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:
- 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.
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.
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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.
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
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
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.
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
3. Gadomski AM. Potential interventions for preventing pneumonia among
young children: lack of effect of antibiotic treatment for upper respiratory infections.
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against influenza-like illness in an influenza epidemic. Pediatr Int
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prescription in acute respiratory infections in adults. The Spanish Study Group on Antibiotic
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and antibiotic resistance in community practice: retrospective study, 1996–8.
8. Renker K, Wegner S. Vitamin C-Prophylaxe in der Volkswertf Stralsund.
Deutsche Gesundheitswesen 1954;9:702–6.
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with vitamin C. South Med Surg 1949;111:210–4.
10. Pauling L. Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu. San
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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
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.
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as predictors of influenza B infection. J Fam Pract 1989;28:535–9.