News on Health & Science

Better Ways to Fight Cold & Flu

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The herb Echinacea, utilized by Native Americans for centuries, is a popular remedy for preventing or reducing the severity of the common cold. Hundreds of studies, primarily conducted in Germany, have provided information on the herb’s chemical and pharmacological characteristics, yet few studies have actually proven its ability to reduce cold severity.

To evaluate the effectiveness of dried, whole-plant echinacea capsules for early treatment of the common cold, approximately 150 students in the early stages of a cold were divided to take either a placebo or echinacea. The echinacea group took an encapsulated mixture of unrefined echinacea root and herbs in one-gram doses, six times on the first day of illness and three times per day on subsequent days, for up to 10 days. The placebo group took capsules containing alfalfa, which has no proven ability to boost the immune system, at the same frequency.

No difference was observed between the echinacea and placebo groups for any cold symptoms, including cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose or headaches. Average duration of the cold was approximately six days in both groups. Also, cold severity measures were “nearly identical” in those taking echinacea or placebo pills.

Although this is certainly not the last word on echinacea, since some previous research contradicts this study, it shows that otherwise healthy people might not obtain as much benefit from the herb as older adults who have frequent colds or viral illnesses. The best advice is to reduce your chances of getting a cold in the first place: wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and boost your immune system by eating lots of fruits and vegetables and getting plenty of sleep.

It’s cold and flu season, and the sounds of coughing, sneezing and runny noses can be heard in nearly every home, office and shopping mall across the country. But don’t run to the doctor and stock up on prescriptions just yet.

Colds, flus, most sore throats and acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not help fight viruses. Your prescription medication won’t fight the virus, make you feel better, yield a quicker recovery or keep others from getting sick. In fact, because of the potentially serious side effects, taking antibiotics to treat a virus can do more harm than good.

In addition to failing to solve your problem, taking unnecessary antibiotics can result in an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. This means the next time you really need an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, it may not work.

When the scratchy throat, sinus headache and sniffles get to be too much to handle this season, resist the urge to reach for the easy answer. Talk to your doctor about natural alternatives for treating your cold or flu.

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Healthy Tips

Vitamin D

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Vitamin D is actually a term for a group of hormones that are stored mainly in the liver, as well as fat and muscle tissue. It is one of three vitamins naturally manufactured by the body, and it is produced by a chemical reaction to the ultraviolet radiation contained in sunlight.

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Why do we need it?
Vitamin D increases the body’s absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. This makes it essential to maintaining strong, healthy bones and teeth.

How much vitamin D should I take?
According to the National Academy of Sciences, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is as follows:

Adult men: 200 international units (5 micrograms)/day
Adult women: 200 international units (5 micrograms)/day
Adults age 51-70: 400 international units (10 micrograms)/day
Adults 71 and over: 600 international units (15 micrograms)/day
Children aged 7-10: 200 international units (5 micrograms)/day
Infants: 200 international units (5 micrograms)/day
Pregnant/lactating women: 200 international units (5 micrograms)/day
What are some good sources of vitamin D?

Exposure to sunlight is the easiest way to build up stores of vitamin D. By exposing the face, hands and forearms for between 15-20 minutes two or three times per week, most people can manufacture all the vitamin D they need.

Vitamin D is also found in a number of food products, most notably vitamin D-fortified milk. Other sources include egg yolks, fish, cheese, fortified cereals and liver.

What can happen if I don’t get enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D deficiency can result in bone-related disorders such as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women, and has been linked to higher incidences of prostate cancer and breast cancer.

What can happen if I take too much vitamin D?
High doses of vitamin D can be very toxic. In children, large doses can cause mental retardation, stunted growth and kidney failure. In older children and adults, too much vitamin D can result in weakness, anorexia, nausea, diarrhea and changes in a person’s mental state. With the exception of kidney failure, low-calcium diets and withdrawal of vitamin D from a person’s diet can usually reverse these side-effects.