Natural Help for Colds & Flu

This winter has seen a very high number of influenza cases, and from what I’ve seen, the colds have been pretty nasty as well.  What’s a person to do?  Wash your hands.  Frequently.  Before and after eating, after touching things or people in public, after you come home, before going to bed.  If someone around you is sick, keep your distance and then wash your hands.  If you have the flu, stay home, and wash your hands.

The next step:  take care of your body.  Your immune system wouldn’t mind a little support right about now.  Get plenty of sleep, stay well hydrated, manage your stress, go outside, exercise, laugh, minimize your sugar intake, eat hot soup, and drink herbal teas.  If you haven’t already done so, consider getting a flu shot.

Make sure you are getting adequate Vitamin D – This may or may not cut your risk for the flu in half - the jury is still out.  Discuss dosing with your doctor.

If you have any of the telltale signs of a cold or flu coming on, there are a few additional things you might do:

  • Eat 3 cloves of fresh, chopped, raw garlic each day.  Chop it up and put it on toast or into a little bit of water and drink it down.  You may or may not delight in the thought of doing it, but garlic is a potent antimicrobial. 
  • Take Elderberry Syrup.  Elderberry syrup has been used historically as an antiviral treatment for colds and flu.  Believe it or not, several randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled human clinical trials have demonstrated reductions in the severity and duration of flu symptoms.  These studies were too small to put elderberry on the medical community’s radar, but given its very low risk and its potential for benefit, you might consider it.
  • Drink warming teas with spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and clove.
  • Minimize dairy products – they make your mucus thicker, gunkier, and more profuse, which can make matters worse.

Additionally, some more of my favorite herbs for upper respiratory infection are:

  • Goldenseal – for sinus congestion and mild sinus infections.
  • Yerba Santa and Elecampane – for coughs, particularly wet, rattly, or productive ones.
  • Licorice and wild cherry bark – for dry, irritated coughs.
  • Andrographis – as a general antimicrobial herb.
  • Eucalyptus – as a mild decongestant and antimicrobial

Disclaimer:  None of the above should be considered medical advice and is for educational purposes only.   Please consult with your doctor before acting on any of these recommendations.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth – A Common Cause of IBS

The human microbiome – the bacteria and other microbes that we carry within our bodies and on our skin - is a hot topic of research lately.  It is increasingly clear that good health is associated with having a healthy and diverse population of bacteria.  While this is particularly true regarding the microbes within the large intestine, problems can arise when too many bacteria reside and grow within the small intestine.  We call this Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and it is a common cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation.

Excessive bacteria in the small intestine creates problems because it produces gas and inflammation in a part of your body that is not adequately equipped to handle it.  This leads to discomfort, bloating, and can cause constipation and/or diarrhea.  The overgrowth can create damage to the lining of the intestine, thereby interfering with nutrient absorption, potentially leading to other health problems.  The damage also reduces your ability to break down some kinds of carbohydrates, which then feed the bacteria, further contributing to the problem.

Diagnosing SIBO is typically done using a relatively simple breath test.  Once the diagnosis is made, a person can use either an herbal or a pharmaceutical antibiotic regimen, in conjunction with very specific dietary strategies, to eliminate the overgrowth.  According to studies comparing the two, the herbal and pharmaceutical regimens are equally effective.  Diets for SIBO, such as the low FODMAP diet and the GAPS diet, help by minimizing the specific kinds of carbohydrates that feed the bacteria.  After the 2-4 week treatment regimen, symptoms typically improve or resolve completely, but continued close attention to diet is critical to preventing a recurrence.  

Greg Burkland, ND