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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

How to Treat the Flu

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Herbal Remedies continued...

You hear a lot about echinacea, but recent studies can’t say whether it helps with colds or the flu. One sticking point: No one is sure which is the best echinacea species, plant part, active ingredient, or how much you should take. If you want to try it, pick a brand that uses the stems, leaves, and flowers of the Echinacea purpurea plant rather than the root. Don't use it for more than 8 weeks -- it could mess up your immune system. Don’t take it if you’re allergic to ragweed.

Some research shows elderberry extract might help if you take it within the first 24 to 48 hours after you start to feel flu symptoms. There aren’t any known side effects if you use it for 5 days or less. Don’t eat the plant -- it can make you sick to your stomach.

Other herbal remedies that may help when you have flu include:

  • Lozenges with licorice and slippery elm: They ease sore throats and coughs from all that gunk running down the back of your throat. (Doctors call this postnasal drip.)
  • Ginger tea: It helps with nausea.

One word of warning: There’s no hard proof that these herbal treatments really work against the flu.

Also, strength varies widely from product to product. That makes it hard to know if an herb really works -- or if you’re getting enough of it to help. Stick with those that have been certified by a third party, like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International.

Check with your doctor before trying one, because they may change the way your other medications work. Always tell your doctor about everything you’re taking, whether it’s prescription or not.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

There are lots of studies that prove vitamin C and zinc can ease cold symptoms and maybe shorten the illness -- but there isn’t a lot to show that they help treat the flu.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 10, 2015
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