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Understanding Cold and Flu Options


The common cold is the leading reason children and adults stay home sick from school or work, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s estimated that one billion colds are caught and spread in the U.S. every year.1 During influenza season, 35 to 50 million Americans get the flu. Flu outbreaks can sweep through entire communities, affecting up to half the population. For certain people (the elderly, newborns, and people with chronic illnesses) the flu can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

Cold and Flu Can Be Difficult to Eliminate

Viruses are extremely difficult to study. To reverse a cold, a remedy would need to kill any one of the 200 different viruses. Flu viruses continually evolve and mutate from season to season.1,2 So far, no one has succeeded at finding the magic formula for a safe cold or flu cure.

The best research has been able to offer is the development of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to treat cold and flu symptoms. However, there is some consensus that treating the symptoms of colds and flu infections may actually prolong the duration of the disease and prolong the misery.1,2 In addition, some potentially serious side effects have been associated with the use of OTC cold and flu medications.8,9

Side effects Associated With OTC medications

A variety of OTC products are available. Decongestants temporarily dry up runny noses, stop sneezing, and relieve watery eyes.

Acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen reduce body aches. Aspirin and ibuprofen bring down fevers.1,2

All these medications can cause side effects. Aspirin and ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal upset.10,11 Additionally, aspirin should never be given to children and adolescents with colds or the flu. Several studies have linked the use of aspirin to the development of Reye’s syndrome, a rare and potentially fatal illness.1,2

Taking acetaminophen over an extended length of time can cause liver and kidney damage so the daily dose should be limited to no more than four grams.12,13 Decongestants can cause high blood pressure, heart palpitations, urinary retention, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, anxiety, tremors, and insomnia.14 Decongestant use can alter the normal tissue of the nose and actually increase the duration of nasal congestion.15,16

However, suffering with an untreated cold or the flu can be very distressing and quite uncomfortable.

Treatment Options

Supplementing with elderberry during the flu may reduce its symptoms.41 Elderberry is an herb that causes an increase in viral antibodies. While elderberry is available as an individual supplement, it is also frequently combined with other vitamins, minerals, glandular extracts, or herbs for maximum cold and flu symptom relief.

If you also have an irritated throat, English ivy extract has been shown to provide natural and effective relief. English ivy soothes and quiets coughs due to colds and flu without the side effects often found in some products containing synthetic ingredients.42-44

Getting lots of rest and drinking lots of fluids (a minimum of 64 ounces of water and juice a day) are also very important. Drinking hot beverages such as tea and eating chicken soup are not only comforting, but they can open up stuffy noses. Gargling with salt water may help reduce painful sore throats.1,2

Individuals should seek care from a licensed health care practitioner if they have a fever that:

These symptoms may signal more serious conditions.1,2

With colds and flu, "an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of c u r e." Frequent hand washing and sneezing into facial tissues (that are promptly thrown away) are the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of colds and flu.1,2


1. The Common Cold. National Institutes of Health Web site. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/
Accessed on April 30, 2001.

2. Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/
diseases/flu/fluinfo.htm. Accessed April 30, 2001.

3. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. EchinaceTyler’s Herbs of Choice. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press; 1999: 253-257.

4. Wustenberg R, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, Kohler G, Stammwitz U. Efficacy and mode of action of an immunomodulator herbal preparation containing echinacea, wild indigo, and white cedar. Advanced Therapy. 1999;16:51-70.

5. Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, Hentschel C, Schnitker J, Kohnen R, Kohler G, Wustenberg P. Efficacy and safety of a fixed combination phytomedicine in the treatment of the common cold (acute viral respiratory tract infection): results of a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre study. Current Medical Research Opinion. 1999;15:214-227.

6. Porth CM. The common cold. Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott; 1998: 502.

7. Norris J, Ed. InfluenzProfessional Guide to Diseases. 5th ed. Springhouse, Pa: Springhouse Corporation; 1995:212-213.

8. Karch AM, Karch FE. Let the user beware. OTC drugs aren’t necessarily ‘safe when taken as directed.’ American Journal of Nursing 2001;101:25.

9. Ornato JP. Over-the-counter stroke? Health News. 2000;6:3.

10. Hirschowitz BI, Hawkey CJ. Questions regarding future research on aspirin and the gastrointestinal tract. Amercian Journal of Medicine. 2001;110(Suppl):S74-S78.

11. Hunt RH, Bowen B, Mortensen ER, et al. A randomized trial measuring fecal blood loss after treatment with rofecoxib, ibuprofen, or placebo in healthy subjects. American Journal. Medicine. 2000;109:201-206.

12. Noriega GO, Ossola JO, Tomaro ML, Batlle AM. Effect of acetaminophen on heme metabolism in rat liver. International Journal of Biochemistry Cell Biology. 2000;32:983-991.

13. Broughan TA, Soloway RD. Acetaminophen hepatoxicity. Digestive Disease Science. 2000;45:1553-1558.

14. Johnson DA, Hrieik JG. The pharmacology of alpha-adrenergic decongestants. Pharmacotherapy. 1993;13:110-115.

15. Graf P. Adverse effects of benzalkonium chloride on the nasal mucosa: allergic rhinitis and rhinitis medicamentosClin Therapy. 1999;21:1749-1755.

16. Graf P. Rhinitis medicamentosa: aspects of pathophysiology and treatment. Allergy. 1997;52:28-34.

17. Foster S, Tyler VE. EchinaceIn: The Honest Herbal. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press; 1999:143-145.

18. Bauer R, Hoheisel O, Stuhlfauth I, Wolf H. Extract of the Echinacea purpura herb: an allopathic phytoimmunostimulant. Wein Med Wochenschr. 1999;149:185-189.

19. Lindenmuth GF, Lindenmuth EB. The efficacy of echinacea compound herbal tea preparation on the severity and duration of upper respiratory and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 2000;6:327-334.

20. Currier NL, Miller SC. Natural killer cells from aging mice treated with extracts from Echinacea purpurea are quantitatively and functionally rejuvenated. Experimental Gerontology. 2000;35:627-639.

21. Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, et al. Results of five randomized studies on the immunomodulatory activity of preparations of EchinaceJournal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 1995;1:145-160.

22. Bauer R. Echinacea drugs—effects and active ingredients. Z Arztl Fortbild (Jena). 1996;90:111-115.

23. Dorsch W. Clinical applications of extracts of Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea pallidCritical evaluation of controlled clinical studies. Z Arztl Fortbild (Jena). 1996;90:117-122.

24. Stimpel M, Proksch A, Wagner H, Lohmann-Matthes ML. Macrophage activation and induction of macrophage cytotoxicity by purified polysaccharide fractions from the plant Echinacea purpureInfect Immun. 1984;46:845-849.

25. Luettig B, Steinmuller C, Gifford GE, Wagner H, Lohmann-Matthes ML. Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpureJ Natl Cancer Inst. 1989;81:669-675.

26. Burger RA, Torres AR, Warren RP, Caldwell VD, Hughes BG. Echinacea-induced cytokine production by human macrophages. International Journal of Immunopharmacology. 1997;19:371-379.

27. See DM, Broumand N, Sahl L, Tilles JG. In vitro effects of echinacea and ginseng on natural killer and antibody dependent cell cytotoxicity in healthy subjects and chronic fatigue syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients. Immunopharmacology. 1997;35:229-235.

28. Sun LZ, Currier NL, Miller SC. The American coneflower: a prophylactic role involving nonspecific immunity. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 1999;5:437-446.

29. Kindzel’skii LP, Zlochevskaia LL, Tsyganok TV, Shebava MM. The effect of natural immunomodulators on the lymphocytic natural killer activity in patients with malignant lymphoproliferative diseases. Lika Sprav1995;1:146-148.

30. Summers C. Immunity and inflammation. In: Porth CM. Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott; 1998:189-212. 31. Hansel R, Keller K, Rimpler H, Schneider. Hagers Hanbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis: Drogen P-Z (Thuja). New York, NY:Springer-Verlag; 1994.

32. Offergeld R, Reinecker C, Gumz E, et al. Mitogenic activity of high molecular polysaccharide fractions isolated from the cupprassaseae Thuja occidentalis L. enhanced cytokine-production by thyapolysaccharide, g-fraction (TPSg). Leukemi1992; 3(Suppl):189S-191S.

33. Neth R, Drize N, Gohla S, Offergeld R, Reski R, Schrum S. Phytotherapeutische forschung: Thuja occidentialis LZ. Allg Medicine. 1995;71:522-530.

34. Vomel T. Der einflub eins pflanzlichen immunostimulans auf die phagozytose von erythrozyten durch das retikulohistiozytare system der isoliert perfundunierten rattenleber. Arzneimittelforschung/Drug Research. 1985;35:1437-1439.

35. Beuscher N, Kopanski L, Ernwein C. Modulation der immunanatwort durch polymere substanzen aus baptista tinctoria und echinacea angustifoliIn: Masihi KN et al, eds. Immunotherapeutic Prospects of Infectious Diseases. Berlin, Heidelberg:

36. Beuscher N, Scheit KH, Bodinet C, Egert D. Modulation der korpereigenen immunabwehr substanzen aus baptista tinctoria und echinacea purpureIn: Masihi KN et al, eds. Immunotherapeutic Prospects of Infectious Diseases. Berlin, Heidelberg:Springer-Verlag; 1991.

37. Hansel R, Keller K, Rimpler H, Schneider G. Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis: Drogen A-D (baptista). New York, NY:Springer-Verlag; 1992.

38. Echinacea pallida root. In: Blumenthal M., ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council; Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:121-122.

39. Echinacea purpurea herb. In: Blumenthal M., ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council; Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:122-123. 40. Liske E. Panel discussion. Possible contraindications and side effects of echinace1999. Presented at the 1999 American Herbal Products Association International Echinacea Symposium. Kansas City, Mo.

41. Zakay-Jones 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 PanamJournal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 1995;1:361-369.

42. Ivy Leaf. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J., ed. Herbal Medicine. Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council; Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:215-217.

43. Meyer-Wegener J, Liebscher K, Hettich M. Ivy versus ambroxol in chronic bronchitis. Zeitschrift Fur Allgemeinmedizin (Journal of General Medicine). 1993;69:61-66.

44. Gulyas A, Repges R, Dethlefsen U. Systematic therapy of chronic obstructive respiratory disease in children. Atemw und Lungenkrankheiten (Respiratory and Lung Disease). 1997;23:291-294

Decker Weiss

Author Decker Weiss is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor in the state of Arizona.


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Updated: July 6 2014