How to make the common cold uncommon

By Michael T. Murray, N.D.

This article was originally published in October 2002

Dr. Murray

Researchers tell us that it is “normal” to catch a cold four to six times per year. That may be normal, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. Have you wondered why some people never “catch” a cold, while others seem to suffer from a cold often?

We’re all constantly exposed to many of the viruses that can cause a cold, yet for most of us it’s only when our resistance is low that we come down with the symptoms. This implies that a decrease in the effectiveness of our immune system is the major factor in catching a cold.

If you catch more than one or two colds a year, it’s an indication that your immune system needs some support. If so, this article will provide you with the information that you need to bolster your immune system. Like most health conditions, it’s far easier to prevent a cold than to treat a cold.

Here are some guidelines for what to do, if you catch a cold.

Build a healthy immune system
Consistent with good health, optimal immune function requires a healthy diet that (1) is rich in whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds, and nuts (2) is low in fats and refined sugars, and (3) contains adequate, but not excessive, amounts of protein.

Since the immune system requires a constant source of virtually every nutrient, a high-potency multiple-vitamin and mineral formula is a key step in supporting the immune system, as it will address any underlying nutritional deficiencies.

Deficiencies of virtually any nutrient can result in significantly impaired immune function, especially deficiencies of vitamins C, E, A, B6, B12, and folic acid. Minerals that are especially important are zinc, iron, and selenium. In addition to a multiple, some specific nutrients helpful in boosting immune function include vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A.

What to do once a cold is caught
In the event that you do “catch” a cold, there are a number of natural measures that can speed up recovery — reducing both the severity and duration. First, start with the basics: eat right, get lots of sleep and rest, and drink plenty of liquids (preferably diluted vegetable juices, soups, and herb teas). Doing so helps the immune system respond to the common cold virus.

As far as specific supplements, vitamin C can be effective at a dosage of 500 milligrams every two waking hours. Zinc lozenges can help, too, but the recommendation that I have the most confidence in is using a high quality echinacea product. Started soon enough, echinacea can stop a cold dead in its tracks.

Echinacea and the immune system
Modern research has shown Echinacea to exert significant effects on immune function in more than 300 scientific investigations. However, not all of the clinical studies have been positive. Mixed results from clinical studies with Echinacea are most likely from lack of or insufficient quantity of active compounds. The effectiveness of any herbal product is determined by its ability to deliver an effective dosage of active compounds.

Chemical analysis of commercial Echinacea preparations has demonstrated tremendous variation in the levels of key compounds, even within the same product from batch to batch. Many manufacturers are not using the quality control tests necessary to insure that the Echinacea is being grown properly and harvested at the precise time for maximal levels of all active compounds.

Since Echinacea contains a wide assortment of chemical constituents with confirmed immune enhancing effects, it’s important for manufacturers to insure sufficient levels of all these active compounds. The best assurance for consumers to get the full benefit of Echinacea is to use a product from a trusted manufacturer that guarantees the level of active ingredients.

Safety information
When used at the recommended doses even for indefinite periods, there’s no danger of toxicity. No studies have reported acute or chronic toxicity reactions due to Echinacea extracts. Echinacea use usually is without side effect, however, allergic reactions have been reported in people who are allergic to other plants in the same family (daisy, ragweed, marigolds, etc.).

Echinacea appears to be safe even for children, as well as for pregnant or lactating women. Based upon both animal studies and evaluation studies in women using Echinacea during pregnancy, it shows no harmful effects.

Michael T. Murray, N.D., is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on natural medicine. He is a graduate, faculty member, and serves on the Board of Trustees of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. He is co-author of “A Textbook of Natural Medicine” and the best-selling “Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.” Dr. Murray is Director of Product Development and Education for Natural Factors.

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