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Remedies -- some herbal and all OTC -- to fight colds, nausea

September 19, 2004|Kathleen Doheny | Special to The Times

When doctors suggest taking along a travel-medicine kit, the emphasis is often on prescription drugs such as antibiotics to quell diarrhea or sleeping pills to ease jet lag.

Other remedies, however, are worth considering. Some of the following are herbal, and all are available without a prescription. Check with your primary doctor first, especially if you take medications for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure.

* Nasal gels: Preventing nasal dryness while flying can help ward off a cold, says Dr. Terri Rock, a family physician with Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. When nasal passages become too dry, breaks in mucous membranes can boost the risk of an infection. Among the products Rock recommends are Zicam Nasal Moisturizer or Ayr Saline Nasal Gel.

* Ginger: For queasiness caused by air, boat or car travel, try ginger capsules, says Alicia Gonzalez, a naturopathic doctor in Seattle and an adjunct faculty member at that city's Bastyr University. "The ancient Chinese mariners used ginger to treat seasickness," Gonzalez says. Typically the recommended dose for motion sickness is 250 milligrams three times a day, Rock says. Last year the American Journal of Physiology -- Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology published a study in which subjects who took 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of ginger experienced less nausea than the control group.

* Elderberry: During cold and flu season, consider toting elderberry extract, found at health food stores. "Elderberry extract appears to have antiviral activity," says Dr. Jane Murray, a family physician at the Sastun Center of Integrative Health Care in Mission, Kan. A study in the Israel Medical Assn. Journal in 2002 showed that black elderberry extract activated the immune system by increasing the production of cytokines, substances secreted by immune-system cells. In another study, published this year in the Journal of Internal Medicine Research, flu patients who took elderberry syrup (about one-fifth of a teaspoon four times daily for five days) said they felt better four days earlier than those who received a placebo.

* Arnica: If you're worried that adventure travel will lead to screaming muscles, consider packing arnica, available at health food stores in capsule form or as a gel. In a report published last year in Homeopathy, half of the 82 marathoners who were studied took a homeopathic medicine containing arnica. They began taking the natural remedy the day before the marathon and continued three days after it. These runners reported less muscle soreness than those who didn't take the medicine, though on the cellular level, researchers found no difference in the muscle damage caused by overexertion.

* Valerian: This herb might be worth trying if you have travel-related insomnia, Murray says. Though valerian has been used as a medicinal since ancient Greek times, there is insufficient evidence to support its use for sleep disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Some studies, however, have shown benefits. In one study of 121 people with insomnia, subjects who took 600 milligrams of dried valerian root daily reported a decrease in symptoms.

* Goldenseal: This herb contains a chemical called berberine that may ease traveler's diarrhea, says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, an organization based in Austin, Texas, devoted to responsible use of herbal medicine. In one study, subjects who took a 400-milligram dose of berberine were able to reduce diarrhea caused by E. coli bacteria. The council, however, makes a point of saying that no studies attest to the safety of goldenseal.

Healthy Traveler appears every other week. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kathleen doheny@earthlink.net.

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