Did you know that the average adult contracts the flu or a cold two to four times each year?
Flu season is here again but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. In this month’s Health Tips, we’ll discuss the differences between “common cold” and “flu”, and how you can tell the difference between the two. We will also discuss what steps can be taken to prevent getting sick. With a little common sense, and a little help from the team at the North Shore Wellness Centre, you could breeze through this flu season.
Common Sense Tips for Cold and Flu Prevention
The most important piece of advice when it comes to colds and flu’s is that prevention is the ultimate defence. That’s because colds and flu’s are caused by viruses, and there is no cure for a virus. In other words, antibiotics don’t work on viruses, and conventional medicine has very little to offer in the event a person actually catches a cold or flu. That is why prevention is now considered your best line of defence: Enter the flu vaccine or “Flu Shot” as it’s commonly called.
The flu shot is an annual vaccination to protect against the highly variable influenza virus. Each injected seasonal influenza vaccine contains three influenza viruses: one A (H3N2) virus, one regular seasonal A (H1N1) virus (in 2010 this was replaced by the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus), and one B virus. While it does have its merits, many people are also interested in natural alternatives.
At the North Shore Wellness Centre, Dr Brad Matthews, doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, offers an all natural “flu shot”. The injection utilizes a variety of homeopathic immune boosters and immune modulators (such as Engystol® by Heel), as well as some anti-virals to stimulate and strengthen the immune system in order to prevent colds and flu’s. It is a very effective alternative to those leery of conventional vaccinations.
Following are some simple steps we can all take to avoid getting sick:
1) Avoid contact with people who are sick. This would include shaking hands, giving out (or borrowing) pencils, paper, etc.
2) Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
3) Take good care of yourself. This means getting enough sleep (at least 7-8 hours a night), eat well, exercise, and do what you can to avoid stress. This will help to protect your immune system.
4) Stay home when you are sick.
5) Drink lots of water. Dehydration inhibits the immune system. Keeping well-hydrated may also help flush viruses from your throat to your stomach where they cannot survive.
6) Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. They contain necessary vitamins and antioxidants to maintain the immune system.
7) Consume more Vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the intensity and duration of the common cold.
8) Keep your body warm. Avoid direct exposure to cold drafts and air conditioning.
9) Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
10) Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
11) Red wine has been found to decrease the chances of contracting the flu by 20% in those who drink a glass of red wine daily.
12) Eat garlic. Garlic has powerful anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-fungal properties and boosts the immune system in general.
13) Echinacea. Echinacea can cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half, and shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 1.4 days.
14) Licorice is a potent antiviral herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Licorice contains antiviral compounds that inhibit viruses from penetrating the body’s cells.
15) Avoid sugary foods. They decrease immune function for up to 5 hours.
What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. People infected with an influenza or cold virus become contagious 24 hours after the virus enters the body (often before symptoms appear). Adults remain infectious (can spread the virus to others) for about 6 days, and children remain infectious for up to 10 days.
Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and colds usually do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. The following table highlights the differences:
|Fever||Usually present, high (102°F to 104°F or 38°C to 41°C); lasts 3 to 4 days||Uncommon|
|Aches and pains||Common and often severe||Slight|
|Fatigue and weakness||Can last up to 14 to 21 days||Mild|
|Extreme exhaustion||Very common at the start||Never|
|Chest discomfort, cough||Common||Mild to moderate, hacking cough|
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Without medical intervention, common upper respiratory symptoms can persist for 10 days to 2 weeks or more, and most patients experience a significant reduction in their quality of life. The duration and intensity of symptoms depend on numerous factors including the nature of the pathogen and the status of the immune system.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Treatment of Colds and Flus
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapies can be very effective in the treatment of colds and flus – the key is early intervention. When caught early enough, mild viruses can often be dispelled before they amount to anything. More severe viruses can be a little more difficult, and though symptoms can be greatly reduced, the virus will run its course. At the same time, because the cause is a virus, conventional medicine has no “cure” either. What to do?
TCM Anti-viral Medicines
Herbs such as ban lan gen, lian qiao, jin yin hua, and huang qin and huan lian, are commonly used anti-virals, and are found in most (if not all) TCM formulas for common cold and flu. After turning a good friend of mine onto ban lan gen tea, he has taken it religiously for prevention of colds and flus, and swears by it. He makes it part of his routine during the winter months, and hardly ever gets sick.
Lian Qiao (forsythia fruit) is well-known for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and immunity-enhancing properties. Lian Qiao is frequently used to treat common cold, influenza, swelling and pain in the throat, and skin inflammation, and we’ve included this herb in the IMEG Health™ formula “Cold Conquer”, which is available for sale at the North Shore Wellness Centre.
Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle) has been shown through clinical research to treat a variety of infectious diseases, including pneumonia and viral conjunctivitis. Jin Yin Hua is also found in the IMEG Health™ formula “Cold Conquer”.
Huang Qin is another TCM anti-viral herb, effective against influenza viruses, and is commonly used in the treatment of upper respiratory infections, either bacterial or viral.
Effective Herbal Formulas in Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis for all conditions is done on the basis of “pattern differentiation” whereby diseases are differentiated according to the imbalances of the body, as well as the causes and stages of the disease. Herbal formulas are combinations of herbs designed to address the pattern, and for that reason there are several commonly used TCM formulae for cold and flu.
Cold or Flu due to “Wind-Heat” patterns are mainly characterized by fever and chills (with a preponderance of fever), headache, sweating, runny nose with yellowish mucus, dry mouth, thirst, and sore throat. There will be a thin, yellow tongue coating, and superficial and rapid pulse. It is classically treated with the famous formula “Yin Qiao San”.
Where the pattern is one of “Wind-Cold”, the symptoms include chills and aversion to cold, mild fever without sweat, stuffy chest, sneezing, runny nose with clear mucus, and an itchy throat. There will be a thin, white tongue coating, and a tight pulse. A commonly used formula is Gui Zhi Tang (Cinnamon Twig Decoction).
In reality, there is rarely a clear-cut case of wind-heat or wind-cold, and we tend to see a lot of mixed signs and symptoms. That is the reason that team at IMEG Health™ developed their own formula called “Cold Conquer” which is a combination of herbs (based on Yin Qiao San) used to address the more commonly seen symptoms of cold and flu. Our patients have found Cold Conquer to be extremely effective and most keep a bottle on hand so they are ready at the initial signs of a cold or flu.
If you are interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies for cold and flu, or any other health concern, the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners at the North Shore Wellness Centre would be pleased to help. Our practitioners are available 5 days per week, and walk-ins are welcome.