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. Nutritional and herbal recommendations for maintaining healthy immune function are also applicable for treating influenza.
Checklist for Influenza
|See also: Homeopathic Remedies for Influenza|
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
An herb is primarily supported by traditional use, or the herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
What are the symptoms of influenza? 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.
Conventional treatment options: People with flu are commonly advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Antiviral medicines prescribed include those taken orally (e.g., amantadine [Symmetrel®], rimantadine [Flumadine®], and oseltamavir [Tamiflu®]) or with an inhaler (e.g., zanamavir [Relenza®] and ribavirin [Virazole®]). 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). Antibiotics are sometimes recommended to prevent secondary bacterial infections,1 2 such as pneumonia.3 Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, such as those that cause influenza, and do not affect the course of that disease. 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
Nutritional supplements 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.
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.
Other integrative 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 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.
Copyright © 2002 VitaminLore, Inc. All rights reserved. www.VitaminLore.com
The information presented in VitaminLore Online is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over-the-counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2006.