Echinacea

  1. Natural cold remedies

    Make it through cold season without a sniffle

    Spring may be just around the corner, but it's hard to tell in a lot of places.

    For many, we're still smack in the middle of cold season -- and I don't just mean the temperature. It's that time of year when everyone, even in some warm weather places, seems to be coughing, wheezing, sniffling and sneezing.

    Maybe you've heard that there's no cure for the common cold, but that's not exactly true.

    While there's no drug that can cure the cold, completely natural cold remedies can help you in two major ways.

    First, they can stop you from getting sick, even as everyone around you is stocking up on tissues and cough drops.

    And second, if you do get sick, they can shorten the duration and ease the severity of the symptoms. Fewer cough drops, fewer tissues, and fewer days where you just can't get out of bed.

    You can get started with natural cold remedies right now with a back-to-basics approach: wash your hands.

    Simple, yes, but a new study confirms that a little soap and water -- and even an alcohol-based hand sanitizer -- are quite possibly the most effective weapons against the cold, killing the virus and preventing it from spreading. (Just don't make the mistake of picking up a hand sanitizer with toxic triclosan in it. Read this to learn more.)

    But don't stop with good hygiene, though it is essential for good health along with other natural cold remedies.

    The mineral zinc can also play a key role in keeping you healthy during cold season. The new analysis of hundreds of studies finds zinc's best role may be in preventing the cold, but I've seen plenty of other evidence to show that zinc can also help if you get sick.

    One study found that even very low doses of zinc can shorten your cold by an average of 1.6 days, while higher doses of 75 mg per day are twice as effective -- taking nearly three days off the average cold.

    If turning a weeklong battle with cold misery into a couple of days of sniffling and sneezing isn't a cure for the cold, I don't know what is.

    Zinc works because it can stop the rhinovirus that causes the cold from reproducing. When the virus stops reproducing, you stop feeling sick.

    The best way to get zinc (at least for fighting colds) is from a lozenge, some of which also contain other helpful ingredients such as Echinacea and homeopathic remedies.

    Two words of advice here: First, don't bite or chew the lozenge. Let it dissolve slowly in your mouth instead.

    And second, don't eat one after another like candy -- because too much zinc can give you a stomachache, nausea, gas and even diarrhea. If you're aiming for the full 75 mg per day I mentioned earlier, it's best the spread it out and take one lozenge every few hours.

    While you're at it, don't forget a quality probiotic supplement. A bellyful of good bacteria is essential to a strong immune system. One study even found that probiotic supplements can shorten the duration of the cold and ease symptoms at the same time.

    Just be sure to get the right stuff: a quality probiotic blend with high amounts of human-tested strains.

    For more on the benefits of probiotics and how to choose one that's right for you, be sure to see the May 2012 edition of my subscription newsletter, Health Revelations.

    Current subscribers, use the password in your current issue to read it for free in my online archives. Not a subscriber? Get started here.

  2. A tale of two remedies

    Talk about your double standards--a new study finds that a popular herbal remedy does for the cold what a common prescription drug does for the flu.

    But while the risky med Tamiflu is celebrated as a first-line treatment for flu, the researchers behind the new study have declared echinacea to be ineffective for cold relief.

    It's more proof that herbal remedies are the Rodney Dangerfields of the medical world--they don't get no respect. And as this new study shows, that's not about to change anytime soon.

    Researchers divided 700 patients with cold symptoms into four groups: One set of patients was given echinacea and told it was echinacea. A second set was given echinacea and not told whether it was the remedy or a placebo. A third group was given a placebo, while a fourth got nothing at all.

    The echinacea patients seemed to get a boost--but only a tiny one. They had a 10 percent reduction in the severity of cold symptoms, and their colds lasted 7-10 hours shorter on average, according to the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

    The researchers say that's not a significant difference--and they're right, it's not.

    So here's the million-dollar question: Why the heck is Tamiflu such a big deal?

    Most of the studies have found only the slightest of decreases in flu duration, and one major study published in 2009 found that it reduced the illness in otherwise healthy adults by just .55 days, or roughly 13 hours.

    It also comes with a risk of nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea--and some patients have experienced bizarre and even suicidal thinking and behavior.

    Yet somehow, ordinary echinacea gets written off for colds... while this risky drug is treated as some kind of miracle cure for flu.

    The truth is, any "treatment" that only reduces symptoms by about half a day isn't much of a treatment at all.

    But echinacea can actually do so much better than that--because other studies have found that this safe herbal remedy can dramatically reduce your risk of catching the cold, and decrease the length and severity when you do get sick.

    A 2007 analysis of 14 studies found that echinacea reduced cold duration by 1.4 days--and those who took it when they weren't ill were 58 percent less likely to get sick in the first place.

    In other words, echinacea clearly isn't for the cold what Tamiflu is for the flu--because unlike Tamifiu, echinacea is safe... and it actually works too.

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