Winter health – your step by step guide
With so many cold and flu products on offer, how do you know which ones are best for you? This handy guide from naturopath and medical herbalist Paul Keogh will help you choose with confidence.
If you haven’t already done so, it’s likely that you’re going to catch a cold this winter – most adults get two or three of them a year. So, what can you do to improve those odds? And how can you ease the symptoms if you do come down with a cold or the flu?
As is so often the case with natural medicine, when it comes to winter health, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
A wide variety of natural medicines may be indicated at different times, making the shelves of your health food store even more tricky than usual to navigate.
If you’re feeling confused, the following guide will help you choose the herbs and nutrients that are best suited for what you’re going through.
The ‘I can’t afford to get sick’ phase
Perhaps you’ve had a few infections and don’t want to be laid low again, or maybe you’ve got a lot on your plate at home, work or school, and really can’t afford to take time off.
This is the time to take an herbal immune tonic that’s been specially formulated to promote healthy immune defences and support resistance to minor infections.
Ideally, choose a product based on astragalus, which has traditionally been used in Chinese herbal medicine not only to support immune function, but also to improve resistance to stress and enhance vitality and stamina. Synergistic herbs to look out for include reishi (also known as ganoderma), schisandra, codonopsis and Siberian ginseng.
Also consider taking a supplement combining zinc with 1000mg of vitamin C, which may reduce the frequency, duration and severity of colds and other upper respiratory tract infections.
The ‘I think I’m coming down with something’ phase
If you get the sense that you’re catching a cold, acting promptly may limit its impact.
In particular, the herb andrographis may help ease fevers, headaches, sore throats and other cold and flu symptoms when taken as quickly as possible after their onset.
Andrographis is often taken in conjunction with echinacea, which has complementary benefits, and again, is best taken at the first sign of symptoms.
The ‘I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck’ phase
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), herbs such as honeysuckle, forsythia and isatis have a long history of use in the treatment of colds, flu, laryngitis and other minor infections of the upper respiratory tract. Among other symptoms, they may help to relieve sore throats, mucus congestion, inflammation, fever and cough.
The ‘I’m too clogged up to breathe’ phase
To unblock your sinus passages, ease painful congestion and help your head feel clearer, take a traditional Chinese herbal formula that contains xanthium (cockleburr), magnolia flower, Asian wild mint and white angelica. Houttuynia (fishwort) may also be beneficial because it has anti-infective properties and has traditionally been used to address both blocked and runny noses.
The ‘I just can’t shake this cough’ phase
Coughing often occurs at the tail end of an upper respiratory tract infection, and can be quite debilitating, especially as it sometimes persists for several weeks after other symptoms have cleared up.
Herbs that have traditionally been used to ease bronchial congestion during colds, flu and bronchitis include white horehound, elecampane and licorice.
The traditional Chinese herbs aster, platycodon and stemona may also be beneficial for healthy respiratory function, and can be used for both productive (‘wet’) and unproductive (‘dry’) coughs.
The ‘I never want to go through that again’ phase
When you’ve kicked your infection, it’s important to rebuild your immune resistance so that you’re well equipped to tackle whatever life throws at you next.
To enhance your recovery and help reduce the likelihood of another infection, turn to astragalus again.
It’s traditionally been used to restore immune health and support recuperation after illness, and may be particularly beneficial if you’re feeling tired or weak, or are prone to recurrent upper respiratory tract infections.
Help! My kids keep coming home from pre-school sick!
If you think your kids have been catching more colds since they’ve been at kindy or day care, you’re right. Research confirms that children who attend day care with at least six children from other families catch colds almost twice as frequently as those who stay at home.
This phenomenon occurs because children’s immune systems are still developing.
When you encounter a cold virus as an adult, your immune system often recognises it as an enemy that it’s fought before, and jumps into action to banish it again before it can take hold.
Without those years of history to draw on though, your child’s immune system recognises relatively few viruses, and is less capable of fending them off.
To exacerbate matters, colds are spread by coming into contact with droplets from sneezes, coughs and runny noses, so viruses can become particularly rampant at childcare centres, where many little ones haven’t yet learned the fine arts of washing their hands properly, blowing their noses or covering their mouths when coughing.
Having a child with a cold can sometimes be as exhausting and frustrating as being sick yourself – so how can you boost your child’s resistance this winter?
Probiotics: In babies, toddlers and preschoolers, probiotics support the developing immune system, and may reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections. For optimal benefits, choose a product that’s been specially developed for kids and contains the three most important strains of friendly bacteria found in healthy children: Bifidobactium longum, B. breve and B. infantis.
Immune tonics: Herbal immune tonics such as astragalus may be beneficial for children who are prone to recurrent colds, flu and sore throats, or who are slow to recover after they get sick.
Symptom relief: The herbal blends discussed above for the relief of sinus congestion and other cold and flu symptoms are suitable for children as well as adults, and some are available in liquid tonics that are more easily administered than tablets.
However, bear in mind that the doses may need to be adjusted according to your child’s age and that some herbs are only suitable for young children under the care and supervision of a healthcare professional. Always check the label and follow the manufacturer’s dosage instructions, and if you have any concerns, talk to the team at your Go Vita store.
Paul Keogh is the founder and technical director for Global Therapeutics P/L trading as Fusion Health. Paul is a qualified naturopath and medical herbalist with 28 years combined experience in clinical practice and the development of integrated Chinese and western herbal medicines.