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Preventing and treating the flu - A natural medicine perspective

We've
all been bombarded by the news that there is not enough flu vaccine to go around
this year, and we've heard the accusations and faultfinding of politicians using
this topic as yet another platform from which to point fingers. Much of that
debate sidesteps the broader issues of whether the flu vaccine is a good thing
for most people, whether it has unintended effects on those who take it, and
what might be done to both prevent and treat the flu from a natural medicine
perspective.
     As a practicing naturopathic physician, my phone
lines have been swamped with people asking questions about just these issues.
At the time of this writing, I have not yet seen any flu cases this year, but
by the time this article is published most homeopaths will have seen several
cases.
     Unlike some homeopaths, I incorporate several natural
medicine approaches in the prevention and treatment of flu, as I find they work
well with homeopathy and do not interfere with the action of homeopathic remedies.
Not only are these adjunct approaches effective, they offer the caregiver something
to do, which in many family settings may be helpful in and of itself! I would
like to share my natural medicine recommendations for prevention and treatment
below, along with an illustrative case from a previous flu season.

Preventing the flu, naturally
My general recommendations for flu prevention are:
•     Get plenty of rest and drink enough water.
•     Reduce refined sugar in the diet, especially
things like soda, candy, and baked goods.
•     Increase fruits and vegetables in the diet.
•     Continue to get regular exercise. It helps
to keep you healthy by reducing or countering stress, enhancing circulation,
and offering another mode of elimination via perspiration.
•     Wash hands often, especially before eating.
•     If you are feeling run down, try to take
a day off, for rest and relaxation.
     If one of my patients has been in close contact
with someone who has come down with the flu, I underscore the above suggestions.

Supplements for prevention
Below are my basic guidelines for supplements to use preventively for an average
adult, not currently taking other medications. These supplements foster good
immunity while helping to create and maintain healthy mucous membrane tissue,
which is essential for fending off germs.
     Note: These are only guidelines; if you
also suffer from other, unrelated chronic diseases, consult your primary care
physician first.
•     Vitamin C, 1000 mg, three times per day
•     Beta carotene, 25,000 IU per day
•     Zinc, 15 mg per day
•     Vitamin E, 400 IU per day
     I also recommend the use of the following botanical
medicine products to help prevent flu.
•     Astragalus membranaceus
•     Hydrastis canadensis
•     Sambucus nigra
     If you're using the tincture form, I recommend
15--20 drops, two to three times a day; if you're using the capsule form, 2 capsules,
two to three times a day.
     In addition, I recommend:
•     garlic, used liberally in cooking, or taken
in pill form, 1 capsule, two to three times a day.
     Each of the above botanical products helps to bolster
immune function and keep the mucous membranes doing their job.

A bleary-eyed flu patient
I did a house call for Jana, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom with the flu, late
in the afternoon on a Tuesday. She was dozing when I entered her room, which
was quite warm. I roused her to take her case, though I hated to, as she looked
so peaceful!
     Jana complained of a vague headache and overall
body aches. Her head was full of mucus and felt heavy. She told me that it felt
as though her thoughts were moving through molasses, that it really wasn't safe
for her to be in charge of her small children. She had hired a babysitter so
that she could sleep; indeed she had spent the entire past two days in bed, dozing
off and on. She said that everything felt heavy, as if it would not be possible
for her to get up and walk around. The headache was all over her head but worse
in the occiput (back of the head). She had a dull expression and heavy eyes,
as well as a kind of inability to care about anything due to the deep exhaustion
she was experiencing.

Constitutional or genus epidemicus?
For a patient who has been diagnosed with influenza, we give the indicated homeopathic
remedy. For some, that will be another dose of their constitutional remedy. For
others, it will be a new remedy for them, often one of the genus epidemicus remedies,
specific to that year's flu. How do you know which way to go?
     If the patient's physical general symptoms (body
temperature, food cravings, thirst, etc.) have not shifted from their usual state,
and their symptoms (particularly the modalities of their flu symptoms) are akin
to their usual state, and their mental symptoms or temperament also have not
changed significantly, we re-dose with the constitutional remedy. If the symptoms
are significantly different from the patient's usual state, we prescribe a different
remedy.
     During the flu, Jana was entirely different than
her usual self: her symptoms were not the kind she usually had, and her mental
state was a far cry from her norm. (Jana was usually quite animated and talkative;
she had responded well in the past to the remedy, Sulphur, for her PMS and irritability.)
This told me that she was in a true acute state and that I should prescribe accordingly.
     Jana's symptoms of influenza with prostration,
apathy and dullness of mind, heavy eyelids, and occipital headache were indicative
of the remedy, Gelsemium, so I gave her a dose of Gelsemium 30c. I also left
some Gelsemium 30c and 200c with her husband, along with instructions as to when
to give more, if necessary. I asked them to call me the next morning.

Great expectations?
What do we expect when we give a homeopathic remedy in a case like this? We do
not expect miracles. We expect the patient to respond by having fewer, less intense
symptoms. We expect their energy level to improve. We expect the overall duration
of the illness to be shortened. And lastly, we expect the long-term impact of
the flu to be negligible or non-existent. Believe it or not, many people who
come through an acute illness such as the flu using supportive natural medicine
actually feel better, more energized, and mentally clearer on their recovery
than they did before they fell ill.
     Jana recovered nicely. She took several doses of
Gelsemium 30c that first day and one dose of Gelsemium 200c the following day.
She said that the first thing to change was her mental state. She stayed in bed
another day, but felt more "with it," more capable of thinking. The next thing
to dissipate was the headache, followed by the body aches. By the end of the
week, Jana was feeling more or less back to normal, which in my assessment was
quite a good outcome. Many with the flu will struggle for several weeks, if not
longer.

Treating the flu, naturally
Regardless of the homeopathic remedies chosen for a patient with the flu—and
often times I must first use one remedy, then another as the pathology shifts
and new symptoms arise—I do offer other natural medicine approaches to
reduce the intensity and duration of symptoms.
     Most folks with the flu find it difficult to swallow
pills or to drink unpleasant tasting herbal combinations. I have had the best
compliance with the following recommendations:
•     Hot Epsom salt baths: Put 2--3 cups of Epsom
salt in a warm bath for a good soak. This helps to draw out inflammation and
decrease muscle soreness and joint pain.
•     Hot water bottle: This can be a welcome presence
to the chilly and sore patient. It can be moved around and kept as warm as desired.
•     Gentle massage: This can be very soothing,
as it helps increase circulation and facilitate elimination.
•     Bromelain: This enzyme derived from pineapple
helps to reduce inflammation and to thin mucus. The capsules are small and do
not leave a bad taste. I recommend 500 mg, two to three times a day.
•     Vitamin C in powdered form, dissolved in
juice or water, 1000 mg, three times a day.
•     Vegetable or chicken broth will help to replenish
electrolytes and has other healing influence. Often it is just what the patient
wants.
•     Any and all of the supplements listed above
under "prevention" are also effective for the treatment of flu, if the patient
can tolerate them.
•     If there is nausea, I recommend adding ginger
or chamomile tea as desired. If there is significant coughing, I suggest herbal
teas and tinctures made from mullein, slippery elm, and red cherry bark. I might
troubleshoot other specific symptoms, based on the presenting problems of the
patient.
     Lastly, as a patient is recuperating from the flu,
I will place them on the same prophylactic protocol as used for prevention and
remind them that they are more vulnerable for a while. They should plan their
schedule accordingly, strategizing ways to keep stress down and keep healthy
habits up.

Simple steps
Whether or not sufficient flu vaccine is made available, we have many other approaches
to the prevention and treatment of flu at our disposal. Instead of succumbing
to the hysteria surrounding this issue, we would do better to focus on simple,
yet effective approaches to this troublesome illness that moves around the globe
each year.

About the author:
Amy Rothenberg, ND, DHANP, practices in Enfield, Connecticut. She teaches for
the NCH and the New England School of Homeopathy. She writes and teaches on topics
in natural medicine both here and abroad. Information on the upcoming NESH Two-Year
Course beginning in April 2005 can be found at www.nesh.com