8 Natural Remedies for Upper Respiratory Infections

By Karen Calomino, MS
February 1, 2014

 Upper respiratory infections are the main cause of doctors visits and missed school and work days. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 million school days are lost each year in the U.S. as a result. The average person gets more than 50 colds during a lifetime and Americans spend almost $3 billion on over-the-counter drugs in addition to $400 million on prescription medicine each year fighting the cold alone.[i]

http://media.theindychannel.com/photo/2013/01/11/sneezing_getty_1357917373070_352088_ver1.0_320_240.jpgWhile rest is the best medicine when we are sick, as it allows the body to repair and heal on its own, our immune system might need a little help to fight and eliminate toxins. How quickly we get well depends on several factors, including any other mental, physical, or chemicals stressors that we may be experiencing at the time and that may be putting a burden on our systems. The body can only handle so much. As an alternative to prescriptive drugs, here are eight natural, scientifically proven remedies that may help speed up the process and get us through the blues.

1. Echinacea purpurea
This is by far the most researched herb for the treatment of upper respiratory symptoms. It has been clinically shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds and the flu, which seems to result from its ability to enhance the immune response by increasing the number of circulating white blood cells. It is best to take this at the onset or the first sign of symptoms. Echinilin and Echinaforce are suggested formulas. Five to six cups of Echinacea Plus Tea per day was also shown to be effective.[ii]

2. Probiotics
While the effectiveness of probiotics is well documented with regard to the improvement of gastrointestinal functions, it has also been proven to prevent infectious respiratory diseases. Studies have shown that an intake of a dietary supplement containing probiotic bacteria for at least three months in the Winter/Spring may significantly reduce the occurrence, severity, and length of common cold infections in adults and children. The strains used in the studies were a mix of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.[iii] Fermented foods with probiotics are found to have similar effects. In one study, the consumption of yoghurt fermented with Lactobacillus bulgaricus augmented natural killer cells and reduced the risk of elderly individuals catching the common cold.[iv]

3. Pelargonium sidoides
This is a medicinal plant from South Africa that may be useful in treating acute bronchitis and the common cold. It has both antiviral and antibacterial properties. The root of the plant is used as a cold and flu medicine under various brand names including Kaloba, Umcka, and Zucol. Studies have shown that an extract of it, called EP7630, reduces bacterial adhesion to cells, traps pathogens and makes them inactive, and prevents recurrent infections.[v]

4. Zinc
According to several clinical studies on the treatment of common colds with zinc, there has been consistently beneficial therapeutic effects from zinc gluconate lozenges with glycine. Benefits appears to be maximal if the lozenges are started immediately at the onset of symptoms. The formulation of the lozenges seems to be important because the addition of citric acid or tartaric acid may reduce the effectiveness. Some adverse effects include unpleasant taste, mouth irritation, and nausea.[vi]

5. Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus has been shown to have anti-bacterial activity against pathogenic bacteria. Diluted eucalyptus oil can be taken by mouth
to help fight inflammation of the respiratory tract mucous membranes, coughs, bronchitis, sinus pain, asthma, and respiratory infections. In a study, a spray containing the essential oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, and oregano brought about significant and immediate improvement in symptoms the first
three days when applied five times each day.[vii]

6. American ginseng
Not to be confused with Siberian ginseng or Asian ginseng,
American ginseng is a popular herb used for many different conditions, including anemia, diabetes, insomnia, headaches, fibromyalgia, and atherosclerosis. It is also safe and effective
for preventing acute respiratory illness and for reducing the
duration of respiratory symptoms associated with cold and flu
in adults. In one study, seniors who ingested two capsules of COLD-fx (an extract of the roots of North American ginseng) per day for a period of four months reduced the relative risk and duration of respiratory symptoms by 48% and 55% respectively.[viii]

7. Andrographis paniculata
This herb is native to South Asian countries and is frequently used for preventing and treating the common cold and flu. It is known for its antimicrobial activity and may be a safe and effective treatment for the relief of symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory infections. When participants in a study took 200 mg of KalmCold (an extract of Andrographis paniculata) per day, symptoms such as couching, headaches, and earaches, significantly decreased compared with a placebo.[ix]

8. Honey
Honey may be a preferable treatment for cough and sleep difficulties at night. When children received a single nocturnal dose of buckwheat honey, parents found it to be superior to dextromethorphan, a cough-suppressant drug found in many common over-the-counter cold and cough medications.[x]



[i] Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com


[iv] Br J Nutr. 2010 Oct;104(7):998-1006. Epub 2010 May 21. PMID: 20487575


[ix] Phytomedicine. 2010 Mar;17(3-4):178-85. Epub 2010 Jan 25. PMID: 20092985


[x] Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Dec ;161(12):1140-6. PMID: 18056558

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