10 Natural Flu Remedies Besides Chicken Noodle Soup
Flu season can knock anyone out of commission. Using these natural and home remedies may help you get better quicker.
Making the flu less miserable
When flu symptoms hit, all anyone can think is please let this end soon. While there’s little you can do to shorten the time you’re sick (Tamiflu is one option), some natural foods and techniques may help ease your suffering. Here are some that experts recommend—and some they’re not so keen on.
The name ginseng actually applies to a variety of herbs including Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Ginseng root has been used for centuries to treat a number of health concerns, including to boost immune function and for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. “Taking ginseng can prevent the flu, but it does not treat the illness once a person has it,” says Catherine Uram, MD, a physician specializing in integrative medicine. Ginseng is available in whole root, extract, powder, tablet, capsule, and tea form. And make sure you never ignore these 6 common flu symptoms.
Drink hydrating liquids
The flu leaves you extremely dehydrated for a couple of reasons: “Influenza often causes a runny nose which can cause fluid losses,” says Randy Horwitz, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and medical director at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, AZ. “Flu often causes a fever and even excessive sweating, which differentiates it from a common cold, causing fluid losses.” Make sure to drink as much as you can to help cure the flu quickly. Feel free to drink water, juices, and electrolyte drinks. Hot liquids are especially beneficial as natural flu remedies because the humidity helps with congestion. A common natural flu remedy is hot water with lemon and honey.
Elderberries—the dried berries of the European Elder tree—deliver vitamins A, B, and C and may stimulate the immune system. This natural flu remedy is believed to help speed up recovery and prevent the flu but the evidence isn’t strong, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (A study published in 2016 in the journal Nutrients, however, suggests taking elderberry supplements can reduce cold symptoms and duration.) “Elderberry extracts have been shown to decrease the duration of flu infection—it does the same for many upper respiratory infections,” says Dr. Horwitz, who recommends taking it as a syrup, extract, or lozenge. Elderberry soup can be found in many health food stores and online.
Apple cider vinegar
People often tout apple cider vinegar as a natural flu remedy when mixed with water and taken every three hours (one tablespoon in 8 ounces of water). That’s because the vinegar is believed to have “antibacterial and antiviral properties, and be useful for sore throat,” says Dr. Horwitz. But he isn’t among the believers. “Although used by several of my patients—I don’t use this much,” he says. Don’t miss these 8 things that could be making your flu shot less effective.
Ginger, often used as a dietary supplement for post-surgery nausea and nausea caused by motion sickness or pregnancy, may help alleviate flu-related nausea, reports the NCCIH. Common forms of ginger include the fresh or dried root, tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, and teas.
“Honey has been shown in studies to be effective at relieving a cough and sore throat,” says Dr. Horwitz. One review of studies published in 2017 in the journal Pharmacognosy Research shows that honey’s antibacterial and antimicrobial properties make it an effective treatment for a wide range of conditions. Apart from its powers to soothe a scratchy throat, however, “honey has not been shown to be specifically effective against the flu,” notes Dr. Horwitz. Check out the 20 things the flu virus doesn’t want you to know.
Proponents say that this homeopathic remedy may help with flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever, headaches, chills, and fatigue. A review of studies published in 2015 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, however, found insufficient evidence supporting Oscillococcinum as a treatment for the flu. However, the researchers found no harm in taking the supplement. “Although it is safe and widely used, I tend to use other treatments preferentially,” says Dr. Horwitz.
Olive leaf extract
The phytochemical oleuropein, the main component of olive leaf extract, contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antiviral properties, according to a review of studies published in 2017 in the journal Oncotarget. That combination suggests it offers health benefits that can guard against the flu. Take an olive leaf extract supplement (just make sure it contains oleuropein) or drink olive leaf tea.
Since probiotics keep your gut healthy, they can also help boost your immune system. A study published in 2018 in Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology showed that consuming probiotics can help fight the common cold and flu-like respiratory infections by boosting the body’s defense system. Look for yogurt that has both the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species of bacteria. Stay away from these foods that could make your cold or flu worse.
Listen to your body when you have the flu. Rest and take it easy. If you’re feeling up to it and don’t have a fever, light exercise can help clear respiratory mucus. To avoid getting the flu in the first place, maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Eat healthy foods, focusing on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, wash your hands often, and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Don’t miss these 14 other surprising things you shouldn’t do if you have the flu.
- Catherine Uram, MD, a physician specializing in integrative medicine in Tucson, Arizona.
- Randy Horwitz, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and medical director at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, Arizona.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Flu Symptoms & Complications"
- Nutrients: "Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Ginger"
- Pharmacognosy Research: "Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Homeopathic Oscillococcinum® for preventing and treating influenza and influenza‐like illness"
- Oncotarget: "Oleuropein, unexpected benefits!"
- Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology: "Prospective study of probiotic supplementation results in immune stimulation and improvement of upper respiratory infection rate"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Wash Your Hands"