1) Early ID is key: The earlier we can identify that we are coming down with an influenza infection the better the chance we can fight it off or even stop it from becoming an full blown infection. Unlike other illnesses, the flu starts with a characteristic “prodromal” or early stage. The key symptoms to look for are muscle aches, especially in the neck, back and legs. These aches are actually a normal response by the body to breakdown our muscle tissue to increase amino acid availability for our immune system to make more white blood cells. Other early signs are headaches, fatigue, nausea and fever (not all necessarily together). As soon as you feel these symptoms initiate your anti-flu protocol. We will discuss this in the following points.
2) Get your rest: The sooner you rest and sleep the better outcome you will have during the flu. If you get to bed early enough, you can often abort the flu and stop it from progressing into the full-blown stage. This is not the time to be a hero, crawl under the covers and try to sleep because your immune system is most active during this time.
3) Drink liquids: This is where the chicken soup comes in as a great anti-flu remedy. It is a great fluid because it provides protein for your immune system to function, carnosine to combat the virus, electrolytes to keep you balanced (especially if vomiting) and hydration to maintain cellular function. Herbal teas are also great options. Two of my favorites are licorice and chamomile because they have soothing, anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea effects.
4) Don’t suppress your fever: One of the most common mistakes people make when they get sick and find our they have a fever is that is take an acetaminophen (Tylenol). Our culture is generally too quick to suppress a modest fever with medication due to the (overblown) fear of getting a seizure. This danger is only a reality in very high temperatures (greater than 104 degrees F). When is doubt, please consult your healthcare provider. Unfortunately, suppressing a fever is actually working against the body’s defense system since our own immune cells actually stimulate the fever because they become more powerful at higher temperatures. Using anti-fever medication can actually prolong the illness and preventing your immune system from successfully clearing the infection.
5) Homeopathic medicine to the rescue: One of my most trusted anti-flu remedies is a homeopathic medicine called Oscillococcinum. Various homeopathic remedies have been used for decades as potent treatments from all stages of viral infections. They had one of the highest success rates of disease resolution in the Spanish flu outbreak during the early 1900’s. Oscillococcinum (also available as Mucococcinum in a similar product) is a remedy specifically used in the early stages of the flu and can often stop the flu from progressing in to the full-blow stages. There are number of studies and reviews that have found Oscillococcinum to be effective for early stage influenza infection (1). Other remedies can be used very effectively for other, more progressed stages. Consult a Naturopathic doctor to find out which one is best suited from you and your symptom picture.
6) Power up on herbs: If all else fails, I turn to herbal medicine to help resolve the flu. There are number of herbs with research supporting their anti-viral activity. My 2 favourites are Echinacea and Andrographis. See my article on Immune boosting remedies for more information on these herbs and other strategies They both have studies supporting their ability to boost immune cell function and cut the duration of the cold and flu. A great child friendly herbal remedy is syrup made from elderberry fruit. Research shows that it cuts the duration of the flu and tastes great so children love it. Find it at your local health food store in a product called Sambucol®.
No one likes getting the flu but if it does happen don’t hesitate to employ some of your grandma’s wisdom. The chicken soup that seems to cure everything may actually have some scientific merit in helping you get over an infection. To see my "souped-up" chicken soup recipe click here. It contains all the flavour of grandma’s recipe with a few tweaks to improve its immune boosting power. At the earliest signs or symptoms start your anti-flu protocol so you can prevent the progression, cut the duration and get back to doing what you need to do. For more information on how to boost your immune system please see my article on how to keep your immune system is tip-top shape.
(1) Vickers AJ, Smith C. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. ) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jul 19;(3):CD001957