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With winter on our doorstep it’s time to prepare for the onslaught of those cold and flu viruses that carry enough punch to lay you low for a good while. The best way to avoid getting ill this winter is to strengthen and support your immune system naturally through a herbal or homeopathic approach.
There is an enormous, and sometimes daunting, choice of natural remedies to choose from when preparing to protect your body against cold and flu viruses. Here is some insight into some of the more popular options.
HERBAL REMEDIESSo often a physical illness is a manifestation of what we are feeling spiritually, mentally and emotionally. When we are compromised on any one, or all, of these levels our immune system may flounder and we become particularly vulnerable to the viruses and bacteria that surround us daily, and in winter even more so. Herbs are plants with intrinsic medicinal properties and not only nurture us through an illness, but support and strengthen the immune system so that we do not fall ill in the first place.
According to integrative doctor Arien van der Merwe, standardised herbal extracts should be your first choice when it comes to investing in a herbal remedy. These extracts contain sufficient quantities of the herb for the desired effect. They can be in a liquid or solid form. A herbal tincture comprises extracts of fresh or dried herbs dissolved in alcohol. The quality of a tincture is as good, or bad, as the herb/s it contains. Freeze-drying involves the use of chemical solvents to make plant extracts. The chemical solvents are removed when the extract is exposed to a very low temperature. The fixed residue is then packed into capsules.
EchinaceaEchinacea, also known as the purple coneflower, is one of the more popular herbal remedies in the fight against cold and flu viruses. It is native to the USA where it was widely used as a medicine for many centuries by the Native Americans. It is very effective in the treatment of colds, flu, sinusitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis and middle ear infection. The preferred species of Echinacea are E. angustifolia and E. purpurea.
Tincture or tablets made from extracts (not the powdered herb) is best for optimal therapeutic effect. A tea made from 1 to 2 g of dried Echinacea can be taken three to six times a day during infection. Gargle with 5 ml Echinacea tincture mixed into some warm water three times a day if you have a sore throat.
Research conducted by the ETH Zurich Laboratory on Dr A Vogel’s Echinaforce product has shown that Echinacea, as an immune modulator, supports, rather than stimulates, specific immune system functions.¹ Prior to this research Echinacea was not considered safe for long-term use as it was contraindicated for auto-immune diseases, but now further applications for this herb appear to be positive.
Elderberry‘Tip your hat to the elder’ is an old Austrian saying depicting the respect Europeans had for the elderberry tree and its fruit; and when one examines its health benefits, it’s easy to see why.
Elderberry extract can be particularly effective against influenza viruses, fever, aches and pains, and sore throats and coughs are more short-lived in those who use elderberry. Recovery also appears to be faster. Elderberry reduces sinus mucus secretion which means better drainage, recovery from a sore throat and a milder headache. The wise man Hippocrates himself claimed the elderberry to be ‘an excellent remedy’.
Plant an elderberry tree in your garden: the blossoms make great fritters, cordials and wine! Elderberry is available in tincture and capsule form.
EucalyptusEucalyptus radiata is the safest choice but it is not as cheap as E. globulus which is more commonly sold.
Eucalyptus is very popular as an essential oil and can be inhaled, used as a massage oil or added to bath water. It is excellent for acute and chronic bronchitis, and respiratory problems. Six drops of eucalyptus oil (diluted first in a bit of full-cream milk) added to your bath water will relieve mucus congestion, bronchitis, sinusitis, and aches and pains. The safest way, however, to use eucalyptus is via inhalation – place a few drops on a tissue or put a few drops in an electric diffuser, candle vapouriser or burner, or in a humidifier. Eucalyptus oil taken internally can be fatal.
GarlicGarlic, also known as the ‘stinking rose’, contains allicin – an extremely effective natural antibiotic that fights infection. In addition to its natural infection-fighting properties, garlic also relieves clogged sinuses and is an immune-stimulant.
Garlic is largely available in tablet form, and smelly garlic breath can be avoided by choosing capsules with a garlic/parsley combination. Garlic, smelly or not, has excellent health benefits when eaten raw: introduce it into soups and salads.
PelargoniumPelargonium sidoides (geranium) fights bacteria and viruses as well as boosting the immune system. It is particularly beneficial for bronchitis.²
This herb is available in tablet and tincture form as well as in some cough mixtures. It has been used for hundreds of years by the Zulu, Basuto and Xhosa cultures to fight colds and flu infections.
Olive leafThe active ingredient in olive leaf extract, oleuropein, has proved beneficial in the treatment of a range of viral and bacterial problems including influenza and the common cold. Olive leaf may also be used long-term as a preventive agent in people with recurrent infections. It is also a proven immune system booster.³
Olive leaf is largely available in capsule and tincture form. A tea made from olive leaves can be used to gargle with if you have a sore throat.
Caution: consult your health practitioner before using olive leaf extract if you are taking blood pressure or diabetic medication and other drugs such as warfarin and antibiotics.
Ivy leafIvy is an evergreen climber endemic to Europe. Ivy leaf is used medicinally to bring respiratory relief. It has been shown to increase oxygen in the lungs of children suffering from asthma and is beneficial as an anti-inflammatory and decongestant in the management of chronic bronchitis. It is also helpful in relieving coughs.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE IN STORE?HERBALSThe herbal products listed below are amongst the more popular choices and offer a guideline if you are not quite sure where to start. All dosages are included on product packaging or inserts, or consult your health practitioner for individualised dosages.
A.Vogel’s Echinaforce® is viewed as one of the best herbal remedies for winter. It comes in tablet and tincture form and modulates the immune system, thereby enabling it to work at its optimum. It can be taken over a period of time to improve immune function or as a preventive against colds and flu.
The Nativa range is probably one of the best choices when it comes to choosing a product to keep the winter chills at bay. Their Linctagon Viral Defence capsules contain Echinacea extract, elderberry and garlic and offer overall immune support for colds and flu. The Linctagon Cough Syrup and Linctagon Syrup both contain pelargonium which helps with upper respiratory tract infections.
The Tibb range includes Septoguard, in tablet form, which is a natural antibiotic and contains extracts of asparagus and cinnamon; Tibb Flu-Relief Syrup (contains Piper nigrum, a natural pain killer which helps control fevers) for colds, flu and fever; Tibb Immunocare which is an immune booster; Tibb throat and cough lozenges which contain menthol, eucalyptus and caramel.
The Flordis range offers Ginsana capsules, which contain an extract of Panax ginseng to enhance the immune system.
The Flora Force range includes tinctures and capsules containing Olea europaea, Echinacea, elderberry and propolis, amongst other ingredients, to support the immune system and fight flu, colds, sinusitis and sore throats.
The Flugon range combines herbs, vitamins and minerals to strengthen and support the immune system. Their range includes capsules, fizzy adult and children’s sachets, fizzy tablets, a syrup and a throat spray. The Flugon range targets bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, colds, flu, ear and throat infections.
The Phyto-Force Herbal range offers elderberry, Echinacea and olive leaf herbal tinctures as immune boosters, with anti-virals indicated for colds and flu.
Herbal Wellness has an olive leaf extract in tincture form to support the immune system.
Viridian has olive leaf capsules with olive leaf extract in a base of alfalfa, spirulina and bilberry.
Solgar has an elderberry extract in capsule form; its Cat’s Claw tablet is a top quality herbal formula as is its Goldenseal Root Complex Vegetable Capsule. All three are reliable immune-support natural remedies.
The Himalaya range is based on ancient Ayurvedic principles: an ancient, holistic system for diagnosis and treatment. Koflet (in both syrup and lozenge form) contains honey, holy basil (possesses antihistamine properties and is effective in reducing catarrh and easing bronchitis), and liquorice (an expectorant with immune-boosting properties). The range also includes an immunity enhancer, Septilin, containing Tinospora gulancha (a potent antimicrobial that stimulates the immune system), liquorice, and Indian bdellium (reduces inflammation and relieves sore throats).
SambucolSambucol is made from black elderberries, which have a high antioxidant capacity. This product therefore strengthens the immune system by neutralising the harmful effects of free radicals.
Good HealthGood Health has a range of immune-supporting products including: Congest X, Echimax, Opti-C 1 000 mg and Opti-C 500 mg, Revitalise C, Viralex and Pro-Olive which balance the immune system, strengthen immune function, and offer respiratory support and antioxidant protection.
NB: Be patient when taking herbal remedies as it can take time for beneficial effects to be felt.
HomeopathicsIn order for the correct homeopathic remedy to be administered an accurate diagnosis of the patient must be made. Once this is done, patient and remedy can be confidently paired.
Single remediesAconiteAconite is for the start of colds and sore throats from exposure to cold dry air. Aconite would be the first remedy option for a dry, violent croupy cough. Hepar sulph should be used if aconite does not help the early sore throat and silicea may be needed for a severe case of tonsillitis.
BryoniaThis remedy is for a dry, hard and painful cough, which needs medical attention if improvement is not made.
GelsemiumGelsemium is useful for a variety of health issues but is particularly beneficial as a cold and flu remedy as it eases muscle aches, headaches, a runny nose, inflamed tonsils, sore throat and the hoarseness associated with bronchitis.
Ferrum phosphoricumThis mineral should be used at the onset of inflammatory conditions and is effective against dry, red, sore throats. It is also beneficial for dry, hacking coughs that may worsen after meals.
PhosphorusThis remedy is useful for the kind of flu that starts with a classic cold which then goes straight to the chest. It is a good choice for a loose cough accompanied by yellow/green mucus from the chest and the nose.
PulsatillaPulsatilla is great for patients who have changeable coughs with a looser form during the day and a dry one at night accompanied by thick white, yellow or green mucus at night.
BelladonnaBelladonna is useful for the early stages of inflammation and for fever.
Complex remediesWhen choosing a homeopathic remedy, remember to be particularly careful in choosing one that suits your symptoms. If you are in doubt, seek the advice of a qualified homeopath.
The Boiron range: Based in Lyon, France, the Boiron Group is a world leader in homeopathy. Two of their top products are tried and tested cold and flu remedies: Stodal® Cough and Cold Syrup and Oscillococcinum® for flu and flu-like symptoms. Both these products are available in South Africa. The cough syrup contains byronia and pulsatilla amongst other medicinal ingredients that help relieve a stubborn, hard cough.
Oscillococcinum® is in particular demand as if it is taken once a week throughout the winter months it can have a preventive effect against colds and flu. It lessens the severity of flu symptoms if you have already contracted a virus.
Boiron offers Homeovox lozenges for loss of voice, hoarseness and laryngitis.
The Natura range has several products available to support the immune system through the winter and relieve cold and flu symptoms. Gripless C contains vitamin C and eucalyptus, which supports the immune and respiratory systems while treating acute colds and flu. Gripless 1 contains Aconitum napellus and acts to prevent acute conditions from progressing; it has an anti-inflammatory action that assists in the relief of fever and body pain associated with influenza. Natura Nasenol helps with nasal congestion thanks to the mode of action of Agraphis nutans, Euphrasia officinalis and other plants with similar effects.
Pegasus Homeopathics There are 28 different remedies in the Pegasus range, several of which are most helpful in managing colds and flu and in offering support to the immune system. Of particular benefit is the anti-virabac 200c, cold and flu 30c, bronchial relief 30c, immune defence 6c, muco drainol 30c and throat 200c.
Each remedy can be purchased individually and contains a minimum of 150 doses.
Similasan Sinus Relief Nasal Spray is a Swiss homeopathic formula for nasal and sinus congestion. It is also ideal for a runny nose due to a cold or flu.
SUPPLEMENTSIt is important to supplement with certain vitamins and minerals to support your immune system in winter. Vitamin C in the form of camu camu powder has the highest amount of vitamin C of all known plants. Try making a juice with pink grapefruit, kiwi fruit and camu camu. The pink powder has more vitamin C (5%) than the darker tan-coloured powder (3%). Vitamin A and natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) are antioxidants and are central to healthy cell functions while vitamin D3 boosts the immune system. The mineral zinc helps keep the immune system strong and can reduce the duration of cold symptoms. Ask your local health shop for a reliable multivitamin that includes these supplements mentioned here.
EFFERVESCENTSThese are the kind of fizzies that are good for you! People who gag on tablets can use effervescents dropped into a glass of water with ease. They also taste nice and are gentler on the digestive tract, as in liquid form they are ready to be absorbed by the body.
In addition to the Flugon fizzies mentioned earlier you can find the following in health shops all over: ■ Pharma Dynamics Efferflu C■ Fizz C 1 000 mg ■ Prospan effervescent cough tablets ■ ViralChoice® Effervescent (may boost the body’s immune system, increasing resistance to colds and flu) ■ Linctagon-C (contains pelargonium that can boost the body’s immune response) ■ Airmune Immune System Supporter (contains 17 vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts)■ Immunova Effervescent Tablets.
CONCLUSIONBoosting immunity and using natural antiviral agents will go a long way towards protecting you from winter ills. Don’t forget though, that enough sleep, a healthy diet, and a good fluid intake (water, and chicken or vegetable soups with raw garlic) are also key to your recovery. And you have every right to demand a little bit of extra TLC to get you brimming with health once more.
No to antibioticsRemember that antibiotics have no effect on viruses. First choose herbal and/or homeopathic remedies and in doing so, protect your immune system. If, however, your condition persists or you cough up thick, yellow or green mucus or blood, do not hesitate to seek the advice of a qualified health practitioner.
NATASHA BOLOGNESI, BA (HONS); MPHIL (Journ)
After graduating with a BA Honours degree from the University of Cape Town, she embarked on a proofreading and writing career before living in Italy for six years. On her return, Natasha completed her Master’s degree in Journalism at Stellenbosch University and worked as a freelance health writer up until the end of 2012 when she joined the editorial team at Natural Medicine.
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