Easy Ways to Help Yourself During Sneezin’ Season
My series on “Whole Health” continues with this guest post by Nelsa Ciapponi, MD, ABIHM.
Dr. Ciapponi is board certified in Family Practice, and has studied Integrative and Holistic medicine. She is a graduate of Duke and Medical College of Pennsylvania She was with CMC in Family Medicine for 8 years.
People often ask me, “What are some natural therapies for cold and flu?” Home remedies and natural products have long been used to treat and prevent Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) and Influenza-like illness (ILI). Symptoms usually wane after 3-5 days, but is there evidence for some of the more common remedies? What about effectiveness and safety? We’ll address some of these issues here.
Home remedies range form diet, dressing warm, vaporizers, poultices and Neti pots. Adding garlic to the diet can be beneficial due to its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties (it has been called Russian Penicillin), and warm liquids/soups can help prevent dehydration and soothe irritated throats.
The Neti Pot (small vessels with long narrow spouts) has long been used in India to rinse the nasal passages with warm saline (salt) water. This can be a safe and helpful way to wash viruses, allergens and mucus out of the nose especially in cases of dry, irritated nasal passages or during an upper respiratory illness.
Sleep deprivation is associated with disruptions of the immune function and this should be a time of rest and repair for the body. So, the old adage, “Get plenty of sleep” is valid. While there is not data to suggest that excessive amounts of sleep, it appears prudent to avoid sleep deficits and increase sleep time during illnesess.
Vitamins and Minerals
The most common of these supplements are Vitamins C and D, and Zinc. Vitamin C is the most common vitamin associated with warding off viral respiratory infections. Studies show mixed results, but a number do show a decrease in duration of symptoms when used preventively (200mg or more a day).
Side effects of vitamin C (in large daily doses exceeding 3 to 6 grams) include diarrhea and upset stomach. Otherwise, the side-effect profile of vitamin C is similar to placebo. Many experts recommend 1000-2000 mg two to three times a day when symptoms begin as it does help support the immune system through increased white blood cell activity.
In addition to its well-known effects on bone health, vitamin D is an important immune regulator, stimulating the body’s own immunity. Studies have shown an increased risk for severe acute lower respiratory illness in people with low vitamin D levels, as well as, an increase risk for influenza. I recommend getting tested to insure an optimum level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D is at least 50 nanograms/ml (32 being low normal).
The essential mineral, zinc, plays an important role in immune function. Zinc is a component of many enzymes. The activity of virtually all immune cells is affected by zinc. Its deficiency leads to an increased susceptibly to infection and is associated with an increased incidence and severity of pneumonia
Studies of the effectiveness of zinc supplements in preventing have had mixed results. It appears the benefits of zinc supplementation were most apparent among those who began taking zinc shortly after symptoms began. In a recent placebo-controlled trial, the adults assigned to zinc lozenges (13.3 mg of zinc acetate every 2-3 hours) showed significant improvement in symptom severity and duration without significant side-effects It’s important to note that nasal swabs and nasal sprays that contain zinc can lead to loss of smell and should be avoided until further studies demonstrate safety.
These are some easy and inexpensive ways to aid you to better health.
Dr. Nelsa Ciapponi , MD, ABIHM, is committed to advocate for preventive and integrative medicine Dr. Ciapponi has practiced family medicine for 19 years with a special interest in preventive and holistic medicine. Her practice, Optimal Health Care, (www.optimalhealthmed.com) combines traditional medicine with complementary and alternative medicine.