- (WebMD) -- bInfluenza -- the flu, for short -- can knock
you out with its aches, pains, chills and fever. People want fast relief
when it hits, and many reach for alternative treatments. Two popular ones
are oscillococcinum, a homeopathic flu remedy, and Sambucol, an herbal
treatment made from elderberry extract.
- While neither of these alternative remedies meets U.S.
Food and Drug Administration standards, studies on oscillococcinum have
been encouraging. Sambucol has also looked promising in preliminary investigations.
- Oscillococcinum is the number one over-the-counter flu
medication in France, where it has been used for over 60 years. The medication,
a dilute extract of duck liver and heart, comes in granule form. It's believed
to indirectly stimulate the body's immune system and other defenses, according
to pharmacist Christophe Merville, west coast branch manager of Boiron,
a French manufacturer of homeopathic remedies.
- A study in the April 1998 issue of the British Homeopathic
Journal reported that 17.4 percent of those taking oscillococcinum were
symptom-free the day after treatment began, compared to 6.6 percent of
those taking placebos. In a similar study published in the March 1989 issue
of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 24.6 percent of those
with mild to moderate symptoms had recovered by the second day, compared
to 11.9 percent of those taking placebos. No significant side effects were
found in either study.
- Homeopathic remedies work quickly, says Merville, and
you should see an improvement in your symptoms within 48 hours. If not,
you're taking the wrong extract for your condition. Merville also says
you can take oscillococcinum with over-the-counter preparations, prescription
medications or other natural remedies without worrying about drug interactions.
- Elderberry extract
- Elderberry extract contains a high percentage of three
flavonoids -- naturally occurring plant substances -- that have been shown
to possess antiviral properties. A study published in the winter 1995 issue
of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the flu-fighting
abilities of Sambucol, a commercial elderberry extract preparation.
- In the study, scientists found that Sambucol interfered
with the growth of multiple strains of both influenza A and B viruses in
cell cultures. In human tests, 35 healthy subjects were given four tablespoons
of Sambucol daily for three days, and researchers recorded no side effects.
Twenty-seven subjects were then given either Sambucol or a placebo for
three days during a flu outbreak at an Israeli kibbutz. Children took two
tablespoons daily and adults took four. None of the study participants
had received a flu shot.
- Fully 90 percent of those taking Sambucol were completely
cured within three days, while most of those who took the placebo needed
six days to recover.
- There haven't been enough studies to confirm Sambucol's
effectiveness, though. And it's still a good idea to check with your doctor
about possible drug interactions.
- New conventional treatments
- Until recently, the flu vaccine was the only drug approved
by the FDA for use against the influenza A and B viruses. But two new treatments
have recently been approved, the first ones in 30 years. When taken within
48 hours of the first symptoms, these two new antivirals -- zanamivir (sold
under the brand name Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu) -- have been shown
to reduce the length of illness caused by both type A and type B viruses.
Zanamivir also appears to cause no significant side effects.
- But many people aren't ready to toss out their alternative
remedies yet. Unlike zanamivir and oseltamivir, you can get oscillococcinum
and Sambucol at your local health food stores without a prescription.
- "I have no problem at all with people taking these
things, provided that they are not materials with significant side effect
risks," says Robert B. Couch, M.D., professor of medicine at the Baylor
College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Couch strongly recommends the flu
vaccine, however, especially for the elderly and those with heart, lung
or kidney disease, diabetes or a compromised immune system.
- With these advances on both the alternative and conventional
fronts, it's clear the flu now has some strong competition.
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