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Natural Therapies for the Flu

 Natural Therapies for the Flu

 
 
december-2009-fluBy Dr. Lawrence Rosen
 
In every encounter in my office this fall and winter, the most common questions I am asked have to do with the flu.  Yes, many center on the vaccine.  But as my practice is integrative – we blend safe and effective natural and conventional therapies for common (and uncommon) conditions – many of the queries are about natural ways to treat and prevent the flu and similar viral illnesses.    
 
 
Our health care system, which I think of as a “disease-treatment” system for the most part, has promoted the use ofdecember-2009-flu1 over-the-counter (OTC) cough-and-cold pharmaceuticals for many years.  Most parents are taught or raised to treat every condition aggressively to suppress symptoms.  While we are not in favor of children suffering, there are times where the body is best able to heal short-and long-term without aggressive pharmaceutical intervention.  
 
Many pediatricians and parents have known for quite some time that cough-and-cold OTC treatments are questionably effective.  What has come to light more recently is the dubious safety record of typical OTC preparations.  The FDA issued strong warnings  last year urging parents to be careful about the use of these OTC meds in kids, especially for those under 2 years of age.  One survey of ER departments found that nearly 6% of visits by children were due to adverse effects from cold-and-cough medication use.(1) 
 
So parents are left to ask – what is safe (and effective) for me to use both to treat and prevent the flu for my children?  We first advise inexpensive, common-sense lifestyle approaches – washing hands, changing clothes, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, eating health-promoting foods, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough rest/sleep.  The importance of these measures cannot be overestimated.  But what other natural therapies are potentially helpful?  There are many, including the homeopathic remedy oscillococcinum, but I have listed three below based on recently published data.  As always, I advise you to consult with your health care practitioner about what is right for you and your family.
 
•Vitamin D: Now linked to many acute and chronic health conditions, deficiency of vitamin D is also connected to a december-2009-flu2higher incidence of respiratory tract infections.(2)  It has been speculated that the higher prevalence of influenza in winter months corresponds to a decrease in population vitamin D levels as sunlight exposure decreases.(3)  Approximately 70% of children have been found to be vitamin D deficient in recent surveys(4), making this issue a very timely and relevant concern.  It is possible that those individuals with vitamin D deficiencies are at higher risk to contract flu and develop complications from these infections. The most accurate way to assess your vitamin D level is to have a blood test done for 25-OH vitamin D.  This is a relatively simple test which can be done at all commercial laboratories.
 
 
•Probiotics: Literally meaning “life-supporting,” probiotics are bacteria and other organisms that colonize our gastrointestinal systems and perform important immune and digestive functions.  A recent publication demonstrated that “daily dietary probiotic supplementation for 6 months was a safe effective way to reduce fever, rhinorrhea, and cough incidence and duration and antibiotic prescription incidence, as well as the number of missed school days attributable to illness, for children 3 to 5 years of age.”(5)  This is a major finding – if a conventional OTC product could do this, I am sure we would be reading about it in every major media publication.
 
 
•Elderberry: These dark berries rich in antioxidants come from the Elder tree (Sambucus).  In one human study, adults with flu symptoms who took elderberry syrup for five days had a significantly reduced length of illness.  A more recent study found that “flavonoids from the elderberry extract bind to H1N1 virions and, when bound, block the ability of the viruses to infect host cells.”(6)  Furthermore, the authors conclude that “the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32 microM) and Amantadine (27 microM).”(7)  
 
References  1.Schaefer MK, et al: Adverse events from cough and cold medications in children. Pediatrics. 2008 Apr;121(4):783-7. 
 
2.Ginde AA, Mansbach JM, Camargo CA Jr.: Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):384-90. 
 
3.Cannell JJ, et al: On the epidemiology of influenza.  Virol J. 2008 Feb 25;5:29. 
 
4.Kumar J, et al: Prevalence and Associations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Deficiency in US Children: NHANES 2001-2004. Pediatrics. 2009 Aug 3. 
 
5.Leyer GJ, et al: Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics. 2009 Aug;124(2):e172-9. 
 
6.Roschek B, et al: Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. 
 
7.Zakay-Rones Z, et al: Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.  
 
Winter 2009 Newsletter
 
 
About Dr. Lawrence Rosen
 
Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen is a board-certified general pediatrician committed to family-centered, holistic child healthdecember-2010-rosen care. He recently opened his own private pediatric integrative medical practice -- the Whole Child Center (wholechildcenter.org) -- in Oradell, NJ.   He  serves as Medical Advisor to The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology®. Dr. Rosen is a nationally recognized expert in Pediatric Integrative Medicine, acting as Chair of the Integrative Pediatrics Council, a non-profit foundation dedicated to transforming children's health care. Dr. Rosen is also a founding member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Provisional Section on Complementary, Holistic and Integrative Medicine. He is a frequent speaker at both professional and consumer gatherings, discussing topics such as holistic care of the newborn and the integrative management of autism. 
 
Dr. Rosen is a graduate of New York Medical College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 
 
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