co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN
Every year, there is much commotion about colds and flu in the media and not much is said about it other than getting the flu shot. While many people comply with this recommendation others look for alternatives.
Some of these individuals may have a reasonable strategy for combatting the bug, but others may question the safety and efficacy of such choices. This article—very briefly—goes over some of these options.
What is “the flu”?
Simply put, “the flu” is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus. In the northern hemisphere, the “flu season” goes on between November and April. The problem with transmission is that you’re more likely to get it from someone who appears healthy. It so happens that an infected person “sheds” the virus at least a day before he/she shows any symptoms and continues to do so for many days. This makes it quite problematic for susceptible populations, like pregnant women, children, the immunocompromised, and the elderly—those who are at the highest risk of complications (e.g. pneumonia).
What are the flu symptoms?
Flu symptoms are very similar to that of the common cold. The latter is caused by a wide range of respiratory viruses, and so it can be difficult to distinguish which is which. The flu, however, usually presents quite severely. The hallmark symptoms are a sudden high fever, cough, nasal congestion and/or sneezing, and body aches. The list can go on and it may include headaches, eye irritation, skin rash, and in children it may include diarrhea.
What are the prescribed flu medication available?
Current medical research states that the flu shot is the best protection against the flu. This is true from an at-large population standpoint. This means that the more people receiving the shot the more they help protect those at-risk individuals. While this raises many red flags in certain groups (i.e. ethical, religious, philosophical reasons, etc.) we cannot deny that the benefit of the shot still outweigh the potential risks—and complications—of an infection. From an individual standpoint, prevention is the best medicine. However, if you have been unfortunate enough to fall victim to the grips of the flu, your local pharmacist can help you choose the best options of over-the-counter medications for immediate symptomatic relief.
What are the other options?
The natural realm has much to offer. Unfortunately, little has been credited by high-quality scientific studies. This does not mean one should abandon traditional remedies that have stood the test of time. In recent years, several rigorous studies have assessed the safety and efficacy of Echinacea purpurea on both the treatment and prevention of respiratory tract infections, and the results have been remarkable and promising. Echinacea has been widely used for its immune-enhancing effects, even in healthy people, while exerting direct antiviral activity.
Other herbs to consider are Elderberry (tasty and rich in antioxidants), Astragalus (“deeper” immune function), Reishi mushroom, Sage (though more on the antibacterial side of things), and many, many more. Because the natural health market is loaded with products of variable quality and questionable efficacy, it is always best to check with a qualified healthcare professional prior to making a purchase. Don’t settle for anything less than what your health deserves!
Protect your family and colleagues!
Staying at home, resting, and taking care of yourself is ideal! This gives you time to recover and protects others. You may consider getting the flu shot, and so speaking with a qualified health professional would be helpful.
- Hydrotherapy (e.g. cold and hot water therapy/showers) may be good way to promote circulation (this gives your immune system a chance to fight off infection);
- Steam inhalation with a bit of eucalyptus oil in the water can make a world of a difference if your nose is all stuffed up (but be careful not to burn your eyes!).
- In terms of prevention, remember to exercise regularly and to keep a balanced diet that provides you with vitamin A (and the carotenes), vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and zinc!
For additional and individualized “natural” options you may consider seeing a licensed naturopathic doctor.