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Cold & flu season: wondering which natural solutions are really helpful?

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By Audrey Couture

M.Sc. Pharmacology

2017/09/22

Winter is the cold and flu season. It’s like tradition in Quebec. Tiny undesirable viruses spread like wildfire in the family. Result ? The annual sneezing and snuffling concert. Read more to winter over in your own home.

Echinacea, does it work?

Starting echinacea early on is the main challenge for getting the best results with echinacea. It explains why clinical studies on echinacea are so controversial (some yield positive results, some yield negative results). Most patients are being enrolled in a clinical study through their physician. But if they consult for a cold, they probably already have full blown symptoms… And thus its already late to start echinacea…

Generally speaking, science points to the efficacy of echinacea at reducing the severity of the well-known common cold symptoms (nasal congestion, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, headache, fatigue, etc). When speaking of the reduction in the duration of those symptoms, its efficacy appears directly linked to the moment at which treatment is initiated. Be prepared! Personally, I keep some at home and at work. Because you never when it hits you…

Your youngest child comes home with a runny nose and you’d rather avoid it this time. Well, about preventing common colds using echinacea, it is still very controversial when looking at clinical data. I admit it’s kind of tough to design a clinical trial to show prevention of common cold.  How many colds do one patient get yearly on average? Does this number necessarily predict how many he’ll get this year? Will the colds be more virulent or less virulent this season? Has the patient developed immunity to the season’s virus in the past? All those questions prevent the scientific community to answer definitively the question of whether echinacea reduces your risk of catching a cold or if it’s only serendipity. I would recommend you take echinacea when the common cold or the flu hits (and at the very first onset of symptoms, I insist), but for prevention, keep reading below where I discuss probiotics…

Vitamin C: no longer in the spotlight?

Vitamin C can be useful against upper respiratory tract infections (colds and flu), but probably not for what you’ve been told…

According to clinical studies, vitamin C would be effective at preventing the common cold in high level athletes (those who train so much they temporarily weaken their immune system). If you do not fit this category, vitamin C probably won’t do the job for you.

Except that… Personally, chewable vitamin C tablets are part of my strategies to fight cold symptoms. It’s very simple: their acidity sooths sore throat. I let the tablet melt in my mouth and it sooths my throat. The same is true for coughing attacks: allow a vitamin C tablet to melt in your mouth. It increases the flow of saliva and soothes an irritated throat. That being said, I have clinical proof whatsoever to support those uses. Don’t just trust me and try it for yourself.

What else ?

Aside from good hygiene advice I don’t have to go over with you (like washing hands frequently), a warm cup of chicken broth is always comforting. It’s warm, helps a painful throat, helps rehydrate… Again, I’m lacking the scientific data to support this but it sounds so obvious I needed to remind you about it. Personally I wrap myself in a blanket and I sip on a warm cup of chicken broth, with a box of tissue.

Back to science. I’ll finish with probiotics. Large studies are starting to show that taking probiotics daily can reduce the incidence of common cold (in other words, probiotics would be effective at preventing common colds)… Plus, they’re also effective and safe for your children. Kill two birds with one stone: take probiotics to prevent colds and to strengthen your intestinal flora against the upcoming gastroenteritis season. Yes, that’s alos coming. Winters in Quebec are tough.

With these few tips, there’s no guarantee you’ll go through winter without catching anything, but at least you’ll know how to react if a viral attacks hits you and your family. And don’t forget to get your echinacea right now so you can fully benefit from it if you catch a cold!

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