Treating a Cold and Flu the Holistic Way

A cold is the most common illness on the planet, and having a medical degree hardly makes you immune to catching one. Being around people who are sick is part of the job. asked four holistically minded doctors what they do when they feel under the weather. Their prevention and treatment advice might help you dodge or short-circuit the next bug that comes your way.

Stack the Deck in Your Favor

David Rakel, M.D., director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Integrative Medicine in Madison, Wis.

Cold prevention: There's no firm evidence that any medication or herb will prevent the common cold, said Rakel. So when it comes to staving off a cold, you want to stack the deck in your favor, he advised.

Robin says nasal irrigation can relieve headaches, allergies and colds.

He does this by washing his hands frequently, not getting overstressed (high levels of cortisol, a hormone released when you're tense, can weaken the immune system over time), drinking lots of water and "eating multicolored whole foods that were recently alive or came out of the ground."

Cold treatment: At the first sign of symptoms, the goal is to attack the virus early because it replicates the most within the first 48 hours, pointed out Rakel. He might drink more green tea, which appears to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. And he would also drink three big glasses of orange juice to get more vitamin C.

Besides consuming more liquids, Rakel might take 20 to 30 milligrams of zinc acetate lozenges twice a day to improve his immunity. He takes zinc only for the first two or three days of a cold, when he feels it's most effective. He might add andrographis, an herb that's sometimes called "Indian echinacea." He would take 400 milligrams of this immune-stimulating herb three times a day.


Flu prevention: As a family practice physician, Rakel is around a lot of flu, a reason he gets the yearly shot. His main concern is that the vaccine has very small amounts of the preservative thimerosal in it.

Flu treatment: Rakel doesn't recommend Tamiflu, the prescription antiviral drug. "It's the best medication we have in case of a flu pandemic, but it might only shorten flu duration by a day."

Instead, he would use a black elderberry extract, a remedy found in a few small studies to help shorten the length and severity of flu. Adults can take one tablespoon, four times a day for the first three days of flu symptoms. Beyond that time frame, he feels it's less beneficial.

Shore Up Your Immune System

Lynne Shinto, N.D., naturopathic physician for the Neurology Wellness Clinic at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore.

Cold prevention: To stay healthy, Shinto is conscientious about her diet and sleep habits, and suggests that people should not underestimate the effect of their lifestyle on immune function. She says she believes that for people who get frequent colds, it's an indication that their immune system is sub par. She also says she thinks that too much sugar can weaken immunity.

If Shinto feels as if she's getting rundown, she'll take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C every few hours. But she warns that taking too much of it too quickly can lead to diarrhea. And she'll also take one or two capsules daily of a combination Chinese remedy containing the herb astragalus, which is thought to stimulate the immune system.

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