Colds and Flu
Colds and influenza are a major concern for health care professionals, especially when dealing with the young, elderly, and immuno-compromised individuals. The elderly in particular can suffer serious consequences from the flu, a leading cause of death in the elderly. Americans spend over one billion dollars annually on nonprescription treatments for coughs and colds, including antipyretics, antihistamines, cough preparations, and decongestants in various combinations. Although these agents may help the symptoms of colds and flu to subside gradually, they do not address the underlying condition, including immune and nutrition status. Also, many of the agents used conventionally for colds and flu may cause unwanted side effects such as insomnia, hyper-excitability, dry mouth, constipation, drowsiness, or interact with prescription medications. There are several reasons for the recommendation of natural therapeutic agents as a first line of defense or as a complement to drug therapy.
These reasons include:
- Pre-existing conditions or
medications may preclude traditional OTC therapy;
- Occupation may eliminate the
choice of antihistamines or decongestants (pilot, truck driver);
- Patient may request a natural
product due to belief system;
- Flu vaccination may not provide
adequate immune support.
The common cold, also known as upper respiratory infection (URI), is an acute, self-limiting illness caused by a virus. The enveloped viruses may survive for long periods of time outside a host. With the rhinovirus, the home is the primary site for viral transmission. Mechanisms of transmission of colds and influenza include aerosolization of virus-laden respiratory secretions and direct mucous membrane contact with virus from contaminated hands, other skin surfaces and even furniture. Touching the eyes and nose with contaminated hands will increase transmission rates.
Similarly, influenza is an acute febrile respiratory illness that occurs in annual outbreaks of varying severity. The causative virus infects the respiratory tract and is highly contagious, producing systemic symptoms early in the illness. Influenza viruses belong to the family Orthomyxoviridae and are divided into three types (Types A, B, and C), which are distinguished by the antigenicity of the internal and external proteins of the virus. Type C infection usually causes either a very mild respiratory illness or no symptoms at all; it does not cause epidemics and does not have the severe public health impact that influenza types A and B do. Efforts to control the impact of influenza are aimed at types A and B. Influenza viruses continually change over time, usually by mutation. This constant changing enables the virus to evade the immune system of its host, so that people are susceptible to influenza virus infection throughout life. Influenza is very contagious and is spread by contact with an infected person. A person is contagious from about two days before symptoms occur until about the fifth day of the illness.
Novel H1N1 flu (referred to as "swine flu") is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in the United States in April 2009.
No methods have been developed to effectively prevent colds and influenza to date. Vaccines are not likely to be effective in preventing the common cold, due to the large number of immuno-types and the lack of solid immunity to re-infection with the other viruses. Treatment of colds and influenza is largely symptomatic, with antibiotics not recommended for use in the therapy of uncomplicated colds and influenza due to the viral nature of the disease.
A recent resurgence in the use of nutritional supplements including herbs, vitamins, minerals, and homeopathic medicines has provided new options for the support of cold and flu symptoms as well as for prevention. These agents may not prevent a cold, but may result in less severe symptoms and a decreased need for nonprescription or prescription medications. The purpose of herbs and nutritional agents are to improve host defenses before and during viral invasion. By improving immune functionality and host integrity, the individual stands a better chance of fighting off the infection, or at the very least reducing the severity of symptoms associated with a cold or the flu.
Symptoms of colds may include rhinorrhea, sneezing, nasal stuffiness, throat clearing, postnasal drip, cough, and nasal obstruction. A sore throat and/or cough may also be present. Other symptoms may include coryza, pharyngitis, laryngitis, headache, malaise, and fever, usually in various combinations. Ear and sinus problems are often present as well, but these symptoms are usually caused by mucosal edema, which impairs drainage.
Postulated that the unwanted symptoms of colds (i.e. rhinitis) are produced by a viral cytopathic effect that destroys the nasal mucosa. In one study, rhinovirus and coronavirus were found not to be destructive of nasal epithelium in vitro.
Influenza virus can produce clinical syndromes, such as the common cold, pharyngitis, tracheobronchitis, and pneumonia. Symptoms of influenza include chills, fever, headache, muscular aches/pains, malaise and fatigue, and lack of appetite.
- Nasal stuffiness
- Throat clearing
- Postnasal drip
- Nasal obstruction
- Sore throat
- Ear and sinus problems
- Muscular aches/pains
- Lack of appetite
- Drink at least 6-8 glasses of
quality water daily.
- Take in clear broth and soups.
- Try to eat more nutrient rich
foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
Foods to Avoid
- Avoid refined sugars.
- Reduce sugar intake.
Vaccination - According to the CDC, the influenza vaccine has been shown to reduce hospitalization by about 70 percent and death by about 85 percent in the non-institutionalized elderly. About 5-10 percent may experience mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever for a short period of time. For some elderly, the vaccine does not provide adequate protection, and therefore, are still at risk and should consider taking additional steps to be prepared for flu season.
Some of the following laboratory testing can provide information necessary for diagnosis and treatment. In addition, the tests listed may also give insight to functional metabolism and functional nutrient status in the body.
Adrenal Function Profiles
Adrenal insufficiency can contribute to impaired resistance to infection. Stress activates the HPA axis and has impact on the immune system, particularly through the adrenal hormones. In assessing the HPA axis, adrenal functional abnormalities are relatively simple to identify and address (e.g., when compared to hypothalamic dysregulation or pituitary imbalance).
Low thyroid function can result in poor resistance to infections. Assessment of thyroid hormone production, peripheral hormone conversion, cellular sensitivity response, thyroid hormone antibody activity, and hormone feedback response mechanisms can provide critical information for intervention with a goal of optimal function.
Organic acids analysis is a useful method for measurement of biochemical intermediates in urine. These intermediates can offer information about key enzyme functions and nutrient competence (amino acids, nutrient cofactors, minerals, and fatty acids). A subset of organic acids, the dysbiosis markers, may provide useful information regarding gastrointestinal pathogens that can contribute to immune compromise.
Plasma or salivary cortisol measurements can be used as a marker in the evaluation of stress syndromes that may relate to increased susceptibility to infections.
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