Rick Hanson, PhD and Jan Hanson, MSParenting is a lot of work! But to be the best parents we can be, we have to take time to nurture ourselves as the people we are outside of being Mom or Dad. Psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, and acupuncturist & nutritionist Jan Hanson, MS, authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, are here to help!
Preparing for colds and flu
Fall and winter bring challenges to families: illness. Particularly in the early years of your child's involvement with childcare and school, your family is likely to be experiencing a variety of colds and flus. This column is designed to give you tools to make your fall/winter season encounter with immune system challenges a little easier. Building on our column about the immune system, this week we will focus on creating a family medicine chest to help care for afflictions, primarily colds, flus and sinus infections.
For each of these, we will point out the most useful natural treatments. Please note -- in advance -- that almost no research is ever done on the effect of natural substances on children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Generally, energetic methods, including acupuncture and homeopathy, and most vitamins and minerals are safe for everyone. Kids can also take herbs, but decrease the dosage. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should be more careful with herbs, and only use them in conjunction with a licensed health care provider.
A sturdy base
Enter into winter with a good foundation. Take a good multivitamin/multimineral supplement, usually one that consists of four to six pills a day (it takes that many to get all the ingredients of optimal nutrition). Consider taking an ongoing dose of 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams (mg.) of Vitamin C. Have a diet high in vegetables and fruits and keep sugar to a minimum, as it has been shown to depress the immune system. Also, make sure you are eating enough protein, something that many mothers and children are lacking. Get some exercise since brisk walks and moderate exercise have been shown to boost the immune system.
The most common ailment of the season is the common cold, and you may well have already had one this year: running nose, coughing, often beginning with a sore throat. When you get a cold, three immediate interventions come to mind -- Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Echinacea:
Vitamin A is the "anti-oxidant of the mucous membranes," and it is those membranes -- the lining of the nose, throat and chest -- that are most affected by a cold. The best form of Vitamin A is called mycelized A. At the beginning of a cold, you can take 25,000 International Units (IUs) for up to five days (although some practitioners may suggest up to 50,000 IUs). Then drop down to a more normal 10,000 IUs a day. Children should cut this in half. Pregnant women or women who have any possibility of becoming pregnant over the next couple months must not take dosages over 5000 IU's, which can lead to birth defects. Many colds can be eliminated by Vitamin A, and it is worthwhile to have this vitamin on hand for this purpose.
Vitamin C is probably the most common natural cold remedy, and it is an excellent one! A good ongoing dose of Vitamin C is about 2,000 mg. per day, divided into two dosages. During a cold you can easily intensify that dosage to 6,000 mg. per day -- if you get diarrhea or gas, just decrease the dose. Vitamin C helps keeps the immune system in good shape in general, and it can decrease the duration of a cold.
Echinacea is the most highly researched herb for colds, and indeed taking Echinacea has been shown to shorten the duration of colds. It is most effective if taken at the first sign of the sniffles, or even at the first possibility of an infection; for instance, we pass around the Echinacea as soon as any family member gets a cold. Since Echinacea is available in several different forms, just follow the directions on the bottle (tinctures should be diluted in water or they will make your tongue numb!); an otherwise healthy person should feel free to use the highest range of dosage.
Other things to think of during a cold are:
Zinc -- Often taken as a lozenge for a sore throat. One study showed that zinc lowered the length of colds.
Chinese herbs -- The formula Gan Mao Ling, available through most acupuncturists and at many health food stores, can reduce the symptoms and duration of a cold. Often available in little black "BB" size pills, and kids may have an easy time taking them.
Homeopathy -- Homeopathy is a system of medicine where the original substance is diluted and shaken many times, so that usually there are no molecules of the original substance left, perhaps just its "electromagnetic fingerprint." This is one way of saying that we don' t know how or why it works. However, a number of well-controlled research studies have substantiated its benefits, and both of us have experienced many homeopathic successes, sometimes dramatic.
Homeopathy relies on being able to identify the correct remedy matched to an individual's exact symptoms. When homeopathy works it is often quite dramatic, so if you try a remedy and do not feel noticeably better within 24 hours, you should probably switch to another one. Unfortunately, many remedies might fit a particular cold -- because of the range of possible symptoms -- so it's hard to make a clear recommendation. To get the benefits of homeopathy for a cold, you should utilize a homeopathic practitioner or work with a homeopathic book. A good one is Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines by Dana Ullman.
Flus are a more uncomfortable level of viral infections, including chills and fever, body ache, headache and fatigue. Most of the recommendations from colds are useful here, particularly using Vitamin A and C and Chinese herbs. Homeopathy can be especially help for a flu. Here we offer the most common flu remedies. If you hit the correct one, you'll probably get a lot of benefit, and if you don't there is no downside -- except that you'll still be sick!
Oscillococcinum -- Used at the beginning of any flu or a cold; functions to strengthen the immune system response to viral infection. Oscillococcinum typically comes in small vials, and you can divide each vial into three to four doses. (The manufacturer doesn't tell you that, but it works just as well and will save you some money.) Take one dose every hour at the onset of the flu, and after about three doses, decrease to about three doses per day. To take a homeopathic remedy, you just pour a three to five pellets (or 1/4 of the vial of Osscillococcinum) in the cap and pop it under your tongue and let it melt; don't eat or drink anything for 15 minutes before or after.
Bryonia Alba and Gelsemium Sempervirens-- These are used for a classic flu: achy body, headache, fatigue, fever and chills -- the "I just want to go to bed" experience. The remedies are very similar to one another, and some homeopaths have been known to recommend that people alternate them. However, a subtle distinction that you could use is that Bryonia would be more characteristic of a particularly irritable person, while Gelsemium would be more for the flu victim whose dominant experience is fatigue.
Also, Bryonia is used when a person feels worse if she moves, so symptoms like "it hurts when I cough" might lead you to that remedy. Either of these remedies can be used in a potency called "30C," which will be on the bottle following the name, and can be taken every hour for a few hours, then reducing to three times per day. A good plan is to start with the Oscillococcinum at the very beginning before you even know how bad this cold or flu is going to get; then if a flu still develops, try Gelsemium or Bryonia.
Sinus infections can plague people. Although antibiotics are frequently prescribed, they are often not effective. Nonetheless, sinus infections are one of Jan's favorite ailments, because natural remedies are usually so successful. Here we offer her top combination: Vitamin A, the Chinese Herbal formula Bi Yuan Pian and an acupuncture treatment.
Vitamin A -- Vitamin A has a great role for a flu, since it's a mucous membrane healer. Unless you're pregnant or may become pregnant in the next few months, try 25,000 IU of mycelized Vitamin A for up to five days.
Bi Yan Pian -- This Chinese formula is often available in health food stores and can work wonders. Unless you are a very sensitive person, take the full amount on the label. (The small pills available in the health food store are very gentle and taking a bit more is no problem for most people.)
Acupuncture -- To be successful with a sinus infection, not only does the "bug" need to be neutralized, but the sinuses need to be opened. Acupuncture is excellent for this. Although you can't put it in your home remedy kit, if you suffer from sinus infections it is worth knowing about its value; you can locate an acupuncturist through referral or the Yellow Pages.
Finally, if you are dealing with chronic sinus infections, consider your diet. Dairy products are often aggravating, and eliminating them can be useful.