Health

Antibiotics not working? These herbal remedies could help fight off cold and flu symptoms this winter

Are antibiotics ‘snot’ working for your cold and flu symptoms? Healthista chats to the experts who reveal how these herbal remedies and botanicals could be a better choice to ease your symptoms this winter     

According to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) most of us will get between 2 to 3 colds a year and on average they should last around a week.

But right now the pesky virus seems to want to linger! As well as hanging around the current virus is pretty miserable: the high temperature, the tiredness, the pounding headache, tired and achy muscles, a throat that feels like its wrapped in barbed wire, blocked sinuses, the inability to breath properly and/or the fact you might be coughing like a barking dog.  

But here’s the thing, unfortunately, as poorly as you might feel it is unlikely your GP can do much to help. In fact, if you’re thinking of asking her or him to prescribe you with antibiotics in a bid to wipe out your cold and cough this might be a waste of everyone’s valuable time and NHS resources.  

We know that antimicrobial resistance has increased by inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics for viral infections

Despite the fact 35 million GP consultations annually are to get advice for colds and coughs and seven million courses of antibiotics being prescribed for them, using antibiotics for viral upper respiratory tract infections (UTRIs) is unlikely to help because of antimicrobial resistance.

This means that microorganisms which cause disease including bacteria and viruses (such as cold and flu viruses) change over time and no longer respond to medicines making URTIs harder to treat. 

‘We know that antimicrobial resistance has increased by inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics for viral infections for which they are ineffective,’ explains Dr Tom Jenkins, a Gloucester-based GP.

But Dr Jenkins didn’t want to send his patients away without some sort of helpful advice and care and set about finding something that could actively help them.

‘In searching for an alternative treatment option, I came across the 2019 NICE Guideline recommendations for Pelargonium which has impressive pre-clinical and clinical anti-viral research, as well as evidence of its traditional use to relieve URTI symptoms.’  

READ MORE: 5 immune boosting tips to see you through the flu season and beyond

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Is Pelargonium the new poster child for healing cold and flu symptoms? 

So what is the evidence that a South African herb you have possibly never heard of – Pelargonium – is effective against colds, coughs and flu?

‘Pelargonium extract has a well-researched and documented history of use and has been shown to relieve symptoms of viral mediated respiratory infections,’ explains Director of the British Herbal Medicine Association and Registered Pharmacist Dr Richard Middleton.

There are an impressive 27 peer reviewed published clinical trials including a Cochrane report which suggests this herb (generally derived from the roots of two species of geranium (Pelargonium sidoides and Pelargonium reniforme) can both reduce the severity of symptoms and how long they hang around.

the evidence points to Pelargonium as an effective, well-tolerated, treatment for the common cold

There is also evidence to show it could relieve the symptoms of bronchitis, another upper respiratory tract infection.

A meta-analysis of studies shows adults suffering with a common cold treated with Pelargonium experienced significant improvements in their symptoms when compared to a placebo. They also missed fewer days off work, used less paracetamol and slept better.

In short, the evidence points to Pelargonium as an effective, well-tolerated, treatment for the common cold and one already recommended as part of NICE guidelines.

It is recommended that you take Pelargonium at the very first sign you are coming down with a cold and you then take one tablet three times a day for no longer than 10 days.

Try: Centoreze, £10.95, a traditional herbal medicinal product containing both Pelargonium sidoides and Pelargonium reniforme.

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Other cold fighting herbs and spices…  

So what other natural remedies are there that could help prevent, or clear up, your cough or cold and flu symptoms ?

Echinacea

Echinacea is probably one of the best known cold and cough-healing herbs and there is plenty of evidence, but it isn’t suitable for everyone. If you have any sort of auto-immune condition, Lupus or even asthma, it isn’t recommended for use.  

Elderberry

Elderberry is another botanical that has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for cold and flu symptoms.

Studies have shown that these tiny antioxidant-packed, Vitamin C-rich berries can shorten the duration of flu by four days when compared to a placebo. It has been suggested that the polyphenols in elderberries can support immune defence by increasing white blood cells.

Research from the University of Sydney also suggests that elderberry may help block the flu virus from attaching to a cell and entering it – so stopping the virus from replicating and strengthening immunity.

Try: Viridian’s Organic Elderberry & Vit C Extract, £22.95.   

Ginger

Ginger is another useful spice which has been shown to have useful cold and cough-relieving properties. Not least because it is a diaphoretic, a compound that induces sweating.

Active compounds within it including gingerols also appear to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties which may help reduce common symptoms like a sore throat. Including it fresh in a honey, lemon and ginger drink should soothe your sore throat/cough and possibly help reduce a fever.

The vitamin C in the lemon could also potentially help to reduce the duration and severity of your cold. Alternatively, try a supplement like Healthspan’s Ginger Extract, £16.45. 

READ MORE: How taking probiotics could improve your gut health

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Other natural helpers to help prevent cold and flu this season

Of course, common sense precautions like regularly washing your hands, trying to avoid sharing cups and towels with someone who already has a cold, avoiding alcohol and too much caffeine and eating a healthy balanced diet should all help to either stop you picking up a cold and help reduce symptoms if you do.  

If your appetite is affected try to have an easily digestible hot nourishing soup like chicken or vegetable to help give you the nutrients you need as well as helping to keep you hydrated and ease congestion.   

Eating probiotic foods (found naturally in live yogurt and fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, some cheeses, kefir and kombucha) or a supplement could also prove useful.

Research shows that up to 70 per cent of the immune system is based in the gut, and probiotic good bacteria could be key in helping to fight off colds, flu and other illnesses.

70 per cent of the immune system is based in the gut, and probiotic good bacteria could be key in helping to fight off colds

A study involving volunteers who had come down with a cold four times or more in the past year and who were given a probiotic drink containing three strains of probiotic bacteria for 12 weeks significantly reduced their incidence of upper respiratory infection and flu-like symptoms afterwards.

The authors of the study concluded probiotic supplementation results in immune stimulation and was ‘effective for fighting the common cold and influenza-like respiratory infections by boosting the immune system.’  

So what else can you do to effectively fell a cold and cough? Rest as much as you need but, if you feel up to it, be mindful of the fact a little light exercise could be beneficial and evidence shows it can help support your immune system. Vigorous workouts, on the other hand, have been shown to slow down your recovery  

Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aching muscles, have a bath with a few drops of decongestant eucalyptus essential oil, try to get enough sleep, eat well, keep well-hydrated and stock up on evidence-backed traditional herbal remedies, like Pelargonium, Centoreze, and take them at the very first hint of a sneeze or sniffle. 

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