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Last updated October 21, 2017, originally published January 30, 2012

By Alison Turner, Contributing Columnist

During the colder months of the year most of us know
someone who has “the flu,” also known as influenza
. This
is probably because an estimated 5 to 20 % of Americans
catch the flu each year, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mostly likely during
flu season from November to March.   What, if any, are the
natural remedies you can use to fight the flu?

While some of us may use “the flu” as a magical word to
call in to work when we feel tired, it can be quite serious:
not only can outbreaks start more quickly than a vaccine
can be created and administered so that a large number of
people are infected, but it can also lead to serious
complications in individuals. The CDC estimates that more
than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 die from
the flu every year in the United States.  
In contrast, about
50,000 people die from pneumonia each year, according to
the American Thoracic Society.

Knowing the precise symptoms of the flu (versus the
“common cold,” for example) is crucial to avoiding such an

What, Exactly, Is the Flu?  

The flu is an infection in the respiratory system that can be
caused by several viruses that differ by their protein
compositions.   These viruses start in ducks and shore
birds, and have done so for millions of years
. However,
because of the frequent mutation of the virus, the flu can
jump from these wild birds to domesticated ducks, on to
chickens, to pigs, and sometimes on to humans.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
(NIAID) states that if the flu reaches humans, it “may be
more or less severe” depending on the arrangement of flu
proteins that ha
ve travelled from the wild birds.  This is
particularly relevant to farm settings, where pigs
surrounded by chickens and humans “act as an influenza
virus mixing bowl” that can sometimes spread the virus to


Sometimes a new strain of flu can jump directly from birds
to humans --- skipping pigs and other farm animals --- and
can be particularly deadly. Some scientists speculate that
this is the case with the latest deadly "bird flu" (avian virus  
H5N1) which has killed thousands of people since 2001 in
Asia and parts of Europe.

How Is the Flu Different from a Cold?  

The common cold is also a respiratory infection caused by
viruses.  However, fever, headaches and extreme
exhaustion are rare in people with colds, while these
symptoms are common in people with the flu.  
The National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
advises that the
best way to determine whether or not you have the flu is
that if what you have “knocks you off your feet,” it is most
likely the flu.  

There are vaccinations against influenza but the problem is
that the virus constantly changes so that every year a
different flu vaccine is needed to fight against the freshly
developed strain.  Sometimes access is not available for the
vaccine, or it is not made quickly enough to prevent
spread.  Encouragingly, there are several ways to treat
influenza if you or someone you know catch
es the virus.  
Read below for ten influenza remedies backed up by
research from around the world.

Antiviral drugs

One of the most popular prescriptions for the flu is antiviral
drugs, and some studies show that antivirals may be also
be the best way to control flu pandemics.  

A team from the Department of Biostatistics at The Rollins
School of Public Health
of Emory University published a
study in 2003 that states that, in case of an influenza
pandemic, “antiviral agents would be one of the few
options to contain the epidemic in the United States until
adequate supplies of vaccine were available.”   

They reach this conclusion from a model of an influenza
pandemic from a virus similar to that which caused the
Asian pandemic in 1957-1958, and which would affect
33% of the population.  

They found that if 80% of the exposed persons used
antivirals against influenza for a full eight weeks, “the
epidemic would be contained” and it would be “nearly as
effective as vaccinating 80% of the population.”  This is, of
course, particularly soothing news in situations when a
vaccination is not yet available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
reports that there are currently four licensed prescription
influenza antiviral drugs available in the United States:  
amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, and oseltamivir.   
While you should ask your doctor for details on which of
these might be best for you, read below for a direct study
on oseltamivir, also known as Tamiflu.


There has been recent concern about the effectiveness of
Tamiflu, the antiviral drug more formally known as
Oseltamivir.  On January 17, 2012, for example, ABC News
released a report that questions the completeness of data
and results from published studies on the drug.  

However, there are many studies on Tamiflu’s antiviral uses
whose encouraging results are hard to ignore.  For
example, in October 2010, several scholars from various
Finnish institutions, including Dr. Santtu Heinonen with the
Department of Pediatrics at Turku University Hospital,  
conducted a study responding to evidence that Tamiflu is
“currently the only recommended therapy for the treatment
of influenza in children younger than five years.”  

This team’s study specifically evaluated Tamiflu’s
effectiveness in reducing the duration of influenza after
treatment has started, within 24 hours of the onset of
symptoms.  408 children between the ages of 1 to 3
participated in the study, and were randomized to receive
either a placebo or oseltamuvir twice a day for five days.  

Oseltamivir “shortened the duration of illness by 1.4 days
in all children and by 3.5 days in those with confirmed
influenza A,” a more specific strain of the virus.  
Furthermore, no child with influenza and Tamiflu treatment
developed pneumonia or was hospitalized during the study

While this is encouraging evidence, the authors do
acknowledge the difficulty of clinically diagnosing influenza
early enough to begin Tamiflu treatment within 24 hours.  

Ma Huang Tang (maoto).

Ma Huang Tang (Maoto), sometimes translated into English
as ephedra decoction, is a traditional Japanese medicine
often used to induce sweating.  

In 2011 a large team of researchers, including Mizue Saita,
at the Department of General Medicine at the Juntendo
University School of Medicine in Tokyo,  analyzed maoto’s
effect on fever that is specifically caused by influenza, as
well as other influenza symptoms.  

The test included forty-five patients, and found that the
group treated with maoto reported “a more rapid
improvement in joint pain,” and that maoto expresses
“comparable efficacy as antiviral medications” in reducing
fever and other flu symptoms.

So if you can’t get vaccinated and you can’t find antivirals,
look around for some traditional Japanese herbs.


Garlic might get rid of vampires and  make most food taste
better, and in 2009 a team of scholars found evidence that
It could also help prevent the spread of influenza virus.

Several researchers with the Influenza Unit Pasteur
Institute of Iran, in Tehran, including Masoumeh Tavassoti-
Kheiri,  treated influenza virus cells with garlic extract, and
observed an “inhibitory effect on the virus penetration and
proliferation in cell culture.”  

The study concludes that the antiviral activity of garlic
extract suggests a “suitable potent antiseptic agent”
against the influenza virus. (Read more about the
benefits of eating garlic.)

5. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)  There are nine known
species of the herb Echinacea, also known as coneflower,
all of which are native to southern Canada and the U.S.   

In 2009, a team of experts from Germany, Switzerland, and
Canada, including Michael Stein with the Institute for
Medical Virology in Frankfurt, Germany,  studied a
commercial standardized extract of Echinacea,
(Echinaforce®, EF), and its influence on influenza.  

The researchers concluded that this extract “could be a
useful, readily available and affordable addition to existing
control options” against influenza.   

6. Elder Blackberries.

Continue reading  page 1
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Black elderberries have antiviral
properties that fight the flu.