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Influenza

Also indexed as: Flu

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Prepare yourself to fight the flu. Each year the flu hits millions, sometimes lingering for days, sometimes weeks. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:

What you need to know

  • Check out vitamin C
  • Take at least 100 mg per day to reduce your flu risk
  • Give echinacea a go
  • Take 3 to 5 ml of liquid formulas or 300 mg of powdered root supplements three times a day to help clear symptoms faster
  • Try black elderberry
  • Taking 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of this herb a day may speed recovery; use 2 tablespoons (30 ml) for children

These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full influenza article for more in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and dietary and lifestyle changes that may be helpful.

About influenza

Influenza is the name of a virus and the infection it causes.

Although for most people the infection is mild, it can be severe and even deadly in those with compromised immune systems, including infants, the elderly, and people with diseases such as cancer and AIDS. In the past, huge epidemics of influenza have caused millions of deaths. Some nutritional and herbal recommendations for maintaining healthy immune function are also applicable for treating influenza.

Product ratings for influenza

Science Ratings Nutritional Supplements Herbs
2Stars

Vitamin C

Echinacea

Elderberry

1Star  

Asian ginseng

Boneset

Eleuthero

Goldenseal

Meadowsweet

Thuja

Wild indigo

See also:  Homeopathic Remedies for Influenza
3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of influenza include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Other symptoms include headache, chills, dry cough, sore throat, pain when moving the eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. The onset of symptoms is often rapid and intense.

Medical options

Over the counter analgesics containing acetaminophen (Tylenol®) are safe for individuals of all ages to treat fever, body aches, and headache associated with the flu. Aspirin-containing products are not given to people under 18 years old who have flu symptoms, since this practice has been linked to an increased risk of Reye’s syndrome (brain and liver abnormalities that can lead to coma and death). People over 18 years old can take aspirin (Bayer®, Ecotrin®, Bufferin®) and ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) to reduce pain and fever associated with the flu.

Prescription antiviral medicines available include those taken orally, such as amantadine (Symmetrel®), rimantadine (Flumadine®), and oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), or with an inhaler such as zanamivir (Relenza®) and ribavirin (Virazole®). Antibiotics are sometimes recommended to prevent secondary bacterial infections 1 2 such as pneumonia.3 Otherwise, antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Although early intervention with antibiotics may effectively prevent pneumonia 4 and reduce costs associated with influenza outbreaks,5 some doctors believe the use of antibiotics to prevent (rather than to treat) bacterial infections is ill-advised6 and should be limited to people who are most at risk of developing a secondary infection, such as the elderly and those with compromised immune function (as in AIDS). This is because overuse of antibiotics may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that are more difficult to treat.7

People with flu symptoms are commonly advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Vitamins that may be helpful

Dockworkers given 100 mg of vitamin C each day for ten months caught influenza 28% less often than did their coworkers not taking vitamin C. Of those who did develop the flu, the average duration of illness was 10% less in those taking vitamin C than in those not taking the vitamin.8 Other trials have reported that taking vitamin C in high amounts (2 grams every hour for 12 hours) can lead to rapid improvement of influenza infections.9 10 Such high amounts, however, should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.

Herbs that may be helpful

Echinacea has long been used for colds and flu. Double-blind trials in Germany have shown that infections associated with flu-like symptoms clear more rapidly when people take echinacea.11 Echinacea appears to work by stimulating the immune system. The usual recommended amount of echinacea is 3–5 ml of the expressed juice of the herb or tincture of the herb or root, or 300 mg of dried root powder three times per day.

The effect of a syrup made from the berries of the black elderberry on influenza has been studied in a small double-blind trial.12 People receiving an elderberry extract (four tablespoons per day for adults, two tablespoons per day for children) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo.

Asian ginseng and eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) have immune-enhancing properties, which may play a role in preventing infection with the influenza virus. However, they have not yet been specifically studied for this purpose. One double-blind trial found that co-administration of 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract with a flu vaccine led to a lower frequency of colds and flu compared to people who just received the flu vaccine alone.13

Boneset has been shown in test tube and other studies to stimulate immune-cell function,14 which may explain it’s traditional use to help fight off minor viral infections, such as the flu.

Wild indigo contains polysaccharides and proteins that have been reported in test tube studies to stimulate the immune system. The immune-enhancing effect of wild indigo is consistent with its use in traditional herbal medicine to fight the flu.15 However, wild indigo is generally used in combination with other herbs such as echinacea, goldenseal, or thuja.

While not as potent as willow, which has a higher salicin content, the salicylates in meadowsweet do give it a mild anti-inflammatory effect and the potential to reduce fevers during a cold or flu. However, this role is based on historical use and knowledge of the chemistry of meadowsweet’s constituents; to date, no human studies have been completed with meadowsweet.

Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.

Holistic approaches that may be helpful

Because family stress has been shown to increase the risk of influenza infection,16 measures to relieve stressful situations may be beneficial.

References:

1. Meier CR, Napalkov PN, Wegmuller Y, et al. Population-based study on incidence, risk factors, clinical complications and drug utilisation associated with influenza in the United Kingdom. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2000;19:834–42.

2. Neuzil KM, Mellen BG, Wright PF, et al. The effect of influenza on hospitalizations, outpatient visits, and courses of antibiotics in children. N Engl J Med 2000;342:225–31.

3. Gadomski AM. Potential interventions for preventing pneumonia among young children: lack of effect of antibiotic treatment for upper respiratory infections. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1993;12:115–20.

4. Maeda S, Yamada Y, Nakamura H, Maeda T. Efficacy of antibiotics against influenza-like illness in an influenza epidemic. Pediatr Int 1999;41:274–6.

5. Cox F, Khan ZM, Schweinle JE, et al. Cost associated with the treatment of influenza in a managed care setting. MedGenMed 2000;Oct 3:E34.

6. Ochoa C, Eiros JM, Inglada L, et al. Assessment of antibiotic prescription in acute respiratory infections in adults. The Spanish Study Group on Antibiotic Treatments. J Infect 2000;41:73–83.

7. Magee JT, Pritchard EL, Fitzgerald KA, et al. Antibiotic prescribing and antibiotic resistance in community practice: retrospective study, 1996–8. BMJ 1999;319:1239–40.

8. Renker K, Wegner S. Vitamin C-Prophylaxe in der Volkswertf Stralsund. Deutsche Gesundheitswesen 1954;9:702–6.

9. Klenner FR. The treatment of poliomyelitis and other virus diseases with vitamin C. South Med Surg 1949;111:210–4.

10. Pauling L. Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman & Company, 1976 [review].

11. Braunig B, Dorn M, Limburg E, et al. Echinacea purpurea radix for strengthening the immune response in flu-like infections. Z Phytother 1992;13:7–13 [in German].

12. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1:361–9.

13. Scaglione F, Cattaneo G, Alessandria M, Cogo R. Efficacy and safety of the standardized ginseng extract G 115 for potentiating vaccination against common cold and/or influenza syndrome. Drugs Exptl Clin Res 1996;22:65–72.

14. Woerdenbag HJ, Bos R, Hendriks H. Eupatorium perfoliatum L—the boneset. Z Phytother 1992;13:134–9.

15. Beuscher N, Kopanski L. Stimulation of immunity by the contents of Baptisia tinctoria. Planta Med 1985;5:381–4.

16. Clover RD, Abell T, Becker LA, et al. Family functioning and stress as predictors of influenza B infection. J Fam Pract 1989;28:535–9.

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