Your Holistic Medicine Chest

by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.

"I'm really nervous about this flu season, and the baby and the rest of us getting sick. Besides getting a flu shot, what can we do?"

Conventional medicine is great for things like stitching up our daughter's hand the time she accidentally cut it open with a steak knife. But when it comes to more subtle, "systemic" matters like preventing colds or recovering quickly if you still get one, we've found more help from nutritional or Chinese health care. Here are the essentials of our own holistic medicine chest, with a focus on dealing with colds and flus. Of course, you should also do other, sensible practices for turbocharging your immune system, including:

• Eat lots of fresh vegetables
• Eat protein with every meal
• Get as much sleep as possible
• Exercise routinely
• Do what you can to lower your stresses (which suppress your immune system)
• Minimize sugar (which also depresses immune system function)
• Minimize exposure to contagious people

In the Medicine Chest below, we'll describe dosages for a typical woman. Adjust them depending on the body weight of your partner or children. Get high-quality supplements from our website or a health food store.

The Medicine Chest

• Basic MultiVitamin/MultiMineral supplement - Use a supplement that recommends four to six pills a day. For kids, look for flavored tablets or liquid.

• Vitamin A - This is the single best intervention we've come across for colds and flus. Use mycellized vitamin A in liquid form or vitamin A from cod liver oil in gel caps. At the beginning of a cold, take 50,000 International Units (IU) a day for three to five days; do not take more than that since it could be toxic for you. (One drop of vitamin A is about 5000 IU.) WARNING: Pregnant women or women who have any possibility of becoming pregnant over the next several months MUST NOT TAKE DOSAGES OVER 5000 IU/day, which can lead to birth defects.

• Vitamin C - Routinely take one to two grams a day. Increase to four to ten grams/day at the first sign of a cold (but decrease if you develop diarrhea) and maintain that dose for the duration of the illness before dropping back down.

• Zinc - Often taken as a lozenge for a sore throat.

• Echinacea - Take at the first possibility of an infection (e.g., your son's best friend just got a bad cold) or sign of the sniffles. This herb comes in several forms, just follow the dosage instructions on the packaging. (If you use a liquid tincture, dilute it in a little water unless you want a numb tongue!)

• Chinese herbs - The formula, Gan Mao Ling, can reduce the symptoms and duration of a cold. It's often available in little black "BB" size pills, which are relatively easy for kids to take. Another formula, Bi Yan Pian, is especially good for flus.

• Homeopathy - This is a system of medicine in which a substance is diluted and shaken many times, so that usually there are no molecules of the original material left, perhaps just its "electromagnetic fingerprint." (This is one way of saying that no one really knows how homeopathy works!) Nonetheless, a number of studies have substantiated its benefits, and both of us have experienced many homeopathic successes, sometimes dramatic. Remedies usually come in the form of little sugar pills, and they cannot do any harm if they don't work, so they're great for children (they were a lifesaver with our daughter's ear infections, but that's another story . . . ).

A single dose typically consists of four or five of the little pills (but more won't hurt you) placed under the tongue to dissolve; try not to eat or drink anything for at least ten minutes before and after taking the remedy. Do not store remedies near anything that produces electrical fields (e.g., microwaves, computers, telephones), and do not use menthol products or coffee during the period you are using a remedy. Homeopathy relies on being able to identify the correct remedy matched to an individual's exact symptoms. When it works, it's very evident, so if you try a remedy and do not feel noticeably better within twenty four hours, you should probably switch to another one.

The most common remedies for the flu are: