Q: How can I protect my kids (and myself!) against colds and flu this school year?
-Long Island, N.Y.
A: The following prevention advice is not just for kids-although contact with germs inevitably increases when kids (and teachers) return to school in the late summer/early fall. If you or your children have a history of being vulnerable to common colds or flu during the school year, there are a few simple lab tests to rule out hidden problems. Check for anemia, as well as low levels of vitamin B12 and/or folic acid-all can increase susceptibility to colds and flu.
Hand washing is an obvious, but underutilized, method of preventing disease. Avoid the triclosan-containing antibacterial soaps-these are contributing to the invasion of superbugs. Use plain soap with warm water and vigorously rub the hands together for at least 20 seconds after every dubious encounter, before and after eating or preparing food, after using the bathroom, and after handling money, doorknobs, and the mail. Ideally, avoid all sugar and processed foods. Certainly avoid these ingredients at the first hint of illness, for at least a week. Get enough sleep. Fatigue causes vulnerability to illness of all kinds.
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One of my favorite preventives for the common cold is good old-fashioned cod liver oil-1 teaspoon daily for children and 1 tablespoon daily for adults. It comes in lemon, orange, and strawberry flavors, which makes it more palatable for kids. Vitamin C is also important. Children should get about 500 mg daily and adults should get 1,000 to 2,000 mg. You can hardly overdose on vitamin C-it will give you loose stools if you are taking too much, so just cut back to a comfortable level.
There's a terrific traditional Chinese medicine product called Gan Mao Ling that is effective for shortening a cold, especially one that starts with body aches, chills, and fever. Take three to four tablets three times daily for five days, or until symptoms subside.
If your bug is a stomach flu (achy belly, loose stools, no appetite), then Huo Hsiang Cheng Chi Pien, four tablets
three times daily, will help.
Most common colds are viral, so there is no reason to take antibiotics unless there is proven evidence of a secondary bacterial infection. Two of my favorite antivirals are zinc (50 mg daily for adults, 15 mg for children) and vitamin A (25,000 IU daily; avoid if you are pregnant or nursing). These can be used preventively, or at the start of symptoms. Vitamin D is also important for staying healthy. Have your vitamin D levels checked, as most people are low. Vitamin D has emerged as a critical nutrient not just for bones, but also for mood, cell integrity, cancer prevention, and possible prevention of flu viruses. Optimal levels range between 60 and 90 ng/mL.
If you are mostly suffering from a sore throat, try an antiviral liquid containing either eucalyptus or some other mentholated substance (such as Olbas sprays or pastilles). Listerine (the caramel-colored type-not the stuff with blue-green food dye) has eucalyptus as the active ingredient and works well to prevent and treat viral sore throats. Solutions featuring oil of bitter orange also help to heal a throat infection.
If your cold starts with a cough, hot lemon-honey tea can work wonders. Don't ever give honey to a child younger than age 1 (it can cause botulism), but older children can benefit greatly from the anti-infective and soothing effects of honey. If the cough is deep, a Dijon mustard poultice, applied to the chest, can effectively loosen mucus, making it easier to cough up.
There are a few tried-and-true homeopathic remedies for viruses. All the remedies should be taken in 6X potency, three to four pellets three to four times daily for a few days, as follows:
- Allium cepa (onion) especially for a runny nose.
- Ferrum phosphoricum (iron phosphate) especially for kids feeling weak or in the first stage of inflammation
- Kali carbonicum, especially if complicated by influenza
- Kali muriaticum, if mucus secretions are thick
- Belladonna, for a red face, dry throat, and throbbing headache
- Aconite, for an abrupt onset, fear and anxiety around the illness, restlessness, and no sweating. Stop aconite when sweating begins.