With the recent increase in flu/influenza presentations in the Northern Territory, there is a lot we can do at home to reduce our chances of both catching and spreading the illness. While the flu vaccine may offer some level of protection, we can still take a proactive stance. Natural medicines, used correctly, are considered a safe way to improve your immune system’s defenses to put up a good fight. Prevention is always better than cure, but if you are unlucky enough to succumb to the virus, mother nature has some great remedies to help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Here are 5 natural flu fighters with both the evidence of centuries of traditional use and scientific research to back them up.
Ginger, Zingiberis officinalis, is a root with a long history of medicinal use. Traditionally it has been used in the treatment of nausea, pain, fever and as an anti-inflammatory. New research is supporting these uses and also the antiviral actions of fresh ginger against some strains of influenza. As always, more research is needed, but in the meantime, this is an easy natural remedy to add into your prevention and treatment regime.
A great way to include ginger in your day is by grating some fresh organic ginger into your water bottle or herbal tea and sipping on this throughout the day. Start adding a thumb size piece of fresh ginger into your morning juice extract or green smoothie. You could also crush or grate ginger into stir fry dishes and use it in marinade sauces or with poached fish. The research suggests the antiviral properties are more potent in fresh ginger, so if your aim is flu fighting, eat it raw.
If you are taking any blood thinning medications or about to have surgery, discuss this with your practitioner before adding large amounts of ginger to your diet.
Garlic, or Allium sativum, is well known for it’s natural antibiotic properties, but is it anti-viral? This study suggests that garlic has some promising activity against the H1N1 strain of influenza. Furthermore, garlic may be beneficial against opportunistic bacterial infections that can become an issue when the immune system is weakened by viral infections. Our understanding of garlic is that many of its antibiotic and antiviral properties are due to allicin. Allicin is destroyed by cooking garlic. To be sure you are getting the best out of your garlic dosing, eat it both raw and cooked. When eating raw, crush the garlic and put in your salad dressing, on steamed vegetables with olive oil, or blend raw into some pesto, guacamole or hommus. If making an immune boosting chicken soup, cook some garlic into the soup as well as topping it with some freshly crushed raw garlic and chopped parsley just prior to serving.
Echinacea is now widely recognised as an immune boosting herb. Alkylamides are the clinically proven active constituents of Echinacea and the markers of the extract’s quality. It is the alkylamides which are associated with antiviral activity against influenza and herpes viruses in studies. It is critical therefore that the Echinacea supplement not only contains alkylamides but also that they are able to be utilised by the body before they are broken down by the liver. Research has confirmed that a unique combination of alkylamides from various species of Echinacea are the most bio-active and effective as immune boosting agents. If taking Echinacea in liquid form, you can recognise alkylamides by the tingling effect it leaves on your tongue. Echinacea dosing appears to be more effective as a preventative therapy, and taken at first signs of immune challenge. Once a flu has set it in, the value of Echinacea appears to diminish and other remedies may be more appropriate. Try adding some echinacea tea or extract to your morning green juice blend.
Maitake, Reishi, and Shiitake care just a few of the many medicinal mushrooms. This particular combination helps the immune system produce compounds in the body which are shown to inhibit viral growth in laboratory studies. You can include fresh shiitake and maitake mushrooms purchased at the grocery store or markets into stir fry, soups and stews to help support your immune system prevent and fight off the flu. There are many other benefits associated with medicinal mushrooms such as reducing allergies, cardiovascular risk, improving energy and adrenal function and also there is emerging research on the cancer fighting properties of mushrooms. At any sign of illness or to assist with recovery, a quality medicinal mushroom formula may be appropriate to reduce the impact of viral illness and support the body in its recovery process.
Foods high in Zinc and Vitamin C
Both Zinc and Vitamin C have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu. They may also play a role in prevention, by enhancing immune surveillance. Flu season is a good time to pay more attention to your zinc and vitamin C intake through the diet. Additionally, if you are under a lot of stress, have a known zinc deficiency, are pregnant, breastfeeding or recovering from injury, burns or surgery, your requirements for zinc and vitamin C may be higher that what can be consumed through diet alone. These are times when a carefully selected supplement may be appropriate. To increase your intake of zinc through the diet, enjoy oysters, lean meat, shellfish, hemp seeds, flax seeds, pepitas, sesame seeds, whole grains and legumes. Vitamin C can be found in most fresh fruits and vegetables, but is destroyed by cooking and deteriorates after harvest. The best sources of vitamin c are freshly picked and raw guava, capsicum, kiwi fruit, strawberries and citrus fruits. If you are strictly avoiding sugars, broccoli, kale, snow peas and tomato are also great sources of Vitamin C.
While there is a lot you can do at home to help prevent and beat illness, there are many traditional herbal medicines, that can offer an extra level of prevention or treatment when needed. These are herbs which I frequently use in my clinic and with my family, to support a speedier recovery from colds and flu. Plants such as St John’s Wort, Elder berries and Thuja may offer support against lingering or recurring viral infections, while myrrh, thyme and golden seal can act as natural antibiotics for mild bacterial infections. Nature also provides remedies for symptom relief such as marshmallow or wild cherry for a cough and yarrow or peppermint for fevers. A practitioner trained in herbal medicine is the best person to prescribe the appropriate and specific combinations for your unique needs.
Once you know what works for you, it’s easier to take control of your health and reduce the number of days off sick and missing out on life. Get in touch if you are in need of some tailored advice for yourself or your family to help keep colds or flu at bay with natural and complementary medicines.
Carers of infants or small children; the elderly, frail or those with compromised immunity should seek the advice of their GP before self-prescribing any natural remedies.
Prevention and Treatment of Influenza, Influenza-Like Illness, and Common Cold by Herbal, Complementary, and Natural Therapies.
Pharmacognosy Res. 2016 Apr-Jun;8(2):105-11. doi: 10.4103/0974-8490.172562.Assessment of Anti-Influenza Activity and Hem-agglutination Inhibition of Plumbago indica and Allium sativum Extracts.