Tuesday, 2 August 2016

War on bugs doesn't need drugs!

It's been a strange season for bugs this winter. In my region the weather's been warm cold, warm cold and I'm seeing a lot of people that after struggling for weeks with upper respiratory tract infections, see their GP, invariably take antibiotics and generally are no better off for it.

Now let's take a closer look at sinusitis, the evidence around the effectiveness (or lack of ) of antibiotics and explore our other options for a speedy recovery.

'by days 16-60 there was no difference in recovery rates of those given antibiotics and those given placebo'

Firstly, it can be difficult to differentiate between viral or bacterial sinusitis. Symptoms are similar and can be confused with other conditions.Symptoms typically occur at mucosal sites and can include sniffles, sore throat, cough, fever and/or malaise. Pathology testing can be helpful though is impractical as the results take days to come through, by which time your symptoms have improved or you are already on a course of treatment.

What treatment, what evidence?


A recent Cochrane review found that the risk of still having sinusitis 1-2 weeks after antibiotic use was 66%, you'd probably agree that seems high and brings into question wether there is any benefit to using medications that increase antibiotic resistance and damage our microflora (and hence our immune systems).

Furthermore, 86% of patients given placebo had recovered within 1-2 weeks. What the Cochrane review also tells us is that 6 out of 7 patients treated with antibiotics gained no benefit after 1-2 weeks and by days 16-60 there was no difference in recovery rates of those given antibiotics and those given placebo.

Interestingly, steroids have been shown to be effective for acute sinusitis. After 2–3 weeks, sinusitis resolved or improved in 73% of patients using intranasal steroids compared with 66% of those not using them, not a huge difference and perhaps a treatment option many would decline.

So what other options?

The evidence tells us that most cases will resolve and that is largely due to our incredibly clever immune systems. My approach to treatment invloves supporting this clever immune response at the mucosal, gut and cellular levels.

Extra care and more proactive treatement may be needed for children, those with asthma, those with nutritional deficiencies, excessively stressed people, the immune compromised and those with a history of repeated sinus infections.

And for those that want a speedier recovery foods, vitamins, herbs and nutrients can be used to boost your immune response, breakdown excess mucous and support the mucosal lining of the respiratory tract- all without damaging your immune system.

The war on bugs doesn't need drugs!

In recent blogs I covered flu nutrients and foods - for more on '1st Aid foods'

Specifically for sinusitis, I would usually include a topical treatment best delivered in the form of a saline based nasal spray. Ideally this would include some essentail oils and xylitol. This combination provides both antimicrobial and mucolytic actions.

NAC - When excess mucous is a feature, NAC is a relatively inexpensive mucous dissolving nutrient that is also a hugely powerful antioxidant. It is available in capsules and powdered form so is easy to take across all age groups. Cysteine can be found in chicken broth, hence it's traditional use in folk medicine.
 'do you know that a zinc deficiency, amongst many things also impairs Vitamin A activity, a key immune nutrient?'
Zinc - Probably our most famous 'immune system' nutrient. Zinc stabilises mucous membranes, regulates development and function of lymphocytes, neutrophils and natural killer cells. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory and  antioxidant. Furthermore, do you know that a zinc deficiency, amongst many things also impairs Vitamin A activity, a key immune nutrient?

Vitamin A is an important, often underestimated and misunderstood nutrient, particularly when it comes to infections. It plays a key role in maintaining mucous tissue integrity and is vitally important for a robust regulated immune response. High doses may be used short term but best under the guidance of a trained practitioner as there are some contraindications to Vitamin A use.

'Winter is the best time of year to assess Vitamin D as this is typically when it is lowest'


Vitamin D - If infections keep recurring you may be low in Vitamin D. Winter is the best time of year to measure your Vitamin D as it's lowest in winter. Vitamin D levels at 50-60 may be adequate for bone density but too low for optimal immune health. Talk to an expert in health, not disease, to understand the best level of Vitamin D for you.

Medicine that grows!

I still get a buzz from thinking of herbs as medicine that grows, it's pretty amazing that there is a whole plant based pharmacy available to us and unsurprisingly, herbal medicine is still the most widely used form of medicine globally.

The range of herbal medicines at hand is huge and I always try to use herbs with the broadest range of actions possible.

Elder- is both antiviral and a mucous membrane tonic and it reduces mucous production.

Holy Basil - An Indian herb that is bascially anti everything- antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiageing, immune enhancing and tastes good too.

Golden Seal - Some of you may be familiar with the 'strong ' taste of golden seal- strongly antibacterial and antifungal as well as a mucous membrane restorative- perhaps the most relevant herb for sinusitis, Golden Seal should not be used longterm without professional supervision.

Pelargonium - A pleasant tasting herb, with affinity for the upper respiratory tract that increases your immune response at a mucosal level. A great herb for kids and adults alike.

Nature's pharmacy offers an abundance of tools we can use to speed our recovery and reduce our susceptibiltiy to infections with the added advantage of actually creating a more effective, efficient immune response. 

See a quick and easy cold and flu fighting tea recipe here

Winter Offer -Take advantage of my 'acute care consult' option before spring and go into the draw to win a Vitamin C & Manuka honey supplement.