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How to Treat the Flu

Herbal Remedies continued...

Some research shows elderberry extracts might help reduce flu symptoms when given within the first 24 to 48 hours of symptoms. There are no known side effects of elderberry extract supplements when taken for up to five days. However, parts of the elderberry plant itself should be avoided as it can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

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

  • Lozenges containing licorice and slippery elm (may help ease sore throats and coughs from post-nasal drip)
  • Ginger tea (for fever and to thin mucus)

One word of warning: Evidence on the effectiveness of most herbal supplements is mixed. The Centers for Disease Control has concluded that at this time there is no scientific evidence that any of these remedies are effective against  the flu.

Also, potency 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 make any difference. Experts recommend sticking with those that have been certified by a third party, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before trying an herbal remedy, as some interact with other medications. And be sure your doctor knows of everything you are taking -- prescription and over-the-counter medicine and alternative treatments.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

As with echinacea, evidence for vitamin C is more robust for treating colds than the flu. It does not appear that vitamin C can help prevent a cold. But while the use of vitamin C to treat a cold is controversial since evidence is quite mixed, some studies suggest it can help shorten duration of cold symptoms when taken at high doses – 1,000 to 3,000 grams daily. Note that high doses of vitamin C, particularly over 2,000 milligrams a day -- may cause side effects, such as diarrhea or upset stomach.

Likewise, studies on zinc have been mostly done on people with colds, not the flu. Some studies suggest that zinc has antiviral properties and that sucking on lozenges containing zinc gluconate may help ease cold symptoms and speed recovery. But overall, research on zinc has been inconclusive. The FDA recommends against using zinc nasal products because they have been associated with a potentially permanent loss of smell.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD, PhD on October 14, 2012

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