Take action at the first signs of a cold or flu as most of the research into remedies administer these early on to optimise the benefits.
Reach for garlic. Fresh and raw garlic (Allium sativum) is best, but if you take supplements, use those made from dried garlic and not the steam-distilled variety (which has little or no beneficial alliicin). In a study involving 146 subjects taking garlic or placebo for 90 days during the cold season, nearly three times as many of those taking placebo caught a cold compared with those taking a daily garlic preparation. In addition, those with a cold taking the garlic appeared to recover more quickly (Adv Ther, 2001; 18: 189-93)
Meditate, don't medicate. Stress-reducing therapies, such as hypnosis, have been found to improve immune function (J Consult Clin Psychol, 2001; 69: 674-82; Int J Psychophysiol, 2001; 42: 55-71). Meditation and yoga may achieve similar results. Relaxation has proved effective in treating recurrent symptoms of cold and flu in children (J Psychosom Res, 2001; 51: 369-77; J Dev Behav Pediatr, 1996; 17: 311-6)
Try homoeopathy. L52, a combination of 10 homoeopathic remedies taken in drops, has proved successful in treating colds and flu in two large-scale trials in France (Lecocq P, Flu Treatment, Metz: Editions Lehning, 1988). However, the low dilutions are low and, as it contains several known poisonous plants, some homoeopaths recommend other alternatives
Oscillococcinum 200 is prepared from diluted Barbary duck heart and liver. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is effective for flu if taken within 48 hours of symptom onset. Controlled trials in France (Gaier H, Thorsons Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Homeopathy, London: HarperCollins, 1991) found it effective for controlling fever, cough, runny nose, muscle and joint stiffness, and chills. These findings were supported by others on a larger scale (Br J Clin Pharmacol, 1989; 27: 329-35).
A recent review of Oscillococcinum concludes that it 'probably' reduces the duration of illness in patients with flu symptoms, but is unlikely to be a preventative, although the authors acknowledge that data on this remedy are lacking (Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2000; 2: CD001957).
You need a doctor's prescription to get Oscillococcinum in the UK, but Ainsworth's Homoeopathic Pharmacy (020 7935 5330) produces their own version called Anas barb and operate a mail-order service. Ainsworth's also produces an anti-cold and flu remedy combining Bacillinum and Influenzinum which is updated every year to cover the latest flu strains.
A German trial comparing homoeopathic Eupatorium perfoliatum D2 with aspirin found that both treatments were equally effective in relieving cold and flu symptoms (Arzneim Forsch, 1981; 31: 732-6)
Stay hydrated with water, herbal teas and even chicken soup (Chest, 2000; 118: 887-8). Consider also herbal teas such as nettle and Echinacea. One study found that Echinacea herbal tea was more effective than a placebo for relieving cold/flu symptoms (J Altern Complement Med, 2000; 6: 327-34)
Steam inhalation may make you feel better (Chest, 1991; 99; 1352-6; J Am Med Assoc, 1990; 264: 989-91), although two large-scale trials concluded it did not relieve cold symptoms (J Am Med Assoc, 1994; 271: 1109-11; 1112-3)
Limit the spread of microbes. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze seems obvious, but it's amazing to see how many people don't do it. When you cough or sneeze, vapour containing infectious microbes is expelled at over 120 mph, easily reaching most people in your immediate vicinity. In fact, rhinoviruses are spread chiefly by vapour and not by personal contact (Eur J Epidemiol, 1987; 3: 327-35).