Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Influenza Epidemic & Herbal Approaches

    ’Tis the season:  following the joyous events of the holidays, we all return to our adult lives and promptly come down with a miserable influenza bug.  Right now in Washington state influenza is circulating at epidemic levels:  one-third of school aged kids are currently sick.  You no doubt have heard a lot about how to manage this flu from a modern medicine perspective;  in this blog I will cover herbal & other approaches to keeping yourself healthy and protected.

     First of all, you need to have a sense of which viruses you are dealing with. Here’s a general overview:

• Influenza viruses such as H1N1 pandemic or seasonal flu influenza A: these flu viruses can vary in symptoms, but two symptoms are almost always found: flu viruses cause (in adults) a fever of 100+ that sticks around for a few days, AND some level of significant aches and pains, whether it is muscle aches, backaches, headaches, etc. These are key diagnostic features.  The virus that is currently circulating not only has fever and bad aches, but also runny eyes and nose, sore throat and often a hellacious cough.  When this virus first emerged, the cough was so bad that people were getting tested for whooping cough. This year’s influenza is more serious than usual and there have been more fatalities than normal.
• Gastroenteritis, or what we call stomach flu. These sorts of viruses cause primarily nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, usually in a violent brief burst that lasts 24 hours. Usually there is no fever associated with these, or if so, it is brief. Muscle aches would not be expected here.  People with gastroenteritis feel icky, but it is not fatal as a rule.
• Cold viruses, also called rhinoviruses. These involve a wide range of possible symptoms (sore throat, congestion, runny nose, cough, etc.) but again it is rare to have a high fever or muscle aches with the common cold. 
     If in doubt, consult your primary care provider. 

     Here are some herbal approaches you can try: 

Prevention of Viruses:
     During peak cold/flu season of September through May I find it very helpful to take a daily dose of herbs that help build up the immune system, and keep the viruses at bay. My current favorite herbs for this include a blend of equal parts of astragalas and elderberry. You can find each of these herbs in a liquid tincture (alcohol) form, taking it that way. Herb Pharm is an excellent commercial brand.  You take 1 dropper (30 drops) of both herbs daily.
     The tincture approach can get expensive, so my preferred low budget method is to take powders of each herb, blend them together and take 1 tsp a day in tea, or put in capsules. Powdered astragalas and black elderberry are available at Mountain Rose herbs or Starwest Botanicals.  Sometimes your local herb store carries them as well.
     Another approach is to use medicinal mushrooms. These mushrooms are very effective at stimulating the immune system in the gut, making viruses less likely to succeed.  A mushroom blend I prefer is the 14 mushroom blend by Mushroom Harvest; this can be bought as a bulk powder, which you then take as tea, capsules, which is a lot cheaper. 
      Many people use echinacea very successfully. It has not worked well on me, so I tend to avoid it. Find the plants that work best for you.

Viral Raids: 
      If a virus sneaks past your herbal defense shield, here are some approaches that will help you launch an early raid and stop the virus before it can really get going. These raids have to be done within 24 HOURS OF THE FIRST SYMPTOMS in order to be effective. This requires a certain level of alertness on your part. 
     The viral raid approach varies, depending on which viruses you may be dealing with. 
• Influenza virus: my favorite remedy is a homeopathic formulation called Oscillococcinium (OSC). I have used this for years and it usually works very well. OSC comes in packets of three vials, which you are supposed to take every 6 hours. My homeopathic practitioner friends tell me you do not need to use three vials. Instead, take one vial, divide it in thirds, and take 1/3 every 6 hours. This works just as well, and saves money.

• Stomach flu virus: ditto Oscillococcinium. It usually works very well against stomach viruses.  Even if you wake up in the middle of stomach flu, OSC will shorten the course.

• Cold viruses: These viruses require a different approach. My first herbal teacher KP Khalsa taught me this approach and it works very very well. It requires three things:
1) Large doses of Astragalas: either tincture 12 droppers all at once, or capsules: 20 all at once, or 5 teaspoons of bulk powder, made into tea, or just chugged in water. This floods the system with a large dose of this herb, which is very effective at stimulating the immune system.

Astragalas root

     2) Vitamin C: I usually take 1000 - 2000 milligrams of this; some people take more. High doses can cause diarrhea, so you have to figure out what your level of tolerance is.

     3) Zinc lozenges: take ~15 lozenges, suck on them slowly over several hours. They coat the throat membranes, making it hard for viruses to replicate. Lots of zinc lozenge brands taste horrible; I have found Zand’s to be very effective and they taste great. 

     Finally, it is important to remember the things that keep our immune system well tuned up:
• Get to bed by 11 pm each night and get the hours of sleep that your body needs. This is crucial.
• Limit your intake of sugar: sugar is documented to suppress the immune system. This is crucial.
• Wash hands, cover coughs, stay home and get the rest and relaxation from stress that your body needs. 

When to see a medical practitioner
•  If you have a persistent fever greater than 103°.
•  If coughing is severe and you develop shortness of breath.
•  If symptoms are significant are not improving after seven days.


Mushroom Harvest:
Herb Pharm tinctures:  available at most herb and supplement stores
Oscilliococcinium Homeopathic:  widely available in herb and supplement stores
Mountain Rose Herbs:
Starwest Botanicals:


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