The dreaded flu season is winding up in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere it’s only a few months away.
After a bout of particularly nasty flu viruses in the past year, people are now wondering what they can do to avoid being hit by the flu in the future.
Elderberries Effective Against Flu Strains, Research Shows
The flu isn’t fun for anyone and for those with immature or compromised immune systems, it can be deadly.
The Australian government is pushing to fast track flu vaccines, but people are wondering just how safe and effective they really are.
The recent flu season has taught us we can’t rely on a jab to prevent catching the flu – so what can we do?
A simple, natural and cost effective flu remedy is available but many people aren’t aware of it.
Read on to find out more.
What Is The Flu?
Influenza is commonly known as ‘the flu’. It is a highly contagious illness that affects the respiratory tract, including throat, nose, and lungs.
People often use the term ‘flu’ to describe a mild cold but the real flu is different. Flu symptoms last longer and are more severe than those of a common cold.
There are many hundreds of different strains of influenza virus. They are classified into three different categories:
- Influenza A: causes the more common illnesses in human beings. Influenza A viruses are broken down into H and N subtypes.
- Influenza B: is less common but still causes outbreaks of seasonal flu. Type B flu isn’t broken down into subtypes, but into individual strains.
- Influenza C: causes less severe symptoms than the other types.
Flu viruses are constantly changing and evolving, in a process called mutation. Because of mutations, people can experience flu-related illness every year, as the virus is different each time and their bodies have not developed immunity to the mutated virus.
Flu viruses are passed from person to person in the following ways:
- in airborne droplets (coughing, sneezing, talking)
- by personal contact (hugging, touching)
- in saliva (sharing drinks or kissing)
- by touching surfaces contaminated by viruses.
Once the virus has entered your body, it begins to spread. The typical incubation period for flu viruses is between 24 hours and four days after being exposed. You can begin to show symptoms during that time.
Unlike other common illnesses, which are only contagious just before and while symptoms are obvious, the flu virus can be contagious for 24 hours before symptoms appear.
Adults are most contagious from 24 hours before symptoms to 3-5 days afterwards. Children are contagious for far longer – up to 10 days or more. Those who have serious problems with their immune system can spread flu viruses for weeks and even months after getting the flu.
What Are The Symptoms Of The Flu?
Most people describe coming down with the flu as like being hit by a truck. One minute you feel fine, the next you’re knocked flat.
Flu symptoms are usually present for 2-7 days, and include:
- Coughing and sore throat
- Runny or congested nose
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Extreme fatigue
- Body aches and pains
These symptoms seem similar to those of the common cold. The difference is in the severity; flu symptoms are more intense.
Colds tend to start slowly and increase in severity, and don’t usually interfere with your daily life. Flu comes on very quickly and causes you to feel extremely unwell and unable to do anything.
When Is Flu More Active?
You can get the flu at any time of year, but flu viruses are more common during autumn and winter months. This is commonly known as the ‘flu season’.
In the Northern Hemisphere it is from November to April and in the Southern Hemisphere from May to October.
Contrary to what many people think, the colder weather does not cause the flu virus. Transmission of the virus happens via airborne droplets or contact with contaminated surfaces.
During the colder months, people are more likely to be cooped up together in overheated spaces; these conditions allow the virus to be spread more easily.
Commonly, Type A flu starts early in the season and Type B comes later. In the case of the recent flu season in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres, both strains were circulating at the same time, which created a more severe flu season than usual.
Is The Flu Dangerous?
Most people who contract the flu virus feel very unwell for several days. Flu can affect anyone, of any age, but certain groups of people are more at risk for complications of flu:
- Adults over the age of 65
- Pregnant women
- Children under the age of five, particularly younger than two years
- Those with serious medical conditions
- Those on immunosuppressive medications
- People who are morbidly obese.
Even otherwise healthy people can and do die from flu complications. This can happen for one of three reasons:
- Infection with another virus or bacteria (such as streptococcus) at the same time
- Aggravation of an existing health condition, such as asthma or heart disease
- Cytokine storm, which is an overwhelming immune response to infection.
The human immune system has lots of mechanisms to prevent infections, including cytokines. They trigger the body’s immune response, telling the body to make T-cells to start fighting infection.
T-cells are white blood cells that fight and kill infections. The symptoms you feel as the virus spreads are not caused by the virus itself, but by your body’s immune response to the virus.
In some people, the immune response goes into overdrive, causing damage to the cells in their bodies and unnecessary inflammation of the tissues. Those who die of the flu usually do so because of organ failure, which happens because there is less oxygen flowing through the body, causing organs to slow or shut down.
Can I Avoid Getting The Flu?
In today’s busy world, when people are feeling unwell, they are encouraged to push through it, and pharmaceutical companies churn out products to help them ‘soldier on’.
And because people can be contagious before their symptoms start, it’s likely you will be exposed to the flu virus at some point in your life.
For that reason, it makes sense to be proactive before the flu season starts. It’s better to get your immune system ready to fight off any potential invasion of viruses.
Looking after your immune system starts from within. Over 80% of your immune cells are in your gut. Taking care of your gut flora is critical to keeping your immune system in balance.
Eat a wholefoods diet, free of highly processed foods. Include plenty of prebiotics, the food that probiotics (good bacteria) need to survive.
Plenty of people swear by vitamin C, Echinacea, zinc and other supplements, which they take to boost their immune system.
But there is another natural remedy that has a long history of medicinal use, and research has shown it to be very effective against the flu.
It is the black elderberry (Sambucus Nigra).
Since the days of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, the black elderberry has been known as the ‘medicine chest’, because of its usefulness against a wide range of health problems.
How Does Elderberry Work Against Flu?
How can a simple, natural plant-based remedy be so effective against the flu? Science has given us the answer.
Elderberries are rich in flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that act to boost the immune system and protect cells from damage.
At the Federal Research Institute for Nutrition And Food, in Germany, black elderberry is being studied carefully. Dr Gerhard Rechkemmer is looking specifically at the antioxidants, called anthocyanins, that are found in the purple pigment of black elderberries.
Anthocyanins actually boost the production of cytokines, the messengers that trigger the immune system to start fighting infection.
Research worldwide has shown black elderberry to be effective in shortening the duration of both influenza Type A and Type B. Below are some research highlights:
- 1995 Zakay-Rones: a study conducted during an outbreak of influenza B in Panama showed 93% of cases treated with black elderberry compound showed significant improvement of symptoms. A complete cure occurred within 2-3 days in almost 90% of cases treated with the extract
- 2004 Zakay-Rones: when black elderberry extract is used within the first 48 hours of the appearance of flu symptoms, the duration of the symptoms is significantly shortened, by an average of four days. People taking the extract took fewer pain killers, compared with those in the placebo group.
- 2009 Kong : black elderberry flavonoids specifically bind to the H1N1 virus (swine flu). The researchers found people who were given an elderberry extract showed significant improvement within two days, compared with those who were given a placebo.
- 2016 Tiralongo et al: this study showed an elderberry supplement, taken from 10 days before travel until 4-5 days after arriving overseas, reduced the duration and severity of cold symptoms in air travellers.
How Can I Take Black Elderberry?
Black elderberry as folk medicine has been around for many years. Today, there are a number of products on the market, But they might contain ingredients or additives you wish to avoid.
Creating your own black elderberry syrup is an easy and cost effective way to boost your immune system and deal with any viruses in the next flu season. If you make your own syrup, you will have plenty on hand for family members as well.
Australian company Harriet Herbery has a recipe for a simple and effective black elderberry syrup which anyone can make at home:
- 1 cup black elderberries
- 3½ cups of water
- 2 tablespoons fresh or dried ginger root
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- 1 cup raw honey (source a local beekeeper for raw honey)
- Pour the water into a saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
- Bring to the boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the liquid has reduced by almost half.
- Remove from the heat and let the liquid cool enough so you can handle it.
- Mash the berries using a wooden spoon or other flat utensil. Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl.
- Discard the elderberries (we compost them) and let the liquid cool to lukewarm.
- When it has cooled down, add 1 cup of honey and stir well.
- When honey is well mixed in, pour the syrup into a mason jar and screw on the lid.
- Store in the fridge.
- Take syrup daily for its immune boosting properties.
- Standard dose is ½ to 1 teaspoon for children and ½ to 1 tablespoon for adults.
- If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day, until symptoms disappear.
To purchase organic black elderberries, check out Harriet Herberry’s online shop.
Another fantastic recipe comes from the Medical Medium blog:
- 3/4 cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups water
- 3/4 cup raw honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 whole star anise
- ¼ tsp whole cloves
Place the dried elderberries, spices and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook on medium-high for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until thick and reduced by half. Remove and cool completely. Strain the syrup into a bowl, pressing the juice out of the berries with a wooden spoon and discarding the whole spices. Whisk in the raw honey and pour into jars.
For health maintenance, enjoy 1 tablespoon per day. For assistance in recovering from a cold or flu, enjoy 1 tablespoon 3 times per day.
What About The Flu Vaccine?
Leading health organisations recommend flu vaccines as a means of prevention.
However, the recent severe flu season has shown how ineffective flu vaccines can be.
Flu viruses can evolve and mutate rapidly, which makes it difficult to develop effective vaccines against the strains in circulation.
The most dominant strain of flu virus responsible for the current flu season is H3N2. This strain is linked to severe complications of flu and there has been less exposure to it.
When a vaccine was being developed against H3H2, the virus mutated while it was being grown in chicken eggs. This means the vaccine is far less effective against the strain circulating among the population. In Australia, the vaccine’s efficacy was 10%; in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s thought to be about 30%.
Most health experts say flu vaccines have, at best, a 60% efficacy. This means even if you choose to have the flu vaccine for the current strain, you still have a very good chance of getting the flu, even if the vaccine virus isn’t complicated by mutations. Flu vaccines take about a week or two to be considered effective, so people who receive the vaccine are still at risk of being exposed to the flu.
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