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Natural Remedies For Respiratory Infections

gaia_herbsBy Lawrence Rosen MD October 2014-A busy cold and flu season has been exacerbated by Enterovirus D68, a more virulent strain of a fairly common viral infection.  Parents are understandably anxious and practitioners are searching for safe and effective preventive and treatment options.  As an experienced integrative pediatrician, I can share with you what I’ve found to be the most effective natural remedies for respiratory infections.  Please note that none of this is specific medical advice for YOUR child.  You should consult your pediatrician if your child is ill.  
Start with the basics – we are what we eat.  Eat more of the good, like organic fruits and veggies rich in immune-supporting antioxidants, and avoid more of the bad, including artificial dyes and sweeteners.  Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.  Some specific nutrients like vitamin D and Omega 3 essential fatty acids (from fish oil) have been shown in studies to reduce the risk of catching respiratory infections like colds and the flu.  Taking a daily probiotic, a supplement containing those “life supporting” organisms important for gut health, also may limit the number of upper respiratory infections your child gets.  Don’t forget to get plenty of exercise, including outdoor play.  It’s a myth that cold air leads to illnesses, and the extra fresh air and vitamin D (as long as you’re dressed appropriately) can be beneficial.  Finally, get plenty of rest.  Lack of sleep along with increased stress negatively affect your immune system, while practices like yoga and meditation can help support our body’s defenses.
Remember to wash hands simply with soap and water.  If those are not available or you’re seeking an extra layer of defense, consider a natural alternative to alcohol- or chemical-based hand sanitizers.  In my book, I highlight an essential oil-based recipe that goes back to the Middle Ages to protect against viruses like flu.  Fill a 4-ounce glass spray bottle near to the top with sterile water, add 1 tbsp of aloe vera gel, add in five drops each of cinnamon, clove, rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils, mix in 10 drops of either lemon or wild orange essential oil, shake gently, and use two or three sprays on your hands, as needed.  This natural DIY hand sanitizer is safer for you and for the environment, and the oils have been demonstrated in the lab to have potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  Good sources for high quality ingredients include Aura Cacia essential oils and Mountain Rose Herbs organic aloe vera gel.  
I typically avoid conventional over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, especially in children under the age of 4, due to increased likelihood of adverse effects and lack of efficacy.  Instead, for viral infections, I recommend a dose of elderberry syrup (i.e. Gaia herbs black elderberry syrup) twice a day.  Several studies have shown that these dark berries, rich in antioxidants, have strong antiviral actions, particularly against the influenza virus.  And don’t forget to stay hydrated!  Two of my favorites to avoid dehydration are coconut water, a natural alternative to artificially colored and sweetened sports drinks, and grandma’s favorite (for non vegetarians) – chicken soup.  This old stand-by actually contains special immune boosting properties.  For coughs, there are number of natural options.  The most researched is honey, which can be given at age one or older as a ½-1 tsp every 4 hours as needed or mixed in herbal tea.  Gaia herbs children’s cough syrups (one each for wet and dry coughs) are often helpful and well tolerated.  I also find Boiron’s line of homeopathics, including ColdCalm and Chestal, effective for colds and coughs.  Finally, at the first sign of flu-like symptoms – fever, runny nose, cough, muscle aches – consider starting a time-tested homeopathic remedy called Oscillococcinum.  It’s safe at any age and potentially can limit the severity and duration of flu symptoms.
dr_rosen_bio_pic_3-6-14Lawrence Rosen, MD is an integrative pediatrician and co-author of Treatment Alternatives for Children. He is the founder of the Whole Child Center, one of the country’s first green and integrative pediatric practices, and he serves as Medical Advisor to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center.  Dr. Rosen’s academic credentials include positions as past Chair of the AAP Section on Integrative Medicine, Clinical Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ, and author of numerous articles and book chapters on integrative pediatrics. He is also the pediatric columnist for Kiwi Magazine and blogs for the Huffington Post. 
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