Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Are you suffering the effects of a winter lurgy? If you watch the news this morning you'll be reminded that NO vitamins or supplements are helpful in preventing or treating the common cold. Pretty sweeping comment isn't it!
It appears that many people are confused about how to prevent and treat common winter illnesses that are mostly caused by viral infections and often don't know where to go for advice.
This is not really surprising with all the information available on the internet from main stream medical advice to recipes for 'Grandma's chicken soup'. It can be really hard to know who to trust, especially when many doctors will advise that there is NO scientific evidence for the use of natural medicine.
This is actually untrue because many of the nutrients and herbal medicines used by naturopaths for the treatment of viral infections such as the cold DO have evidence for the efficacy. It is true though that once you become unwell, your symptoms will probably not resolve overnight no matter what supplements you take.
It is normal to catch a cold during winter, especially young children who are often in close contact with each other making it easier to spread infections. Our immune systems are designed to protect us and the symptoms that we experience are the result of this, in fact sometimes there is an over response that can lead to severe symptoms.
Our chances of getting sick depend on a few things such as our current state of health. If we have other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease we may be more susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms or developing complications from otherwise minor infections. Hygiene also plays a huge role in whether we are likely to get sick too with hand-washing being one of the most effective methods of preventing infections, in fact maternal deaths were significantly reduced when doctors realised the importance of washing their hands before attending births.
Sometimes it's not possible to avoid catching a cold because we may be more exposed to an infection, and all we can do is reduce its severity.
So what about the supplements? Is there any point in taking them?
Yes, there is benefit in taking nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc to reduce the severity of the symptoms and the length of the illness. Herbs such as echinacea also increase the production of immune cells. But going back to what I said earlier about your current state of health, it makes more sense to be focus on improving this by ensuring your nutritional needs are met before you get sick.
Conventional medicine advises that most people get all the vitamins they require from their diet and therefore have no need for supplementation. This would be true if EVERYONE ate a diet replete in fresh vegetables and fruit but unfortunately we know this is not the case and therefore targeted supplementation may be required.
All supplements are not created equal though, and it's important to understand what you are taking and how much to take. Many of the over-the-counter supplements available contain many fillers or excipients and are of inferior quality. Many people also do not understand that many nutrients can be dangerous in high doses can adversely interact with their prescription medications. A qualified naturopath is well trained in nutritional and herbal medicine and also understands how they interact with conventional medications as well as how to prescribe them safely.
As well as addressing the physical requirements such as nutrition, it is also important to understand the effect that stress has on our immune systems and therefore our susceptibility to infections. With stress being defined as anything that disrupts the normal function of our body, it is easy to understand why this is an important factor in illness, and why naturopaths always address this as part of a holistic treatment plan.
Both conventional and natural medicine agrees that the best treatment for common winter illnesses is REST and that if we do this most will resolve on their own. With young children and the elderly, it is always important to reassess them regularly and if their symptoms become severe or do not resolve to seek medical advice.