Complementary therapies for flu

This page gives a brief overview of the most common complementary approaches in fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system..

Most complementary approaches are used by people alongside lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and stressRelating to injury or concern.-management techniques.

Many of the approaches listed only have a limited amount of scientific evidence to support their use. This is partly because there is a lack of good-quality trials and partly because their effectiveness is difficult to evaluate with many established research methods.

It is important to speak to your doctor before you try any of these approaches, as some, such as herbal remedies, may interfere with conventional treatment.

Summaries about therapies are placed under five standard headings below to indicate what evidence there is for effectiveness:

Important
Speak to your doctor before you try any of these approaches. Some therapies interfere with conventional treatment - for example, herbs may interact with medication you are taking and can present their own side-effects. Herbs should be supplied by a qualified, registered herbalist.

Positive evidence and likely to help

There are currently no complementary approaches listed in this section.

Unclear evidence but MAY help

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)

Andrographis is an Asian plant used in Ayurvedic medicine. A number of randomised, controlled trials suggest is it helpful for treating uncomplicated upper respiratory tractThe parts of the body that are involved in respiration. The respiratory tract includes the nasal passages, throat (pharynx), windpipe (trachea), bronchi and lungs. infections (that is, the common cold) and one study has shown possible benefit against influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.. This randomised, controlled trial involving 606 people with influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. compared the effects of Andrographis with the conventional anti-viral drug, amantadine. Those receiving Andrographis experienced fewer complications, their symptoms resolved more quickly, and they had less time off work on sick leave as a result. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.[1,2,3,4]

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

The berries of the black elder tree contain anti-viral compounds that appear to have an antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. action. Animal and laboratory studies have shown that elderberry extracts may inhibit both influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. types A and B. Studies involving both children and adults with respiratory viral infections, including influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system., show that taking elderberry extracts produces clinical improvement three to four days earlier than those receiving placebo. However, more research is needed before drawing firm conclusions.[4,5,6]

Homoeopathy

Homeopathy is a complementary practice based on the 'Law of Similars' also known as 'like cures like'.  Homeopathic substances undergo a process called 'potentisation', which involves a procedure of vigorous shaking and considerable dilution  of the original 'active' ingredient. The homeopathic remedy, Oscillococcinum, is derived from wild duck liverA large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. and heart, which are believed to act as reservoirs of influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells.. A systematic review looked at the pooled data from seven placebo-controlled trials, of which three were for prevention, and four were for influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. treatment. The authors found no evidence that Oscillococcinum was effective in preventing influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.-like symptoms. However, its use as a treatment slightly reduced the length of illness by six to seven hours (0.28 days). The results suggest a small but significant beneficial effect, but more research is needed.[4,7]

North American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium)

The results from two studies suggested that North American gingseng may help to reduce the number of elderly people who develop influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.-like symptoms. However, 85% of those taking part had previously received influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. vaccinations, and it is therefore not possible to draw any firm conclusions from these trials.[8]

Unclear evidence and NOT likely to help

There are currently no complementary approaches listed in this section.

Negative evidence

There are currently no complementary approaches listed in this section.

Unclear or lacking evidence and unknown if likely to help

Astragalus

Astragalus (also known as Chinese milkvetch) is an Asian herb used in traditional Chinese medicine.  It may have anti-viral action but there is not enough evidence to assess whether or not it is beneficial in treating or preventing influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system..[6]

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is a herbal remedy  that may have some antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. activity against upper respiratory tractThe parts of the body that are involved in respiration. The respiratory tract includes the nasal passages, throat (pharynx), windpipe (trachea), bronchi and lungs. infections.  One study found that higher doses of Echinacea purpurea may help to reduce the severity of influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. symptoms more effectively than placebo at days 3 and 4 of infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites., and again at days 8 to 10, but there is not enough evidence to know whether or not this is the case.[4]

Garlic

Garlic is a popular culinary herb that may have antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. activity. There is some preliminary evidence that it may reduce the severity of upper respiratory tractThe parts of the body that are involved in respiration. The respiratory tract includes the nasal passages, throat (pharynx), windpipe (trachea), bronchi and lungs. infections (that is, the common cold) but little is known about its effects against  influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. virusesMicrobes that are only able to multiply within living cells..[6]

Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese medicine, a number of different herbs are used to treat influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.-like symptoms. However,  not enough research evidence is available to either support or reject their use at present, but it may be worth visiting a qualified Chinese herbalist to get advice about what is available [9].

References: 
  1. Natural Standard. Link
  2. Ernst E, Pittler MH, Wider B et al. Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine. Oxford University Press, p. 374.
  3. Kulichenko, L. L., Kireyeva, L. V., Malyshkina, E. N., and Wikman, G. A randomized, controlled study of Kan Jang versus amantadine in the treatment of influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. in Volgograd. J.Herb.Pharmacother. 2003;3(1):77-93
  4. Guo R, Pittler M H, Ernst E. Complementary medicine for treating or preventing influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. or influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.-like illness. American Journal of Medicine 2007; 120(11): 923-929
  5. Natural Standard. Link
  6. Natural Standard. Link
  7. Vickers A, Smith C. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. and influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.-like syndromes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001957. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001957.pub3.
  8. McElhaney JE, Gravenstein S, Cole SK, et al. A placebo-controlled trial of a proprietary extract of North American ginseng CVT-E002 to prevent acuteHas a sudden onset. respiratory illness in institutionalized older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004;52:13-19
  9. Chen X, Wu T, Liu G, Wang Q, Zheng J, Wei J, Ni J, Zhou L, Duan X, Qiao J. Chinese medicinal herbs for influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD004559. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004559.pub3.