The 2,000-year old cocktail: it tastes as bad as it looks… but it works.
My back hurts. So does my throat, and I feel like a sumo wrestler is sitting on my head trying to pop my eyes out.
Alas, the common cold has got me. Fortunately, I expect to be rid of it in 48-72 hours.
Like millions this time of year, I have the bug. But, thanks to Chinese and German friends and several helpful doctors, I’ve found a few effective treatments — the closest to cures I’ve experimented with — that can get you back on your feet faster. I suggest you test them in stages, from oldest to newest, as the side-effects tend to increase as we include modern drugs.
The Chinese Cure for the Common Cold–Simple and Direct
Despite some craziness like shark-fin soup and bear gallbladders, the Chinese have had a long time to experiment with the common cold.
In Beijing, I’d doubted the traditional Chinese approach to reducing fevers (bundle you up in winter clothing and force you to drink near-boiling tea or water until you sweat profusely), which ended up working like a charm, so I’ve been willing to test ideas that could have some clinical basis.
The ladies–my five surrogate mothers–at my neighborhood Chinese restaurant suggested the following fast-acting cold remedy (end product pictured in the first photo from this post), which — for me — cuts symptoms like sore throat and sinus pain by at least 50% over 24 hours.
Step 1: Get fresh ginger and the orange rind (peel) from one orange, preferably organic or otherwise not treated with pesticides. Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods will do. The Epsom salts will be explained and is not part of the recipe.
Step 2: Cut the ginger into small pieces and mash them down with the side of a large kitchen knife.
Step 3: Bring water to a low boil (medium setting on my electric stovetop) in a small pot and insert ginger pieces. Wait 20 minutes. Note: to help relieve the muscular pains that often come with a cold or flu, I’ll run a hot bath during this 20 minutes, put in the entire box of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), then soak for 10 minutes before coming back to the kitchen for step 4.
Step 4: Add the orange peel sections to the boiling water and wait an additional 10 minutes.
Step 5: Strain and serve. Be forewarned that it has a strong taste and a few dabs of organic honey will help those with girly-man stomachs (I’ll plead girly-man on this one). The liquid/tea/soup stores well in the refrigerator but tastes 10x worse cold.
The German Solution–Alcohol, Of Course!
The German solution I’ve been offered is easier to describe:
1. Get a deep-tissue massage
2. Chamomile Tea
3. Spiced Rum
I suspect the spiced rum could have an effect less from the alcohol and more from the cinnamon typically used to make it spicy. Though generally thought of as being viral, the common cold is often misdiagnosed or accompanied by other types of bacteria and infection.
Cinnamon has been shown to inhibit E. Coli and increase insulin sensitivity, among other things, which is why I take it supplementally prior to meals if I’m cycling off of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) as an insulin mimicker.
I’ll discuss ALA at greater length another time, but here is a preview from wikipedia: “Lipoic acid has been shown in cell culture experiments to increase cellular uptake of glucose by recruiting the glucose transporter GLUT4 to the cell membrane, suggesting its use in diabetes.”
Modern Non-Prescription Options
Though it’s true that “supplement,” “drug,” and “food” are largely legal distinctions and not biochemical ones, getting prescriptions is both time-consuming and expensive. For shortening the duration of the common cold, I use Zicam oral mist (nasal delivery can damage your sense of smell) every 3-4 hours, along with the following:
Garlic extract (2 capsules, 3x/daily), probiotic acidophilus cultures (one capsule per meal), 3mg melatonin prior to bed, 8-10 grams of vitamin C in 1g divided doses.
I don’t use echinacea because I’ve found the supporting research inconsistent and it upsets my stomach. I’m aware that some researchers dispute Linus Pauling’s conclusions about vitamin C, but I believe it’s because of insufficient dosing and spacing, as it is water soluble and can have a half-life of just 30-60 minutes.
From the non-ingestible standpoint, having suffered from sinus infections since childhood, I’m a proponent of sinus irrigation, which entails driving distilled water mixed with salt and baking soda in one nostril and out the other.
I’ll do this each morning and evening as soon as symptoms appear, and it all but eliminates the intra-cranial pressure and black-eye look so typical of sinus inflammation:
The Last Resort–Heavy Prescription Artillery
The common cold, as mentioned earlier, is generally thought of as a viral infection and attributed to any number of rhinoviruses and friends: “Common colds are most often caused by infection by one of the more than 100 serotypes of rhinovirus, a type of picornavirus. Other viruses causing colds are coronavirus, human parainfluenza viruses, human respiratory syncytial virus, adenoviruses, enteroviruses, or metapneumovirus. Due to the many different types of viruses, it is not possible to gain complete immunity to the common cold.”
Diverse as the causes might be, there is one combination of drugs–my personal holy trinity–that seems to kill off most variations of cold-related upper-respiratory issues if all else fails:
From left to right: the “Zmax” or azithromycin, an antibiotic (don’t use this and acidophilus at the same time); Flonase or generic fluticasone propionate, an anti-inflammatory nasal stray with little systemic absorption of the glucocorticoids; and Pseudovent, a decongestant and expectorant not unlike Primatene tablets.
These drugs all have side-effects and should not be used without medical supervision. If your HMO or doctor seems clueless, however, feel free to make suggestions. Please note also that I use antibiotics only when warranted, as in the case of severe and recurring sinusitis with related causes. Uninformed overuse of antibiotics can do more damage than anabolic steroids, so caveat emptor.
The common cold has been with us for millenia and will likely be with us for millenia to come. Is doesn’t mean you have to lay down and take it. Test some of these options, with the guidance of a doctor when needed, and perhaps we can save one more casualty from flu and cold season.
Odds and Ends: Fixed Gibberish
I had the strange marks and nonsense fixed on the popular “Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades” post. It’s now readable again :)
Posted on: March 18, 2008.