According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every year in the United States, an average of five to 20% of the population gets the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, such as dehydration, high fever (over 102 degrees Fahrenheit), and extreme fatigue. About 36,000 people die from flu every year.

An emerging type of virus infecting humans is the avian influenza virus, or bird flu. The H1N1 influenza subtype "swine flu" currently holds much interest because a recent pandemic involved a new strain of the virus.

Treatment for the flu includes bed rest and plenty of fluids, along with symptomatic treatment such as drugs to fight viral infections, reduce fever, and help with sore throat and cough. Prevention includes an influenza vaccine. After you get the flu shot there are some dietary supplements including herbals that may also help with the AAACHOOOS!

Natural Standard Research Collaboration ( has found strong scientific evidence that andrographis (Kan Jang®, SHA-10) may help treat upper respiratory tract infections (URIs). Umckaloabo may help with bronchitis.

Echinacea has good scientific evidence for prevention of URIs in adults and children and for treatment in adults while the evidence for treatment in children is not so good. Elderberry and elder flower has good scientific evidence for influenza as well. N-acetyl cysteine has good scientific evidence for chronic bronchitis.

If you have a frog in your throat from acute pharyngitis sage and umckaloabo have studies that support their use, as does umckaloabo for the common cold. There is also good ole' vitamin C for colds- "C" for cold makes it easy to remember. People often ask me if the source of the vitamin C matters- from rosehips or manmade? The answer is your body doesn't know the difference. Beware not to chronically take mega doses of vitamin C though because if you abruptly stop taking it your body may show signs of deficiency or scurvy. Scurvy makes you feel tired, and then you can get spots on your skin and bleeding gums.

It is important to remember that natural therapies don't replace antibiotics or antivirals that may be prescribed by your doctor - or the "standard of care" and they may not be covered by your health insurance. The most proven therapies should always be used first if they are safe for you. However, you can check with your healthcare practitioners to see if adding one of these dietary supplements may be a safe and effective option based on your personal profile.

Your doctor and pharmacist will need to monitor for adverse effects including drug interactions. Use herbs and supplements cautiously if you diabetes, bleeding disorders, high or low blood pressure. Many dietary supplements should not be used if pregnant or breastfeeding, unless otherwise directed by a qualified doctor. Tincture or extract formulations can contain high amounts of alcohol that can cause drowsiness. Plus, the last thing you need when you're already feeling under the weather is a hangover! We'll investigate integrative therapies for the after-party effects of drinking too much in an upcoming blog...

About the Author

Catherine Ulbricht, Pharm.D.

Catherine Ulbricht, Pharm.D., co-founder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration, is the Senior Attending Pharmacist at Massachussetts General Hospital.

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