Managing Colds and Flu
Diet/Supplements for Viruses
Herbs Against Colds and Flu
Ask Dr. J: Gout
In the Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of the Month: Mushroom Barley Soup
When I was in my late teens and twenties, I read beautiful,
enlightening, and personally liberating novels, literature,
and philosophy. Oscar Wilde, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Balzac,
Steinbeck, Rilke, Shelley, Aldous Huxley, and others influenced
my life and thought, and in some ways liberated my mind.
I was frequently told by more “experienced” elders
that while these might be enjoyable, they are not “real”
life, but I think that the situations, characters, thoughts,
and experiences that these artists created were as real in
their painting of life as any actual everyday experience,
and far more educational. In short, I found them spiritually
uplifting, and philosophically enlightening, and I can still
feel the deep influence they had on my life and thought.
Now, whenever I sit down to write, I find the latest news
and begin reporting the latest from the USDA, the AMA, FDA,
NCI, AHA, and other acronyms that make me feel far removed
from any spiritual and personal growth. But personal growth
and development are as essential to long term health and fulfillment
as any specific physical health practices.
Maintaining aesthetic and cultural activities, and adding
new interests and challenges to the mind and spirit are valuable
ways to ensure not simply longer life, but later years that
are richly rewarding and filled with new learning. Some animal
evidence suggests that exercise enhances brain circulation,
but learning enhances neuronal health. Other studies show
that participation in cultural events (art exhibits, museums,
concerts, theater, and reading), may enhance longevity, but
more importantly, they have a positive influence on a person’s
perception of their health.
However, I don’t need scientific studies to confirm
this for me, as I see it all the time: those who participate
actively in cultural development are never bored, they have
a vibrant sense of enjoyment and vitality, and they are wonderful
friends with interesting stories and delightful senses of
humor. While passive participation is valuable, it is more
important to learn new skills and crafts. My own interests
are in playing early music (recorder for 30 years, and recently
violin), doing pottery and photography, writing, and graphic
design (with others waiting in the wings).
Varied interests, arts and crafts lead to personal and spiritual
growth, and help you to maintain friendships. A supportive
circle of friends is a wonderful asset in later years. Both
the interests and the friends help you maintain your senses
of beauty, humor, wonder, joy, and adventure that I wrote
about last January. While it is important to take care of
yourself with physical and health practices, such as diet,
exercise, relaxation, and dietary supplements, it is at least
as valuable, and makes life all the more rewarding if you
fulfill your potential by taking care of your personal growth
As a result of varied and cold weather, closed rooms, poor
ventilation, dry heat, and increasing exposure to many people
with viruses in the winter, it is almost certain that you
will be at risk for colds or flu. Colds cause significant
discomfort and loss of productivity. However, it is not inevitable
that you will become ill, and if you do, many natural treatments
can relieve your symptoms and shorten the duration of your
Rhinoviruses are the most common pathogens that cause colds.
These viruses are often transmitted by hand contact with others,
and they are then introduced into the body through the eyes
or nose. One of the most effective ways to prevent colds is
frequent hand washing, and using one of the new alcohol-based
hand cleansers that contain some skin softeners. (Flu viruses
are mainly transmitted by airborne droplets from coughing
Because viruses are also transferred by contact with contaminated
surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, toilet handles,
faucets, or phones, it is important to clean these surfaces,
and to clean your hands after touching them. Cold viruses
in the throat attach to cells and replicate, leading to symptoms
within 10 to 16 hours.
Keep your home humidified to prevent drying of the membranes
lining the nose, sinuses, and throat. One way to do this is
by keeping a large pot of water warming on the stove. Don’t
turn it up so high that the walls become wet, as increased
mold growth can increase colds, and don’t let it run
dry and become a fire hazard. You do not need to keep it on
while you are out, as it works fairly quickly to humidify
the house (assuming you have enough circulation of air to
move it through all the rooms).
Regular aerobic exercise enhances immune function and helps
to prevent infectious illnesses. If you get a cold or flu,
don’t overdo the physical activity, as you need extra
rest to recover. Stress reduction and adequate rest are also
essential for a strong immune system.
You can enhance your immune function by choosing healthy foods.
Refined sugar is one of the most likely foods to inhibit immunity.
Eating as little as five teaspoons, the amount in a candy
bar, can reduce white blood cell function by 25 percent, and
higher amounts are worse. Margarine and other hydrogenated
oils inhibit normal regulatory substances called prostaglandins,
and alter normal immune function.
A whole foods diet with lots of fruits and vegetables will
provide vitamin C, flavonoids, and other nutrients, but it
is still a good idea to take supplements that help prevent
colds and to reduce the symptoms and the duration of colds
if you do become ill. The medical cliché is that an
untreated cold will last for a week, but with proper treatment
it will be gone in seven days, but this ignores all the research
on dietary supplements that can help you feel better faster.
Thirty years ago, Linus Pauling wrote Vitamin C, The
Common Cold, and The Flu, reviewing the research showing
that high doses of vitamin C could both prevent and treat
colds. It is still true that vitamin C can help immune function
and reduce the frequency of colds, and it also lessens the
intensity and duration of the illness, but it is not a miracle
that eliminates symptoms in a day.
I often recommend up to 8 to 10 gms a day for colds. Some
research shows that during a viral infection, white blood
cell vitamin C levels plummet, and supplements of 200 mg of
vitamin C have little effect on this. However, doses of 6000
mg can maintain high levels of vitamin C in the white blood
cells, helping them fight the virus.
The herb echinacea is effective to reduce the duration and
severity of colds. In a recent German study of standardized
extract, those subjects in the placebo group had symptoms
50 percent longer than those with echinacea treatment.
In a study of garlic extract, in 146 subjects over a 12 week
period, the treatment group had only 24 colds compared to
65 colds in the placebo group. Also, those who did get colds
had an average of two days of symptoms rather than five. I
recommend 500 to 1000 mg of deodorized extract daily.
In a review of 496 records of school-aged children, zinc
lozenges reduced the duration and severity of colds, as well
as complications requiring antibiotic use. When taken daily
for prevention, they decreased the frequency of colds. The
typical dose of zinc lozenges is 15 mg several times a day.
Elderberry extract inhibits the replication of viruses, particularly
the flu virus, reducing the duration of this more serious
viral infection. It enhances immune function, increasing production
of cytokines–messenger molecules that trigger the response
to infection. The typical daily dose is 1000 to 2000 mg of
A number of other supplements enhance immunity, and may help
support host resistance to viruses. Vitamin E reduces infections,
especially in the elderly. Beta 1,3 glucan is one of many
mushroom extracts that maintain white blood cell function.
A study showed that in trauma patients, pneumonia was reduced
from 55 percent to 10 percent with B1,3 glucan supplements.
The usual dose is 100 to 200 mg daily.
Others beneficial supplements include carotenoids, astragalus,
maitake musrhoom, L-arginine, and L-glutamine.You can combine
any of these with your supplement routine and other health
practices to reduce risks of colds and flu, or their duration
and severity if you do become ill.
Q. I am 53 years old and experiencing gout in my ankles, and
knees. Is there a supplement I can take to mitigate this problem?
CN, Cummaquid, MA, via Email.
A. Gout is an arthritic disease that results from deposits
of uric acid crystals in joints. Uric acid can also deposit
in the kidneys, and other tissues. It can cause severe pain,
most commonly in the big toe, but also in other joints, and
it can lead to uric acid kidney stones.
Uric acid is the byproduct of purine metabolism (part of
the nucleic acids in DNA), and purine is high in a number
of foods, including small fish such as anchovies, meat, especially
organ meats, shellfish, yeast extracts, and some beans. It
helps to reduce consumption of these foods, as well as caffeine,
alcohol, and sugar. Alcohol can reduce uric acid excretion
and sugar raises blood levels.
Eat foods low in purines: vegetables, fruits, whole grains,
and nuts, and drink plenty of water to flush uric acid from
the body. Some research and clinical experience suggests that
eating a half pound of cherries or drinking the juice can
relieve gout (they are also a tasty treat).
Xanthine oxidase is the enzyme that makes uric acid from
purines. Supplements can reduce enzyme activity, reduce uric
acid production, and help relieve the symptoms and prevent
recurrences of gout. Other supplements are anti-inflammatory.
Vitamin C in high doses (4 to 8 gms per day) can increase
uric acid excretion, but it is very important to drink adequate
water to prevent the urinary uric acid from crystallizing.
Quercetin, a bioflavonoid, inhibits xanthine oxidase in lab
tests. The typical daily dose is 800 to 1200 mg.
Folic acid, in some studies but not all, inhibits xanthine
oxidase if taken in very high doses, ranging from 20 to 80
mg. No side effects have been reported with these doses, but
it is important to have adequate B 12 at the same time.
Curcumin (600 to 900 mg), omega-3 oil (fish oil–3000
to 6000 mg, or flaxseed oil–1 to 3 Tbsp) are anti-inflammatory,
as is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA, 240 mg) from evening primrose
or borage oils, and they can reduce symptoms of gout.
• St. John’s wort was shown clearly to help
depression in a review published in July (Schulz V, Clinical
trials with hypericum extracts in patients with depression...
Phytomedicine 2002 Jul;9(5):468-74). The report showed that
in 34 controlled, double-blind studies on over 3000 subjects,
with mild to moderate depression, St. John’s wort was
as good as or even better than drugs. A new study confirms
that it helps anxiety and depression (Volz HP, et al., St
John’s wort extract ... Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2002
Nov;164(3):294-300). Patients had fewer anxiety-induced physical
complaints, and both mild and severe depression improved.
Typical doses are 600 to 900 mg of standardized extract.
• Neurotoxic pesticide levels were extremely low
in children fed organic foods, compared with dangerous levels
(6 to 9 times higher) in children on conventional foods, (Curl
CL, et al., ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2003/5754/abstract.pdf).
Somehow, the USDA insists that organic foods are no safer
than conventional foods, but research disagrees.
• A population study shows that diet does affect acne
(Cordain L, et al., Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization.
Arch Dermatol 2002 Dec;138(12):1584-90). These researchers
studied hunter-gatherers and concluded that the refined carbohydrates
in the industrialized diet might cause acne. In the two groups
they studied–in New Guinea and Paraguay, diets consisted
of primarily of fruit, fish, tubers, and coconut, or sweet
manioc (a root vegetable), peanuts, corn, and rice, with occasional
wild game, respectively. These diets mimic the high-fiber,
plant-based diets that I recommend. They found virtually no
acne in these groups, compared to their genetic relatives
in other Pacific islanders and South American Indians with
more processed foods in their diets.
Mushrooms help immunity, and putting them in soups is one
delicious way to enjoy them. I use fresh crimini mushrooms
and fresh or dried shitake (and other varieties; the dried
are less expensive). Heat water or vegetable stock (I buy
organic vegetable stock and dilute it with an equal amount
of water) in a large stock pot with the dried mushrooms to
soak. Sauté onions, garlic, and celery, add them to
the stock with chopped parsley, fresh dill, thyme, and marjoram
(plus cayenne pepper, sea salt, or soy sauce to taste). Add
organic barley, diced potatoes and carrots, and the fresh
mushrooms, Barley absorbs a lot of water, so if you don’t
add enough it will become a stew instead of a soup. Lastly,
add lots of chopped spinach or Swiss chard. Serve with a fresh
salad for a delicious meal.
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