Many people prefer warm weather to the cooler temperatures on the horizon. No wonder! In the winter, there is less chance to enjoy sunlight and be outdoors, and the dreaded flu season approaches too. Be proactive! The best way to lower your risk of influenza is to get the seasonal flu vaccine. However, some years the coverage is less impressive than others. Word has it that the flu vaccine for 2019 may lack good coverage for the viruses that will circulate.
What are some ways to avoid the flu? Get vaccinated and take common-sense precautions to counter flu viruses like sleeping at least 7 hours per night and washing your hands, but there’s another natural approach to influenza prevention that shows promise in preliminary studies and it originates with the elderberry plant. The elderberry bush is from the same family as honeysuckle. The purple berries have a somewhat sweet yet tart taste that puckers the tongue. However, elderberries have a medicinal history dating back thousands of years where people used it to treat colds and lower fevers. History suggests that these attempts were successful.
What Science Show about Elderberries and Influenza
The most common way people use elderberries is to make a syrup. Some research suggests compounds in elderberries lower the risk and reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory infections, including colds and influenza. Also, they may shorten the duration of such afflictions. In one study, over 90% of the people who took an elderberry supplement reported an improvement in influenza symptoms after 2 days. The group that didn’t take elderberry didn’t enjoy a reduction in flu symptoms until 6 days had elapsed. A substantial difference! Other research shows people who use elderberry syrup or supplements may experience less severe symptoms of influenza.
You might embrace elderberries if you develop flu symptoms, but what about prevention? One study found that elderberries contain proteins called hemagglutinin proteins that keep influenza viruses from getting inside cells. If that’s the case the influenza virus can’t wreak its havoc and you don’t come down with the flu. Elderberries may also increase the body’s immune response to influenza, boosting the ability to fight the infection.
If elderberries fight viruses, what about other common respiratory viruses like the common cold? The purple berry shows promise here too. A study of 312 airline passengers in Australia found that those who took a standardized elderberry supplement reported a reduction in cold severity and duration. Shortening the symptoms of pesky cold symptoms would come in handy too, and it’s possible the anti-viral effects of elderberries extend to colds and other respiratory infections too.
One downside is you won’t get the benefits by eating elderberries since you wouldn’t be able to eat enough to offer the full benefits. You can find instructions for making elderberry syrup online or you could opt for an elderberry supplement or extract., You don’t always know what you’re getting when you buy a supplement, so research thoroughly. One caveat is some supplements may contain traces of elderberry seeds, and the seeds can cause stomach upset. Otherwise, elderberries appear to be safe.
Lower Your Risk of Influenza
Although the results of preliminary studies are interesting, don’t depend on elderberries alone to protect against seasonal influenza. Get your flu shot when your physician recommends. It won’t ensure that you escape the flu this season, but it will lower your risk. The influenza vaccine’s effectiveness varies from season to season, depending upon how well the vaccine covers the circulating strains. However, your odds of getting the flu will be lower if you’re vaccinated. The elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with other illnesses such as lung disease, heart disease, an impaired immune system, or diabetes are at the highest risk of complications.
Since the influenza vaccine isn’t 100% effective, take additional measures to lower your risk of influenza. Make sure you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet and getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep reduces your ability to fight the virus. Keep moving and exercising in moderation but avoid over-training. Not giving your body time to recover can suppress your ability to fight the virus. There’s also some evidence that moderate exercise enhances the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine.
Wash your hands often but stick to soap and water rather than a hand sanitizer. According to a recent study, hand washing even without soap kills the influenza A virus better than hand sanitizers. Also, stay home if you’re sick. It’s the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. You’re most contagious within the first 3 days of developing influenza but you may remain contagious for up to a week. Plus, you can infect other people during the prodromal stage before you have symptoms.
If you develop flu symptoms, see your doctor within 48 hours. If you have influenza A, anti-virals can shorten the duration of your symptoms and lower the risk of complications. Also, you can develop influenza more than once in a season as there are three strains of the influenza virus – Type A, Type B, and Type C. You could be infected with one and still develop another later. Type A causes the most severe symptoms while Type C causes only mild symptoms in most people.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you’ll dodge the flu this season and all the other pesky, respiratory viruses that circulate as colder weather approaches. But don’t count on good luck! Get a seasonal flu vaccine and practice commonsense measures to lower your risk of being sidelined by respiratory viruses of all types. Simple precautions can make a difference in whether you spend the cold weather fall and winter months enjoying the crisp, cool air or laid up in bed! Also, keep some elderberry syrup on hand. You never know when you’ll need it.
· Nutrients. 2016 Apr; 8(4): 182. Published online 2016 Mar 24. doi: 10.3390/nu8040182.
· Pharmacy Times. “Elderberries: A Potent Cold and Flu Remedy?”
· Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu”
· World Health Organization. “Influenza (Seasonal)
· Medscape Family Medicine. “Plain Water Better Than Hand Sanitizer for Influenza A”