Swine Flu, Herbal Remedies & Elderberry Extract

I find it amazing that with all the worry about swine flu at the moment, and the amount of press coverage given to it, that so little mention has been made of herbal remedies. Herbal remedies can help to:

  • boost the immune system and lower the chances of catching flu
  • decrease the severity of symptoms
  • lessen the length of time that symptoms are experienced

I know much of the silence at the moment is political. Many Medical Herbalists are currently feeling overwhelmed by the dawning impact of the new legislative changes and also by vociferous attacks against herbal medicine by some journalists and contributors. Few Medical Herbalists have the time to take on the job of defending themselves in the national press, after all most of them are running busy clinics, seeing patients and running businesses in challenging economic times. And few have the connections in the media, nor the training in debate and public relations, to defend the profession well.

The abilities of Medical Herbalists lie in the professional service that they offer to patients who seek alternative ways of managing their health. In particular, those with chronic health conditions where a string of 6 minute appointments with an NHS GP, and a long wait for a consultant appointment, have still not yielded an alternative to the prospect of years of management with prescription drugs. This is not an attack on GPs or the NHS by any means, but many health conditions now require long term management (for example; asthma, eczema, hormonal imbalances, irritable bowel, high blood pressure, arthritis, digestive problems and stress related conditions). Understandably, many people prefer to seek out a gentler system that a drug-dependent one.

However, despite the silence in the national press it is important to know that there are options. So back to swine flu! Firstly, the common sense:

  • Avoid contact with people who obviously have symptoms – coughs, colds, sniffles.
  • Wash your hands frequently and use paper tissues.
  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet with your ‘Five a Day’ intake of fruits and vegetables. If your body is not properly nourished it will be less able to fight an infection. If you are not properly nourished you may also be low on vitamins (particularly if you smoke – which kills Vitamin C, drink a lot of alcohol, or are stressed).
  • Get sufficient sleep and exercise, keeping the body in optimum condition.

To support your immune system to lessen the chances of catching an infection, consider the following:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements. Look for combinations with minerals that help you to absorb the vitamins. High doses of Vitamin C do work. At the onset of a cold, 1000 mg daily doses will help. Your body needs zinc to absorb it though.
  • Modify your diet to a medicinal diet. Add plenty of garlic, sage and lemon for example, herbs that are either antiviral or naturally full of Vitamin C.
  • Elderberry extract

Elderberry Extract

Elderberry01-web

Elderberries picked in October

At the first sign of infection use elderberry extract. Elderberry has been tested in clinical trials and has been proven in these trials to reduce the severity of symptoms and to shorten the time affected by the flu, on average by around a third. Elderberry is a native British hedgerow plant that has antiviral properties.

At Napiers we use combinations: Echinacea and Elderflower Compound and we also produce an Organic Echinacea and Elderberry Throat Spray. These are both now prescription only since the advent of the THMPD regulations. The latter is particularly handy for first line defence as the bottle is easy to carry around in handbags, rucksacks or briefcases to be sprayed into the mouth as soon as people around you start coughing and spluttering.

We also use Elderflowers in an old Rickard Lane’s licence originally called Peppermint and Elderflowers with Composition Essence. It’s license indication is as a traditional herbal remedy for the relief of the symptoms of colds, chills and influenza. Elderberry extract is also made by other companies such as Sambucol.

Each year I make as much elderberry extract as I can from the berries I can get my hands on. This autumn I have also been making combination batches of elderberries and rosehips to maximise the Vitamin C and the antiviral properties. In the office several of us have been hit by swine flu – we haven’t been tested so assume it was that, and if not it was another very nasty flu virus. Those of us who got it and immediately started high doses of elderberry did indeed get over it much quicker and with less painful symptoms than those who didn’t. Echinacea is the classic herbal immune system booster but with influenza, elderberry really is my ‘drug of choice’. If you can’t make your own, use a combination remedy from Napiers or use Sambucol or another elderberry extract.

For those of you interested in the clinical evidence, here goes:

Link to the US National Library of Medicine

Link to Herbal Science Group

Monica Wilde
Research Herbalist
October 2009

References
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  1. Barak V, Birkenfeld S, Halperin T, et al. The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Isr Med Assoc J 2002;4(11 Suppl):919-922.
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What do you think?