Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to Fight Infections Naturally

We all hate that feeling of coming down with something. Fortunately, we have been blessed with many powerful, natural tools which can help fight colds and flu. When started early, you may find that both the duration and severity of symptoms are significantly reduced.  Many of the products I mention can be found at de

Fighting & Preventing Infections begins with healthy living:

-        Good nutrition Sugars and fruit juices significantly decrease our immune defenses.  Conversely, fruits and vegetables boost immune activity.   Eating 5+ serving of fruit & vegetables can also be augmented with fruit & vegetable capsules.
-        Deal positively with stress, get enough sleep and exercise regularly in moderation


Nasal Rinsing (Neti-Pot, NeilMed Sinus Rinse, Nasopure)

This really is easy and incredibly inexpensive.  Nasal rinsing with saline or salt water helps to temporarily relieve sinus congestion and can help slow viral activity.   Devices for nasal irrigation are sold at most drug stores (see names above).  I would use nasal irrigation 3-4x/day while fighting an infection.  For more information on this, see my June 18, 09 blog post.

Vitamin C
Often you do not know when you have a runny nose whether your allergies are acting up or if you are coming down with something.  Vitamin C (as well as Andrographis - see below) work well for both conditions.

A review of 21 placebo-controlled studies found that vitamin C reduced the duration and severity of symptoms by 23%.  In these studies, 1,000-8,000 mg of vitamin C was used.  Overall, higher doses work better than low and some will need 12-15,000 mg a day to optimally fight off infection.  Vitamin C is very safe and the dose limit is primarily determined by your GI tract – too much can cause gas or diarrhea.  Dr. Cathcart found that the sicker one is, the greater the need for vitamin C.  His publication in Medical Hypothesis documented that 80% of adults can tolerate doses of 10-15 grams of vitamin C a day.  

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)
Andrographis is an herb which increases the production of infection fighting antibodies and improves the ability of the white cells to “eat” invaders (i.e. improves macrophage phagocytosis).   Studies have shown andrographis significantly improves symptoms of the common cold and the flu.  Generally people improve within 2 days but 4-5 days may be required for maximal effects.  The doses used have been 200 mg -6,000 mg a day.  As with most herbs, pregnant women should not use andrographis.

A trial from Israel published in the Winter1995 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine studied the Elderberry product, Sambucol. This study was small and I would like to see it repeated but the results were rather striking: those who took Sambucol recovered completely within two to three days versus 6 days in the placebo group.   Another advantage of Elderberry is it apparently tastes good and it is easy to get children to take.  The dosage for children is two tablespoons daily, adults take four tablespoons. 

Probiotics (Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus acidophilus
Children in day-care taking a probiotic blend had a 45% lower risk of experiencing fever, cough, rhinorrhea compared to placebo.  Those who did get symptoms had less sick time – 2 days shorter.  These taking probiotics were significantly less likely to need antibiotics. 

The most studied forms of zinc for the cold are the oral lozenges and the intranasal spray.  Zinc helps decrease the duration of the common cold in adults. Lozenges should be taken every 2 hours while awake, starting within 48 hours of symptom onset.   Zinc nasal spray has also reduced the severity and duration of cold symptoms; however, some have lost their sense of smell following the use of intranasal zinc.  I would recommend avoiding intranasal zinc and but rather use the oral zinc lozenges or capsules. 

Echinacea increases phagocytosis and increases lymphocyte activity, possibly by promoting the release of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 (IL-1), and interferon.   If taken daily for more than 8 weeks, Echinacea may lose its ability to work.  Those who find Echinacea helpful at fighting chronic infections may do best if they take it for 8 weeks and go 1 week off the Echinacea.

One issue with herbs is that the effectiveness varies with the product due to factors such as:

a)     The exact species is used
b)     Where the plant was grown
c)     Which part of the plant is used
d)     How the plant was processed

For example a recent study by Barrett (December 2010) showed that a MediHerb Echinacea product containing dried extracts of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia did not make a significant difference when started at the onset of cold symptoms.  Most studies on Echinacea showing a shortening and easing of cold symptoms used Echinacea purpurea. The recent media releases made it sound as if Echinacea had been wholly discredited; whereas, the reality is that we have a study showing one particular product (MediHerb Echinacea) did not work well.  When dealing with medical studies, one must look at the details to avoid being deceived and most studies show Echinacea offers modest degree of benefit.

Echinacea is in the same plant family as ragweed and might have cross-allergenicity for those who have ragweed allergies

Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf has infection fighting antimicrobial properties and according to the Alternative Medicine Review it appears to interact with the protein in cold and flu virus to block infection.

Colloidal Silver is a natural antibiotic which kills many organisms which can cause disease including colds. Colloidal silver products are very safe when taken according to the recommended dosage for short periods of time.  Older preparations and home-made colloidal silvers used at higher than recommended doses have caused argyria, a condition that causes the skin to turn blue-gray.  This is not seen with a single commercially made product such as those used by naturally oriented practitioners.  Just to avoid any potential for the colloidal silver building up, I recommend you use it only to clear up an infection and always use no more than the recommended doses.  Colloidal silver should be diluted with at least 8 oz. of water and used no more than 7-10 days.    It can also be added to nasal rinses to help clear up sinus infections.

Grapefruit seed extract: Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Volume 5, No. 3, USA, 1990 examined the effects of GSE and compared this with 30 effective antibiotics and 18 proven fungicides.  GSE was found to perform as well as any and all of the tested agents.
Grapefruit seed extract is non-toxic. Most of my experience has been with Nutribiotic Grapefruit Seed Extract Plus, 125 mg- 90 caps. The combination of Grapefruit seed extract, vitamin C, astragalus, and the extracts of Echinacea, Reishi, Maitake, Shiitake, ginger root, goldenseal, and yarrow can be found together in Nutribiotics Defense Plus  

Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and immunostimulant effects

Mushroom fractions: Maitake & Shitake mushrooms are rich in immune boosting components such as beta glucans which help activate the immune systems infection fighting cells such as natural killer (NK) and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells.

Colostrum is the bovine (cow) “fore-milk” or “first milk” which can enhance help in several ways: 
·       Rich with infection fighting IgG-type immunoglobulins
·       Contains lactoferrin which can fight candida.
·       Contains growth factors which may explain why athletes often notice that colostrum can enhancing performance and speed up recovery from injuries.
·       Note: Should not be used if you are allergic to dairy (though lactose-intolerant individuals may use this)

Selected References

Vitamin C  Medical Hypotheses, 7:1359-1376, 1981

Andrographis Paniculata
Puri A, Saxena R, Saxena RP, et al. Immunostimulant agents from Andrographis paniculata. J Nat Prod 1993;56:995-9.
Caceres DD, Hancke JL, Burgos RA, Wikman GK. Prevention of common colds with Andrographis Paniculata dried extract: a pilot, double-blind trial. Phytomedicine 1997;4:101-4
Caceres DD, Hancke JL, Burgos RA, et al. Use of visual analogue scale measurements (VAS) to assess the effectiveness of standardized Andrographis paniculata extract SHA-10 in reducing the symptoms of common cold. A randomized, double-blind, placebo study. Phytomedicine 1999;6:217-23.
Thamlikitkul V, Dechatiwongse T, Theerapong S, et al. Efficacy of Andrographis paniculata, Nees for pharyngotonsillitis in adults. J Med Assoc Thai 1991;74:437-42.
Caceres DD, Hancke JL, Burgos RA, Wikman GK. Prevention of common colds with Andrographis
Melchior J, Palm S, Wikman G. Controlled clinical study of standardized Andrographis paniculata in common cold- a pilot trial. Phytomedicine 1996;97;3:315-8.Paniculata dried extract: a pilot, double-blind trial. Phytomedicine 1997;4:101-4.

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Winter1995  
WebMD Medical News: "The Herbal Way to Keep Flu At Bay."
WebMD Medical News: "Flu Widespread Over Nearly Half of U.S." 
Ankri S, Mirelman D. Antimicrobial properties of allicin from garlic. Microbes Infect 1999;1:125-9.

B. Barrett, R. Brown, D. Rakel, M. Mundt, T. Ewers Echinacea for Treating the Common Cold A Randomized Trial Ann Intern Med December 20, 2010 vol. 153 no. 12 769-777
Brinkeborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH. Echinaforce and other Echinacea fresh plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold. A randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Phytomedicine 1999;6:1-6.
Barrett BP, Brown RL, Locken K, et al. Treatment of the common cold with unrefined echinacea. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2002; 137:939-46.