Treating a Cold and Flu the Holistic Way

Cold treatment: When she gets a cold, her philosophy is to let it run its course. She'll turn to the usual suspects: bed rest, more fluids and chicken soup -- or because she's Japanese-American -- miso soup with shiitake mushrooms, fungi known for their immune-strengthening compounds. These approaches may make the symptoms feel better, she admits, but they likely won't make a cold go away faster.

Flu prevention: Shinto doesn't get the flu shot and neither does her young daughter. "I'm not opposed to it, but we're very healthy people and don't get sick a lot."

Flu treatment: She follows the same treatment advice for a cold. And if Shinto's sinuses are congested, she turns to an "old naturopathic therapy" thought to stimulate the immune system. Called hydrotherapy, she might stick her bare feet in hot water for three minutes then in ice-cold water for 30 seconds, and she repeats this hot-cold sequence three times.

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Build a Foundation for Good Health

Kevin Barrows, M.D., director of group programs at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco

Cold prevention: According to Barrows, the body works really well when you try to balance the four pillars of good health: diet, exercise, sleep and stress. During cold and flu season he adds a fifth pillar -- hand washing.

He's a big believer in meditation and has found this mind-body approach helps increase his awareness of subtle body shifts, a tip-off that he may be getting sick. For him, a sore throat is his early warning sign of a cold, his cue to start taking echinacea.

Although the studies on this popular herb have been mixed, Barrows says he feels that some researchers tested an inadequate dosage. He would take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of the herb, three or four times a day -- for two or three days -- to help nip a cold in the bud. And he would also finely cut up a few cloves of raw garlic (when he got home and isn't worried about garlic breath) for its anti-microbial activity. But he admits that few research studies exist on whether garlic actually helps a cold.

Cold treatment: In his opinion, "Vitamin C shines when it comes to treating a cold." He takes 250 milligrams of vitamin C every couple of hours and might also continue to take at least 500 milligrams of echinacea if the cold is mainly in his nose. Because he's prone to sinus infections, Barrows does a nasal rinse with a neti pot twice a day to cleanse and soothe these passageways.

Flu prevention: Barrows gets a flu shot, which he feels is safe and has few side effects. But he is not a big fan of Tamiflu. He feels there's only a small benefit to most people from this antiviral drug, but he's noticed that many people get sick to their stomach from it.

Flu treatment: There's no magic bullet, he conceded. To avoid sinus problems, he'd do the neti pot. And while he likes elderberry syrup as a remedy for kids, he feels there's less evidence for it in adults, but is worth trying.

Treat It Early and Aggressively

David Leopold, M.D., director of integrative medical education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, Calif.

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