Public health officials base their forecast on the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season from the previous summer – and they’re all saying THIS winter’s flu forecast is worse than usual. That’s also how they usually develop the current years’ vaccine – from the specific flu strain that just finished it’s course in Australia, and is on it’s way to North America.
Two factors make this winter’s flu especially virulent: first, H3N2 caused twice as many deaths and hospitalizations in Australia in 2017 than in previous years. Second, it mutated at the last minute, after American pharmacies had already created the vaccine for the 2017 – 18 season. The version of H3N2 that is already hitting North America is not the same strain from which the vaccine was created. Projected efficacy of this years vaccine is reduced to 10%, if the vaccine offers any protection at all. (Verses 38% efficacy in less severe flu seasons, according to the CDC.)
As a holistic caregiver in my community, I’ve seen three distinct pathologies circulating. Dr. Gregory Pais, ND has consulted with me on finding a homeopathic “genus epidemicus” remedy that could cover most cases of each distinct symptom picture:
- Fast moving GI illness including symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, malaise. Self-limiting, 24 – 48 hours.
- Respiratory infection. In children symptoms present similar to croup or RSV (which can be life-threatening, when in doubt call 911), for adults severe, spasmodic, unproductive coughing, wheezing; often accompanied by nausea, fatigue, and malaise. Sudden onset, lingering for several weeks with slow, gradual improvement.
- Severe pain, malaise, nausea, and fatigue, mimicking viral meningitis. No other distinguishing symptoms present such as rash or fever (in the cases I’ve seen so far). Self-limiting, 24 – 48 hrs.
While each case is unique depending on the patients’ attitude, what makes the symptoms better or worse, and whether they have an environment conducive to healing, here are some general – and completely natural – interventions that Dr. Pais and I recommend to most everyone:
- Vitamin C – while there are some studies contradicting the belief that Vitamin C is effective in boosting immunity, the NIH still maintains that regular, high oral doses of vitamin C “reduce severity and duration of illness” when combined with other therapies. The anecdotal evidence from private practice confirms Vitamin C as a useful aid in warding off the flu.
- Vitamin D – this vitamin is fast gaining a reputation as a powerful ingredient in human immune response. With decreased exposure to sunlight in the winter months, it is more important to add a Vitamin D supplement to your regimen. From a recent study published on the NIH website: “Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.”
- Zinc – Zinc plays a similar role to Vitamins C and D in regulating the immune system. “Zinc also is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory actions. The therapeutic roles of zinc in acute infantile diarrhea, acrodermatitis enteropathica, prevention of blindness in patients with age-related macular degeneration, and treatment of common cold with zinc have been reported.” (NIH: Zinc In Human Health, Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells)
- Garlic – especially fresh, raw and organic. Allicin, the active compound in garlic, has proven antibacterial, antiviral and anti fungal properties. With the overprescription of antibiotics causing resistance, and the inefficacy of antibiotics against viral and fungal infections (for which conventional medicine has few remedies) garlic is the Queen of protection from whatever is going around. Take one raw clove daily!
- Thieves Oil – “Thieves Oil” is a registered trademark of Young Living Essential Oils. However, it is an ancient formula combining the essential oils of rosemary, lemon, eucalyptus, clove and cinnamon (while oregano oil is not part of the original formula, it’s worth a mention here, too!). It was originally used by “thieves” during the plague in 15th century Europe, scavenging for food and money among the dead, to ward off the plague (apparently, it worked!). All of these oils combined, or applied topically as individual oils, can be very effective. I rub 15 drops of Eucalyptus Oil in 1 T of coconut oil on my kiddos chest when he gets a cough.
- Fire Cider – while there have been attempts to trademark this folk remedy in the past, wiser minds have prevailed in keeping this easy to make, traditional medicine in the public domain. The key ingredients are raw garlic, horseradish, cayenne, apple cider vinegar and honey. The rest is up to you. Here’s an excellent explanation and recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs.
- The Holy Trinity of Adaptogens: astragalus, ashwaganda, tulsi. Adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to stress – the changing seasons are stressful on the body’s systems, but other stressors – environmental, dietary, familial, political – can wear down our immunity, and lead to more severe, chronic conditions such as fatigue, depression, and pain. Astragalus comes to us from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is often combined with other herbs to offer a restorative and balancing effect. One report from UC Berkley found: “Astragalus contains flavonoids, saponins, phytosterols, and other potentially beneficial compounds. Lab and some human studies have shown that it has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, and immune-boosting effects. Not surprisingly then, scientists are interested in its potential benefits for heart disease, cancer, HIV infection, allergies, and other conditions.” Ashwaganda is an Ayurvedic adaptogen, but it is also high in iron and is used as a uterine tonic to prevent miscarriage. It can have a positive effect on adrenal functions, and stimulates the thyroid (use with caution if you have a hyperthyroid condition). Tulsi or Holy Basil is an Indian tonic that is widely available and can be safely taken as a delicious tea every day. There are many other adaptogens that you might consider adding to your winter wellness brews such as Eleuthero and cordyceps.
May you stay warm and well this winter with a little self-care, good rest, and keeping these natural remedies close at hand. Did you try any (or all) of these natural ways to keep the flu at bay? Let us know in the comments below!