Ask the Insider: Another natural flu-fighter worth considering

I have been practicing integrative medicine since 1982. I was disappointed that you did not include elderberry extract (sambucus, Sambucol, etc.) in your May Daily Dispatch article about the ineffectiveness of Tamiflu—especially since elderberry has been scientifically studied in Israel and has been shown to be effective against influenza. You did mention vitamin C, echinacea, and goldenseal, but none of these fight influenza as well as elderberry. I hope you will include information about elderberry for flu in a subsequent newsletter.

Dr. Micozzi: Thank you for contacting me, Dr. Howard. I am glad to know you have been practicing integrative medicine for over three decades, and I’m honored that you are a reader.

In my recent dispatches about the scandal surrounding Tamiflu, I primarily wanted to remind readers about some of the most-researched and commonly available natural alternatives. We are finding that many nutrients and herbs are effective against viruses,  including immune-modulating omega-3 fatty acids in high-quality fish oils. I will give more details about these compounds in future newsletters.

I am not aware of comparative data showing that elderberry works better than Vitamin C, Echinacea and/or goldenseal—alone or in combination.

In the meantime, I do agree that flu remedies derived from elder trees and shrubs  are certainly worthy of consideration. Elder has been used for medicinal purposes as far back as the ancient Romans (although the word “elder “comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld, meaning fire, because the hollow twigs were used to blow sparks into flame). In Old English and early Christian tradition, elder was believed to be the wood of the holy cross. But even before Christianity, cutting the wood was forbidden without asking permission of the “elder mother” spirit who lived in the tree.

Elder berries can be made into extracts and syrups that support the immune system and soothe coughs and flu. They can also be mixed with other medicinal ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger, honey, lemon, peppermint, or yarrow. Elder leaves are poisonous, however, and the berries should not be eaten raw.

Of course, the latest call from the CDC is still to use fewer antibiotics and more antiviral drugs to treat influenza, despite the scandal surrounding the antiviral Tamiflu. Not a word about natural alternatives from them.