Flu Shot Herbal Alternatives
Chinese Herbs & Supplements, Self-Care

Beyond the flu shot: Herbal medicine remedies to help prevent cold and flu

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Flu shots: A sure thing?

It can feel rather devastating to learn the flu shot was only 42% effective in preventing any A or B viral infection in people of all ages, last 2016-2017 season. Children aged 6 mo to 8 yrs did best with the shot, with 61% efficacy. For folks over 65, the flu shot came in at only 25% effective. It’s understandable that people question whether or not to get the shot. I don’t plan on telling you here what to do; so don’t read on for the answer to that question! I do, however, hope to introduce you to more options available to you as you move forward into winter, and the impending cold and flu season.

My Top 3 Herbal Remedies for Preventing Colds and Flu


In a 2011 study, Elderberry was shown to inhibit the replication of influenza A and B viruses. It also demonstrated antimicrobial effects against Strep. Even after one’s caught a bug, Elderberry still works to shorten the cold’s duration and symptoms. The great news, researchers found no unwanted side effects after 12 weeks of a 500mg/d daily dose. Yay!! I admit this is one of my go-tos for a daily boost. In short:

  • Use as a preventative at least 10 days before the season or travel (and up to 5 days after traveling)
  • Use throughout cold/flu to limit duration/symptoms
  • Consider making your own syrup to save some money

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For us Chinese herbalists, it’s not common to prescribe a single herb; it’s more common that we prescribe a formula. One of our most famous formulas for preventing cold and flu (which contains Astragalus) is Yu Ping Feng San, aka Jade Screen Formula. This formula has been shown to prevent viral infections (including even SARS) and enhance cellular immunity. These are also easy to transport and swallow (~5mm in size). In short:

  • Use as a preventative at least 10 days before the season or travel (and up to 5 days after traveling)
  • If cold/flu symptoms present, switch to a different formula
  • Caution with headaches; best to have an assessment before using if you are prone to these

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Medicinal Mushrooms

A number of medicinal mushrooms have been shown to demonstrate anti-viral effects. So, similarly, you’ll find these best serve when taken in a formula, such as Stamets’ MyCommunity or Stamets 7. In an ideal world, combine it with Elderberry for a daily tonic. In short:

  • Use as a daily preventative
  • Use throughout cold/flu to shorten duration
  • Caution with low blood sugar/pressure; avoid if you have a mushroom allergy 🙂
Acetaminophen Risk
Chinese Herbs & Supplements

Cold/Flu Season Warning: Limit Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Use

During cold and flu season limit acetaminophen (tylenol) use

The Problem with Tylenol

A lot of folks have been coming down with the flu lately, so it’s a good time to remember all good things in moderation. Acetaminophen is in “more than 600 medications, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC)“– medications treating everything from pain to allergy, cough, cold, flu, and sleeplessness. At lower doses, Tylenol can be helpful for treating symptoms in both children and adults. However, in higher amounts, acetaminophen is known to cause severe liver damage (see signs and implications below).

Safe Dosing

The FDA recommends an adult dosing at no more than 325 mg per dosage; with a daily cap of 4000 mg. In this case, dosage does not refer to the label of a product, but the total amount consumed. This becomes particularly important for folks who take prescription pain medication containing acetaminophen, such as Percocet or Vicodin, who have come down with a cold or flu and are accustomed to reaching for a product like Dayquil. Equally common would be someone who takes the OTC pain reliever Excedrin who might be considering taking Robitussin Cold and Flu or Benadryl Allergy and Cold.

To learn more about dosing for young ones, consider reading: “Know Concentration Before Giving Acetaminophen to Infants,” and “Acetaminophen – It’s Important to Give the Correct Dose to our Children.”

Cold and Flu: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Use

Products Containing Acetaminophen

Even if you’re not sure what you’re taking contains acetaminophen, it’s very much worth double-checking the label– whether or not your medication is prescription. For a short list of some of the most common acetaminophen-containing OTC and prescriptions, visit KnowYourDose.org.

Signs and Implications of Liver Damage

Liver damage from excess Tylenol intake is nothing to scoff at. The damage can be permanent, and it can also result in liver failure or death over the course of several days. What’s more, “[y]ou may not notice the signs and symptoms of liver damage right away because they take time to appear. Or, you may mistake early symptoms of liver damage (for example, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting) for something else, like the flu.” Want to test your liver knowledge? Take a quiz.

Natural Medicine Alternatives

Not sure if you remember, but when SARS broke out just over a decade ago, conventional medicine turned to the aid of Chinese herbal medicine. They found that using Chinese herbs as an adjunctive therapy resulted in “better control of fever, quicker clearance of chest infection, lesser consumption of steroids and other symptoms relief.” While herbal treatment may not always mask all symptoms during the healing process, side effects tend to be few and far between. Between Chinese herbs, Western herbs and homeopathy, there are a wide array of natural options for treating cold and flu available to consumers. (Additionally, if you haven’t read already acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are also excellent at regulating pain.)

Preventative Measures

Maintaining a healthy gut is key to maintaining health. Eating fermented foods regularly and/or taking a higher dose probiotic a few months before cold season starts can often reduce the duration and severity of colds. Dr. Mercola, alternative medicine proponent and osteopathic physician, also reports that supplementing Vitamin D can “cut your flu risk nearly in half.” The cheapest thing (and yet often so challenging for folks!) you can do is get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and keep your stress levels down. Eat well and exercise.

It goes without saying, acupuncture and Reiki are excellent ways to help keep the body and mind supported both before, during, and after illness. Concerned about your regimen and ready to be proactive? Make an appointment today!