What is the best way to protect yourself against influenza? According to the CDC, yearly vaccination is the first and most important step. With so much push by the media, doctors, scientists, and health professionals to get the public vaccinated, one would think this to be the best approach.
But what does the research really say about flu vaccines? The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, considered a gold standard when it comes to scientifically validating medical interventions, had this to say (emphasis mine) in a review of the published research (1):
“Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission. WARNING: This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry … The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding.”
The flu vaccine is not a magic bullet. When research shows that it may have only a modest effect in reducing symptoms, another strategy is imperative. There are far superior ways to protect yourself against seasonal illnesses, ways that are a bit less toxic, non-synthetic, and free of unwanted side effects. In this post, I have uncovered 3 lesser-known natural ways to protect yourself against the flu.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion: what’s not to love? It has a long history of traditional use as food and medicine, especially in Native American and Chinese cultures. Dandelion has been used medicinally as a diuretic and a mild appetite stimulant, as well as a treatment for poor digestion, liver abnormalities, and high blood pressure.
Unbeknownst to some, dandelion also possesses anti-viral action, especially against influenza virus type A. Research has shown that aqueous extracts of dandelion reduce viral growth by inhibiting viral replication and infection in vitro (2). Furthermore, there appear to be no side effects associated with the prolonged use of dandelion for therapeutic purposes.
Dandelion is found in all 50 states, most Canadian provinces, and in countries all over the world. A simple and effective step you can take is to harvest the plants from a clean environment and incorporate them into your dietary and medicinal programs. Sure, you can purchase dandelion extracts from a retailer, but you can save money and receive numerous auxiliary benefits by seeking them out yourself.
Black currant (Ribes nigrum)
Black currant is a deciduous shrub native to northern Europe and Asia. Like dandelion, it has a long history of traditional use both as food and medicine. Oil from its seed is popular in the supplement industry as a source of gamma-linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid utilized as a precursor to hormones.
New research has shown that an extract from the leaves of black currant possesses anti-viral activity against influenza type A virus in vivo and in vitro, primarily by preventing viral entry into cells (3). Furthermore, the extract displayed no side effects in this particular study. The researchers were so amazed that they classified the black currant leaf extract as a potential supplementary and/or replacement strategy for current anti-influenza treatments.
Black currant’s action as an anti-viral agent is one more reason to include this species in your diet. Here in the United States, its distribution is more limited than dandelion’s. If you find it difficult to locate in the wild, you can purchase black currant leaf extracts from retailers.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Ginseng is a perennial plant found in North America and Asia. It is extensively used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an immunomodulator and adaptogen, and today it can be readily found in various forms (supplements, drinks, teas, etc.). While many people think of ginseng as an energizing tonic, it has also been shown to possess powerful anti-viral properties, especially against influenza type A virus.
In one particular study, researchers found that mice treated 6 hours in advance with a red ginseng extract (containing ginseng polysaccharides) survived lethal treatment of influenza virus (4). Mice that were not given the red ginseng extract all died or were euthanized by day 8, and displayed more severe weight loss than the former group. This was also shown in another subtype of influenza virus, where results were similar.
Because this study was done in mice, it’s difficult to say that the same results would apply in humans. But the researchers concluded that consumption of ginseng, along with its polysaccharides, would be beneficial to healthy individuals in preventing unexpected influenza infections.
Ginseng grows wildly in the Northern Hemisphere, although it may be difficult to locate. Many ginseng supplements are on the market (some much better than others), providing an alternate and easier way to acquire its medicine.
Ginseng, dandelion, and black currant all demonstrate potent anti-viral activity against influenza viruses. Even better, they perform their roles without any significant side effects. Remember, receiving the flu vaccine does not guarantee you anything. Many who get the vaccine, however, take no other actions to protect themselves against illness, thinking that immunity has been granted until next year’s shot.
What a poor strategy. It makes intuitive sense that a robust immune system would be necessary for protection against viruses, bacteria, toxins, etc. When there is hardly a push to get the public proactive in taking care of their health through proper diet, exercise, and other good lifestyle habits, no wonder people think that prevention equals vaccination.
What does a responsible adult do?
A responsible adult does the research. She examines the scientific literature and decides the best course of action for her and her family. She practices an immuno-supportive lifestyle, ingesting high quality foods and natural herbal medicines from her ecosystem. Because of this proactive lifestyle, the responsible adult puts her and her family’s health first, with no influence from the mainstream media. She knows that her family’s health is stronger than it ever has been without any help from conventional medicine, and because of this, she makes the most responsible decision.
My advice? Implement an immuno-protective strategy. Consume high quality foods and herbs. Practice that which supports a healthy mind and body. Do the research. Make an informed decision.
Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!
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