial agents that provide safe and effective relief.

An example of a really simple sore throat remedy, which is within the reach of everyone, is gargling with warm salt water, or water to which some sodium bicarbonate has been added.  It is claimed that the ions released from these materials in the water create a basic atmosphere that can destroy bacteria and viruses such as those that cause sore throats.  So gargle, gargle, spit … and voila …relief!  Try it, it works.

Here are just some of the many herbs traditionally used to treat the symptoms of colds and ’flu [alphabetically]: andrographis [Andrographis paniculata], astragalus [Astragalus membranaceous], barberry [Berberis vulgaris], echinacea [Echinacea purpurea], elderberry [Sambucus nigra], eyebright [Euphrasia officinalis], ginger [Zingiber officinalis], golden rod [Solidago virgaurea], golden seal [Hydrastis candensis], myrrh [Commiphora molmol], nettle [Urtica dioica], liquorice [Glycyrrhiza glabra], lobelia [Lobelia inflata], and peppermint [Mentha x piperata], and Plantago [Plantago lanceolata].

Andrographis is a traditional Ayurvedic and herbal medicine, which clinical studies have shown helps to relieve symptoms associated with colds, including coughs, sore throat, earache, catarrh and nasal secretions, tiredness, sleeplessness, and headache.  A research study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research showed andrographis to be even more effective than Echinacea, another herb well-known for its activity to enhance immune function in response to infection.

Astragalus is well-known in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its immune boosting activity.  In addition it contains a fair amount of selenium, an antioxidant mineral that also helps to boost immune health.

Berberis is another great herb for the mucous membranes and immune system.

According to the writings of Flannery and many other authors, Native Americans used E. purpurea root as a cough medicine and for sore throat.  Kayla Campbell, in an article in Healthy Way Magazine states: “One of the many benefits of taking Echinacea in viral infections is that it stimulates the immune system to attack any invading virus rather than a specific one, making it effective even when viruses mutate.  One of the problems of ‘flu vaccines is that they target a specific virus, often last year’s model, leaving the patient still vulnerable to the plethora of this year’s new, special offer viruses…”  Researchers report in the Herb, Plant and Medicinal Plant Digest that E. purpurea root contains alkylamides, constituents which have been shown to be immune enhancing in vivo [in the body].  In a placebo-controlled trial in 1989 researchers Jurcic et al showed that E. purpurea root tincture given to healthy volunteers for 5 days increased the phagocytic activity of granulocytes, which form part of the front line of immune defense.

Note: There are many myths and fallacies surrounding the use of Echinacea, hence persons on immunosuppressant medication, asthmatics, and those with autoimmune or other immune system disorders may prefer to consult a practitioner qualified in the use of this herb before self-medicating.

For colds accompanied by watery eyes, the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia indicates eyebright, which is also useful for nasal catarrh and sinusitis.

Golden rod is used in Western herbal medicine for ‘flu and concomitant symptoms such as nasopharyngeal catarrh [the ubiquitous post nasal drip], inflammation, sinus congestion and sinusitis, and allergic rhinitis according to the works of both Felter and Holmes.

Golden Seal root and rhizome similarly has a wide range of uses in western traditional medicine including upper respiratory catarrh according to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the Compendium.  According to The Eclectic Materia Medica: Pharmacology and Therapeutics the Eclectic physicians used this herb internally and topically for catarrhal pharyngitis and tonsillitis, nasopharyngeal catarrh, sub-acute rhinitis, and "when thick gelatinous masses from the pharyngeal vault constantly drip into the throat causing hacking cough and nausea".

Liquorice has many wonderful properties that soothe sniffles and coughs, some of which are its expectorant, demulcent, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic actions.  The familiar taste is recognized in many cough syrups.  In addition, herbal syrups such as Drosinula, made from the Sundew plant, ease painful throats and help with stubborn coughs.

Lobelia is a good all-round respiratory stimulant, antispasmodic and expectorant, which is particularly helpful for bronchitic conditions.

Myrrh is not just one of the gifts to the Magi, it’s also a great anticatarrhal, antimicrobial and expectorant substance that eases respiratory and other complaints.  This marvellous resinous extract combines well with other balsamic oleoresins like Tolu balsam [Moroxylon balsamum], which is a pleasant tasting antiseptic expectorant found in commercial cough and throat syrups.  It is one of the components of the well-known Friar’s balsam that is traditionally used as an inhalant for colds.

A tincture of Plantago is really helpful for catarrh that congests the head, blocking the nose and the ears, and making breathing and hearing difficult.

Remedies from the garden

Other garden gems include nettle tea or tincture, which is of great general benefit, as it helps clear tissue acidity, which means your body can focus more attention on combating infections than on standard detox activities – and it’s full of good minerals like calcium and iron, plus vitamin C.  Elderflower tea is also a fragrant and delicious remedy for reducing fevers – and if our tree is anything to go by, it grows fast and well in Western Cape gardens.  In addition, up there with the joys of picking herbs from your own garden for food, medicine and pure joy, is the pleasure of plucking your own ginger root from the soil, as this spice is also excellent for winter ailments.  It is however freely available from greengrocers, so a garden is not mandatory to enjoy its benefits.  A cup of ginger, peppermint and lemon tea is a panacea for all ills in our household!

Another spice that is a real gem is cayenne “pepper” [Capsicum annuum], which is one of the oldest cultivated plants on earth that was consumed by the indigenous populations of South and Central America as early as 7000 BCE.  This wonderful anticatarrhal, antimicrobial spice, which is also diaphoretic is however not a member of the Piper family but belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family.  In Mexico cayenne is used as a traditional home remedy for acute colds, catarrh, sore throats and earache.  Since it is an excellent circulatory stimulant it can also be used for winter chilblains [on unbroken skin].

Parsley [Petrosileum sativa], lemon balm [Melissa officinalis], sage [Salvia sclarea] and thyme [Thymus vulgaris] also have excellent medicinal properties for treating winter ailments like coughs, colds, sore throats and the “blahs”.  If you’re all bunged up, sage helps to dry up mucus and thyme helps to liquefy stubborn mucus.  Both are also very good antiseptics and make a delicious healing tea that can be served with a little honey and lemon if needed.  A combination of thyme and ground ivy [Glechoma hederacea] is an old favourite for mucus and coughs.  Other home-grown winter wonders that can be cultivated in most South African gardens are hyssop [Hyssopus officinalis], which has expectorant properties for relieving bronchitis, and yarrow [Achillea millefolium] for lowering fevers.  A standard infusion is generally 3 - 6 teaspoons of fresh herb, or 1 - 2 teaspoons of dried herb, which can be taken at a rate of 250 ml three times a day.

If your home remedies don’t do the trick, health professionals qualified in herbal medicine can make up potent synergistic formulations of herbs with actions that can complement each other.  For example, they may mix herbs that are tonic to the upper respiratory mucosa with anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing herbs, which target many symptoms simultaneously.

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