man in bed with the flu

Photo of man in bed with the flu courtesy Dave Deploige. Image has been cropped

There are 101 ways to approach winter wellness, and 1001 products you can use.  It’s enough to make your head spin!  I’m going to try and simplify things here, and present a relatively straightforward program.  In short, I’m going to tell you what I do when I’m trying to stay well.  But before I begin, please understand two things.  First, this program is just a foundation: you should feel free to add additional things to the mix.  And secondly, these aren’t the only solutions.  There are a lot of great things out there I won’t even mention.

1. I take zinc all winter long.

I like it because it’s effective, cheap (a daily dose costs about 10¢), and good for you anyways (prostate, acne, ADHD, wound healing…)  Your immune cells can’t divide and multiply without zinc.  They can’t produce antibodies without zinc.  Regular low-dose zinc improves practically every aspect of immunity; short-term high-dose zinc will lessen the duration and severity of colds and flus.  I use 30-60 mg a day throughout the winter.  I’ll go up to 150 mg if I’m fighting something off, but I won’t stay that high for more than a week.  I make sure to take my zinc with food; otherwise it makes me nauseous.

I prefer zinc capsules or tablets, and make sure to get a well-absorbing form (such as zinc glycinate, picolinate, or monomethionine – I avoid zinc sulfate and oxide).  Zinc lozenges work well, too, but I only use them if I have a sore throat.  Finally, there’s zinc nasal gel.  There’s good research behind the gel, but it is pricey.  Also, there have been a few, extremely rare reports of people losing their sense of smell while using it.

2. Other than zinc, the only thing I take all winter long is a good herbal immune builder.

I look for formulas that contain ingredients like Reishi or Maitake mushrooms, Astragalus root, Cat’s Claw, and St. John’s Wort (it’s not just for depression!)  There are a lot of formulas out there.  Rainbow Light’s Deep Defense has been a favorite of Debra’s for years.  [Note from 2018: discontinued years ago by the company.  Feel free to come in and speak to some of us for a recommendation).  The Astragalus Supreme Phyto-Caps from Gaia Herbs is also very popular among staff members.  Both contain invigorating tonic herbs in addition to the traditional immune stuff.

My personal favorite is a formula called Reishi-Bupleurum Supreme, also from Gaia Herbs.  [Note from 2018: another discontinued formula, years ago.  Again, come on in and ask us for alternatives].  It really is an elegant formula – it works on so many different levels!  First of all, it slowly but surely strengthens your immune system, so you not only get well, but stay well.  Most of the ingredients have at least mild antiviral activity.  The first two ingredients also strengthen the liver, and thus support detoxification.  The Red Root tones lymphatic tissue.  The Bupleurum shortens the duration and severity of fevers.  Long-term use deals subtly with stress…  True herbal synergism at its finest!

I also wouldn’t overlook the old folk remedies of cayenne and ginger for people who have sluggish digestion, and cold hands and feet.  And of course there’s vitamin C.  I use the Super Bio-C, from Solaray.

3. When I’m fighting something off, I kick my supplementation into high gear.

I up my zinc to 150 mg a day, and start taking more of my deep immune herbal formula.  Then I add a good immune stimulant into the mix.  While immune builders (see above) make our immune systems stronger, immune stimulants simply tell the immune system to work harder.  They’re especially useful for short-term, acute situations, and – this is key! – when you start taking them QUICKLY!  Don’t wait until you’re already miserable.

While most people pick Echinacea as their immune stimulant of choice, I actually prefer Larix, a patented extract of Larch tree bark.  It just seems to work better for me.  I use it in powder form.  It tastes fine, by the way, and mixes in well with tea.  A lot of parents like to give their kids a Larix-based product called “Atomic Echinacea.”  I think kids like the picture of Superman on the bottle!  I’m also looking forward to trying an herb called Andrographis this winter.  Called “Indian Echinacea” by some, the research on it makes it look very, very good for upper respiratory tract infections.

4. Finally, I use a good antiviral.

While there are a lot of options – oil of Oregano, Goldenseal, Garlic, Olive leaf, and Elderberry, just to name a few – my antiviral of choice is Lomatium root.  Over the last five years, it has worked amazingly well for me.  The neat thing is, many of the active constituents in lomatium go straight to the lungs, where cold and flu viruses live!  Lomatium also thins phlegm, and acts as a mild expectorant.  Roughly 1% of people who take it do get a skin rash… but according to the herbalist, Michael Moore, this only happens when you don’t support detoxification.  And if you’re using any of the immune building formulas listed above (see #2), you’ve already got detoxification covered.

Lomatium is awful tasting, and so far, I’ve only seen it in liquid form…  If the taste is a major issue, Elderberry is certainly worth looking at.  It’s delicious, good for colds, and great for flues.  Finally, I’d use oil of Oregano drops directly in the mouth if I was dealing with a head cold.

5. I love my expensive thermos!

It’s worth every penny.  It keeps stuff steaming for 24 hours, and if you unscrew the cap only partway, it acts as a strainer so I can dump loose herbs straight in.  I make a delicious tea with a small handful of dried elderberries and some ginger, plus a few pinches of orange peel, licorice root, cinnamon, and lavender.

My motto has always been “Boost the Immune System & Kill the Germs; the Symptoms Will Take Care of Themselves.”  Nevertheless, here a few quick suggestions to deal with specific cold/flu/winter illness symptoms:

Specific Symptoms

*For deep lung congestion: Gaia Herbs’ Lomatium-Osha phytocaps combined with Rainbow Light’s Respirtone will loosen, thin, dry, and cure.  Naturade’s Herbal Expectorant works great.  The Warming Vaporous Rub from Gaia Herbs is comforting and effective

*Asthma/Bronchitis brought on by a lung infection: Ivy Calm syrup from Enzymatic Therapy.

*Chronic Bronchitis: Breathe formula, from New Chapter.

*Cold Sores (and other herpes outbreaks): Gigartina Red Marine Algae is a specific for herpes family viruses.  1-3,000 mg a day of Lysine helps control outbreaks.  Avoid foods that are disproportionately high in Arginine, like peanuts, sunflower seeds, and chocolate.  Topically, Skye Botanicals’ HerpiBalm is awesome.

*Canker Sores: Homeopathic Borax, plus either 70% propolis tincture or liquid DGL right up against the sore.  (Cold sores are on the lips; canker sores are inside the mouth.  And they ARE different!)

*Sore Throat: To cure: low-dose zinc lozenges or Gaia Herbs’ Echinacea-Goldenseal-Propolis throat spray (which Debra LOVES).  To soothe: Naturesoothe sore throat syrup is effective and delicious.  Throat Coat tea, from Traditional Medicinals, always seems to do the trick.

*Post-Nasal Drip: I’ve heard good things about homeopathic Hydrastis.  The herb Bayberry (Myrica cerifera, not to be confused with Barberry or Bearberry) and the Fenu-thyme formula, from Nature’s Way, are consistently effective, although both may be excessively drying.

*Nasal Congestion: Grace says that she’s had wonderful results with the Stuffy Nose formula from Dolisos.  Or use clearing essential oils, such as the Olbas Oil, a few drops in a bowl of hot water, then inhale the steam.  The Olbas inhaler is a portable version.  Fenu-thyme and Bayberry.

*For General Congestion: 1800 mg a day of NAC is a nice mucous loosener for lungs and noses, as well as helping shorten colds.  “6 tablets a day of Source Naturals’ Activated Quercetin,” say Grace and Carolyn.

*Sinus Congestion: Sinusalia formula from Boiron.  And have you heard about Neti Pots yet…?

*Laryngitis: Elderberry-Red Root throat spray, from Eclectic Institute.

*Tonsillitis and other “swollen glands”: Red Root internally, or as a gargle.  Calendula tea or tincture.

*Flu Aches and Pains: I’ve heard good things about the herb Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum, not to be confused with Bone-knit, Symphytum officinale).

*For children: Everything here is safe for all but the youngest children – as long as you dose them correctly.

(And remember: if you feel hot, your fever is going down; if you feel chills, your fever is rising).