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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bad Boys - Watcha Gonna Do When Colds and Flu Find You?

According to information from sources, "An estimated 100,000 hospitalizations and about 20,000 deaths occur each year from the flu or its complications in the U.S. alone. On top of that, an average American adult suffers two to three colds a year; the average young child has as many as nine. That adds up to something like one billion colds a year in the US alone!" ( The cost to the world economy and the misery from the common cold and flu is staggering.

The cold occurs more often than any other disease. It usually lasts for 5-10 days varying from individual to individual and is the most common problem among school-going children, who suffer eight times a year from this common cold. It mostly affects the nose but often the ears, bronchial tubes, and sinuses are also affected.

Influenza, commonly shortened to "flu," is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses. Flu appears most frequently in winter and early spring. The flu virus attacks the body by spreading through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract.

After analyzing the findings of 51 studies published between 1950 and 1991, researchers concluded that over-the-counter cold remedies have no effect on cold viruses or the immune system. They simply suppress symptoms, providing some degree of relief from nasal congestion, runny nose, and cough.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between five and 20 percent of Americans catch the flu annually. There is no cure; the infection has to run its course, typically four to five days. Treatment focuses on preventing sickness and relieving symptoms.

So, in hopes of providing relief, this post explores so-called "home remedies" commonly used to prevent and treat colds and the flu. It is meant to be helpful and informative, but, in no means, to be scientific. The writing presents some interesting alternatives to over-the-counter help for colds and flu. By all means, if you are ill, seek the advice of a medical professional. Do not risk your health by relying on the following home treatments. Have fun and read more to satisfy any curiosity the post generates.

Dietary Concerns

A. Liquids

Of course, drinking lots of water is recommended when a cold rears its nasty head -- The American Lung Association recommends drinking eight glasses of water or juice per day when trying to get rid of a common cold. Staying hydrated helps moisturize the lining of the nose and throat, which makes mucus easier to clear. Also, people should avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, as they can cause dehydration. Although, I do have many friends who swear that a good fifth of bourbon will make one feel better even if the alcohol doesn't affect the illness.

A hot toddy is a mix of brandy and honey, lemon and tea. The honey and lemon act on the cold and the brandy provides warmth, making people feel better (some say) instantly.

Various other non-alcoholic hot liquids receive good home reviews as they help relieve nasal congestion, help prevent dehydration, and soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat.

The home doctor can concoct soothing teas suited to varying tastes. Licorice root (sweet root) tea is one suggestion for sore throats/cough. Remember the black jelly beans? Licorice is used to soothe coughs, reduce inflammation, and act as a potent antiviral agent to treat flu. In China, licorice is considered a superior balancing or harmonizing agent and is added to numerous herbal formulas.This herb has long been valued as a demulcent (soothing, coating agent) and expectorant (rids phlegm and mucous from the respiratory tract).

Another favorite hot drink is ginger tea made by boiling 2 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger in 8 ounces of water. The tea is claimed to be an antiviral drink and an aid in breaking up mucus and congestion. Ginger tea has been scientifically shown to possess anti-inflammatory, immune boosting and natural anti-viral activity. All of these actions can help soothe a cold or flu and speed their departure. Some say an easy ginger tea recipe is to boil ginger until the water is reduced to a fourth of its original quantity, then to add honey, and for higher therapeutic value, to add tulsi (Indian basil) or mint.

In case of acute fevers, a decoction of the leaves of tulsi (basil) boiled with powdered cardamom in half a liter of water and mixed with sugar and milk brings down the temperature. In between drinking the tea every two hours, one can keep giving sips of cold water. In children, it is said to be every effective in bringing down the temperature.

A hot drink made by adding a teaspoon of cumin (a small, flowering herb used in India and some other Asian, African and Latin American countries, as a condiment or spice.) with ginger to 8 ounces of boiling water is also suggested, seeped and strained and consumed 12 times a day! Cumin is supposedly great for digestive disorders as it activates salivary glands. Cumin is also said to help relieve symptoms of the common cold due to its antiseptic properties as it dries up mucus.

In China, kombucha tea has been utilized as a health beverage for thousands of years, dating back to before 200 B.C. It has been consumed for centuries in Japan, Korea, and Russia. Is is actually a fermented beverage prepared from a mushroom (Fungus japonicus). Touted as a health elixir, it is taken as a tonic. 

Another common variation on the tea theme is a homemade remedy of very warm water, lemon juice, lemon pieces and honey. With the antibacterial and antiviral characteristics of a lemon's natural antioxidants, lemon tea is good for helping prevent infections, disease, and the common cold. Another interesting mug of lemon tea is made by boiling fresh water with 1 tablespoon real maple syrup, the freshly-squeezed juice of half a lemon and Cayenne pepper to taste.Too much Cayenne could ruin the taste.

Many rave that the good qualities of lime make that fruit the most important among the prevalent home remedies for the common cold. Sailors of long ago knew that lime could provide many healthful benefits. Because they were on ships for such long periods without the benefit of fresh food, they would become deficient in Vitamin C. This condition was called scurvy. One great cure was eating limes -- thus British sailors became known as "limeys."

Lime juice should be diluted in a glass of warm water with a teaspoonful of honey added to it. Due to the presence of Kaempferol, lime oil is used in anticongestive medicines. These include balms, vaporizers, inhalers, etc. People can even inhale the freshly scratched scent of a lime to aid in relieving nausea and congestion.

Boxed juices may be a waste of time, containing very "real juice." But other recommended "real" juices include apple juice, dark grape juice, carrot juice, and beet juice. Amla powder (which can be purchased cheaply in Indian food stores) mixed with juiced carrots and a little raw cream is said to be a good vitamin tonic.

B. Food

The "BRATY" diet (as defined by the University Of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital) was, historically, a prescribed treatment for patients with gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, dyspepsia, and/or gastroenteritis.The BRATY diet consists of foods that are relatively bland and low in fiber. The diet is a home remedy for flu symptoms. BRATY stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, toast and yogurt. These foods are easy on the stomach and are binding to the digestive system. During early stages of flu, vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration. Once solid foods are manageable again, the "BRATY" diet is a home remedy that can be followed.

Some home-cure proponents propose veggies should be added to a fruit diet. And these home doctors scream "oranges and more oranges!" as their choice of beneficial cold fighter. The orange is known to be an excellent food in all types of fever when digestive power is severely hampered.

Everyone has heard of the chicken soup remedy. A team at the University of Nebraska's Medical Center found "...
that chicken soup and many of its ingredients helped stop the movement of neutrophils -- white blood cells that eat up bacteria and cellular debris and which are released in great numbers by viral infections like colds." Neutrophil activity can stimulate the release of mucous, which may be the cause of the coughs and stuffy nose caused by upper respiratory infections such as colds. "All the ingredients were found to be inhibitory, including the boiled extract of chicken alone," they wrote. So, Grandma's choice of chicken soup seems to have vitamins and other agents in the ingredients and could, plausibly, have biological action.

So which is better, homemade or canned? The researchers at the University of Nebraska compared homemade chicken soup with canned versions and found that many, though not all, canned chicken soups worked just as well as soups made from scratch.

One source claims the best home remedy for the cold and/or flu is hot Matzoh Ball Soup, and sports three scientific reasons why this soup is the best cure:
1) The chicken soup is salty. Through the process of osmosis, the chicken soup will make the unhealthy cells in the throat and body shrink, and make it easier for the immune system to fight the invading virus or bacteria.
2) The soup is hot. The process of osmosis speeds up in the presence of heat.
3) And, the matzoh ball fills up the stomach to work as a sleep aid.

A variation of chicken soup is ginger-coconut chicken soup. The recipe begins with 2 quarts of chicken broth (homemade is best). Then, the cook adds to the broth 1 can of coconut milk, 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes or cayenne, and 1 TBS chopped ginger. The coconut, particularly its oil, is of special interest here because it is believed to possess healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations.

Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness, and the coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called "The Tree of Life." Believers say only recently has modern medical science unlocked the secrets to coconut's amazing healing powers.

Coconut oil candy (raw honey, raw nut butter, coconut oil) is said to be beneficial for children. Coconut oil is high in antibacterial and antifungal medium-chain fatty acids, the same fatty acids found in breast milk.

"Good broth will resurrect the dead," says a South American proverb. Many cooks say healthy stock is everything in cooking: without it, nothing can be done. Stock or broth begins with bones, some pieces of meat and fat, vegetables and good water. For beef and lamb broth, the meat is browned in a hot oven to form compounds that give flavor and color--the result of a fusion of amino acids with sugars, called the Maillard (browning) reaction.

And soup-wise, some sick people eat mushroom soup. The Pharaohs prized mushrooms as a delicacy, and the Greeks believed that mushrooms provided strength for warriors in battle. The Romans regarded mushrooms as a gift from God and served them only on festive occasions, while the Chinese treasured them as a health food. Mushrooms of choice includes shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms.They are shown in studies to boost the body's immune response.

Just one medium portabella mushroom has even more potassium than a banana or a glass of orange juice. One serving of mushrooms also provides about 20 to 40 percent of the daily value of copper, a mineral that has cardioprotective properties.

One tablespoon of good quality honey before breakfast has been defined as a "murder weapon" for colds. Children less than one year (two?) old should not be given honey because it can produce a negative affect on their bowl movements. Still, raw honey is said to have many benefits and has been used for centuries to cure sore throats and coughs. Honey is a most valuable food, which today, according to many, is not sufficiently appreciated, and its frequent if not daily use is vitally important. People brag about the health benefits of UMF Manuka Honey ("Medihoney" in many health stores).

Honey not only soothes throats but can also kill certain bacteria that causes the infection. Professional singers commonly use honey to soothe their throats before performances. Supposedly, honey mixed with a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon powder taken daily for three days will help decrease  a nagging cough and will also help clear the sinuses.

Research shows that massaging an acupuncture point known as yingxiang, located at the lower border of the nostril, can provide relief from nasal congestion. Many other acupuncture techniques can be applied as cold and flu remedies to help the body expel viruses more quickly and relieve congestion and muscle aches.

Much the same in principle as acupuncture, back rubs can activate the immune system to fight colds or flu virus.

Naturally, using a heating pad may help with the aches and pains associated with colds and flu.

The application of a a hot or cold pack around congested sinuses may help make the sick head feel more comfortable. A damp washcloth and heated for 55 seconds in a microwave (test the temperature first to make sure it's right) or a small bag of frozen peas are alternatives for these packs.

Ill people may want to sleep with an extra pillow under their heads to help the drainage of nasal passages. If the sufferers find the angle is too awkward, placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs can create a more gradual slope.

Keeping the infected person's clothes changed and clean may help. The same may be said for changing and cleaning bed linens. Many recommend not using the same toothbrush after the first symptom of the cold or flu. All this helps prevent the virus from re-infecting a patient later.

And how about this strange idea? Some people put wet cotton socks on the feet and cover them with wool socks. This is supposed to help draw moisture from the head downward to cure stuffy noses. Oh boy, that idea is certainly different!

 What NOT To Do

1. Avoid sugar and flour because these foods depress the immune system and tax the body’s resources. So steer clear of pasta and sweets and stick to homemade soup, eggs, meats, and produce.

2. Avoid dairy products while you have the virus. Dairy products cause the body to produce more mucus.

3. Do not use antibiotics for a cold. These destroy bacteria, but they're no help against cold viruses. Avoid asking your doctor for antibiotics for a cold or using old antibiotics you have on hand. You won't get well any faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, antibiotics may be helpful if there is a secondary bacterial infection.

4. Question using antihistamines. Some studies have suggested minimal reduction in sneezing and nasal discharge with first-generation (sedating) antihistamines. However, results are conflicting and the benefits may not outweigh the side effects.

5. Question using over-the-counter cough syrups. In cold season, nonprescription cough syrups practically fly off the drugstore shelves. Some contain ingredients that may relieve coughing, but the amounts are too small to do much good and may actually be harmful for children.

6. Question using Vitamin C in average environments. It appears that for the most part taking vitamin C won't help the average person prevent colds. However, taking 200 milligrams (mg) or more does seems to benefit those who engage in extreme physical exercise or who are exposed to extremely cold environments — such as soldiers, skiers and marathon runners.

7. And finally, do not trust a single blog entry like this to sway your opinion. Of course, I cannot, and would not
take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site.

Be aware that many of the techniques and remedies published on this site have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Use of these remedies in connection with other medications can cause severe adverse reactions. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Always seek additional information before applying these remedies and treatments.

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