I've got a cold, and I've sneezed about a hundred times today!
Should I start taking echinacea, and will it help me with the
--A.T., Sanibel, Florida
Answer: It's the season for the common cold with over 1 billion
cases of it in the United States each year.
Sneezing is perhaps the most annoying symptom of all. Most people
don't realize sneezing is actually your neurological process. Dust,
a change in temperature, or even a bright light can cause impulses
to build up in the "sneezing center" of the brain. Signals are then
transmitted to nerve endings and ahh choo, the reflex of a sneeze
occurs. It's actually a protective mechanism for your body. Tell
that to the person who gets wet from your spewing mucus right? Most
gesundheits clock in around 35 mph! And no, echinacea won't stop
sneezing, but it does have other virtues.
Don't be terribly quick to cool a fever, it's your body's way of
heating up the germs to kill them. Prevention is ideal. Stop
touching germy objects such as doorknobs, cell phones, or escalator
and staircase handrails. Airports, subways, malls and pharmacies are
loaded with germs because so many people frequent them. I recommend
gloves when you frequent these places. Think of it as a fashion
statement for your immune system.
Medicine helps. If you have a stuffy nose, pseudoephedrine is
helpful, or a nasal spray. For a non-productive cough,
dextromethorphan can help. If you have a runny nose, diphenhydramine
can be taken at bedtime, or loratadine for a non-drowsy option.
Remember, over-the-counter drugs don't shorten duration, but they do
Echinacea purpurea is a perennial flower native to eastern North
America that wakes up the immune system to help you fight
infections. We've just learned that daily consumption of echinacea
may help stave off the common cold. A large study done by Cardiff
University in the United Kingdom demonstrated that taking echinacea
for four months significantly decreases your likelihood of catching
cold; it may also shave time off your illness by 26 percent. The
study also showed that these preventive effects continued to
increase with regular echinacea consumption, something that is new
to our thinking. You see, many clinicians think echinacea is best
when cycled for a few weeks on, then a few weeks off (as opposed to
taking it routinely).
Ask your doctor if echinacea is right for you, and what your dose
should be. For immune system maintenance, you might see doses around
300 mg twice per day. You can also drink echinacea tea for a lower
dose. Keep in mind, some people are allergic to this botanical
class, and also, echinacea is rarely recommended for people with
auto-immune disorders as it can trigger flare-ups.
So, as flu and cold season continues, consider echinacea as well
as probiotics, which improve your body's own natural killer cells.
Naturally, vitamin C and zinc should be part of your arsenal.