Deconstructing natural remedies

by Beacon Staff • November 16, 2005

While Advil, Nyquil or other pharmaceuticals are all options for tending to these symptoms, some students on campus are also using alternative methods, also referred to as natural remedies.,With the cold season hanging onto winter's coattails, the city's new soundtrack will soon be the collective echo of sneezes, coughs and groans.

While Advil, Nyquil or other pharmaceuticals are all options for tending to these symptoms, some students on campus are also using alternative methods, also referred to as natural remedies.

Paul Igaz, a freshman film major, said he chooses not to use common over-the-counter medicines, such as Advil, because of their artificial ingredients.

"I just don't like the idea of these unknown chemicals, which have harsh side effects," he said.

For students who are interested in learning about alternative medicines, such as zinc, Echinacea and homeopathic remedies, all which are made from natural ingredients, here are some options that may help keep you healthy this holiday season.

Zinc: How helpful is it?

When feeling the beginning stages of a cold, like a runny nose or sore throat, zinc lozenges and Echinacea are the most popular natural supplements people ask for, according to pharmacist Eileen Fitzpatrick, who works at Gary Drug on Charles Street.

Zinc is a mineral that is found within every cell of our bodies and plays a significant role in supporting a healthy immune system, healing wounds and maintaining our sense of smell, according to the National Institutes of Health (www.ods.od.nih.gov.html).

There are conflicting opinions about zinc's health benefits, however, when it is used as a supplement to one's diet.

In a study reported by American Family Physician in June 2003 that involved 80 patients of good health between the ages of 18 to 55, the application of zinc nasal gel lessened the period of cold-related ailments by almost two days.

But, Consumer Reports on Health said in 2004 that zinc could yield "mixed results." While it is possible that zinc can deter the production of cold-related viruses, zinc nasal spray may cause headaches and hinder sense of smell since it is so close to the respiratory area.

Also, if one overuses the supplement then he/she may form an immunity to it that would decrease its effectiveness, according to Environmental Nutrition ("Combating the Common Cold: A Review of Remedies," December 2001), which cautions that "users should not take zinc for more than five to seven days."

According to Jane Powers, director of Emerson's Center for Health and Wellness, "zinc is more controversial as a cold remedy and may not be as useful in reducing the severity or duration of cold symptoms." She said that she believes more studies should be done to evalutate its effectiveness.

Echinacea demystified

Like zinc, Echinacea also promotes a vigorous immune system, according to Psychology Today in 2001.

Echinacea has qualities that boost the immune system and increase the body's antiviral activity, which keeps people healthy, Powers said.

"In addition, it possesses some anti-inflammatory properties that can improve symptoms associated with the common cold," Powers said.

Kristen Golden, a freshman with an undeclared major, said she uses Echinacea. "Usually my mom sends stuff [in care packages]," she said. "Or I get it back home from the apothecary in Bethesda, [Md.]."

Igaz said that while he has used Echinacea, he also uses other medications. "I take herbal pills, Chinese herbal medication [and also] I'll drink a lot of tea when I'm sick," he said.

Homeopathic remedies

Besides using supplements such as zinc and Echinacea, consuming homeopathic remedies can be beneficial too, Golden said.

According to a holistic health services company, Whole Health Now (www.wholehealthnow.com), homeopathy is a way of treating ailments by using remedies that do not contain chemically active ingredients.

The Web site said that homeopathic philosophy also examines the symptoms of an illness and, instead of suppressing them, attempts to "work toward understanding the whole person-including their body, mind and emotional state-before prescribing a remedy."

Samuel Hahnemann, a nineteenth-century physician, created this form of healing.

According to Hahnemann, diseases can be treated and cured by treating patients to small doses of the illness from which they were suffering.

Today, many homeopathic medicines come in the form of ointments, tinctures and small pills that are dissolved under the tongue. Tinctures are herbs that have been infused in alchohol and are taken in small doses.

"Homeopathic remedies have a tiny trace of the symptom in [them]," said Kristin Simmons, a sales associate at the Whole Foods Body on Cambridge Street. "But a lot of people really prefer them."

Brands of homeopathic remedies for cold-like symptoms include Sambucol, a natural treatment derived from black elderberry extract. According to the company's Web site, a study in 1995 showed that during an occurrence of influenza, 93 percent of the people who were treated with Sambucol reported that their symptoms lessened in about two days.

The company's products incorporate elderberry extract because of the plant's historic affiliation with combating illnesses since the fifth century BCE, the Web site said. Also, wine made from black elderberry was used to treat those who had such symptoms as

chills and the flu. Even ancient philosophers like Hippocrates and Plinius wrote about the plant, according to the Web site.

Natural Medicine: The South African Journal of Natural Medicine reported in May 2004 that "Hippocrates . referred to the elder tree as his 'medicine chest.'

Homeopathy and Western medicine

For some students, like Rachel Moreau, a freshman film major, there is no question about how she will cope with a common cold or flu-she sticks with what she knows from home.

"We never used alternative medicines at home," Moreau said.