It lurks in the uncovered sneezes of school children, beckons from computer keyboards and leaps from one body to another with the accuracy of an airborne acrobat. Infecting thousands of people every year, the influenza virus, along with its cousin, the common cold, is a beast that?s best fought pre-emptively, with attention to lifestyle, nutrition, supplementation and an armory of herbal and homeopathic treatments.
Leading up to flu season, which usually starts between December and February according to the Centers for Disease Control, Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy stores stock shelves with preventive and treatment-oriented resources. Herbs, vitamins and supplements occupy end caps alongside over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and Advil.
?We start setting up our stores on Sept. 1,? says Christopher Turf, director of compounding and medical outreach for Pharmaca, based in Boulder, Colo. ?We try to focus on flu prevention by offering lectures, handouts and scheduled flu shots. And we keep people updated and educated about immune enhancement.?
Lifestyle management is the key to avoiding and treating the flu, proposes Don Summerfield, vice president of integrative medicine at Pharmaca. ?People need water, rest and good nutrition to help support the body?s immune function,? he says.
With those sentiments in mind, Debra Boutin, clinic nutrition coordinator at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, advises retailers to provide several major antioxidant nutrients to consumers in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables.
?As a dietitian, I am always focusing on food first. Sure, supplements have their place, but a healthy diet is what supports a strong immune system,? she says. ?Hosting cooking classes or featuring antioxidant-rich recipes in grocery store fliers would be a great service to remind customers that it?s really all about a healthy diet.?
Specifically, Boutin recommends foods rich in vitamins A, C, E and selenium. ?Antioxidants protect the body against cell membrane damage that can lead to illness. Also, they scavenge free radicals, which can help prevent tissue damage and inflammation,? she asserts.
According to research published in the Annals of Clinical & Laboratory Science and conducted by the Department of Pathology at the University of Utah School of Medicine in 2000, ?Antioxidant supplementation essentially reverses several age-associated immune deficiencies.? Consequently, it never hurts a body, especially an aging one, to ingest as many antioxidants as possible from fresh fruits and vegetables, and additional capsule and powder supplement forms are ideal.
Like the two-time Nobel prize-winning chemist and physicist Linus Pauling, Dr. Harry Sobo, an internist in Stamford, Conn., and member of the Foundation for the Advancement of Innovative Medicine, believes that humans once possessed the ability to internally manufacture L-ascorbic acid, known as vitamin C, a characteristic shared by most animal species today. ?It is the genetic disease of man?that we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C. When animals are ill, their bodies produce more of it. When we?re sick, we can tolerate more vitamin C,? Sobo says. ?We see, scientifically, that the body soaks up vitamin C and really wants to use it.?
Sobo recommends that people take copious amounts of the vitamin every day to help with immunity, and suggests that more vitamin C in the diet will cause people to live longer, cope more comfortably with cold and flu outbreaks and feel better overall.
Sobo prescribes vitamin C flushes to his patients. When people feel cold or flu symptoms coming on, he advises them to use a powdered form of the vitamin every 20 minutes until their stools become fluid. This technique, according to Sobo, is effective in boosting immunity and flushing the body of toxins during and before times of illness.
Regardless of the process, Sobo and many of his naturopathic and allopathic colleagues advocate the consistent consumption of vitamin C supplements in myriad forms, from powder to capsule, natural to synthetic. Sobo suggests retailers provide several types and brands of the vitamin to consumers.
As an additional strike against looming viral infections, Turf recommends using pretreatment supplements with astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), an immunity-supporting herb used in China for thousands of years, and echinacea, an herb used by Native Americans for centuries.
?I also like colloidal silver nasal spray. It?s very reactive, and it will kill viral infections on contact. It?s great to use before traveling on airplanes, for example,? he says.
The list of effective herbal and homeopathic remedies for colds and flu is as long as viruses are abundant. For people who are particularly susceptible to viral attacks, such as health care workers, teachers and people with immune deficiencies, homeopathy may be a good place to start guarding the body.
?To keep your immune system functioning better when you become ill, first use homeopathy. It supports the body in the self-healing process, thereby making the body stronger,? says Virginia Wold, R.N., nurse practitioner and trained homeopath in Arizona.
?When the TV ads say, ?Go get your flu shot,? or if you?re around people with the flu, that is the time to take Oscillococcinum flu remedy,? Wold says. ?Also, ferrum phos is a good remedy to take at the beginning signs of any inflammatory symptoms such as fever, rosy cheeks, headache, a feeling of weariness, strong thirst and vomiting after eating.?
Also known as Ferrum phosphoricum or iron phosphate, ferrum phos is a mineral compound of iron and phosphorous that is considered useful by homeopaths in treating illnesses at the very onset of infection.
?Aconite is another remedy that can be taken at the first sign of the flu, especially if someone noticed the symptoms came on after exposure to cold wind. And belladonna is a great remedy when symptoms come on suddenly and are intense, with fever, flushness to the face, extreme sensitivity to light and jarring, sore throat, pounding headache, a nagging cough and other throbbing symptoms,? adds Wold.
Among other natural treatments, Wold advocates bryonia, the fresh root of a climbing perennial plant, and Eupatorium perfoliatum, also known as boneset, which is a common North American plant used frequently by Native Americans to treat aches and pains, among other ailments.
?I generally recommend homeopathic immune boosters to people along with Emer?gen-C and echinacea or elder flower tincture,? says Valeria Wyckoff, a licensed naturopathic physician and registered dietitian in Arizona. ?I suggest retailers carry a full rack of homeopathic remedies from Boiron or Dolisos.?
Taken in hot infusion, elder flowers (Sambucus nigra) in particular are good for treating upper respiratory infections. They also stimulate blood circulation and sweating, helping sick bodies rid themselves of toxins. Wyckoff also encourages retailers to carry products similar to Wise Woman Herbals? Phytobiotic Capsules, which contain vitamin C, echinacea, goldenseal, garlic, licorice, myrrh, wild indigo, ginger, beta-carotene, zinc and vitamin A, as these are all good flu-fighting ingredients.
For consumers or retailers who wish to explore more effective homeopathic remedies for either pre-emptive strikes or full-fledged flu battles, Wold recommends Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza (Benchmark Homeopathic Publications, 1999).
?Above all, wash your hands,? asserts Summerfield. ?That is absolutely the first line of defense along with keeping nasal passages clean and moist.?
To accommodate extra bouts of hand washing during peak cold and flu months, Summerfield recommends that retailers cross-merchandise shea butter soaps and hand creams. ?It?s the best form of fat to put on hands,? he says.
To launch a war on colds and flu this year, begin early by offering hope in the form of useful health and wellness information. Consider cross-merchandising antioxidant-specific fresh foods and vegetables, and display supplements and homeopathic remedies as flu season peaks.
?In general, encourage people to be good to their bodies,? Summerfield says.
Anne Burnett is a freelance writer, editor and science teacher in Denver.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 8/p. 36, 38