In this article, I will first describe the flu disease process and the conventional medical treatment of the disorder, including vaccination. Then, I begin my presentation of various alternative, natural therapeutic options with a focus upon quercetin, onions, star anise and manuka honey, and provide instructions for a unique, easy-to-prepare homemade medicine.
This third article of a series of articles about the flu begins my discussion concerning relevant natural therapies. With public trepidation about a potential swine flu epidemic heating up again, this series is both relevant and timely.
If you missed one or both of the first two articles and would like to read them, click on the following links:
Germ Theory: The Traditional Naturopathic Perspective – Part I
Germ Theory: The Traditional Naturopathic Perspective – Part II
In this and the next few issues of Nature’s Therapies, I will present a variety of unique natural therapeutic options that may prove of good service in addressing prevention, and the symptoms, of the flu.
What is the Flu?
Influenza, or “flu,” is a contagious viral illness that often occurs in an epidemic pattern. Usually spread via small-particle aerosols projected by coughing, sneezing and even talking, it is characterized by an abrupt onset of fever, chills, weakness, sore throat, dry cough and coughing fits (which cause pain beneath the breastbone), nasal stuffiness and discharge, muscle aches (especially of the arms and legs), headache, and occasionally, abdominal pain and nausea.
The fever may last from 1 to 7 days but typically lasts 3 to 5 days. The viral infection causes swelling and inflammation of the lining of the respiratory tract, predisposing it to secondary bacterial infection. In turn, the enzymes produced by the harmful bacteria activate more flu virus.
Common complications of influenza include acute bronchitis, acute sinusitis, bacterial pneumonia (the most common complication), and middle ear infection. The elderly and chronically ill are at particular risk for developing complications. These individuals can be so weakened by flu that their defenses against disease-causing bacteria become dangerously low.
Reye’s Syndrome, a severe complication of flu and other viral illnesses (particularly in young children), is characterized by possible liver failure and brain damage, and has been associated with the use of aspirin during the course of treatment.
Conventional Medical Treatment Of The Flu
Conventional treatment for the common cold and influenza are quite similar and may include: acetaminophen or non-aspirin NSAID for fever and headache; decongestants such as pseudoephedrine for stuffy nose; warm salt water gargle and humidifier treatment for sore throat; cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan.
Antibiotics (which are ineffective in treating viral infections) are prescribed only when bacterial complications are present. The flu patient is also advised to curb activities for the 2 to 5 days of severest illness.
As concern about the swine flu is ratcheting up again, there is a lot of discussion about a vaccine. Of course, whether or not to opt for being vaccinated is a personal choice. However, it is important in this reference that your decision be an informed one that thoroughly examines the risk-to-benefit ratio.
Vaccines are controversial drugs because whatever good they may offer is counterbalanced by a significant level of risk. In order to reassure a jittery public, the medical establishment and the media downplay the risk. But there is no denying that the injection of pathogenic microorganisms deeply into the tissues of the body in order to elicit microbe-specific immunity has no precedent in nature. Disease is most often the product of the violation of the Laws of Nature. Violation of the Laws of Nature is only one of the reasons why vaccination can potentially exert destructive action within the body.
The active ingredient in a flu vaccine is either killed viruses or weakened live ones. Additionally, vaccines can contain chemical toxins such as formaldehyde, carbolic acid, ethylene glycol (the main constituent of antifreeze) and certain antibiotics.
This time around, the risk may be even greater as the manufacturers are exploring the possibility of adding an adjuvant made of various forms of aluminum (including aluminum hydroxide) to the swine flu vaccine. Ostensibly, the adjuvant is added to increase the vaccine’s effectiveness (by stimulating immunological hyper-reaction to the organism being introduced), but it is also included to stretch the available supply of the vaccine by reducing the amount of vaccine required to treat each person.
While adjuvants increase the risk of harmful side-effects from the vaccine, this increased risk is deemed acceptable by drug companies and public health officials seeking to maximize the number of vaccine doses available for a mass vaccination campaign.
Aluminum build-up in tissues has been associated with a variety of chronic disorders including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, osteoporosis, decreased liver and kidney function, anemia, headaches and extreme nervousness.
Aluminum can cause nerve cell death and aluminum adjuvants can help facilitate aluminum’s deposition in brain tissue. Normally, the blood-brain barrier protects the brains by filtering the blood before it reaches it. While elemental aluminum does not easily pass through the blood-brain barrier, various aluminum compounds do.
Aluminum hydroxide specifically may cause vaccine allergy, anaphylaxis, and a chronic inflammation syndrome called macrophage myofascitis. Cats injected experimentally with aluminum hydroxide often develop at the site of injection malignant tumors derived from fibrous connective tissue called fibrosarcomas.
Most flu vaccines also contain about 25 micrograms of a preservative called thimerosal. By weight, mercury constitutes 49.6 percent of thimerosal, which is metabolized or degraded into ethylmercury and thiosalicylate.
Thimerosal is actually far more toxic than mercury itself and can cause long-term immune, sensory, neurological, motor, and behavioral dysfunctions. This mercury preservative (anecdotally associated with autism by many observers) may also be a factor in attention deficit disorder, speech and language deficiencies and multiple sclerosis.
Natural Therapeutic Options
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of natural therapeutic options regarding the prevention and treatment of the flu. I have decided to begin my discussion of these with quercetin because it is one that is not widely discussed and provides the opportunity to present instructions for an easy-to-prepare homemade syrup.
Quercetin is a flavonoid and a building block for other flavonoids (a class of water-soluble plant pigments) which has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory action (inhibits the activity of histamine and other allergic/inflammatory mediators) and antioxidant action (combats free radicals).
Some studies have suggested that quercetin may play a role in cancer prevention. It is notable that quercetin is found only in plant-derived foods, and diets high in fruits and vegetables have been associated with reduction in cancer incidence. Quercetin is also considered to be a phytoestrogen (a plant biochemical which functions similarly to estrogen).
Quercetin may also prove useful in the prevention and treatment of: allergies, asthma, bronchitis, cataracts, chronic fatigue (by encouraging the production of mitochondria: the organelle within each cell responsible for the production of the energy compound ATP), gout (may help reduce the production of uric acid), heart disease (may help prevent the oxidation of LDL: “bad” cholesterol, hypertension, chronic prostatitis and interstitial cystitis.
Importantly, quercetin has been shown to reduce the risk of flu in experimental studies with mice. A higher consumption of quercetin has also been linked with lowered incidence of the common cold. Considering this evidence of quercetin’s protective influence regarding infectious viral diseases, University of South Carolina researcher J. Mark Davis, PhD suggests a high consumption of quercetin-rich foods. In this reference, he considers the best quercetin source to be red onions as these contain four-times as much quercetin as does most other produce.
Good sources of quercetin include: apples, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, capers, cauliflower, cherries, citrus fruit, green tea, red grapes, leafy green vegetables, lovage, onions (especially red onion where the highest concentrations of quercetin occur in the outermost rings), raspberries, tomatoes.
Organically grown fruits, vegetables, etc. contain more of this valuable flavonoid. One study found that organically grown tomatoes contain 79% more quercetin than non-organic tomatoes.
Based upon all the positive research, quercetin supplements are quite popular. However, isolated quercetin is poorly absorbed and utilized, with much of it metabolized into non-active phenolic acids or simply excreted.
Nutrients are always better absorbed from whole foods than they are as isolated moieties.
In whole foods, nutrients never occur in isolation, but rather, in conjunction with a host of other synergistic nutrients which enhance their absorption and utilization. Thus, it is my feeling that if one wants to load up on quercetin, the best way to do that is to ingest high-quercetin foods such as organic red onions. In addition to adding them to salads or steamed vegetables, the traditional herbal preparation presented below may prove of good service.
Medicinal Value Of Onions
Before presenting the recipe for onion syrup, it is worthwhile to take a brief look at the medicinal value of onions.
The onion (Allium cepa), like its close relative garlic, is a member of the lily family. Both onion and garlic are rich in thiosulfinates, sulfides, sulfoxides, and other sulfur compounds. The thiosulfinates exhibit anti-microbial properties that underlie onion’s effectiveness against a wide spectrum of pathogenic bacteria, including Bacillus subtilis, salmonella, and E. coli.
Onions have been used for centuries as a medicinal agent. Early American settlers used wild onions to treat asthma, colds and coughs. Onions can be used to reduce bronchial spasms, and an onion extract has been shown to decrease allergy-induced bronchial constriction in asthma patients. In Chinese medicine, onions are used to treat coughs, bacterial infections, and respiratory problems (as well as angina).
Additionally, onions are a very rich source of a type of fructo-oligosaccharide, which not only stimulates the growth of probiotic colon bacterial species and suppresses the growth of potentially pathogenic colon bacterial species, it can also reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Onions, like garlic, contain sulfides (which help reduce blood fats and blood pressure) as well as anti-clotting agents that can inhibit platelet-clumping. The sulfides in onions have anti-tumor properties. In the area of Georgia where Vidalia onions are grown, mortality rates from stomach cancer are one-half the average rate for the United States in general. One study found that, among elderly people in the Netherlands, those with the highest onion consumption (at least one-half onion per day) had one-half the level of stomach cancer of those who did not consume any onions.
Apparently, the less pungent, milder, sweet onion varieties are less effective as medicinal agents. Stronger onions such as the Western Yellow and Northern Red varieties have the richest content of flavonoids and phenolics, and thus, exert a much higher level of antioxidant and anti-proliferative activity.
Star anise (Illicium vernum) is a star-shaped, reddish brown fruit native to Southeast Asia where it is used as a traditional tasty spice. Star anise’s flavor resembles ordinary anise seed (to which it is not related), however, it is the star-shaped seedpods, rather than the seeds themselves, which provide star anise’s flavor.
Star anise is considered to be anti-bacterial, diuretic and stomachic. It aids digestion and is used to treat rheumatism. In China, star anise has traditionally been used to treat the common cold and other viral diseases.
This herb contains shikimic acid, a chemical compound used in the production of the anti- flu drug Tamiflu. While shikimic acid itself does not exert antiviral activity, it has a distinctive chemical structure that serves as the starting point in the production of Tamiflu.
Tamiflu, a neuraminidase inhibitor, does not directly destroy swine flu or other influenza viruses. Rather, it inhibits the spread of these viruses within the body by blocking a protein that facilitates the egress of replicating viral particles from body cells. Other herbal sources of shikimic acid include ginger and fennel.
Star anise also contains linalool, a chemical compound that does exert antiviral activity. The herb also exerts a strong antioxidant action that specifically helps limit the deposition of cholesterol in arterial walls via inhibition of the oxidation of fatty acids. Limonene, another phytonutrient found in star anise, exerts anti-cancer activity.
If you cannot find star anise (although it is a common herb, there may be a shortage of it during the flu season), substitute common anise seed (Pimpinella anisum). As noted, the anise seed and star anise plants are unrelated botanically. Anise seed is a member of the parsley family and native to the Eastern Mediterranean. Anethole is the biochemical that accounts for its distinctive sweet-licorice taste. Like anise seed, star anise’s flavor also derives primarily from anethole. Both anise seed and essential oil of anise seed are noted as being of value in the treatment of influenza. The essential oil is also used to treat the following relevant symptoms: general fatigue, chilliness, sluggish circulation, common cold, vertigo, asthma, bronchial spasm, cough and difficulty breathing.
Manuka honey is a monofloral honey (nectar is derived from only one species of flower). It is produced in New Zealand by bees that feed on the flowers of the manuka plant, a close relative of the Australian tea tree.
A study by the University of Queensland, Australia indicated the presence of quercetin in honey derived from tea tree flowers. For hundreds of years, the tea tree was a source of medicinal remedies for the Australian Aborigines. For instance, they used the crushed leaves to treat cuts and skin infections. In 1923, an Australian government scientist discovered that the tea tree oil was twelve times stronger as an antiseptic bactericide than carbolic acid.
Tea tree oil is active against bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. It is a powerful immuno-stimulant that activates white blood cells and otherwise increases the body’s ability to respond to microbial challenges. Importantly, tea tree dissolves pus without damaging healthy tissues (when properly diluted), thus leaving the surface of an infected wound clean and allowing the oil’s germicidal action to proceed more effectively. Most pharmaceutical germicides destroy healthy tissue as well as bacteria.
Manuka honey (a dark-colored honey with a flavor reminiscent of tea tree oil) combines some of the healing actions of the tea tree with the naturally antibacterial properties of honey. Manuka honey can be used in wound-dressings to prevent infection. In general, honey is a natural antiseptic that speeds healing while helping to seal a wound from exposure to new infection. Manuka honey exerts antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.
Manuka honey is commonly referred to as UMF honey. Honey’s sugars give rise to the disinfectant: hydrogen peroxide. Manuka honey additionally contains an antibacterial component known as the “Unique Manuka Factor.” A UMF rating system has been developed to compare each manuka honey with standard disinfectants. The Unique Manuka Factor is unaffected by enzymes in the body that destroy hydrogen peroxide. Manuka honey also destroys bacteria by drawing water out of bacterial cells, thus making it impossible for them to survive.
Manuka honey appears to be effective against some strains of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that occur in hospitals. Wound-dressings containing manuka honey have proven successful in treating life-threatening infections involving hard-to-kill bacteria such as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus–a super staph infection) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus–a bacteria that causes severe intestinal infections).
Influenza is a viral illness, and although manuka honey does exert an anti-viral action, it is primarily noted for its anti-bacterial properties. However, as discussed above, common bacterial infection complications of influenza include acute bronchitis, acute sinusitis, bacterial pneumonia (the most common complication) and middle ear infection. The elderly and chronically ill are at particular risk for developing complications. These individuals can be so weakened by flu that their defenses against disease-causing bacteria become dangerously low.
Red Onion/Star Anise/Manuka Honey Syrup
Since the 1980s, I have been preparing garlic syrup (a traditional herbal medicine) using a method I developed and refined over the years. In this case, I am adapting that methodology to prepare a potent red onion/star anise/manuka honey syrup that may prove of value in enhancing one’s resistance to flu infection.
As you will see, the instructions are relatively simple.
- Peel and finely mince sufficient red onion (organically grown red onion is preferable) to fill half of a quart mason jar.
- Place 2 Tbsp. of ground star anise (if you cannot find star-anise, substitute anise seed, ground) in a stainless steel or glass cooking pot.
- Bring to a boil: 24 oz. of unfiltered apple cider vinegar (make sure it is unfiltered, not refined, apple cider vinegar).
- Next, pour the hot vinegar over the star anise and cover the pot. Let steep for 30 minutes.
- Now, pour the vinegar/star anise mixture over the minced onions in the quart mason jar. The level of liquid should be above the level of onion. If not, add enough vinegar to be above onion.
- Screw the mason jar lid on tightly and shake well. Store in a cool, dark place for 5 days, shaking the jar for about 30 seconds twice daily.
- Next, add a sufficient amount of vegetable glycerine (glycerine will extract certain herbal components that may not diffuse into the vinegar) to raise the level of the mixture in the jar about 2 to 3 inches. Let stand for 2 more days, shaking the jar twice daily as before. Now, using a fine strainer, strain the liquid from the pulp.
- Place the onion and star anise pulp on a square of cheesecloth. Fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the pulp and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Mix this rich liquid from pulp with the liquid that was previously strained off.
- Measure the total amount of liquid you have recovered. Add one-third that amount of raw, unfiltered manuka honey to the strained liquid, and stir until it is thoroughly blended in. (You can substitute other types of raw honey, but Manuka honey is preferred).
- Pour syrup into jars, seal tightly and store in the refrigerator.
Suggested Use (primarily as protection against flu):
Adults and children 12 years and older: Add 1 dessert spoonful to 6 oz. pure water, 2 to 3 times daily between meals.
Children: 2 to 11 years old: 1/2 of the above adult dose.
As an option, if you would like to add a little natural vitamin C, squeeze 1/2 tsp. of fresh lemon juice into each dose of the diluted syrup.
- Diabetics or individuals with hypoglycemia should avoid honey, and thus, this syrup.
- Just to be cautious, I am suggesting that, as this syrup preparation contains honey, it not be used with children under 2 years old. However, the general rule is not to use honey with children under 12 months old as it may cause infant botulism.*
*Infant botulism is caused by the ingestion of Clostridium spores commonly found in honey or corn syrup. Bees, corn, and sugar cane pick up spores from soil. Due to the high sugar content of these sweeteners, the spores do not germinate and develop into bacteria. Because the environmental conditions in the adult gut are not suitable for germination, Clostridium spores remain spores and are excreted without causing any harm. But the different environmental conditions within an infant’s stomach are ideal for Clostridia to develop. Thus, the rule: Never feed an infant under 12 months of age honey, corn syrup, or other sweeteners.