Posted Feb 4, 2014

The Sacramento Bee/MCT

By Drs Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden

Now that we are in the middle of the cold and flu season, it is the right time to put in place some practices that will leave our immune system operating at peak performance. There are a number of supplements and botanicals that can help to reduce our risk of getting sick. They include the following:

Zinc is important for a healthy immune system, and the elderly in particular are often zinc-deficient. Be sure to eat zinc-rich foods, including oysters, beef, liver, poultry and crab. Zinc is not well absorbed from multivitamins, so if you need extra zinc, take it as a separate supplement. The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) is 11 milligrams per day for men and 8 milligrams for women, though some people need more.

Probiotics may help to prevent colds or reduce the duration of symptoms. They seem to work by stimulating immune function. Try lactobacillus rhamnosus GG or a mixed probiotic containing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. The optimal dose is uncertain, but usually about 10bn colony forming units per day for kids and 25bn CFU for adults.

North American ginseng (also known as panax quinquefolius) may reduce the risk of developing colds or influenza if taken for three to four months during the winter months. It may also reduce the severity and length of illness if you do get sick. The dose is approximately 200 milligrams twice daily.

Some data suggest that vitamin C may reduce the incidence of colds, especially in people exposed to extreme stress, physical exertion, or cold weather; their incidence of colds was reduced by 50% when they took vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered to be a safe supplement especially if taken in moderate doses, such as 250 to 500 milligrams twice daily.

Green tea may have antiviral effects; preliminary research suggests that it may help to prevent colds and flu. Drink three to five cups per day.

And if you do get sick, here are a few things that can help to reduce the severity or length of your symptoms:

Zinc lozenges may also help to stop a cold; they must be started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Look for zinc acetate lozenges that contain 13 to 25 milligrams of zinc per lozenge; other formulations of zinc are not as effective. Dissolve a lozenge in the mouth every two hours until you have consumed at least 75 milligrams total per day; stop after seven to 10 days.

Elderberry may help to reduce symptoms of the flu by boosting the ability of the immune system to fight off the infection; it is active against both influenza A and B and may even be effective for swine flu.

Echinacea may help to reduce the length and severity of the common cold, though not all species are effective; Echinacea purpurea is the one that seems to be the best. It should be started at the onset of symptoms and continued for seven to 10 days.

Fresh garlic may help to thwart a cold – eat one raw clove of chopped garlic every hour at the first onset of symptoms. Stop after you’ve eaten six to eight cloves, or if you get GI (gastrointestinal distress) distress (or if you start to smell like a garlic factory!).

Honey is an effective cough suppressor and can also ease a sore throat; take one or two teaspoons, either by itself or in some warm herbal tea. It can also be used safely in children over the age of 1.

Chicken soup seems to reduce inflammation, and if you throw in some mushrooms, onions and garlic, you’ll be supporting your immune system as well.

Help avoid illness by getting plenty of sleep, reducing your stress levels, working in lots of laughter every day (a great stress reducer), eating a healthful diet, getting moderate exercise, washing your hands frequently.

Drs Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, California. Have a question related to alternative medicine? e-mail [email protected]

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