Herbal experts say you can build up immunity against swine flu now, and use natural remedies to fight it should you become infected
The World Health Organization declared the new H1N1 virus a pandemic Thursday, essentially saying the germ is spreading all over the globe. That sounds dramatic, but pandemics are measured by how widespread an illness becomes, not how severe it is. Still, the virus is here. And even a mild bout of flu symptoms is no fun.
THE DETAILS: Although the virus has been reported in 74 countries, WHO Director General Margaret Chan says most people infected fought off the infection without any medical intervention. And the novel virus is susceptible to certain antiviral medicines, including Tamiflu. A vaccine is in the works, and could be ready as early as October, health officials say. But herbal treatments are here now, says Eric Yarnell, ND, assistant professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle. Citing the possibility of H1N1 becoming resistant to medication, and the challenge of producing a vaccine quickly, he says, “I can’t believe more effort and money aren’t going towards herbs for this.”
WHAT IT MEANS: According to herbalist Kathy Abascal, author of Herbs & Influenza: How Herbs Used in the 1918 Flu Pandemic Can Be Effective Today (Tigana Press, 2006), those treated with herbs in the flu pandemic of 1918 had a much higher survival rate. Below are some suggestions from some of the country’s leading herb experts to bolster your immune system and treat flu symptoms with herbs. If you already have the flu, be sure to keep in contact with your physician, and keep him or her apprised of any herbal or complementary therapies you’re using.
• To prevent flu infection: Yarnell recommends taking immunomodulating herbs, especially Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), because there are clinical trials showing it can prevent colds and flu. “This may also help flu vaccines work better, especially in the elderly,” he says. Follow the dosage instructions that come with the product, and continue to use hand washing and other flu-preventing strategies.
• To treat an infection: We’ll say it again: Even if you choose to use herbs or another complementary therapy to get you through a flu infection, consult with your physician and keep him or her in the loop. Although the American Herbal Products Association has come out against people using herbs for influenza, since there haven’t been scientific studies conducted on their effectiveness during pandemics, Yarnell disagrees. Here’s what he recommends if you’re showing symptoms of the flu:
Sambucus spp. (blue or black elderberry). Take as a syrup or glycerite (a vegetable glycerin-based liquid extract)—1 to 3 teaspoons, 3 times a day.
Echinacea angustifolia root. Take as a tincture (an alcoholic extract from a specific part of a plant)—5 milliliters (ml), 3 times a day; or as a capsule—1,000 milligrams (mg), 3 times a day.
Eupatorium perfoliatum. Take as a tincture—3 ml, 3 times a day.
Andrographis paniculat. Take as a tincture—3 ml, 3 times a day; or a capsule—500 mg, 3 times a day.
Yarnell notes the above herbs have not been shown to interfere with Tamiflu. “However, if someone gets sick with the flu, they should absolutely contact a healthcare professional who knows about herbs if they’re going to self-treat, because this is a potentially lethal infection,” he says. “I’d say people really need to contact an herbalist or naturopathic doctor [ND] to be monitored,” he adds. To find a licensed ND, visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at naturopathic.org. Find an herbalist through the American Herbalists Guild.