As a primary care physician and Naturopathic Medical Doctor, I have the opportunity to see the common cold in its various stages, from earliest sneezes to the poor, miserable patient whose cold has dragged on for weeks.
When a cold strikes there is a small window of opportunity to turn it around, before the full military engagement of the immune system is launched. The immune system attacks any invaders of the body with such organized force, that a military metaphor is really the most applicable. Once white blood cells and histamine are deployed, there is no way to gracefully turn back. At that point, you can dry up the immune response to the cold with an antihistamine and cough suppressants, but the battle has been engaged, and will need to run its course and resolve somehow.
The early window of opportunity for beating a cold is within the first 24 hours, just as the first symptoms are becoming apparent. Perhaps it is a tickle in the back of your throat or your nose is beginning to run, or your head feels full. At this point, the following interventions have been most helpful:
There is no medicine so beneficial and therapeutic as sleep. Take whatever measures and leaves of absence that you have to in order to stay in bed all day when you first come down with a cold. Your employer and co-workers should appreciate that you kept your germs home with you especially after you remind them that the incubation period, when a cold is most contagious, is the first 3 days after symptoms start. The extra rest allows your body such increased ability to recuperate and focus your physical energy on beating the cold that the duration generally is quite a bit shorter than if you continue running around and working.
The Wet Sock Treatment
And while you’re in bed, you may as well do this old naturopathic standby. The following procedure is wonderful for draining the head and nose of congestion.
You will need a pair of thin cotton socks and a pair of thick wool socks and thick blankets. Wet the cotton socks with cold water. Go to your bed. Put the cotton socks on your feet. Put the dry wool socks over them. Jump into bed under thick covers. Your body will now redirect blood flow downward to warm your feet. By morning the cotton socks will be perfectly dry and warm, and your head and nose should feel less congested.
High dose Vitamin A
As good as Vitamin C is for the immune system, Vitamin A is considerably more powerful, and directly strengthens immune function. Unfortunately, high dose Vitamin A is reputed to have side effects, and is therefore only sold in low doses in the health food stores. You will need to obtain high dose Vitamin A (on the order of 100,000 units to 400,000 units) from a naturopathic physician or other knowledgeable health care practitioner. The main concern is that if a pregnant woman takes doses in the several hundred thousands for weeks on end, she could miscarry. The second major concern is a dose in the millions for weeks on end could have a temporarily damaging effect on the liver.
However, when I fight off the first signs of a cold, I only take a few hundred thousand units once, and that’s it. I seem to be fine and have no cold symptoms for months afterward. However, because of the concerns regarding Vitamin A, you would do best to see your local naturopathic physician for a specific dose apropiate for you. The largest directory of naturopathic physicians in the U.S. is www.naturopathic.org.
High dose Vitamin D
When you do get up from bed, try to get some sunlight, at least on your face for a while. We make Vitamin D from sunlight beginning in our skin, which then passes on to the kidneys and liver for further processing. Vitamin D is another really powerful boost for the immune system. Try to enjoy your 20 minutes per day of sunlight. Because if you don’t, then you’ll have to get the second best source of Vitamin D: cod liver oil. Hmmm. With only your face exposed this time of year, better make that 40 minutes of sunlight per day.
While at your naturopath’s office, see if he or she uses intravenous nutrients for general nutritional support in case of a cold such as the one you have. These generally contain a much higher dose of Vitamin C than you would be able to tolerate orally.
Oral Vitamin C
However, Vitamin C needs to be replaced frequently in the body, so you should also take it orally. The best ones that we can recommend are Electrolyte Stamina or Emergen-C, because these are in the most anti-oxidant form that we have seen. They come in envelopes of powder that you add to a glass of water. It is important that you drink it right away, because the fizzing that you hear as you mix the powder with water is the oxidation process. Once it stops fizzing completely, the drink does not do you nearly as much good. Other somewhat reliable forms of Vitamin C are Ester-C, again to protect the chemically reduced, non-oxidized form of C, or Acerola or Rose Hip C or any vitamin C with bioflavonoids for the same purpose. You will probably be able to tolerate between one and 12 grams (that’s 1,000 to 12,000 milligrams) of Vitamin C per day. The only side effect with a lot of Vitamin C is some loose stools. Therefore, naturopathic physicians advise our patients suffering with colds to take Vitamin C up to bowel tolerance.
Hydrogen Peroxide In The Ears
This is another old standby. Place a towel on your pillow. Pour a half capful of standard drugstore hydrogen peroxide in one ear as you lie on your side in bed. You will hear intense bubbling for five or ten minutes. As the bubbles subside, turn over to your other side, and let the hydrogen peroxide drain out of your ear onto the towel that is on your pillow. Now pour another half capful into the other ear and wait another ten minutes. Turn and drain again.
The point of doing this is that hydrogen peroxide is strongly antimicrobial, and the connection between the ear and throat by way of the Eustachian tube is a useful entry point for the antiseptic effects of hydrogen peroxide.
Caution: My readers tend to be among the most well-educated, well-informed segments of the population. However, if there is a way to completely mess something up and cause a problem, a small minority of individuals will manage to do so. Therefore, I’d better give my standard disclaimer: consult your physician regarding the use of hydrogen peroxide in this manner, and do not, under any circumstances, drink or pour hydrogen peroxide into any other bodily cavity.
Don’t Eat Sugar
Ah, yes, everybody’s favorite cold remedy: no sugar. What?? No sugar!!?? Just when you’re feeling most miserable and needing some yummy comfort foods washed down with hot chocolate?
I am sorry to inform you that sugar has been known to inactivate your white blood cells, the soldiers of your immune system, for as many as 5 to 24 hours. This is just when you need them to be most effective in helping you beat this cold. So I am afraid you will have to postpone dessert until your cold is completely gone, plus a few days.
And now, take all of the above with a grain of salt. There is another naturopathic pearl that may perplex you. We like to say that the cold is the cure. That is, when you come down with a cold, especially a drippy runny one, there is the opportunity for all of that mucus that you’ve manufactured to wash through an area of your body that never gets cleansed out otherwise. When you consider that the nasal passages and sinuses and mouth and throat are the first filters of the air pollution that we breathe, car exhaust, pesticides, miscellaneous solvents, etc. then perhaps the flushing that we call the common cold is a needed process for us to go through once or twice a year. Of course, thinking of it that way does not ease your sore throat or congested sinuses. But think how good you’ll feel when it’s over!
Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus Serotina)
Cherry bark is a time-honored remedy for cough, at least since the early nineteenth century. It offers both a demulcent and cough-soothing action for inflamed airway membranes, as well as expectorant function. There is also antitussive effect for relentless or spasmodic coughing. Furthermore, it has numerous flavonoids and flavonol glycosides  which provide broad anti-oxidant activity. Anti-oxidants are important during upper respiratory infections, as with all infections, because of their immune-enhancing action.
The pleasant taste of wild cherry bark makes it a good choice for cough in children or other hard-to-please coughers. www.honeygardens.com offers a cough syrup with raw honey and apple cider vinegar, which have a good reputation also for their effect on cough.
- Olszewska M. Flavonoids from Prunus serotina Ehrh. Act Pol Pharm 2005 Mar-Apr. 62:2. 127-133.