Cold and flu season is back, which means all sorts of viruses and bacteria are threatening your immune system as you read this. These microbes can’t wait to exploit a weakness in your defenses and run amok in your nose, throat, ears, sinuses and lungs.
But do not be alarmed. Botanical medicines can help fortify your defenses.
While Americans spend approximately $2.9 billion on over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and $400 million on prescription drugs each cold and flu season, botanical medicines sit in relative obscurity. The clinical evidence for many botanicals is quite strong.
Here are a few to consider during this year’s cold and flu season:
1. Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata). Andrographis is an annual herb of the Acanthaceae family. It is native to India and Sri Lanka and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Andrographis contains a plant chemical called andrographolides, which has been shown in several clinical trials to stimulate activity of important disease-fighting cells of the immune system. More and more over-the-counter botanical supplements are including Andrographis in their cold and flu formulas.
2. Elder flower/elder berry (Sambucus nigra). Elderis native to most of Europe.It helps clear congestion, relieves inflammation in the sinuses and throat, and decreases fever. The berries have been shown in clinical trials to be active against influenza A and B. They also taste sweet, which make elderberry a great addition to children’s cough and cold formulas.
3. Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea): Does echinacea reduce the duration and severity of the common cold? Does taking it preventively help fend off a cold? It seems like every week offers a new clinical trial that contradicts the last. There are flaws in the vast majority of these studies, and the definitive answer is not yet known. The good news is that echinacea is safe and relatively inexpensive.
A word of caution: Talk to your doctor before experimenting with the medicines mentioned above. Herbs can cause significant biological activity in the body and “Dr. Google” can often lead you in the wrong direction. Naturopathic doctor are equipped to discuss the safety and effectiveness of botanical medicines.
— By Jamie Corroon, ND, resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health