The common cold is not a single virus, but may be any one of over 200 different strains. When infection occurs, the membranes which line the nose, throat, and sinuses become inflamed, and the well known symptoms appear—a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, fever, and headache.
The virus is contracted by breathing in tiny droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person, or by hand-to-mouth contact by touching objects which have, in turn, been handled by an infected person. The virus can survive for several hours outside the body; hence colds spread easily from person to person and are highly contagious. Most colds run their course in 7 – 10 days.
With the common cold, prevention is better than cure and strengthening the immune system is the first step in eliminating cold and flu symptoms from your life. Infection is most likely when the immune system is weakened by poor diet or stress.
Several vitamins, minerals, and herbs have been found to be effective in both avoiding infection, through supporting the body’s immune system, and reducing the duration of symptoms:
Vitamin C is a well known treatment and preventative for the common cold. Being water soluble, it is not stored in the body and, therefore, must be replenished every day. Although Vitamin C is one of the commonest supplements taken by the general public, studies have shown that many people suffer from a deficiency. Vitamin C may be taken daily as a cold preventative, with the dosage increased to 1000 mg per day if symptoms arise.
Echinacea also enjoys a reputation as an effective cold and flu preventative, due to its role in strengthening and supporting the body’s own defenses against viruses and bacteria. It also boosts the body’s own production of interferon, a powerful antiviral compound that attacks the genetic make-up of germ cells, leaving them unable to reproduce and spread throughout the body. Echinacea is also instrumental in preventing bacteria from penetrating cell membranes, thus preventing further generalized infection.
Goldenseal is another herb used in the fight against colds and flu and possesses remarkable antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties. Native to the U.S. and used for centuries by both Native Indians and early settlers, goldenseal effectively calms and heals inflamed soft tissue and is useful for relieving nasal congestion, sinusitis, sore throats, catarrh, and excessive mucus. Rich in Vitamins C, A, B-complex, E, and the minerals, calcium, iron, and manganese, goldenseal also boosts the action of other medicinal herbs, and is best taken in combination with other cold treatments, such as Echinacea.
Zinc is an important essential mineral that has been shown to effectively reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu. Regular supplementation aims to build natural immunity, thus eradicating the cold virus via the body’s defense forces and reducing the likelihood of infection. Where infection has taken hold, studies have shown that zinc supplementation, particularly in lozenge form, will reduce the duration of cold and flu symptoms.
Ginger is another powerful antiviral herb useful for the relief of cold symptoms.
Garlic is also well known for its antibacterial properties and regular intake has been shown in studies to reduce both the frequency and duration of colds. It also assists in strengthening the immune system and combines well with Echinacea to combat viral and bacterial infections.
Sage is effective for soothing sore throats, having both antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
Peppermint acts as an expectorant. It is also useful in the treatment of coughs and as an inhalant for clearing blocked sinuses.
Although the common cold is indeed common, it is also debilitating, fortunately there exists an array of effective natural treatments to prevent and minimize the unpleasant flu symptoms.