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5 Winter Remedies to Beat Cold and Flu Season

by Kelsey Asplin, ND in herbal medicine, immune health, mens health, teen health, womens health November 1, 2018

With the onset of fall and winter, many patients visit my office looking for remedies to help with increased fatigue and lowered immunity. One of my very first posts discussed how the winter colds and flu may in part be related to an energetic discord between our personal lifestyles and the environmental slow-down that takes place as flora and fauna enter their stages of hibernation. While in the ideal world, we could all slow down, take some time to sip cider and organic hot cocoa, while watching the snowflakes fall and contemplating the peace surrounding us all, I realize this may seem farfetched for the majority of my patients.

For those who are unable to step away from the fast-paced world we live in and find themselves struggling to keep their immune systems strong, I typically like to reach for remedies I can dose liberally for a quicker outcome. I’ve devised a list of my top 5 remedies to keep Old Man Winter’s chill at bay. While these are my personal favorites, they aren’t the right choices for everyone. My formulary for keeping the immune system strong is extensive and sure to include something for almost everyone!

Photo Credit: Outdoor Life

Elderberry Concentrate – Elderberry has long been revered for it’s antiviral effects in the body. However more recently, studies on elderberry have expanded it’s usefulness to being a broad spectrum antimicrobial (useful against viruses and bacteria), anti-inflammatory, and possibly anti-tumor. A study just last month (October 2018) reviewed Elderberry’s antioxidant effect on human cellular membranes, including tumor cell membranes. Findings from the study showed that Elderberry may have promising effects on inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2 pathways (pain and inflammation pathways), as well as being an anti-cancer adjunctive therapy.[i] Two studies from 1995 and 2004 showed that a fruit syrup of Elderberry was effective at relieving symptoms, reducing need for palliative medications, and speeding recovery in patients with influenza A and B compared to placebo in two double-blind trials.[ii],[iii]

I find elderberry is best employed as a preventative medicine and usually recommend it to patients who have a tendency toward colds, flu, and bronchitis every winter. That being said, it’s also a great tonic to have on board every day of the year. It’s incredible safety profile makes it useful in all populations (though specific dosage recommendations are needed). Many natural health stores carry various elderberry syrups, which I think are great alternatives to cough syrup and can be used in much the same way but for colds, coughs, sore throats, etc. For general immune support, I find an elderberry concentrate to be much better – it contains less sugar and is more cost effective for every day use. I carry an Elderberry concentrate in my practice and find I’m frequently reordering to keep up with the demand because my patients love it so much.

Photo Credit: Mediapress.al

Vitamin C – We’ve all heard that vitamin C is good for the immune system. But it’s not just good, it’s great! Vitamin C has numerous positive implications on the body all year long but can be especially useful during cold and flu season. Extensive research has shown that vitamin C is a potent mast cell stabilizer. Mast cells contain histamine, an inflammatory chemical in the body (think allergies and inflammation). Vitamin C prevents mast cells from rupturing and releasing histamine all over the body. In very high doses (almost exclusively through IV administration) Vitamin C has been found to induce apoptosis (programed cell death) of damaged cells, including cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells. Vitamin C is another nutrient that ranks high on the safety charts (although there can be some contraindications with IV administration). While it’s always my first choice that people get as much of their nutrient load as possible from a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, sometimes a little extra help is necessary. Dosing is patient dependent but most patients can tolerate a much larger amount than they are likely to get in an over-the-counter supplement. The physician-quality Vitamin C I offer in my practice boasts 4x the amount found in a single packet of Emergen-C and I often pair this with a few other favorites for best results.

Photo Credits: WishGarden Herbs and Hooked on Beauty

Kick Ass Immune by WishGarden Herbs – I love this product! WishGarden is an herbal tincturing company out of Louisville, CO. Besides being local (which I love), they also make all their remedies in the wise woman tradition. Their formulas are built on an extensive understanding of herbs and are created in-house following traditional tincturing methods. I’ve toured their facility with my students every year and am constantly impressed by their wisdom and respect for tradition, as well as their efficiency in providing an extensive array of products to consumers all over the country.

This particular formula is my go to whenever a patient (or myself) first notices symptoms of an illness. It’s designed to start using at onset and when used appropriately, can effectively head off a cold before it really takes hold. This is a product I always keep in stock in my practice and at my home.

Photo Credit: saluteatutti.it

Viracid and Wholemune by OrthoMolecular Products – This dynamic duo is something I also make sure to have on my shelves when cold and flu season strikes. Wholemune is designed as a preventative supplement; great for those who know they tend to struggle with illness during the winter months. Among its ingredients it includes beta-glucans, which recruit lymphocytes to produce more neutrophils. Neutrophils are the first responders of our white blood cells whenever the body identifies a threat. By having more of these little soldiers at the ready, the immune system can more effectively handle microbial assaults.

Its counterpart, Viracid, is formulated to use at onset of symptoms. It combines nutrients and botanicals that are well respected for their antioxidant, antimicrobial, and immune boosting properties. This formula supports the back-up troops in case any pathogens do get through our front-line defenses. OrthoMolecular is a physician-only brand, meaning patients can only obtain it through health care professionals. Companies like this practice top-notch quality assurance standards and continually engage in research to bring the best products to market. Being physician-only maintains product and industry integrity.

Photo Credit: Reddit

Agarikon mushroom (and many other medicinal mushrooms) – Medicinal mushrooms are my new muse. The more I learn about them the more fascinated I become. Almost all medicinal mushrooms are immune boosting and show anti-cancer properties, but Agarikon mushroom in particular has been studied for its anti-viral activities. One study assessed its usefulness against tuberculosis specifically[iv]. Paul Stamets, scientist and multi-decade mushroom researcher, also notes its effectiveness in combating Herpes Simplex virus and influenza. I’ve personally experimented with this mushroom over the last few months and for the first time in years, I didn’t catch the annual cold my students and patients seem to pass around. There are a number of medicinal mushroom products available on the market right now but according to research, it’s important to use particular extractions of a particular part of the fungal colony (the mycelium) for the best immune boosting results. Since I started using more mushrooms in my practice, I’ve been very happy with the results my patients have seen.

Painting by: Elizabeth Coats

If you’re looking for some extra support this season, schedule a time to come in and see if these remedies may work for you too. Every person is unique and I treat on an individual basis.

BONUS: Warming-Socks Treatment (A home remedy for congestion and head colds!)

It may sound crazy but the concept is actually quite sound. This oldie-but-goodie nature-cure remedy works wonders against head colds and congestion:

  1. Take a pair of thin cotton socks and soak them in cool water. Place socks in the freezer until sufficiently cold but not so frozen that you can’t work with them.
  2. Just before going to bed (or laying down for a nap), remove socks from the freezer, take a deep breath, and put them on. Trust is important here…
  3. On top of the cold, wet socks, adorn a pair of dry, thick wool socks that completely cover the cold pair.
  4. Hop into bed, cover your body with a warm blanket, and go to sleep.
  5. Wake up feeling refreshed and clear-headed.

The cold of the first pair of socks causes the blood vessels in your feet to constrict, or tighten. This signals the body to warm them up, which results in the excess blood that is moving around in your sinuses (which causes inflammation and increased mucous production) to rush toward your feet. The wool socks promote warming of the tissues and then hold the heat there, which prevents continued inflammation and mucous production in your head and sinuses. Think about when you were young and ran outside barefoot in the snow. The conditions immediately cause your fingers and toes to get icy cold, but upon returning indoors, you probably noticed your hands and feet became quite toasty! This is the exact same idea.

References:

[i] Strugała P, Loi S, Bażanów B, et al. A Comprehensive Study on the Biological Activity of Elderberry Extract and Cyanidin 3-O-Glucoside and Their Interactions with Membranes and Human Serum Albumin. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30297646. Published October 8, 2018. DOI: 10.3390/molecules23102566

[ii] Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9395631. Published 1995. DOI: 10.1089/acm.1995.1.361

[iii] Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. The Journal of international medical research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016. Published March-April 2004. DOI: 10.1177/147323000403200205

[iv] Hwang CH, Jaki BU, Klein LL, Lankin DC. Chlorinated Coumarins from the Polypore Mushroom Fomitopsis officinalis and Their Activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. ACS Publications. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/np400497f. Published 2013. DOI: 10.1021/np400497f