It is currently flu season and I know several people who have been recently or are currently ill with the flu. So it is high time for me to address both preventing and treating influenza here.
I will start by defining influenza. Influenza is a viral illness that can be quite severe. The term “flu” is used casually and people talk about things like stomach flu, but stomach flu is not influenza. The best description I ever heard of influenza was one that I heard in medical school, which is that when you have influenza you feel like you have been hit by a truck. It tends to come on quite suddenly, and people usually get a high fever, are exhausted and achey all over and unable to function, along with a sore throat and cough. It generally lasts about a week. While influenza can rarely be fatal, those who die generally die from secondary infections, especially bacterial pneumonia. There are 3 main types of influenza, Types A, B and C, though most of the seasonal flu epidemics are Type A. There are many subtypes or strains of the flu and it these strains are constantly changing.
Public health authorities and most doctors recommend the flu vaccine as a main strategy for preventing the flu, but, unfortunately, a large amount of mainstream research shows that not only is the influenza vaccine largely ineffective, but that it may do more harm than good. There are many excellent articles reviewing the science on this, so rather than repeating the information in these articles I am linking them.
If you were to just read one I recommend this excellent summary of the science by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.:
Here is an article from a very mainstream source on the lack of effectiveness of influenza vaccine:
Given the lack of sound evidence to support the effectiveness of flu shots it is very disturbing that public health authorities put so much effort into promoting flu vaccines. What especially concerns me is that the CDC is very adamant in recommending everyone get the flu vaccine when the best available science does not support this, and this is obvious to anyone who investigates the matter. So by doing this, the CDC destroys its credibility and in light of this it is reasonable to then question all of their other recommendations regarding vaccinations!
This is an excellent essay by Peter Doshi from the British Medical Journal, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Public Health at Harvard at the time he wrote it, questioning the rationale for these irrational policies:
One of the problems with vaccines is that there tends to be a paucity of controlled studies on their effectiveness. A rare placebo-controlled study on flu vaccine was done in 2008-9, with 115 subjects age 6-15 receiving flu vaccine or a saline placebo shot. They were then followed for 9 months. There was no significant difference in the incidence of influenza between the 2 groups, but those who got the flu shot had 4.4 times the incidence of non-influenza respiratory infections (colds, sinus infections, bronchitis) than those who got the placebo vaccine!
There is also evidence that, while getting the flu shot slightly decreases one’s chance of getting the strains of flu included in the vaccine, it appears to actually increase one’s chances of getting strains not covered by the vaccine:
It is especially disturbing that the CDC (and thus most doctors) strongly recommend giving flu vaccine to pregnant women, when there have not only been no safety studies but good reason to believe this practice is killing many babies in utero!
So, given that the flu shot appears to do more harm than good, how can one reduce their risk of getting influenza? A lot of it comes down to common sense: a healthy diet (esp. avoiding large amounts of sugar, which lowers immune function), a quality multivitamin, adequate sleep and stress reduction (exercise, meditation etc.) can go a long way to reducing risk of getting the flu. Adequate Vitamin D is also very important; it is thought that cold and flu season occurs in fall and winter because that is when many people are deficient in Vitamin D that time of year.
We get Vitamin D mostly from the sun but in fall and winter months in most of the US it is impossible for us to get any Vitamin D from the sun because it is not high enough in the sky. Most adults need to take 5000-8000 iu of D3 per day in fall and winter to achieve optimal levels of 50-80. See
Immune-boosting herbs can also help prevent influenza. My favorite is Andrographis. a herb widely used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. One controlled study showed that those taking Andrographis 200 mg 5 tines a week had half the number of viral upper respiratory infections than controls. But there are also many other excellent immune-boosting tonic herbs, including Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) and medicinal mushrooms including Reishi, Turkey Tail, Shiitake and Cordyceps.
N-acetyl cysteine, an amino acid (often labeled NAC) has been shown boost immune function to reduce influenza-like illnesses when taken preventively at a dose of 600 mg 2x/day.
But what if you have gotten the flu?
While the flu can come on quickly, aggressive measures at the first sign you are getting ill may help head it off. One useful thing to try is Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy. A mainstream review of research on Oscillococcinum by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that there is sound evidence that Oscillococcinum does reduce the length of influenza. Like all medicines (and even more so for homeopathic medicines) it will not help everyone, but some people experience magical recoveries. But since it may work best if taken as soon as one gets symptoms, I recommend everyone get some to keep in your medicine cabinet. It will stay good for many years.
Another good strategy, which also helps most at onset, is high doses of Vitamin C. When someone is healthy they will usually only absorb 5-10,000 mg of Vitamin C. After they have absorbed all they need the unabsorbed C will stay in the intestines and act as a laxative. But the sicker one is the more C one needs so it is not unusual for someone with influenza to absorb 100 grams or more. It is thus recommended to take about 3000 mg every 20 minutes at the onset of illness until they get loose stools (which is known as bowel tolerance). Obviously it is wise to use Vitamin C in powder form when doing this; most Vit. C powders have 2-3000 mg per tsp. Once you determine how much you need it is advised to take that amount in about 6 divided doses per day. While doing this at onset may help head off the flu, it is likely to help at any stage, but, again, it is useful to have Vitamin C powder on hand at home so you will have it when you need it. Another good option in liposomal vitamin C, the best-absorbed oral form, discussed in the first link below:
A related approach requires the help of an integrative physician like me, who can administer Vitamin C as an IV drip. 50 grams is usually very effective. It takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to do this.
Extra Vitamin D is also helpful, esp. if you have not been supplementing. Taking 50,000 units of D3 a day for a week is reasonable. While one can get toxic from excessive Vit. D, for toxicity to occur one must take at least 40,000 iu/day for months to reach toxic levels.
Herbs can be very helpful as well. The best-proven is an elderberry extract known as Sambucol, widely available at health food stores. I recommend Organic Sambucol by Nature’s Way. See
The aforementioned Andrographis is useful only for prevention but treatment. I advise 400 mg 2 to 3x/day (I like Paradise Herbs brand) or 2 droppersful of tincture from HerbPharm 2-3x/day (it is bitter so add to a little juice).
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) can be another beneficial herb for influenza and can be taken as a tea or tincture:
Astragalus is a herbal tonic with a long history of use in Chinese medicine. 2 droppersful of the tincture 3-4 times a day is a decent dose:
Essential oils can also be very helpful, especially oregano oil, which is a powerful anti-viral. It can be taken as capsules or by adding the oil to water and drinking. For detailed instructions on how to use it see
The above article also mentions N-acetlyl cysteine (NAC) 600 mg 2x/day as reducing severity and duration of flu-like illnesses according to a 1997 study. At the very least NAC is a great expectorant, supports our liver and enhances our body’s ability to produce glutathione, an endogenous anti-oxidant and immune-booster.
Colloidal silver is another natural remedy that has anti-viral activity, though I prefer silver hydrosols, which appear to be even safer and more effective.
I recommend 2 brands- Sovereign Silver or Argentyn 23 from Natural Immunogenics (Sovereign Silver is widely available at health food stores) and Silvercillin from Designs For Health. A good dose is 2 tsp every 3-4 hours, best on an empty stomach, though if you have a cough it can also be administered via nebulizer: add 1-2 tsp into the chamber and breathe in the nebulized solution every 3-4 hours.
A favorite treatment that can be very powerful for influenza is individualized homeopathy.
Homeopathy is known to be very helpful for influenza, in fact the validated information on homeopathy’s success in the 1918 flu pandemic is still among the best evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy.
It is documented that in the 1918 pandemic up to 30% of patients seeking conventional care died. However, almost all of the deaths werenot directly from influenza but from secondary pneumonia. This was before the discovery of antibiotics, and undoubtedly western medicine today is much better able to successfully treat pneumonia.However, during the 1918 pandemic it documented that those treated with
homeopathy had dramatically better outcomes.
The following is an extract from an article entitled “Homeopathy In
Influenza- A Chorus Of Fifty In Harmony” by W. A. Dewey, MD that appeared
in the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy in 1920 (thanks to
Julian Winston and David Warkentin for this).
“Dean W. A. Pearson of Philadelphia collected 26,795 cases of influenza
treated by homeopathic physicians with a mortality of 1.05%, while the
average old school mortality is 30%.
Thirty physicians in Connecticut responded to my request for data. They
reported 6,602 cases with 55 deaths, which is less than 1%. In the
transport service I had 81 cases on the way over. All recovered and were
landed. Every man received homeopathic treatment. One ship lost 31 on the
way. H. A. Roberts, MD, Derby, Connecticut.
In a plant of 8,000 workers we had only one death. The patients were not
drugged to death. Gelsemium was practically the only remedy used. We used
no aspirin and no vaccines. -Frank Wieland, MD, Chicago.
I did not lose a single case of influenza; my death rate in the pneumonias
was 2.1%. The salycilates, including aspirin and quinine, were almost the
sole standbys of the old school and it was a common thing to hear them
speaking of losing 60% of their pneumonias.-Dudley A. Williams, MD,
Providence, Rhode Island.
Fifteen hundred cases were reported at the Homeopathic Medical Society of
the District of Columbia with but fifteen deaths. Recoveries in the
National Homeopathic Hospital were 100%.-E. F. Sappington, M. D.,
I have treated 1,000 cases of influenza. I have the records to show my
work. I have no losses. Please give all credit to homeopathy and none to
the Scotch-Irish-American! -T. A. McCann, MD, Dayton, Ohio.
We treated over 300 cases of influenza among the members of the Student
army Training Corps with no deaths.Gelsemium, Bryonia and Ferrum
phosporicum were the leading remedies. Only in those cases having had
aspirin was convalescence delayed and pneumonia produced.
One physician in a Pittsburgh hospital asked a nurse if she knew any
better than what he was doing, because he was losing so many cases. “Yes,
Doctor, stop Aspirin and go down to a homeopathic pharmacy, and get
homeopathic remedies.” The Doctor replied; “But that is homeopathy.” “I
know it, but the homeopathic doctors for whom I have nursed have not lost
a single case.”
Three hundred and fifty cases were treated and I only lost one.
Cora Smith King, M.D
Eleven men reported 3,600 cases with 6 deaths. My records show 750 cases
with one death.Gelsemium, Bryonia and Eupatorium were the remedies
In the Public Health service in New Mexico among the Mexican population
chiefly Veratrum viride, Gelsemium and Bryonia were introduced and
excellent results followed their use in influenza. No cases died under
While it is optimal to consult with a homeopath, one of my favorite things about homeopathy is that it is truly a people’s medicine, in that by reading about the symptoms associated with the most common remedies for flu there is a good chance someone can figure out on their own which remedy is most likely to help. It is very safe to try; if you try a remedy and do not notice improvement within several hours then it is safe to try a different remedy until you find the right one.
for advice on choosing the proper remedy. These remedies are widely available at heath food stores.
One treatment NOT to try is Tamiflu. This is a very toxic and dangerous drug with many side effects and minimal benefits at best. See
Another treatment to minimize is drugs to reduce fever, such as aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil). Fever is how our bodies fight infection; when we have a fever our immune system functions better and microbes do not survive as well. Thus, lowering fever sabotages our immune system and prolongs illness. Indeed, it is thought that one of the reasons people who saw homeopaths in the 1918 flu pandemic had such dramatically better survival than those treated by allopaths is that allopaths recommended aspirin whereas homeopaths did not.
Many people worry that fever can cause brain damage or other organ damage. This will not happen unless one’s fever exceeds 106, and that almost never happens.
The one instance where you can make a case for fever-reducers is if one is absolutely miserable, in which case you may want to take something to reduce your suffering. That is OK as long as you realize that while you will suffer less, you will likely suffer longer.
Obviously rest and plenty of fluids are essential (it is usually not an option to not rest if you have the true flu). Chicken soup has proven benefits.
One common mistake that people make is trying to do too much when you are just getting over the flu. One is often still weak and fragile and it is easy to get another illness if you try to overdo it, so it is wise to not overdo things when you are recovering.
I hope this advice helps. Remember, no matter how miserable you feel, you will get better and some feel that this is a great way for our bodies to detoxify and to exercise our immune system. When one does get the flu it usually provides natural immunity to the flu for many years to come.