To begin with, a cold is a rather non-trivial event. It's much more than a nuisance, like some might assert.
For example, the author and his wife just returned from what would have been a lovely Christmas family reunion. Instead, we and
some of our loved ones experienced the gamut of respiratory issues. It's as if we exchanged diseases rather than presents.
About the books on the right: The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine provides excellent summaries of
a great many herbs. The Herbal Remedies: Top 100 Herbs is a magazine-format book that comes out every year, and gives
up-to-date information on the herbs that are useful for various applications, for example, colds/flu, sleeping better, allergies, "men's herbs",
"women's herbs", and the like.
So in this article. I propose to offer some slightly different information - some of it from the more recent articles in the herbal
area - as well as some more subtle nuances of treatment. And I will end the article with some deeper observations/ramblings. If you have read
some of my other essays on this blog, you are probably getting used to this by now. It's what the Wrackline Blog is all about.
By the way, one of the advantages of being an older person is that you can look forward to fewer respiratory diseases. At the age of 70, I find that I get a cold about every 2 years now. After all, there's only 100-200 cold viruses, and by the time you have reached the age of 50-60 or more, you just about seen 'em all.
A few words on prevention. During the winter months, this is the time to keep your immune system in top shape. For starters, it's well to know where the immune system actually is. It's in the blood, right? You know; all those killer T cells and the like.
There are many articles nowadays pointing out that 70% of the immune system is in the gut, and is directly related to gut flora - the "good" bacteria. It is the gut bacteria that prompt certain cells in the intestinal mucosa to create the Killer T's, along with immunoglobin A (IgA), and macrophages. They also counteract "bad" pathogens in other ways. This is the reason that you should not take antibiotics lightly. As you probably know, antibiotics have no effect on viral infections such as the cold and the flu. If you have recently had an course of antibiotics, it is absolutely essential to restore this intestinal flora system, perhaps by taking extra probiotics.
If all this isn't enough, consider that gut bacteria are responsible for 90% of serotonin! That's right. Serotonin, THE "feel-good" neurotransmitter.
The mucal membranes in the upper respiratory tract are also an important part of the immune system. It has been pointed out that it is not necessarily cold temperatures in winter that promote colds and the flu. It's the drying effect of indoor heat and closed windows. This dries up the mucus in the protective mucous membranes, and the cilia are not as effective in sweeping viruses out of the respiratory tract. The mucous membranes can even develop cracks, which further exposes your physicality to infection. In some homes it might be necessary to use a vaporizer or humidifier during some of the colder days.
While we are talking about "Sweeping viruses out of the respiratory tract, here's a useful tip: If you sneeze, something's irritating your nasal passages. Stop what you're doing and go blow your nose! You want to immediately remove that irritant, just in case it might be something you don't want. If nothing else, this will help you stop sneezing.
Some suggested foods/supplements/teas for prevention:
Consider Elderberry. Try a tablet in the morning and in the evening. Elderberry has been showing up in many recent articles lately, and has been getting a lot of recommendations. Elderberry juice and syrup have been used for more than 2000 years for colds, flu, and coughs. It helps remove toxins by way of its diaphoretic (warming) and diuretic action, and is said to have a decongestant action. The herb is rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. In addition, "these flavonoids in the berry help bind and disarm hemagglutinins, tiny viral spikes which otherwise allow the virus to penetrate cellular membranes." (Ref: The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine) Thus Elderberry has anti-viral properties, and is especially useful if taken immediately upon experiencing the first symptoms of a cold or flu.
The author does not necessarily buy into the big doses of Vitamin C, but if you want some C with your Elderberry, the product "Sambucha" has Elderberry and Vitamin C.
Update, 12/2017:Consider one of the combination Zinc/Elderberry lozenges shown below, instead of just Elderberry by itself as a tablet.
In general, the author prefers and recommends that the less you do to interfere with bodily processes, the better. Your physicality knows what it is doing, even though you might not feel like it knows what it is doing! (But anything, including Medicine's Big Guns, is fair game on The Cough!!)
For example, if you have the initial highly runny nose/sneezing and the like, if you can let this run its course (and not take an antihistamine), you might find that it will last only one day or less. If there is drainage and excessive nasal secretions, usually it's because potential invaders are being expelled. On the other hand, if it gets too rough at bedtime, you could consider a well-placed antihistamine just before retiring. And sometimes the nasal runniness and the sneezing, like some other bodily processes, can get away from you. If the nasal saline treatments (described a few paragraphs below) do not provide and hour or two of relief, it also might be time to shut it down with an antihistamine. Diphenhydramine (Benedryl) has the significant side effect of making you very drowsy, but the other main OTC antihistamine - chlorpheniramine maleate (Chlor-Trimeton) - works fine as well.
Likewise with the internal temperature. If you have a slightly elevated termperature, say 99 or 100, this can actually mean that your immune system is active in eliminating viruses. Recent research has shown that certain lymphocytes are more efficient at a slightly elevated temperature. Thus, unless you are in significant discomfort, try to avoid taking aspirin or acetaminophin, since these act to reduce fever. NOTE: we are talking about slightly elevated temps here! Higher temperatures possibly warrant a call to the doc.
Drink lots of warm water as well as various teas. All this acts like a natural expectorant, and helps keep the internal temperature up. Drinking lots of cold water tends to make you chilled. Warm water might sound disgusting, but you get used to it. Try not to let it, or the teas, be too hot. The throat is highly irritated and too much heat may irritate it further. Think your drink is "warm", not hot? Try pouring a few drops on your palm - not your fingers - they're too used to heat.
This is the time to arm your immune system with the best foods and drinks you can find. Some folks can't eat much when they're down with a cold, but if you can, make it count. Lots of spinach. Some "Green Drinks" or powdered Greens mixes. Fix some nourishing soups, generally with clear broth, and yes, chicken broth does seem to help - perhaps even providing a bit of drying/decongesting effect. In any case, this is NOT the time for cokes, other soft drinks, and junk food! Your immune system will then be shooting blanks!
You can't go wrong by gargling as often as possible with warm saline, and ocasionally "snorting" some to clear out the nose. Neti pot salt is fine-grained, as is Hain's large container. Thus it dissolves more easily.
If your room is dry, a portable humidifier/vaporizer significantly helps. Don't have a vaporizer? Then hang a damp towel over a portable clothes rack and place next to your bed.
Some selected items to take during the cold/flu
Update, 12/2017: Consider one of the combination Zinc/Elderberry lozenges shown below, instead of just Elderberry by itself as a tablet.
Fisherman's Friend throat lozenges seem to offer a temporary decongestant effect
Selected good teas to drink
Consider one of these Zinc/Elderberry lozenges. The benefits of
Elderberry are supplanted with the benefits of Zinc. While the studies of Zinc as a cold remedy have been mixed, many
of the studies have shown some benefit from the Zinc, particularly if taken at the onset of a cold.
And this brings us to the subject of The Cough. If you're like me, the ending phase of a cold/flu is a protracted cough. Some coughing is productive and allows for the removal of spent cells and excess mucous. But somewhere toward the end is the dry, utterly useless, unproductive cough. The one for which you don't dare go out to a store without a bottle of water. The one which keeps you from going to sleep for several hours each night. This is what all the warm water and teas is for. You want to convert the cough. By "convert" i mean that you are replacing the cough with just a productive clearing of the throat. Any time you can succeed in this, the cough stops.
During the cough phase, some well-timed use of the expectorant guaifenesin (Mucinex) can help loosen up the mucous. Get the 600 mg version rather than the extra strength 1200mg version. If you wake up with a cough, you can then take another 600mg tab. Too much (e.g.: 1200mg tabs), particularly near the end, may even exacerbate the cough, by producing too much liquid - hence too much dripping. Small-framed people could even cut a 600 tab in half. Yes, I know. The package warns against this.
Medicine's Big Guns are these:
Tussinex. This is (was?) the most powerful. It's actually hydrocodone. But watch out! It worked great for me years ago but of late it is supplied with an antihistamine. The antihistamine is supposed to help with the "post-nasal drip". But in the author's experience this additional drying only made things worse.
Cheratussin (sometimes supplied as "Virtussin"). This is a bit of guaifenesin (100mg) and some codeine (10mg) per 5 ml dose. This seems to work the best. The usual recommended dose might be 5ml every 6 hours, but some doctors will bump this to 5ml every 4 hours. You (or the cough) can be the judge. . .
Tessalon Perles (Benzontonate). These are useful for a mild cough, perhaps during the day, but not so much at for more pronounced coughs.
Combining the perles and the Cheratussin does NOT seem to work.
Dextromethorphan HBr (not shown). This is the Over-the-Counter cough suppressant. It's described in the notes for the graphic below.
NOTE: There seem to be two kinds of dry coughs:
The "tickle-induced" cough. This is the one which won't let you get to sleep. Each breath slightly irritates the "tickle area" in the throat. This is the one for which the cough suppressants are helpful. You can tell because you can take deep breaths without setting it off.
The dry cough. This is the one which comes up suddenly during in the night or in the morning, when your throat is bone dry. A few sips of water can at times make this one productive. It may persist for several days and get worse in the afternoon/evening, and may be accompanied by quite a bit of post-nasal drip.
Don't STOP taking the cough medicine! TAPER it off! This applies to all meds, herbs, or anything else you are depending on for physical support. You might think, "Oh I did well later in the night and towards morning. So I won't take a cough suppressant until later today". The cough suppressant should probably be taken for a while even though you might think you don't need it. You cannot let the cough get away from you!
Prop yourself up with pillows when you first go to sleep. This reduces the drip and associated tickling of the throat. After a few hours of intermittent sleep, you will finally get tired enough that you can sleep despite the cough. (It might be noted that there's dripping ALL the time - probably a sign of a healthy, moist mucal membrane system. But we just don't notice it all other times, because the cough reflex is not active.)
The Fisherman's Friend - or other menthol tablets - act as a temporary clearing agent, enough perhaps to allow you get to sleep.
The Allegro Wellness Tea seems to have a drying effect, and seems to help stop the "drip"
Medical Science's Offerings:
Tapering and the Relapse
Soon you will enter the "Final Stages", discussed right below. You are starting to feel like you are again
a member of the human species rather than a member of the rhinovirus species! You will be tempted to just stop
taking the extra green drink, the special teas, the cough suppressant (if you started that), or whatever
else you might have chosen as your helper during the cold.
Towards the end, you have the toxin-clearing time. The lungs are being purged. There may be a return to a "productive" cough as the the final toxins are expelled. Also, these toxin clearing times might be associated with temporarily more powerful dripping, more dry cough, and the like. There may be more discomfort, more soreness; you might awake with a headache. All this is caused by the toxins and cellular debris being moved about for disposal. This is another time for drinking lots of liquids, to help in the expulsion of the toxins. Here's an interesting parallel: A nutritional course in "Natural Healing" was describing the "Elimination Diet", which is the one whereby you start by eliminating all six common food sensitivity groups (dairy, eggs, etc). The lecturer noted that, after you have started this diet:
"Between days two and seven, you may start to feel like your symptoms are getting worse, but this is expected. As you clear your body of the toxins, sometimes they flare up". (Ref: The Science of Natural Healing) Course #1986, The Great Courses.
When you awake, the throat may be dry. Drink enough warm water to cause expectoration, to "convert" the cough. Also you might need to do this if you wake up during the night. Also gargle with salt water when you wake up during the night. Sometimes it's not easy when you in the midst of coughing, but try to gargle anyway. The cough suppressants may not be as useful for this cough.
Finally, the cough might persist a bit toward the end, even though the lungs are clear and there's nothing left to expectorate. For this reason, taper off the guaifenesin (Mucinex). As a matter of fact, toward the end, it's a tough call on the Mucinex. Loose, watery drip: not a good time to use Mucinex, since it exacerbates the drip. Dry cough that is unproductive and doesn't become productive even with lots of water: not a good time. Thick material that you can't seem to clear/swallow: might be a good time for the Mucinex.
Informative Link for additional information
Here's some good information, along with tips, from Dr Mercola. However, I might suggest you ignore the hydrogen peroxide in the ears idea:Vitamin D and other Simple, Inexpensive Tricks to Cure a Cold.
And by the way, why is the phrase "catch a cold"? "Catch"? Why "catch"? If we have a fever, do we say "we caught a hot"?
We would all love it if Medical Science could come up with a Pill to "cure" colds. Just go to the doc, get a prescription for anacoldcyclene HCL, take one stat and 1 a day for 2 days and it’s gone. But would we? It could be said that a cold gently reminds of our mortality, that we can't just continue to plow through life with big plans and work-related activities and not take some time to just idle out and consider some of the deeper parts of existence.
In other words, I suppose if we could fix everything (by ourselves, Spirit not needed), few people would then take the trouble to maintain belief in a Being who does not give us big, obvious, visible Signs that prove its existence.
A cold is a time of our lives where we can't quite regulate our internal temperature. We can't maintain our own heat. That is, we're "cold". Also, we are not "all there" during a cold. Feelings are down - there is simply not the usual depth of feeling. Perhaps, too, we may speak of lack of "inspiration" (in-spir-ation - the taking in of air) due to the congestion. When we are well, we take in air well. Our nasal passages are open, and each breath is rich and full - we take in air both literally and figuratively (taking it in figuratively is "inspiration"). But when we are congested, we do not take in air well; there is a limited exchange of earth and air during these times.
We are beings of Earth and Air. The part of us that is part of the Air thinks, makes plans, dreams, and occasionally soars; the part of us that is of the Earth understands.
Also note that the words that came to me were "A cold is a time of life'. "Time of life" is the wording that I will be using in subsequent articles for "mental" issues like depression or schizophrenia. We don't "have" depression. Instead we are experiencing a time in our life in which we don't quite have the upright stance; we are not quite walking in tune with the beat of our heart. Likewise we don't "have" schizophrenia. Instead we are experiencing a time in our life in which we are temporarily out of touch with our physicality.
Note the Time word: "Temporarily". We are not eternal. Things change. The cold, like the depression or schizophrenia, will pass.
So we say, then, that we don't "have" a cold, in the sense that a cold is exclusively an "it" that we can't control and can't (at least partially) have some dominion over - as Spiritual Beings that are a part of the Universal Consciousness. A cold is a time in our life in which the appearance is that the microbes and viruses are in control. The reality is that we are in control, but of course that may be hard to believe when we can't even sleep at night due to an unremitting cough.
Is it all chemical and physical? Do we get a cold because of chemical and physiological changes due to viruses – chemical and physical entities? Or is it because the virus "caught" us at a time of reduced Life-power, a time of low internal heat?
For example I have taken cold hikes many times on the beach with the shrieking Pacific winds chilling me to the bone and yet did not ‘catch a cold’ but there have been times where cold/hot temperature changes did have an effect. One of those times for me was when I had the start of a cold but stopped it with a good night’s sleep and some green drink, and the like. However, since my kids were visiting, I took a long cold hike in a forested area near Portland and got chilled to the bones, after which I found myself sweating for about 15 minutes in an inordinately hot restaurant waiting for a to-go order. So the cold came back in full force.
So I will leave unanswered the question "which started first – the reduced Life-Power or the chemical change?" But in any case the chemical and physiological soon take over, both in the case of the cold and in the case of the depression or schizophrenia. And, in the case of the viral-mediated cold, we try to use pharmacology to "cure" the condition but the best we can do is relieve the symptoms. The antihistamines and decongestants relieve the symptoms but they do not cure. And in the case of the depression, some event or a time of unusually low self-esteem catches us at a time of reduced Life-Power. Then the physiological might take over and we find ourselves fresh out of neurotransmitters. The Prosac creates more serotonin but the Prosac does not cure either.
We do the cure. We do it by virtue of our words. We speak the words of healing, and the words have the same creative power as the creative words used by Spirit when It spoke the words of Creation a long time ago.
Copyright © 2016 J.A.