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Every year, the flu causes up to 150,000 hospitalizations and 40,000 deaths in the United States. Although a flu vaccine is available, the flu virus mutates so quickly that it does not always work as well as doctors hope. Further, although prescription flu medications exist, they need to be taken at the first sign of infection to work well. However, you can boost your immune system to prevent and treat the flu. We have scoured scientific research and nutritional supplements to show you the top 6 best natural remedies.
What is the Flu?
Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory infection. A flu season occurs every year, with a flu virus that changes annually. Although the specific duration of the flu season can vary, it often starts in October and can end as late as May. Flu season often peaks between December and February.
The flu is mainly spread by tiny droplets in the air that pass between people when you cough, talk, or sneeze. These droplets can be so small that you might not even notice them. Once exposed to the flu, you start to develop symptoms within one to four days.
Flu symptoms include:
- Chills or fever
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Achy muscles or body
Although anyone can get the flu, certain groups are at higher risk of complications from the infection. These groups include people who:
- Are age 65 or older
- Are younger than 5 years old
- Have asthma
- Have diabetes
- Have heart disease
- Are pregnant
How is the Flu Treated?
If the flu is caught early, several prescription medications exist that can limit the severity of the flu or stop it from developing. However, most of the healing process will take place at home. Tips for fighting the flu at home include:
- Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration
- Rest and sleep as much as possible
- Eat chicken soup, which may help to clear congestion
- Consider over the counter pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (naproxen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) if your doctor says they are safe for you to use
If your flu symptoms worsen, it is important to seek medical help. The flu can cause other infections throughout your body that can be deadly. It can also worsen chronic illnesses like heart failure and diabetes, which can also have serious consequences. Seek emergency medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur:
- Coughing up blood
- Croup, a loud barking cough
- Problems breathing, or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Mental status changes or confusion
- Blue or purple lips or nails
- High fever, usually 103 F or higher for adults
- A fever or cough that will not go away
What are the Best Ways to Prevent the Flu?
You can take many steps to prevent the flu. While you cannot always control if you are around someone who is contagious, you can take precautions to lessen your chances of getting seriously ill. These steps include:
- Get the flu shot every year
- Stay away from sick people
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow
- Wash your hands often
- Use hand sanitizer if you do not have access to soap and water to wash your hands
Plant-Based Remedies that Fight the Flu
For centuries, people have used natural plant-based remedies to fight the flu and other respiratory diseases. Scientists have been able to analyze the plants and identify many of the chemicals that are thought to bring benefits against the flu. These chemicals include:
- Polyphenols: A diet rich in polyphenols has been found to protect against disease. Polyphenols derive from phenylalanine or shikimic acid. They protect the plant against infection, stress and radiation. While some polyphenols like quercetin are found in all plants, others are found in specific plants. They have antioxidant effects to help protect cells from damage.
- Flavonoids: These chemicals are one of the most well-studied groups of polyphenols. They are widely found in fruits and vegetables and have a potent antioxidant effect to prevent cell damage. Flavonoids also have anti-inflammatory properties. Further, they can increase cell enzyme function to protect against disease.
- Saponins: These compounds occur in many plants. Saponins have a variety of health effects in humans and can help to get rid of mucus in your lungs. They also work as immune boosters and anti-inflammatory agents. Saponins have properties that can kill both fungus and parasites, helping to protect the immune system.
- Glucosides: These substances, along with glycosides, are a way for plants to store chemicals. Their name refers to the type of chemical bond they form. Many different glucosides exist. Some have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects to protect cells from damage.
- Alkaloids: These chemicals refer to a large variety of plant-based chemicals that contain nitrogen. Some are used for their immune-boosting
A variety of herbs and supplements have been used as folk remedies for centuries and have been shown to fight the flu in small studies. Some of the best data support the use of supplements like:
- Garlic extract
- Yeast-based products
- North American ginseng
- Licorice root
- Seaweed extract
- Bai Shao (white peony root extract)
- Yeast-based formula to reduce respiratory symptoms and illness duration
- Probiotics and fermented formula to boost the immune system
- Echinacea and Vitamin C to fight the flu
- Does not require refrigeration to keep probiotic colonies alive
Why we love it: At the top of our list of the best natural flu remedies is Hyperbiotics Immune Daily Wellness Support. This product contains multiple compounds that fight the flu. Its formula is yeast-based, which has been linked to fewer respiratory symptoms and a shorter duration of flu illness. Further, its formula is also fermented, meaning that it contains extra probiotics. It contains more than 4 billion colony forming units, or CFU, of probiotics like L. Plantarum, B. infantis, L acidophilus, L. fermentum and S cerevisiae. Probiotics are thought to boost the immune system against the flu. Immune Daily Wellness Support also contains 100mg of echinacea, which has been found to have antiviral activity against the flu. The supplement also has 500mg of vitamin C, which has some, although weak, data linked to improved flu symptoms and shorter length of illness. The product also contains zinc, although this mineral has limited data supporting its use against the flu. Other substances are included, although they have less data supporting their use against the flu.
Immune Daily Wellness Support is vegetarian and dairy-free. However, it is not vegan or kosher. Although the formula is yeast-based, the product itself does not contain yeast. It is non-GMO and contains no soy, corn, sugar, nuts, artificial colors or flavors, or preservatives. The probiotics contained in the product do not require refrigeration.
The product comes as a tablet that is 3/4 of an inch long, and the dose is 2 tablets once daily. It is made in the USA in a GMP-certified facility, meaning that it complies with the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices. However, it does not carry an official label to that effect.
Amazon users generally like the product very much. Many users say they take it as needed during flu season with good results staying healthy. One criticism is that because the tablet is uncoated for best absorption, they can be hard for some people to swallow. However, the product still has a high user rating for ease of swallowing. In addition, the tablets can be cut or crushed for easier administration.
- Vitamin C, selenium, garlic, echinacea, elderberry and olive leaf to fight the flu
- Contains antiviral isatis leaf and root
- Available as both tablets and capsules
- Multiple other herbs and vitamins for general immune health
Why we love it: Next on our list of the best natural flu remedies is Wellness Formula Herbal Defense Complex. This product is chock full of flu-fighting agents. These include 1,300mg of Vitamin C, which has some, although weak, data suggesting it can improve flu symptoms and shorten the length of illness. It also contains 60mcg of selenium, which can boost the immune response to both the flu virus as well as the flu shot. The product also contains 360mg of garlic, which can lessen both the duration and severity of flu. In addition, it contains 270mg of echinacea, which has antiviral activity against the flu. Its 240mg of elderberry has also been shown to reduce flu symptoms. It further contains 100mg of olive leaf extract, which can boost the immune response and lessen how infective the flu is, shortening the length of disease. It also contains both isatis leaf and root, which have been shown to boost the immune system against viruses. The product contains many more herbs for general immune health, some with weak data against the flu specifically, like zinc.
Wellness Formula Herbal Defense Complex is available as both tablets and capsules, which both contain the same active ingredients. The dose is 3 tablets once daily, or 6 capsules once daily, so pill burden may be an issue for some people. Although the capsules are gelatin, it is unclear what the source of the gelatin is. The product is dairy-free, however does not claim to be vegetarian. Both the tablets and capsules contain soy.
Amazon users generally like this product very much. Many users state that they use this product during flu season with good effect on their immunity.
Includes eight of the most powerful immunity-boosting herbs
- Garlic, echinacea, elderberry, olive leaf, ginger to fight the flu
- Multiple other herbs to support immune function
- Organic product
Why we love it: Third on our list of the best natural flu remedies is the Warrior Organic Immunity Blend. This product contains 75mg of garlic, which can reduce the duration and ease the symptoms of flu. It has 40mg of echinacea, which works as an antiviral agent against the flu. It also has 75mg of elderberry which can reduce flu symptoms. The product also contains 60mg of olive leaf extract. This substance can improve immune response against the flu and lessen the flu’s infectiveness, shortening the duration of illness. The product also contains ginger, which has limited data supporting its use against the flu. However, ginger is thought to contain a substance called allicin which may boost the immune system against the flu. Other herbs are included, although many have less data against the flu.
The dose of Warrior Organic Immunity Blend is one capsule twice daily. However, the package labeling also states that users can take up to two capsules twice daily if they feel they need an extra immune boost. The product is vegan. The manufacturer says it is organic, although admits it is not certified organic. It contains no fillers, artificial colors or preservatives.
Amazon users give this product good ratings. Most users say that it helped them stay protected during flu season.
- Vitamin C, selenium, garlic, ginseng, olive leaf to fight flu
- Quercetin to fight infections
- Pomegranate to kill viruses
- Made in the United States
Why we love it: The next product on our list of the best natural flu remedies is Advanced Immune Support. This product contains 30mg of Vitamin C, which data shows may help flu symptoms and shorten the amount of time you are sick. It also contains 20mcg of chelated selenium, which can improve the immune system’s response to both the flu virus and the flu shot. Further, it contains 20mg of garlic, which can reduce the amount of time the flu lasts and improve flu symptoms. Advanced Immune Support also contains 20mg of Panax ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng. Although data is mixed on how well Korean ginseng works, some studies show it may lessen the duration, severity and frequency of flu symptoms. The supplement contains 50mg of quercetin, a polyphenol that protects against infection. It also contains 50mg of pomegranate, which has been shown to kill viruses and prevent them from reproducing. It also contains 50mg of olive leaf extract, which can boost the immune response to the flu and reduce its ability to infect, which shortens the duration of illness. It also contains other herbs and extracts with less data supporting their use against the flu.
The serving size is two capsules once daily, preferably with meals. It is made in the United States in a GMP compliant facility, however it does not carry an official label to that effect. The capsules are made from bovine gelatin, so it is not vegetarian or vegan.
Amazon users give this product high ratings for helping to keep a healthy immune system even when exposed to sick people.
Superfruit, herb and mushroom blend
- Vitamin C, selenium, garlic, ginseng, olive leaf extracts to keep the flu away
- Quercetin and pomegranate to prevent infections
- Made in the United States
- Official GMP product
Why we love it: Super Immune Support contains many compounds known to fight the flu. For this reason, it is next on our list of the best natural flu remedies.
Super Immune Support has 30mg of Vitamin C, which may improve flu symptoms and shorten the duration of illness. The product also has 20mcg of selenium, which may boost the immune system’s ability to respond to both the flu virus and the flu shot. The selenium is chelated for improved absorption. Further, the product contains 20mg of garlic, which may lessen how long the flu lasts and may also ease flu symptoms. The product also has 20mg of Panax ginseng, which may reduce the time course, severity and frequency of flu symptoms. It also contains 50mg of quercetin, a polyphenol that fights infections. Super Immune Support also has 50mg of pomegranate, which can kill viruses and also can stop them from replicating. The product also has 50mg of olive leaf extract, which can improve the immune system’s response to the flu. It can also reduce the flu’s infectiousness, which shortens the amount of time you are sick. The product also has other herbs and extracts, although many have less data showing that they work against the flu.
The product comes as capsules. The recommended dose is 2 capsules daily, with a meal if possible. Super Immune Support is made in a GMP compliant facility in the United States, and carries an official GMP label on the bottle. The capsules are made from bovine gelatin, so they are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. The product also contains soy.
Amazon users give this product high ratings for helping to boost their immune systems.
Why we love it: Quick Defense rounds out the list of our top 6 best natural flu remedies. The product contains 100mg of echinacea, which has been shown to be effective as an antiviral agent against the flu. It further contains 10mg of echinacea alkylamides, or alkamides, which are thought to be one of the active substances in echinacea which boost the immune system.
The product contains an herbal blend containing elderberry, which also can reduce flu symptoms. The herbal blend also contains ginger. Although ginger has limited data illustrating benefit against the flu, ginger contains a substance called allicin which is thought to help the immune system fight the flu. Other herbs are included in the herbal blend, although many have less data against the flu.
The product comes as vegan liquid capsules. The recommended dose is 2 capsules five times daily when symptoms start. The product can be taken for two days, however you can repeat it if you need an extra immune boost. Amazon users give this product high reviews and credit it with helping to boost their immune systems.
The ingredients for Quick Defense are grown on an organic farm in the United States, although the product itself is not certified organic.
The flu can be unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. However, keeping yourself healthy during flu season does not need to be hard. With a combination of precautions like getting a flu shot, hand-washing, and natural flu remedies, you can get through the flu season with a strong immune system.