Treat your cold or flu with echinacea and elderberry—not Tamiflu

As your kids or grandkids go back to school, or you or family members head to a cramped, unhealthy office space, the sad truth is that you are going to be exposed to all kinds of viruses just waiting to make you sick.

Crowded, outdated public school classrooms are breeding grounds for communicable diseases. And they bring home a lot more than homework starting in September—including viruses that make the rounds from children to adults.

But the good news is that as soon as you find yourself coming down with a cold or flu, there are effective, scientifically proven natural approaches you can take.

For decades, there has been growing research on the ability of the herb echinacea (the Native American purple cornflower) to prevent or limit the severity and duration of colds or flu.

And now, new research shows that echinacea combined with extract from elderberries is just as effective as the expensive and dangerous drug Tamiflu for reducing or ending flu symptoms.1

Plus, people who take Tamiflu are over twice as likely to have their flu turn into pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinusitis than those who take echinacea and elderberry.

I wish I had known this when I was a young adult in medical training at the University of Pennsylvania—home to the nation’s oldest hospital and medical school. There was not much that could keep me and my colleagues down. But we all dreaded getting the “chop rot” from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHoP). Mysterious viruses would emerge from children cooped up in this hospital. And they could “chop” down a healthy young adult in the prime of life—at least for a few days.

Fortunately for those kids and my colleagues, Tamiflu wasn’t around then. As I wrote in a May 2014 Daily Dispatch (“The game is over for Roche and Tamiflu”), this drug has serious side effects. Not only nausea, vomiting, and headaches—which are bad enough—but also kidney disorders and psychiatric syndromes.

But thanks to this new research, we now know an echinacea/elderberry combo is just as effective as Tamiflu, with none of the worrisome side effects. Let’s take a look

How the flu flew away

Researchers in the Czech Republic recruited 473 people who had had influenza symptoms for less than 48 hours.  Each study participant was given either Tamiflu or a hot drink containing an echinacea extract supplemented with elderberry.

After one day, 2 percent  of the echinacea group and 4 percent of the Tamiflu group had mild or no flu symptoms. After five days, 50 percent of the echinacea group and 49 percent of the Tamiflu group were symptom free. And after 10 days, 90 percent of the echinacea group and 85 percent of the Tamiflu group had recovered.

Echinacea and elderberry was particularly impressive when it came to preventing more serious health issues. Seven percent of the Tamiflu group ended up getting pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, or gastrointestinal issues like nausea or vomiting. But only 3 percent of the echinacea group had these respiratory problems, and none of them suffered from the gastrointestinal issues.

While this study used a proprietary echinacea and elderberry blend from Europe, other studies indicate that a daily dose of echinacea tea spiked with elderberry extract is effective and makes a pleasant hot beverage. I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to recommend doses. Like many herbal infusions, just brew a concoction that tastes good and drink it often. The key is to start this process within 48 hours after your first cold or flu symptoms.

And remember not to take echinacea unless you are coming down with a cold or flu. Otherwise, you run the risk of chronically overstimulating your immune system. Which, ironically, could increase your susceptibility to colds and flu.

Other ways to fight colds and flu

Of course, most basically healthy people eventually recover from colds and flu without any treatment. But why be miserable any longer than you have to?

Bolster your immune system throughout the year, and you’ll make yourself much less susceptible to the viruses your family brings home from school or work.

A good approach is to take a good-quality B complex every day, along with 500 mg of vitamin C twice per day. And don’t forget daily doses of 10,000 IU of vitamin D , 400 mg of vitamin E, 200 mcg of selenium, and 35 mg of zinc—which you want to be taking anyway for their many brain and body benefits.

There is a lot of talk about high-dose vitamin C, but your body can only effectively make use of 500 mg at a time.

You can, however, really stock up on vitamin D. Some of my natural physician colleagues say from their personal and clinical experience, it’s best to take 20,000 IU of D per day when you feel you are coming down with a cold or flu. I’m not aware of any studies on that higher dose, however.

Finally, if you’re reading this on a touch screen, make sure you frequently wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. That’s a good idea in any circumstance, but particularly for touch screens, which are a great invention—for viruses and other diseases that are passed along by touching.



1“Echinaforce Hotdrink versus Oseltamivir in Influenza: A randomized, double-blind, double dummy, multicenter, non-inferiority clinical trial.”