Prevention and Treatment of the Flu | Portland, OR | Lee Dennis, ND

Lee Dennis, ND

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Prevention and Treatment of the Flu

by Lee Dennis, ND

Posted: January 30, 2015

We are in flu season and whether or not you like to get the flu vaccine, I think we can all agree that it's not extremely useful against the flu this year. The CDC, however, still recommends getting it as it does cover some of the current influenza strains in circulation. But, given this situation, what can you do to prevent and treat the flu? Luckily, there are many natural options to help out. For those of you who have already had the flu, I apologize that this article did not arrive sooner.


The best prevention is limiting exposure to the virus. While this is not always possible with our highly interconnected world, we can practice good hygiene and wash our hands regularly. Those who contract the flu can also help by staying home to rest and get well (which will also limit transmission of the virus to others), by sneezing into the crook of your arm rather than onto your hands and, preferably, by wearing a face mask. While face masks are not the most adored fashion accessories, they can help to prevent transmission of the flu since it is spread via the respiratory system.

Next on the list of prevention is getting your vitamin D levels checked. Some studies have linked low vitamin D status with a higher incidence of respiratory illnesses. Therefore, treating low vitamin D may help prevent respiratory illnesses. There is also some evidence that vitamin D may help to prevent complications of respiratory infections as well as decrease the severity. So, getting your vitamin D levels checked is a good idea.

Lastly, take care of yourself. While this may seem obvious, many of us don't take good care of ourselves. What do I mean by this rather vague phrase, "take care of yourself"? I mean try to eat a balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, while also low in refined carbohydrates and simple sugars. I mean get a good night's rest each and every night with a minimum of 7 hours of quality sleep (some of us may need up to 9 hours). I also mean practice stress management. A poorly managed, high-stress lifestyle is one of the worst things for your immune system. We can't always avoid stress, but we can change how we react to it.


Let's move on to treatment. There are many treatments available for the flu including herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition and even pharmaceuticals. The right choice for you should be discussed with your doctor.


Sambucus nigra, commonly known as Black Elder, is my top choice for treating the flu. This is because it has good research behind it and a long history of safe usage...and it doesn't hurt that it tastes really good! Elder has been shown to enhance certain aspects of the immune system and to help prevent penetration of flu virus into cells. Elder can be used alone or in combination with other antiviral herbs. Black Elder is effective against many strains of influenza and both types A & B. One study showed that elderberry extract led to a complete cure of influenza in 2 to 3 days in 90% of patients as compared to 6 days for those taking a placebo! Side effects: None known or reported.


Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is both a traditional herbal remedy and a traditional homeopathic remedy used in treating the flu. It is useful for those infections where there is a deep aching in the bones and intermittent chills and fever. Side effects: As a homeopathic remedy boneset is extremely safe with no side effects. When taken as an herbal medicine at the appropriate therapeutic dose the same can be said with the exception of allergic reactions. When taken in high doses, boneset can cause vomiting, diarrhea and profuse sweating.


Try saying that one ten times fast! Good luck. This is another homeopathic remedy used in treating the flu. It can be taken at the very first sign of sickness or may also be taken as a prophylactic. There is some research showing that oscillococcinum led to faster relief of symptoms such as body aches and fever when compared to placebo. Side effects: None.


One of the ways that we develop symptoms and complications from an influenza infection is through oxidative damage to our lungs. Research has shown that antioxidants can be a tremendous help during a flu infection. One such antioxidant is N-Acetylcysteine (NAC). One study conducted in Italy showed that NAC was able to significantly reduce the experience of symptomatic influenza. Only 25% of those treated with NAC developed symptomatic influenza infection as compared to 79% of those taking a placebo! A striking difference! To be clear, the actual incidence of influenza infection was essentialy the same in both groups. It was only the development of symptoms that was different. Also worth noting is that a large percentage of those in this study (78%) were over 65 years of age and therefore considered a population at higher risk for complications from influenza. Additional antioxidants that may be beneficial against the flu include green tea extract, resveratrol, quercetin and vitamin C. Side Effects: None.


So, you're not into natural medicine, but you've still managed to read this far. Ok. You still have an option - prescription antivirals. There are 3 primary antivirals used in treatment of the flu. These include Tamiflu (oseltamivir), Relenza (zanamivir) and Rapivab (peramivir). Tamiflu and Relenza are both oral medications, whereas Rapivab is administered by IV only. Antiviral medications tend to be highly underutilized in the treatment of influenza, but they can certainly shorten the duration of infection and help prevent complications in those at risk. These are, however, prescription medications and not available over-the-counter. Side Effects: Possible side effects may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, headache & dizziness.

While those supplements and medications listed above are some of the best choices in combating the flu, they aren't the only options. Talk to your friendly, neighborhood naturopath, herbalist or homeopath for more options that may work for you!


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