5 Tips to Help Fight Colds & Flu This Winter

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I know that we are all pretty worried about COVID-19 right now and that it has been dominating the news, our psyche's and our thoughts for almost a year. Viruses seem to be a part of the human experience and have been around for a very, very long time. Without going into an in-depth discussion about viruses and COVID-19 in particular, let's focus on the fact that we will still have to think about how to manage colds and flu's this season. Below are some of the best ways that I know to help us stay strong and healthy so those nasty viruses can never take hold, and if they do manage to sneak in and make us sick, there are some ways to flush them out as quickly as possible and get back to a healthy state.

A Virus. A microorganism that is smaller than a bacterium which is unable to grow or reproduce outside of a living cell. Viruses invade living cells and replicate themselves by using their host cells' chemical machinery to keep themselves alive.

What's the Difference Between A Cold & The Flu?

A good place to start the discussion is to talk about the difference between a cold (common cold) and the flu (influenza). What is the difference?? It's often hard to tell, but both colds and the flu are caused by viruses. Someone with a cold generally has milder symptoms, that come on more gradually, and someone with the flu generally has symptoms that are more severe, are more systemic and come on quickly. Influenza can be more dangerous as in people with compromised or weakened immune systems they can lead to complications like pneumonia. Below is a chart that lists the difference in symptoms between influenza and the common cold.

This fancy chart was made by Chinese Medicine Living. Yay!

As a mother of two small children, I am acutely aware of the realities associated with influenza and the common cold. There are many factors to consider like climate, the changing of the seasons, staying hydrated, dressing warmly enough, eating well, getting enough sleep and proper hygiene to name a few. In our hectic world, it is near impossible to stay on top of everything and ward off illness all the time, but there are certainly things you can do to keep your immune system built up and keep yourself as healthy as possible in these challenging times. Below are the things that I use, and have found to be the most effective for prevention, or at the first signs of a cold or flu, helping to push it along quickly, shortening its duration and severity.

1. Diffuse Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree, also known as melaleuca, is an essential oil that comes mainly from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia. Tea tree oil has been widely used throughout Australia for its medicinal properties for at least the last century and is well-known for its powerful antiseptic and antibacterial properties as well as its ability to kill many strains of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Tea tree oil is very versatile - it can be used to make homemade cleaning products, diffused to kill toxic mould that’s growing in your home, and applied topically to heal acne, cuts, and scrapes and treat skin infections. Tea tree’s natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions make it one of the most beneficial essential oils for health and healing making it a powerful addition to your medicine cabinet. If you would like to learn more about Tea Tree Oil, its health benefits and recipes, you can read this article - Tea Tree Oil - Benefits, Uses & Recipes.

Tea Tree Oil Steam

This is one that I have used for as long as I can remember, long before I ever became an acupuncturist. At the first signs of a cold or flu, get a large bowl (metal or glass), put 6 drops of high quality, organic tea tree (melaleuca) essential oil into the bowl. Boil some water (filtered if possible as you will be breathing in the vapour). Get a towel. Put the bowl with the tea tree oil on a table, and sit in front of it. Put the towel over your head. Pour the boiling water into the bowl. Put your face over the bowl - be careful as the steam will be very hot and the tea tree oil will be strong - cover your head with the towel and breathe deeply for about 20 minutes. If you do this early enough, the cold/flu will not progress.

Tea Tree Oil Diffuser

When anyone in our house is sick - especially my children - I diffuse tea tree oil. You can also add other essential oils depending on what is happening - I often use lavender as it is soothing and helps my children sleep. You have to be careful in children under 2 years old as essential oils are extremely concentrated, but diffusing 4-6 drops of high-quality tea tree and 4-6 drops of lavender essential oil will often stop a cold or flu in its tracks, especially if you react early enough. If you have a full-blown cold or flu, diffusing tea tree will also help with congestion, cleaning out your sinuses as well as purifying the air in your room and lessening the length and severity of the illness.

2. Acupressure

**There are certain points in the body that are strongly moving and are contraindicated if you are pregnant as they can induce labour. Both Spleen 6 and Large Intestine 4 are in this category so not for pregnant mamas.** 

Acupressure is basically acupuncture without the needles. Awesome, yes? There are hundreds of acupuncture points on the body, and there are a few that are particularly good for giving the immune system a boost as well as treating symptoms if we do come down with a cold or flu. I have chosen 3 powerful ones that I think will be the most beneficial, and have included images so you can find them. When using acupressure, you apply pressure to each point with your finger or thumb for 30 seconds to a few minutes and then rotate to the next point. Most acupuncture points are bilateral, meaning they are on each side of the body except for the ones that are on the midline that runs up the front and down the back of the body. All the points below are bilateral - located on each side of the body.

Large Intestine 4

Large intestine 4 is an extremely powerful and versatile point. It is located on the fleshy part between the thumb and first finger of the hand. The best way to locate it is to put your thumb and first finger together so they are touching and the point is at the top of the mound that is created. If you press on it, it is often quite sore. Large intestine 4 is the pain point for the entire body. Whenever there is pain, you use large intestine 4. It is the command point of the head and face, so any problems in this area, this point is appropriate. Its other functions are that it builds qi, strengthens the immune system, stops pain and induces labour - so please DON'T do this point if you are a pregnant mama! (see note above).

Below are some symptoms that large intestine 4 can help to alleviate.

  • headaches, dizziness, congestion, body aches, nosebleeds, toothaches, swelling or pain in the eyes
  • aversion to cold, fever
  • painful periods, lack of periods, difficult/painful labour and childbirth
  • gastric pain, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea
  • pain anywhere in the body and especially in the head/face
  • excellent point for the flu (releasing wind-heat in Chinese Medicine)

LARGE INTESTINE 4

Acupressure for Large Intestine 4

Apply pressure to large intestine 4 with your finger or thumb for 2 minutes. The point is usually quite sore, so apply as much pressure as to activate the point (you can feel it) but not so much as to cause pain. After 2 minutes switch to the other hand. Then move on to the next point in the group - spleen 6, then stomach 36.

Spleen 6

Spleen 6 is also extremely powerful and versatile, which is why it is on this list. It is located on the inside of the lower leg, about 3 inches above the ankle bone or medial malleolus. The way we measure the three inches above the ankle bone is to put the 4 fingers of your hand together and place them on the ankle bone and the width of those 4 fingers is approximately where spleen 6 is located. It is just behind the tibia or shin bone. A good rule of thumb is to feel for the tibia and then just roll off and the point is located just behind it. This point is also often tender, especially on women, and even more so when they are menstruating. Because this point crosses the liver and kidney meridians, it can treat many conditions related to all three organs. Spleen 6 is a powerful point to treat gynaecological issues, digestive problems and problems with the emotions. **This is a strongly moving point and is contraindicated in pregnancy so do not do this point if you are pregnant.**

Below are some symptoms that spleen 6 can help to alleviate.

  • irregular, painful or lack of menstruation
  • masses in the abdomen, prolapse of the uterus, infertility and nocturnal emissions
  • impotence, premature ejaculation, hernia, testicular atrophy
  • digestive problems of the spleen and stomach
  • diseases of the skin
  • insomnia, headache, dizziness

  SPLEEN 6

Acupressure for Spleen 6

Apply pressure to spleen 6 with your finger or thumb for 2 minutes. The point is often sore, so apply as much pressure as to activate the point (you can feel it) but not so much as to cause pain. After 2 minutes switch to the other leg. Then move on to the next point in the group - stomach 36.

Stomach 36

Stomach 36 is perhaps the most powerful point in the entire body for strengthening blood and qi and fortifying the body to boost overall health. The point is located on the lower leg, about 3 inches below the kneecap. To locate it, place your 4 fingers starting just at the lower border of your kneecap. This is the level of stomach 36, then it is located about one fingerbreadth on the outside, or towards the outside of the tibia or shin bone. The image below illustrates its position.

Stimulating stomach 36 is said to give you energy equal to eating an entire chicken or to walk another three miles (its name zusanli translates to leg three miles). It is command point of the abdomen therefore many problems in the abdominal area are treated with this point. Whenever you can feel a cold or flu coming on, start doing acupressure on this point as it will boost your immunity and help build your external defences which are called our wei qi in Chinese Medicine.

Below are some symptoms that stomach 36 can help to alleviate.

  • vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal distention, abdominal pain, acute mastitis
  • heart palpitations, shortness of breath, low energy, dizziness, insomnia
  • cough and asthma
  • calms the spirit
  • stops pain

STOMACH 36

Acupressure for Stomach 36

Apply pressure to stomach 36 with your finger or thumb for 2 minutes. The point is also often sore, so apply as much pressure as to activate the point (you can feel it) but not so much as to cause pain. After 2 minutes switch to the other leg. You can do this set of 3 points, on each side two or three times a day when you are sick, or once a day or week for building immunity and general health.

3. Wear A Scarf


Photo by Kiyun Lee on Unsplash

Now, this one may seem a bit overly simplistic, but according to Chinese Medicine, wind is the master of 100 diseases and it tends to enter the body the most easily at the neck. So, the simple act of wearing a scarf in windy, wet or cold weather protects you against an invasion of wind-cold. It is basically the same as bundling up and staying warm when the weather is cold, wet or windy because these are ways that we can easily weaken our immune systems which make us more susceptible to colds and flus. And we don't want those. I think I may always have been destined to be a practitioner of Chinese Medicine because I have always loved scarfs, and I always seem to have one with me just in case I get chilly. I find it makes a big difference and is like always having protection from external invaders. I have also instilled this love of scarfs in my children, and we try to make it fun, finding scarves that they love (dinosaurs!!) so they WANT to wear them.

4. Eat Warming Soups & Bone Broths

Photo by Hanxiao on Unsplash

If you know anything about the spleen in Chinese Medicine, you know how important it is and how many responsibilities it has. If you don't, then you can read these articles to learn a bit more about it -

Loving Your Spleen with Chinese Medicine

How to Strengthen Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Worry and the Spleen

Dampness and the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

What is Spleen Qi Deficiency?

Digestive Health & Nutrition in Chinese Medicine

In a nutshell, the spleen is the main organ of digestion, and it uses digestive "fire" to power all the work it has to do to break down the food we eat and turn into the energy we need for our bodies and minds to function. But, it doesn't stop there. The spleen is also responsible for "digesting" all the stimulus that comes in from our sense organs, and, in a culture of multitasking, heavy mental work, long hours and little sleep, the spleen is a hard-working little organ. To put it simply, when we are compromised and our immune systems take a hit, we need to be gentle with our bodies. Because all that digesting that the spleen is doing requires energy, eating soups that are already well cooked and take very little energy to digest, they take some of the burdens off of the spleen. And that way your spleen, and all the other hard-working organs in your body can focus on fighting invaders and getting well. But when you are healthy and want to fortify yourself against an external (or internal) attack, then eating soups and bone broths, in particular, is an excellent way to build the immune system, warm your system and strengthen your body so that colds and flus don't have a chance.

In Chinese Medicine, the bones are associated with the kidneys, our bodies' most fundamental energy and the source of our yin and yang. Therefore, eating bone broth is strengthening to both the bones and the kidneys, whose element is water, emotion is fear and whose season is winter which is the best time to tonify the kidneys for health and longevity.

5. Good Hygiene

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Wash Your Hands Often & Don't Touch Your Face

If the recent proliferation of COVID-19 has taught us anything, it has brought our awareness back to the basic importance of good personal hygiene. There probably isn't anything better you can do to keep yourself healthy and stop the spread of germs, bacteria and viruses than simply washing your hands often and trying to be conscious not to touch your face. With two small children around it is frightening to see how unaware they are of things that are logical to adults like not putting dirty things into our mouths, not always washing their hands after going to the washroom, picking random things up outside, just to name a few. So teaching them to wash their hands, not to touch their faces but most importantly WHY we need to do these things is a huge step in the prevention of preventable illnesses like colds and flu. Things like showering often especially when you or someone in your house is sick, wiping surfaces, changing clothing and doing laundry often are also ways to reduce our exposure to germs and help us stay healthy all year round.

 



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Fending Off the Common Cold with Black Elderberry

By Dr. Kevin Curran

We all know there’s no cure for the common cold. But the question remains…is there a natural way to treat the symptoms of a cold. Plant-based, natural remedies for cold or flu infections are popular because they tend to be less invasive and yield fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs. Black elderberry is one of these popular natural therapies. However, just because a remedy is popular, that doesn’t always mean it’s an effective approach. In this article, we explore the biology behind the proposed health benefits of black elderberry.

What is black elderberry?

Black elderberry is a shrubby tree native to the temperate regions of Europe. Black elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, has become widely used as a medicinal plant. This deciduous tree grows up to 30 feet in height and produces clusters of small, white flowers. These flowers generate green berries, which turn black at the end of summer.

The use of elderberry by humans is not a new concept. Archaeologists discovered that early humans buried their dead with elderberry branches. In North America, early settlers have been using black elderberry for the past 10,000 years. Native Americans ate the berries for food but they were also aware of the healing properties of the plant. They consumed the berries, leaves and flowers as a means to defend against rheumatism and viral infections.

Lately there’s been a resurgence in interest the health benefits of this medicinal plant. Fortunately this resurgence of interest has been accompanied by quality clinical and laboratory studies. These studies explore the capacity for black elderberry to strengthen our immune system and, thereby, minimize the negative effects of a cold or flu.

Below, we’ll explore some of this published work and, in doing so, we will explain how elderberries can help us stay healthy.

Black Elderberry for Fighting Colds : Chinese Medicine Living

Clinical tests probe the ability of black elderberry to treat colds or flu infections.

There are two notable clinical studies that both demonstrate the ability of black elderberry to reduce the symptoms associated with a cold or flu (Zakay-Rones, 1995; Zakay-Rones, 2004). One of these clinical trials, performed in Norway, tested 60 patients of varying ages. All of these test subjects had just begun to feel the effect of a flu (extreme fatigue, high fever, aching body, congestion). These recently ill patients were given 15 mls. of black elderberry syrup for a duration of 5 days. A similar control group was given a placebo treatment. The scientists found that patients who received elderberry treatment became healthy approximately 4 days earlier then the control group. The authors conclude black elderberry treatment is an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.

In summary, these clinical trials demonstrate the capacity for black elderberry to reduce the time duration of a flu.

How does black elderberry strengthen our immune system?

The primary job of our immune system is to attack and kill invading pathogens. In regards to a cold or flu, these invading pathogens tend to be either a bacteria or a virus. When our bodies fight a sickness - our immune system shifts into battle mode. Specialized immune cells are sent out to destroy the pathogens that have caused our sickness. Laboratory studies have explored the benefits of black elderberry syrup for colds. These studies have concluded that black elderberry strengthens our body by regulating our cytokine levels and by delivering antioxidants. We will explain all this biology below.

Anti-oxidants prevent cellular damage

First of all… what are anti-oxidants? Anti-oxidants are small molecules that defend our cells from free radicals. Free radicals are small, charged molecules that can bang around the inside of our body and cause inflammation and cellular damage. This is why you want to eat foods that are full of anti-oxidants.

Plants are a rich source of antioxidants. Turmeric, for example, the tropical plant used as a curry spice, is enriched with a powerful antioxidant called curcumin. Curcumin is a potent bio-active compound that fights free radicals. This antioxidant capacity makes turmeric a natural remedy for inflammation related health issues, such as arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Black elderberry is another plant that is enriched with antioxidants. In particular, black elderberries contain molecules called flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of antioxidants often found in leafy plants and dark colored fruits. Multiple studies demonstrate that flavonoids in black elderberries protect cells from oxidative stress. In these experiments, living cells are exposed to damaging, oxidizing free radicals such as hydrogen peroxide, AAPH and α-tocopheroxyl. The authors then present data showing that the presence of flavonoids protects these cells from this free radical damage (Abuja 1998).

In summary, taking black elderberry delivers antioxidant flavonoids to our body. These flavonoids help protect our body from the damaging effect of free radicals.

Black elderberry controls our cytokine levels

Cytokines are small molecules that are incredibly important for our immune system. These small molecules move throughout our body and act as chemical messengers. Cytokines send signals that tell our body to either increase or decrease the intensity of an immune response. When cytokine signaling is functioning properly, our body will only mount an aggressive immune response when necessary. In contrast, if there is no threat to our body, then we want our cytokines to tell our immune system to take the foot off the gas. If our immune system is overactive, our body will experience chronic inflammation and tissue damage. We need our cytokines to help us mount an appropriate response to an infection.

Multiple laboratory studies reveal that a treatment of black elderberry can increase and regulate the cytokine levels in our immune system (Middleton, 1992). One especially convincing report by Barak et al., demonstrates that black elderberry extract activates a series of cytokines that are critical to our immune system (IL-6, IL-1 and TNF-α).

In summary, taking black elderberry when we’re sick can modulate our cytokine levels. Properly regulated cytokine levels leads to an appropriate immune system response.

When taken together, the clinical and laboratory studies discussed in this article certainly suggest that using black elderberry is a reasonable course of action. Our body is bolstered by the cytokines and antioxidants derived from the black elderberry tree. So, next time you feel a cold or flu sneaking into your body, consider lending your body a hand with this medicinal plant.

Black Elderberry for Fighting Colds : Chinese Medicine Living

Citations:

Abuja, Peter M., Michael Murkovic, and Werner Pfannhauser. “Antioxidant and prooxidant activities of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract in low-density lipoprotein oxidation.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 46.10 (1998): 4091-4096.

Barak, Vivian, Tal Halperin, and Inna Kalickman. “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.” Eur Cytokine Netw 12.2 (2001): 290-296.

Middleton, Elliott, and Chithan Kandaswami. “Effects of flavonoids on immune and inflammatory cell functions.” Biochemical pharmacology 43.6 (1992): 1167-1179.

Zakay-Rones, Zichria, et al. “Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1.4 (1995): 361-369.

Zakay-Rones, Z., et al. “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” Journal of International Medical Research 32.2 (2004): 132-140.

Image Credits

Featured image - www.tophealthremedies
Black Elderberry closeup - www.gartenjournal.net
Black Elderberry Bush - science.halleyhosting.com

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