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Herbal help for colds

YOU can sense it coming - the scratchy throat, stuffy nose and general feeling of discomfort and achy body.

These are the first hints of an impending common cold. Within 48 hours, your cold is in full bloom with watery eyes, running nose or blocked nose, sore throat that knocks out your appetite due to the affected smell and taste. Catch it before it fully develops with some herbal help.

At the first sign of a cold, herbalists would prescribe Echinacea to nip it in the bud and to decrease its frequency, symptoms, and severity. Echinacea stimulates the activity of white blood cells that eliminate invading organisms and foreign particles by phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is a Greek word that means to eat and this process involves the engulfment of foreign particle by the white blood cell.

Another useful herb is elderberry. The Black Elderberry (sambucus nigra) has been described as the "country medicine chest" in European traditional medicine. It is a remedy for colds, coughs and upper respiratory infections. The bark, leaves, flowers and berries are used for medicinal purpose. Its ripe wine-coloured berries are also made into drinks, wine, chutney, ketchup and filling for pies.

Elderberry extract was shown to prevent the cold virus from replicating hence stopping the infection. Studies on elderberry in cell cultures and animals have profound success in inhibiting the influenza virus, herpes virus and HIV strains. A study on 60 patients with influenza A and B infections for 48 hours or less were given elderberry supplement for five days and by the fourth day most of them were relieved of flu symptoms.

If the cold is full blown, there is still much one can do to reduce the severity of  symptoms and quicken recovery. In Sanskrit, ocimum tenuiflorum was called "the incomparable one". Hence this specie of basil is dubbed Holy Basil. It is used traditionally in Ayuverdic medicine to help shift the thick mucus that comes with colds, flu and upper respiratory infections. Horseradish is also another pungent herb that dislodges blocked sinuses and catarrh.

No treatment of colds would be complete without garlic. Garlic has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that help the immune system to fight infection. It is best taken raw and if the garlic breath is threatening your social life, then opt for garlic supplements or in combination with other cold-relieving herbs such as horseradish.

While down with a cold, it is important to drink plenty of fluids. Fresh fruit juices are high in vitamin C as well as other antioxidants to help boost your body immune defences. Herbal teas with ginger reduce aches and sore throat. Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugary drinks and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Getting adequate sleep and rest is important for speedy recovery.

The common cold is caused by any one of 200 different viruses and they are highly contagious and easily spread via droplets that are expel when talking, coughing or sneezing. A sneeze without covering one's nose will send 100,000 virus cells up to 10m. Most colds run their course in seven to 10 days.

Anyone can catch a cold but kindergarten and primary school children catch them more frequently than adolescents and adults. People who are overworked, highly stressed, working or living in crowded conditions, smokers and those with poor nutrition are more susceptible.

Take the following steps to reduce cold from spreading:

  • Wash your hands frequently especially after touching our nose and before handling food.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing.
  • Dispose used tissues properly.
  • Do not share your eating utensils or cup with anyone.
  • Avoid close contact with people especially during the first two to four days of the infection. Stay away from babies and children and if it cannot be avoided, wearing a face mask will help to a certain extent.
  • Avoid crowded places.

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