Natural cold and flu remedies

Caroline Cassidy

More of us suffer with colds and flu in winter than at any other time of the year. While there is still no cure for the common cold, there are a number of over-the-counter medicines that can help ease your symptoms - as well as a host of natural products and remedies.

natural cold and flu remedies
natural cold and flu remedies

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Nature's remedies
Many people swear by herbal remedies for colds and flu but in most cases, the medical community remains divided. Vitamin C, for instance, has long been thought to prevent or shorten the duration of colds but there is little scientific evidence to back the theory up. It is, however, important for keeping the body healthy, so a cup of hot lemon with honey certainly won't hurt.

The cold-fighting properties of echinacea are also hotly debated - this particular herb is thought to increase levels of properdin, which boosts the part of the immune system responsible for battling viruses and bacteria.

A host of studies have sought to confirm or dispel the remedy's cold cure reputation. Most recently a 2010 study at the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that regular doses during the early stages of a cold or flu reduced their duration... but only by seven to 10 hours. However, critics insist the size of the study and the method of reporting meant the results were inconclusive.

A 2007 study found that taking echinacea more than halved the risk of catching a cold, and reduced its duration by a day-and-a-half. Another review of trials involving echinacea revealed that those who took the remedy were 30% less likely to get a cold than those who did not.

Most experts warn that echinacea should not be taken on long-term basis - the general recommendation is to take it for two weeks and then have two weeks off to prevent the body from being over-stimulated.

Zinc, on the other hand, was the subject of a favourable report earlier this year. The 2011 Cochrane review suggested that daily zinc supplements taken within a day of symptoms starting not only sped up recovery but lessened the severity of the symptoms. But be warned - long term use is not recommended and zinc supplements can cause side effects such as vomiting and diarrhoea.

There are also a number of easy home treatments that can help to ease those fevers, sniffles and sore throats.

Inhaling steam is a good way to ease congestion. By sitting over a bowl of hot water (add menthol or eucalyptus if you wish) and placing a towel over your head, a few deep breaths can help to clear those passageways. If you are suffering with the flu and feel dizzy, run a hot bath and sit on a chair to gain the same benefits.

Both sore throats and stuffy noses will benefit from warm salt water. Gargling with a salt water will bring temporary relief for a sore throat. For nasal congestion, some people swear by mixing a pinch of salt and bicarbonate of soda with half a pint of warm water - and using a bulb syringe to squirt water into one nostril while lightly holding the other closed. If you allow it to drain and repeat two or three times on each side it helps to break down the congestion and removes virus particles and bacteria.

Most importantly, drink plenty of fluids. It is common to lose your appetite with a cold or flu but staying hydrated is essential.

And if you have a respiratory disease or serious health condition, are pregnant or over 65, ask about the flu jab - it's got to be preferable to 10 days of suffering!