November 2018

Supplements for the Flu?

Flu vaccines are currently the best available option for preventing the flu. But many people don't get them. According to the CDC, only about half of people in the US got a flu shot last year. Instead, some people turn to natural medicines for flu prevention. But do any work?

Echinacea is widely tried to prevent the flu. While there is some evidence that echinacea might help to prevent and treat the common cold, there’s very little evidence suggesting that it helps prevent the flu. Vitamin C has also long been promoted for colds and flu and has generated lots of controversy over the years. It might boost immune function, but most evidence suggests it isn’t helpful for prevention. Similarly, zinc supplements and different green tea products are often promoted for boosting immune function, but there’s no evidence that either of these can help prevent the flu.

Panax ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng, might improve response to the flu shot. But there’s no evidence that taking Panax ginseng alone can prevent the flu. Astragalus has also been promoted for boosting response to the flu shot, but no research shows that it works. Elderberry might actually be useful for TREATING the flu, but there’s still no evidence that it can help PREVENT the flu. It seems to lessen the severity of flu symptoms once you’re sick. But keep in mind that not all available commercial products contain the right amount of elderberry to be effective.

Tell your patients that a flu shot is still your best bet for flu prevention. And continue to remind them that flu shots DON'T cause the flu. A common reason people don't get the flu shot is because they believe it causes the flu. But flu shots might only cause flu-like SYMPTOMS in some people. And these symptoms, including headache, muscle aches or fatigue, typically only last for about a day and are much milder than actually getting sick with the flu.

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