Preventing and Treating Flu- Like Illness: Natural Medicine Recommendations for Cold Weather Times

As a practicing naturopathic physician in the currently frigid Northeast, my clinic phone line and office are swamped with patients asking questions about prevention and treatment of the current epidemic of illness swirling around the country. Here are some of the common senses and natural medicine recommendations I incorporate for the prevention and treatment of these mostly upper respiratory tract complaints.

My general recommendations for winter ailment prevention include:

• Get plenty of rest and drink enough water.

• Reduce refined sugar in the diet, especially things like soda, candy, and baked goods.

• Increase fruits and vegetables in the diet.

• Limit alcohol intake

• Continue with regular exercise, which helps by raising your threshold for feeling all kinds of stress and helps you dissipate the stress you do have. It also enhances circulation, and offers another mode of elimination via perspiration.

• Wash hands often, especially after being out in the world at work, school, the gym, meetings, etc and most importantly, before eating.

• If you are feeling run down, if at all possible, try to take a day off for rest and relaxation.

If one of my patients has been in close contact with someone who is sick or is taking care of an ill person, I underscore the above suggestions.

Below are a number of supplements to use preventively for an average adult, not currently taking other medications. These supplements foster good immunity while helping to create and maintain healthy mucous membrane tissue, essential for fending off germs. These are only guidelines; if you also from other unrelated illnesses, please consult your primary care physician or consult a naturopathic physician near you. To find a naturopathic physician in the United States, see here.

Dosages depend on weight, other pharmaceuticals a patient might take as well as underlying chronic diseases and/or other nutritional/herbal supplements being used. A naturopathic physician insures there are no contraindications for recommendations made. Here are the basics:

• Vitamin C

• Beta carotene

• Zinc

• Vitamin E

I also recommend the use of the following botanical medicines to help with prevention.

• Astragalus membranaceus

• Hydrastis canadensis

• Sambucus nigra

• Garlic, used liberally in cooking, or taken in supplement form. Each of the above botanical products helps to bolster immune function and keep the mucous membranes doing their job.

• I encourage patients to take a probiotic and to include cultured food in the diet such as miso, yogurt, kefir, kim chi or kombucha. Fermented foods go a long way to absorbing toxins in the system and to providing natural probiotics. Much of the immune system arises from the gut, to putting attention there is helpful.

Many patients with upper respiratory infection may find it difficult to swallow pills or to drink unpleasant tasting botanical medicines. I have had the best compliance with the there additional recommendations:

• Hot Epsom salt baths: Put 1 cup of Epsom salt in a warm bath for a good soak. This helps to draw out inflammation and decrease muscle soreness and joint pain.

• Hot water bottle or heating pad/ pack can be a welcome presence to a chilly and sore patient. It can be moved around and kept as warm as desired.

• Keep the vaporizer going. It’s easy to get dried out especially if heat is on in a home. If you do not have a vaporizer, use water boiling in a pan stove top. Close doors to rooms to help build up humidity. Please clean vaporizers regularly to prevent mold issues.

• Rest and sleep as much as you want. It’s a tough way to get a day off but a great time to insure a break. Take advantage of being home and turn off the computer and the phone and rest. Or watch a movie or read a book, or just lie there!

• Gentle massage: This can be very soothing, as it helps increase circulation and facilitate elimination.

• Bromelain: This enzyme derived from pineapple helps to reduce inflammation and to thin mucus. The capsules are small and do not leave a bad taste, do not exceed recommended dosage.

• Vitamin C in powdered form often easier to get down mixed in water or juice

• Vegetable, chicken or miso broth will help to replenish electrolytes and has other healing influence. Often it is just what the patient wants.

• Any and all of the supplements listed above under "prevention" are also effective for the treatment of upper respiratory illness, if the patient can tolerate them.

• If there is nausea, I recommend adding ginger or chamomile tea as desired. If there is significant coughing, I suggest herbal teas and tinctures made from mullein, slippery elm, and red cherry bark. I might troubleshoot other specific symptoms, based on the presenting problems of the patient.

Lastly, as a patient is recuperating from being sick, I will place them on the same prophylactic protocol as used for prevention and remind them that they are more vulnerable for a while. They should plan their schedule accordingly, strategizing ways to keep stress down and keep healthy habits up.

Simple steps

These simple and effective approaches can be used at home for both the prevention or treatment of these troublesome illnesses that move around our communities each year. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that as long as an acute illness is not severe, long-lasting or constantly recurring, it’s not a bad thing to be sick once in a while. Your immune system gets a bit of a workout and you get a bit of a rest. Of course this is not as true for immune compromised patients and some other groups, but it’s okay to get sick once in a while!

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