Colds and Flu: a Natural "How To!"

Dear Deb,

This is a good question and I believe most of us can benefit from the knowledge of methods to relieve stress. Stress is responsible for over 80% of all doctor visits. Stress is responsible for a number of chronic disorders, and yet many of us do not know how to eat (and live) to handle it. For this reason, we get sick with either chronic disorders or simple maladies such as the common cold.

During times of high stress, eating well may make the difference in being well, or being sick. Emotional stress may rob the body of many of its nutrients by as much as one-third. When this occurs, the immune system suffers, and this leaves us vulnerable to colds, allergies and other conditions that can be potentially dangerous.

Immune Stress and Nutrients to Help

Here is a guide to the main anti-stress nutrients that may aid in supporting our immune process.

Vitamin C, found in citrus, broccoli and tomatoes, is key in immune stress control. Stress triggers the release of hormones from glands that also store vitamin C. When these glands turn up the hormone production; they lose stockpiles of the nutrient. Since immune cells depend on vitamin C for repair and functioning, this lowers the resistance to infection.

Most people do not consume optimal levels of Vitamin C. The minimum daily recommendation has been raised recently, and I still feel it is not enough for those under stress of any kind, including immune stress. During times of stress, our daily nutrient need for vitamin C may reach 1000mgs. I always suggest that people supplement vitamin C during stressful times. While studies vary on our basic needs for this valuable nutrient, most researchers agree that supplementing may aid in our immune support.

Vitamin E can also boost resistance to illness and help reduce stress. Yet, while the RDA is 12 to 15 IUs (International Units) of this vitamin, this may not be enough to make an impact during stressful times. Recent evidence shows that 100 IUs of this nutrient can dramatically improve immunity. This would require, however, about 20 cups of spinach, so I also suggest supplementing vitamin E (unless you really like spinach!).

There is also growing scientific evidence that vitamin E has a protective use within our cardiovascular system, and many people are taking 400-800 IUS. Caution should be taken when mixing higher amounts of vitamin E and anticoagulant medications.

Another important nutrient for anti-stress is magnesium. This mineral is usually found in wheat germ, bananas, kidney beans and lentils. Scientists believe that magnesium plays a role in the production of calming brain chemicals. Stress hormones seem to increase the excretion of magnesium, possibly causing deficiencies.

The current RDA for magnesium is 280 to 350 mgs. This amount may be found in two cups of spinach. However, during times of stress, 500 mgs. or more may be required. Magnesium is also important in protecting our heart and arteries. This is important in the stress process, and it has been shown that magnesium is deficient in most heart patients. Another fact is coffee may deplete this valuable mineral, so control your consuming levels of Java when you are stressed.

Perhaps the most important anti-stress nutrients are the B vitamins. This group of nutrients are targeted to reduce immune stress and, in particular, B-5 (or pantothenic acid) is important because it nourishes the adrenal glands, our body's stress control organ. B vitamins are used by the immune system to help signal problems, which calls the immune system into play.

I always suggest a B complex (the entire group of B vitamins in one supplement) because B vitamins work collectively for absorption and use. I also suggest taking the B's twice a day, at breakfast and lunch, to aid in energy and reduce stress.

Finally, a nutrient that is especially important for the immune system is vitamin A. This vitamin is another of the group of nutrients known as antioxidants . The immune system uses vitamin A to help prevent illness and to help repair injuries to the body. The RDA for vitamin A is in debate, as it can interfere with medications. I recommend the Beta-Carotene form of vitamin A (also known as pro-vitamin A) because it is not toxic to the body and can be stored in the liver until it is needed.

Another key antioxidant nutrient supportive of the immune system is zinc. Zinc lozenges have become a staple item in medicine cabinets, for their well-known use against the common cold. Zinc supports the immune system and is an important nutrient to aid in wound repair and prostate function.

Immune Enhancing Herbs

I do know a little about some of the ancient herbal formulas, and I am familiar with an immune-enhancing formula known as the Chinese Eight. Before I elaborate on the eight, I want to tell you that formulas of this kind have been used for many centuries, but, for the most part, may not be validated according to our conventional medical research.

For that reason, I would rather discuss some of the individual herbs that are shown to aid in immune system health. With the terrible problems with colds and flu this winter and the serious outbreak of allergies in the early spring, it is important that we all keep our immune system in good shape to support the body against immune stress that is a part of the season.

I also suggest to you that studies show that many herbs can act in a negative fashion, when used at the same time as conventional medications. While there are very few side effects associated with the use of these herbs, you need to be properly informed about their use.

The first herb to consider is Echinacea. A native of the Great Plains, Echinacea is a part of our frontier medical lore. This well-known herb has been shown to support the immune system and is indeed well documented in clinical trials. Echinacea, is considered an immune modulator, or regulator, as it has been shown to enhance the process of interferon production. Also known as Purple Coneflower, Echinacea is often taken during the onset of winter-type imbalances, to strengthen the immune system.

Astragalus root is a very old and well-known herb in traditional Chinese medicine and is currently official in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia. It is used in China mainly as a tonic in Fu-Sheng, where the goal is to restore immune system function. Astragalus root is also a major part of the formula Chinese Eight. Astragalus is becoming well known in the HIV and cancer communities for its immunostimulant properties, which are being studied in relation to cancer chemotherapy. It has been shown to stimulate immune system functioning and maintain production of T-cells.

Another group of plants found in the ancient formulas and being studied for immune properties are not technically herbs; they are mushrooms. The therapeutic value of these plants is a part of many cultural medical histories and is fast becoming a part of natural medicine in the United States. In Japan and China, some types of mushrooms have been consumed for over 3000 years and were so highly valued in some cultures they were used as currency. Gifts of certain mushrooms to the house of the Shogun in Japan would insure his health and power as the leader and warrior and were considered honored presents.

There is scientific evidence to suggest the early healers' use of the mushrooms were justified. A polysaccharide known as beta-glucan, which is found in reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms has been shown to possess anti-tumor activity. Recent research also suggests these mushrooms possess immunostimulant characteristics. The plants stimulate immune T-cells development and, for this reason, alternative cancer treatments tout the use of these mushrooms.

The Mediterranean culture has made great use of the olive tree over the centuries for a major food source, and discoveries over the past two centuries attest to its healthful value. The olive leaf was used for malaria in the 1800s and the extraction of the constituent oleuropien has been found to resist disease. Olive leaf is used to support the body against microbial invasion, and is considered a good antioxidant, as well.

Exciting research is now showing immune benefit of the herb ginseng. Many values are placed on this common plant, which is found throughout the world. For more than three thousand years, ginseng has been used for medicinal purposes and is the most-widely used herb in the United States. As a tonic, ginseng exerts a strengthening of both physical and mental energy, and is considered an "adaptogen" for its ability to resist biological stress and help in the balance of the body.

Studies show that the herb increases natural killer cell activity and may enhance the production of interferon, which would help maintain the immune system during times of bacterial, microbial and infectious activity. Be careful with ginseng, as it may produce symptoms of nervousness and should be considered dangerous for those with severe blood pressure.

While herbs are considered drugs in many countries, they are marketed over the counter in the United States. Most herbalists suggest that the most herbs should not be used on an ongoing basis.

Another suggestion is to make sure you are providing yourself with the nutrients we know help the immune system. Eat foods high in fiber and antioxidant vitamins, such as fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water every day. And get adequate rest during the spring. A body that is richly nourished and well rested in more likely to stay healthy and resist the stress of the season.

My suggestion to you, Deb, is that you get all the evidence about the use of these herbs and discuss with a knowledgeable pharmacist the potential health benefits… and dangers… regarding your particular circumstances. You can click here to view our arsenal of important formulas to support your immune system and provide you with the herbs we have discussed above. You can also call me for a consultation about your immune support program and hopefully you will not have the colds…or worse…as a result of your stress.

Questions about Health?
Ask "Mike"
For Consultation with Jerry "Michael" Casso R.Ph.
Phone: (504) 888-3077


Allergies, Asthma and Coughs: Natural and Nutritional Suggestions

Allergies in General

Dear Mike,

Spring is on the way, and I dread it every year. With the new plant growing comes sneezing, wheezing, and other allergic reactions. I now have the new prescription for Claritin, but is there anything else I can do to help get through this?

BM, New Orleans

Dear BM,

Rather than look at the specifics of your problems, I want to offer some general guides because I believe most allergies are nutritionally motivated. Spring and summer can be nightmares for many people suffering from allergies. Some allergies are year-round and can come from environment, nutritional, and medicinal sources.

Basically, when he body experiences an allergic reaction, certain processes trigger that reaction and, if modern research would focus on what "whole body" conditions may create the reaction, perhaps the public would not have to take as many shots and vaccines to prevent the individual triggers.

Allergies are a complicated issue and quite a broad topic. Unfortunately, most physicians are not familiar with all the nutritional requirements in allergic health conditions. Adjunct disorders, such as hay fever and sinus problems, often create similar symptoms to allergies. Allergies are a confounding problem, as the symptoms and occurrences can come at any age. You do not have to be born with an allergy; you can pick one up after exposure to a new substance, organic or chemical.

There is a growing debate in the medical field about whether allergies are food-related, and many doctors are suggesting dietary measures to help with some allergic reactions. I believe people can develop allergies from the chronic consumption of a food, such as dairy products. Until we can be certain, I always suggest that supporting the immune system and replenishing nutrients that appear to be deficient in allergic people are the one best ways to prevent the reactions.

Possible causes of allergies include genetics. Some doctors believe that the ability to produce allergic reactions are passed form mother to child, through the transference of an immune system antibody, IgG, through the placenta. This causes the fetal blood supply to develop allergies to the same foods or allergens the mother "enjoys."

Nonetheless, it is important to consider bolstering your immune system, by eating the proper foods and perhaps supplementing the diet with nutritional supplement formulas.

Here are some nutrients to consider:

* Zinc and vitamin A are both key to immune system health. They play a role in the production of IgA, an antibody that coats allergens in the digestive tract, preventing their absorption.

* Bioflavonoids, particularly quercetin, offer good support against allergic response. Quercetin, a plant pigment, affects body cells that cause the release of histamines and serotonin that counter allergic response.

* Other bioflavonoids also aid in this process and this group of nutrients seems to work better when taken with vitamin C. The two are synergistic, meaning together they are better than each is separately. Most nutrients work like that.

* Vitamin C aids in controlling inflammatory responses in the body, protecting lung tissue and defending the body against infections. Vitamin C is also important in opening our airflow, which may be helpful in preventing nasal decongestion.

* Vitamin C is also to be considered for those still smoking. Smokers are depleted of this important antioxidant, and the children of smokers are also at higher risk of allergies and asthmatic reactions because their stores of this vitamin are often less than optimal. I know there have been reports that too much vitamin C can create abnormal DNA that may be cancerous, but I don't think there is any evidence yet to support that the supplement form of vitamin C is attributable to deaths. The massive amounts of studies that confirm its benefit greatly outweigh the few negative studies. As for me, two grams a day is standard. I might take more if I have come (or am coming) down with a cold or just feel icky.

* B vitamins are also helpful in the allergic condition, as they help to stimulate the immune system to respond to pathogens. They are also helpful in managing our stress levels. Stress is often noted as the catalyst of allergic and asthmatic reactions.

* Essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in flaxseeds, nuts and fish oils are important to the immune system because they reduce inflammation associated with allergic response. EFAs aid in the production of prostaglandins in the body, which maintain the body against allergic response. EFAs play so many important roles in the body that I usually suggest them with or without allergies.

* Antioxidant vitamins and minerals are crucial in maintaining the immune system. Vitamin A, E, C, the minerals zinc and selenium are the members of this nutrient family. I have discussed all but selenium, which also has a targeted role in the allergic condition. Selenium aids in the uptake of vitamin E, and is often noted as a deficiency in allergy and asthma sufferers. Selenium is also a part of the chemical system, glutathione peroxidase, which helps to support our body against free radicals that can destroy cells.

* The most important elemental insurance should come from our foods. When those with allergies talk with me, I always suggest an immune-strengthening diet, with less use of foods that are mucous forming, including dairy products. A diet rich in fiber, high in nutrients suggested above, and containing enzymes is an important part of controlling allergic reactions.

* I always discuss water. Drinking adequate amounts of water daily insures the delivery of nutrients, helps you remain hydrated (less oxidative damage), and help you to eliminate wastes and toxins from the body. Most of the population is dehydrated, but it is especially noted in allergy sufferers. I also suggest that water means water, not liquids. Coffee and sodas actually dehydrate the body, and should not count in the eight to ten glasses of water consumed daily.

While there are many alternative treatments for allergies, I always suggest that we look first at the basics, including water, diet, and nutrient deficiencies. Guard your environment, particularly if you have allergies. Exposure to chemicals, including household cleaners, can dramatically affect a person's allergies and are often the trigger that sets off an allergic reaction. If you have household allergies, switch to natural cleansers. You are less likely to have an allergy to them. Not to say that you won't, but it is less likely.

Breathing clean air, free of smoke, toxins and pollutants is almost impossible anymore. But, clean air machines are helping a lot of people. Ionizing the air and water is a new fad in the natural products industry and it does have merit. If you suffer from allergies, it is just common sense that you check out the options - why suffer? Contact me for answers to questions about allergies and methods of controlling them. Don't let the allergies control you. Enjoy this rebirth of life, without the watery eyes!

Questions about Health?
Ask "Mike"
For Consultation with Jerry "Michael" Casso R.Ph.
Phone: (504) 888-3077



Dear Mike

I was curious if you knew anything about nutrition and asthma attacks. My son suffers from asthma and I would like to help him in any way I can.

MS, Gretna

Dear MS,

Asthma continues to be a mounting problem in the United States. 14.6 million Americans have the disease, a chronic lung problem that causes incredible difficulty in breathing. The disease can be fatal and some 5,000 people perish from asthma each year. Most asthma sufferers know the disorder requires medical management, but too few realize that it is not just the symptoms that can be tackled, but in some cases, many of the causes can be tackled as well.

Asthma Triggers and Results

Asthma attacks can be triggered by internal, as well as external, factors. Examples of internal factors include stress and infections. External or environmental factors include dust, pollen, tobacco smoke and various forms of pollution. Regardless of the cause, the end result is always the same - the lung's pathways swell and constrict, restricting airflow. When this occurs, the cells lining the lung's bronchial tubes release the chemical histamine, which produces inflammation and the production of excess mucus. This makes breathing even more difficult.

To prevent the internal and environmental triggers from causing an attack, take some obvious steps:

* Avoid entering or remaining in smoky rooms or being exposed to second-hand smoke, both from fireplaces and tobacco.

* Be cautious around areas that are high in pollen counts and air pollution.

* Find methods of combating stress. Stress is accountable for so many of life's health conditions, so getting a handle on stress will equate to longer life and a higher quality of life.

Diet and Asthma

One of the lesser-known but rather important considerations for avoiding asthma attacks is attention to the diet. A person' s diet plays an extremely important role in reducing or eliminating the likelihood of asthma.

Research has shown that fewer asthma attacks occur in populations that consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables. Consuming nutrient-rich fresh foods will allow the body's immune system to ward off attacks and to prevent their occurrence. Further, the research indicates that asthmatics with low levels of vitamin C in their blood have more problems with wheezing, a key symptom of the disorder.

Scientists suggest this relationship is attributed to the balance of oxidants and antioxidants in the lung. It is the introduction of excess oxidants, via smoke and pollution that is at the root of the attack.

Nutrient Support for Respiratory Function

Vitamin C is the major antioxidant present in the lining of the lungs and optimal quantities of the nutrient appear to reduce the risk of symptoms. Many foods are rich in this nutrient, including papaya, green red and yellow peppers, strawberries, and oranges. Most of these foods not only contain the nutrient in abundance, but also seem to prevent the release of histamine.

Quercetin, a plant nutrient present in onions, apples, kale, broad beans, tea and berries has a similar effect, sparring with oxidation and lessening inflammation by blocking histamine.
The anti-inflammatory effects of some essential fatty acids, particularly Omega-3 acids, are also helpful. Foods such as salmon, tuna and trout contain good sources of these fats and are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, but also aid in many other bodily functions.

Nutrient "No-no's" with Asthma Sufferers

Just as food can help to control the asthmatic condition, it can also hurt. Certain foods should be avoided when trying to control attacks. Perhaps the most important foods to avoid are those that contain sulfites, a variety of additives in processed foods, used to prevent browning. If you look carefully on nutrition labels, the ingredients such as sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, and sodium or potassium bisulfite are dangerous to sulfite-sensitive asthmatics and the ingestion of these additives can spark an intense reaction.

Sulfites can be found in many packaged foods including dried fruits, dehydrated potatoes and fruit juices, lemon juice, salad dressings and sauces from dry mixes. Sulfites can also be found in shrimp and canned seafood soups, pickled products, canned or dried soups and the "cherry on top" - maraschino cherries.

Milk and eggs have also been linked to asthma attacks, especially in children. In some cases, the use of an elimination diet will help parents to determine which foods are triggers.
While asthma medications are constantly being improved, careful attention to the diet may help in reducing the instances of attacks. Fro more information about helping your immune system and respiratory system perform, contact me or stop by the Wellness Store for more opportunities in prevention. We are here to help!

Questions about Health?
Ask "Mike"
For Consultation with Jerry "Michael" Casso R.Ph.
Phone: (504) 888-3077



Dear Mike,

The family drove me crazy all winter with coughing, which seems to last all Spring and sometimes into the summer. What is going on, and how can I use natural products to combat it?

FP, Mandeville

Dear FP,

Winter is over but the coughing continues and new bugs are making the circuit! And they do not care what season it is! This season seems to always bring a respiratory virus of some kind, with nasty mucus and coughing. These types of bugs could be recent immigrants from the East. Several reports indicate that a bug that was quite damaging to the Orient last year has made it to our shores and is wreaking havoc.

Viruses and bacterial illness used to be considered a regional occurrence. With the increase in international travel and quick global flights, infectious diseases can stowaway in flights and boats and hit our shores with a vengeance. There are so many different types of bacterial invaders these days. There are a growing number of bugs that are becoming resistant to antibiotic treatments, as well.

This is a frightening fact, and while I don't pretend to have the answers to its prevention, I will suggest that the bugs are going to be more dangerous to those with immune systems that are not up to snuff. This latest bug seems to affect the respiratory system, resulting in symptoms of phlegm build-up and coughing. Some reports of fever and headaches are noted, as well as some sinus activity. A nasty little critter is the culprit, but there are also ways in which we allow the bug to become more destructive.

In our breathing passages, which are called bronchi, we often develop secretions that affect the lungs. Under normal circumstances, we would cough to clear the passages.

However, a chronic or persistent cough can actually cause the bronchi to constrict and cause irritation to the walls of the bronchial membranes. This, in turn, can create a respiratory problem.

Coughs are Signals

There is a system in the body that creates coughs, as a protective response. When an irritant reaches a receptor in the nose, throat or chest, a signal is sent to the brain to force a cough. After you inhale, the throat and vocal cords constrict, trapping air in the lungs. Your chest and abdomen muscles then contract, pushing against your diaphragm. When this occurs, your throat opens, forcing an explosion of the trapped air, which we call a cough.

Coughing can be a symptom of several things. A virus in the upper respiratory system may signal an infection in the nose, sinus or airways. Colds or influenza are fairly common examples of this. As you may have heard over the news, some of these infections are getting harder to diagnose or treat. For this reason, don't fail to get your doctor involved in your problem, even if it means return visits or calls.

Coughing can also be caused from throat irritation caused from drainage of mucus in the throat, which we call postnasal drainage. Coughing can also be the result of a chronic disorder, such as allergies or asthma. Of course, a chronic cough can also be the result of smoking or exposure to pollutants like smog, dust, secondhand smoke or cold, dry air. We also see coughs as a symptom of gastric reflux, known as GERD. In this, stomach acid backs up into your throat or, in rare cases your lungs. Your physician should handle treatment for this problem, as it can create other, more serious problems.

Methods to Counter Coughing

What can we do to prevent these problems? The answer may depend on the cause, but one thing for use, you must fortify your immune system as you attack the source of the problem. A strong immune system can help with so many concerns and will also help you by allowing for all the energy you can muster to fight off invading critters or environmental issues that cause the coughs.

For coughs with phlegm, there are many safe expectorants available in the pharmacy. Of course there are also flu remedies and headache remedies and you could end up with a large arsenal of OTC products at your bedside. Antibiotics may (I repeat, may) be an effective treatment and I would encourage you to visit the physician, particularly if the kids are in agony. An illness that affects the immune system needs to be dealt with quickly, to avoid worse problems.

From a natural standpoint, there are several ways to support your immune system and also get some relief from some of the symptoms. Let's consider that "social misfit" symptom, the persistent, nagging cough. Remember when your mother sent you to school fortified with the cherry cough drops? The earliest commercial success for coughs was the cherry cough drop, developed by the Smith brothers.

From an herbal therapy standpoint, the Smiths were right on target. Different parts of the cherry tree, from the bark to the fruit, have been used to combat coughs, with long term history of success. You can now find Wild Cherry Bark capsules and teas that are specifically designated for aid against the chronic cough. Both Cherry Bark and Horehound are herbs used to combat the cough in Europe and American Folk Medicine. (The Smiths must have known this.)

Chronic coughs with mucus may be associated with bronchitis. On your doctor's advice, you may wish to try an expectorant, which are medications that help clear the throat of mucus. These are targeted toward certain coughs, so get some advice to determine if they will help. Cough suppressants may also help. They affect the brain, by shutting off the cough reflex centers. Mild suppressants are available over the counter; stronger ones are by prescription.

Here is a general guideline for methods to help fight coughs and bronchial problems:

* When I see a persistent cough, the first thing I ask is how much water a person is drinking. Fluids really do help to keep the throat clear and stifle the cough. Use a humidifier if the cough may be the result of dry air, which can often happen in the winter. Dry air can really inflame the bronchi when you have a cold and may last after the other symptoms are diminished.
* "Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can eat. With mucus, avoid sugar, salty foods, dairy products and starchy foods that may create more mucus. Mix a cocktail of pineapple juice and honey to activate Bromelain and reduce phlegm. Lemon juice and honey is also quite effective as a tea.

* I always suggest to those affected by a cough to increase the amount of vitamin C they eat. Vitamin C can help the bronchial passages to heal and will help to "turn on" the processes in our body that will quell the allergic or viral reactions. Vitamin C should be a part of everyone's winter diet. It performs so many protective functions and can work with other nutrients to keep the lungs, throat and nose in good health.

* Take a good antioxidant vitamin with zinc, vitamin A, other antioxidants, B vitamins and folic acid. These nutrients will help support the immune system, to fight the infection. Also consider a good zinc lozenge. Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to try to stop problems before they occur. Fortify yourself this winter with a good multi-vitamin supplement.

* Slippery elm bark is another herb that can be useful when a cough is the result of mucus. I don't recommend this without consultation, however, because slippery elm can be dangerous when used with antibiotics or certain other medications.

* Steam eucalyptus oils, mixed with peppermint and chamomile in your "sick" room. Add garlic capsules to your bedside capsules. Also consider mullein, either in tea or capsule form.

If you smoke and wonder about the cough… well, wise up. If you don't smoke and can't figure where the cough is originating, go back to your doctor. When we have symptoms, they mean something. If it is not the external environment, it is the internal one.

Remember that a cough is a body signal. Sometimes we try to suppress the symptoms of an illness, rather than focusing on treating the illness itself. Don't treat the cough; treat the entire problem.

One remedy found in most kitchens is honey. Honey is wonderful when mixed with lemons. It is also a good cough elixir, when mixed with an onion. Cover the onion slices with honey overnight then spoon out in teaspoons four or five times a day.

Our bodies are stressed during the winter and we do not eat as much fresh foods, so the nutrients we need may be diminished from our food supply. When spring arrives, we need good nutrition to rebuild our immune system and combat allergies, viruses and bacterial infections that really can occur all year long. Adding a good vitamin, taking some time with good herbal products and teas, and paying attention to the diet may keep us from being so affected by the season and the bugs that can be a nasty part of this time of year.

For more information about your immune system and methods of supporting your body from ravages of seasonal ailments and major immune-related problems, contact me at the Wellness Store.

Mike Casso, R.Ph.