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Does this mean you're fated to feel the flu? Not necessarily. A strong immune system is you're best defense against the flu. The following article discusses natural substances, which may be used in treatment of the flu. Since three of those substances (Echinacea, vitamin C and vitamin A) help to promote a healthy immune response, their supplemental use may provide a viable option as a preventive measure against the flu.

Influenza, or "flu," is a highly contagious viral respiratory infection. It is caused by orthomyxovirus types A, B, and C, which are spread by direct person-to-person contact or by airborne droplet spray. Flu generally occurs in the late fall and early winter and can reach epidemic proportions when a modified form of the virus emerges for which the population has no immunity. All age groups are susceptible, but the prevalence is highest in school-age children. Its clinical manifestations often resemble a severe form of the common cold. Symptoms include sore throat, cough, fever, muscular pains, and weakness. The incubation period is brief (from 1 to 3 days), and the onset is usually sudden, with chills, fever, and general discomfort. Fever and nonlocal symptoms distinguish influenza from the common cold. Complete recovery in 3 to 10 days is the rule. However, bacterial pneumonia may occur among high-risk patients, as the elderly, the very young, and people who have chronic diseases of the lungs. Conventional medical treatment usually involves bed rest, aspirin, and drinking of fluids.

Black Elderberry
The flu virus invades cells by puncturing their walls with tiny spikes called hemagglutinin that cover its surface. In vitro (i.e., in a test-tube) research found that natural components of Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) actually disarm the spikes; binding to them, and thus preventing them from piercing the cell membrane. The viral spikes are covered with an enzyme called neuraminidase. This enzyme acts to break down the cell wall. To test how Black Elderberry would work in actual people with the flu, a team of Israeli scientists and physicians conducted placebo-controlled, double blind study on patients infected with the flu virus during an epidemic in Southern Israel. The results were that within twenty-four hours the symptoms— fever, cough, and muscle pain had significantly improved in twenty percent of the patients. After the second day, another seventy five percent were clearly much improved, and in three days a complete cure was achieved in over ninety percent of the patients studied. Among the control group only eight percent of patients showed an improvement after 24 hours, and for the remaining 92 percent, improvement was observed within six days or more. Tests were also conducted on patients to determine the presence of influenza antibodies. It was found that the level of antibodies was higher in patients receiving the Black Elderberry extract versus those receiving the placebo, indicating an enhanced defense response in those patients.1

Vitamin C
In a study, 252 adult subjects with a cold or flu who were treated with hourly doses of 1000 mg of vitamin C for the first six hours, and then three times daily thereafter. A control group of 463 subjects were treated with pain relievers and decongestants. The results were that flu and cold symptoms reported in the vitamin C group decreased 85 percent, compared with the control group, after the administration of megadose Vitamin C. The researchers in this study concluded: "Vitamin C in megadoses administered before or after the appearance of cold and flu symptoms relieved and prevented the symptoms in the test population compared with the control group."2

Echinacea is well known for its immune enhancing properties. Germany's Commission E Monographs (an internationally authoritative source of credible information on the use of herbs for various disorders) indicates that among Echinacea's uses, this herb can be used to treat chronic infections of the respiratory tract, acting in part by increasing the number of white blood cells.3 Also, animal research has shown that Echinacea stimulates those cells responsible for nonspecific immunity, the first line of defense against virus-infected cells.4 This suggests that Echinacea may have value in the treatment of the flu.

Indeed, in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a combination of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustofolia (two species of Echinacea) or a placebo were given 5 to 6 times daily as a tea to subjects with cold or flu symptoms.5 Treatment with the Echinacea tea at early onset of cold or flu symptoms was effective for relieving these symptoms in a shorter period of time than a placebo.

For those who would prefer to use Echinacea capsules instead of drinking a tea, you must obtain capsules that also provide a blend of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustofolia. Furthermore, the capsules must provide about 32 mg of total phenolic compounds (calculated as captaric acid, cichoric acid, chlorogenic acid, and echinacoside)5 in a single dose. For example, if the Echinacea product provided 400 mg of total Echinacea standardized for four percent of phenolics, then each capsule would contain 16 mg phenolics. In this case, two capsules would then provide the necessary 32 mg of total phenolics; and should be taken 5 to 6 times daily.

Homeopathic remedy for flu
A controlled clinical trial was conducted to test effectiveness of a homeopathic preparation in treating influenza; 237 patients received the homeopathic, while 241 were given a placebo. Patients recorded their temperature twice a day,

Nutrient/Natural Substance Dosage Rationale
Black Elderberry 2000 mg daily (lozenge form) May help reduce symptoms and duration
Vitamin C 1000-2000 mg every 2 hours (reduce dose if experiencing loose bowels) Promotes immune response
Echinacea 4000-4800 mg daily (4 percent phenolics) May help reduce symptoms sooner; helps promote immune response
Homeopathic remedy for flu Per directions on bottle Improves recovery time
Vitamin A 100,000 IU daily for five days only Promote immunity and mucous membrane health

and the presence or absence of five main symptoms (headache, stiffness, lumbar and articular pain, shivers) along with cough, coryza and fatigue. The result was that the proportion of cases that recovered within 48 hours of treatment was greater among the group given the homeopathic remedy than among the placebo group (17.1 percent verses 10.3 percent).6

Vitamin A
Vitamin A's role in maintaining healthy epithelial tissue helps to fight infection by preventing the invasion of bacteria or viruses.7 For this reason, additional vitamin A may help during an influenza infection.

Diet and/or other considerations
As with colds, recommendations for the flu involve getting lots of rest, and drinking plenty of fluids.

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS

Gene Bruno is the Dean of Academics and Professor of Dietary Supplement Science for Huntington College of Health Sciences (a nationally accredited distance learning college offering diplomas and degrees in nutrition and other health science related subjects. Gene has two undergraduate Diplomas in Nutrition, a Bachelor’s in Nutrition, a Master’s in Nutrition, a Graduate Diploma in Herbal Medicine, and a Master’s in Herbal Medicine. As a 32 year veteran of the Dietary Supplement industry, Gene has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines, and peer-reviewed publications. Gene's latest book, A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes, is available on, and other fine retailers.