Colds & Flu

Sooner or later, just about everyone comes down with a miserable cold or a dose of flu – and some unfortunate people seem to get infected again and again. Vitamin C is probably the most familiar natural remedy for these viruses, but it's not the only one.

What is it?

Because the common cold and flu are both respiratory tract infections, determining which you have may be difficult. Generally speaking, a cold comes on gradually, whereas flu strikes suddenly – you can feel fine in the morning and terrible by afternoon. The classic cold symptoms – congestion, sore throat and sneezing – are usually less severe than flu symptoms, which often include fever, extreme fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.

The amount of time needed to recover is different, too. In general, a cold lasts about a week, but symptoms may trouble you for only three or four days if you immune system is in good shape. On the other hand, you can be sick with the flu for up to 10 days, and fatigue can persist for two to three weeks after that. A cold rarely produces serious complications, but flu can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia.

What causes it?

Both colds and flu are caused by viruses that attach themselves to the lining of the nose or throat and then spread throughout the upper respiratory system and occasionally to the lungs as well. In response, the immune system floods the area with infection-fighting white blood cells. The symptoms aren't produced by the viruses but are the result of the body trying to starve off the infection. Colds and flu are more common in winter, when indoor heating reduces the humidity in the air; this lack of moist air dries out the nasal passages and creates the perfect breeding ground for viruses.

What are the symptoms?

  • Head and chest congestion.
  • Sneezing and cough.
  • Sore throat,
  • Watery nasal discharge.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue.

Are there any natural therapies?

At high doses, vitamin A has strong antiviral action, but take it for only seven days at high amounts. Contrary to popular belief, vitamin C won't prevent a cold, but it may shorten the duration or minimise the symptoms. The herb echinacea stimulates the immune system. Zinc lozenges may also help halt a cold, possibly by destroying the virus itself.

If you often develop a bacterial infection, such as sinusitis or bronchitis, from a cold or flu, add garlic when you first notice symptoms. It contains compounds that may prevent bacteria from invading tissues. To give the immune system an extra boost, combine goldenseal with echinacea for the treatment (but not prevention) of colds and flu.

What else can I do?

  • Use a humidifier or vaporiser in winter to keep indoor air moist.
  • Instead of having a flu shot, try taking the suggested supplements in the autumn. It takes six to eight weeks to build up an immunity and different flu strains emerge each year, so you'll need to supplement annually.

Did you know?

When it comes to cold prevention, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 'you gotta have friends'. In a study of 276 men and women, those with wide social networks developed fewer cold symptoms – even after researchers deposited a cold virus directly into the nose.