A number of medical studies have been done since the last seasonal outbreak in 2013 that support natural supplementation with food as prevention against influenza. These studies are all the more important as outbreaks are being reported in several major U.S. cities, as well as in China, Taiwan, Mexico, and Ireland. When used in conjunction with other preventative measures such as the flu vaccine, natural supplementation has been shown to provide immune system support can be preventative or reduce the severity of infection.
Complications from influenza lead to hospitalization for more than 200,000 Americans. Globally, the flu causes 305 million severe cases with as many as 500,000 deaths. Strategies which can enhance resistance to flu infection, such as optimizing intake of essential nutrients and the use of some medicinal foods have been proposed as an effective means to boost immune function.
Though the majority suffers experience little more than a week of uncomfortable symptoms like fever and generalized weakness and fatigue, the flu can be deadly for certain segments of the population. Those most at risk for serious complications including death from influenza are children under the age of five, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, and anyone with pre-existing conditions such as lung disease, emphysema, asthma, diabetes, or a compromised immune system.
Dr. Jennifer Feighner, M.D. of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital states that the yearly flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent contracting the virus, and many experts would agree with her. According to Feighner, the vaccine protects between 50 and 80 percent of those vaccinated. However, despite the availability of vaccines, the flu is still a considerable public health problem. With or without vaccination, natural immune support and supplementation may be an effective means of reducing the global rates of severe infection and mortality.
For natural flu prevention and protection, Feighner recommends frequent hand washing, avoidance of touching one’s eyes, nose, and mouth, as well as coughing into one’s inner elbow. While these are all sound recommendations, new studies support a more proactive natural means of protection and even prevention of influenza with food.
Wolfberry, also commonly known as goji berry, is a traditional medicinal food of China which has been shown to improve immune response. In a study done on mice, goji berry supplementation was shown to increase the number of lymphocytes in a group of mice infected with the influenza compared to a placebo group. The results of the study suggested that dietary supplementation with goji berry has immunomudulating effects which could enhance the host’s defenses, and is able to reduce the severity of influenza infection.
In a recent study into the protective effects of seaweed extract in the elderly, researchers conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, single-center trial at a nursing home in Osaka, Japan. All participants were over 65 years and received the flu vaccine. The seaweed extract, which came from the widely available edible seaweed “wakame” demonstrated an ability to enhance immune responses to seasonal influenza by increasing antibody production.
Even more promising results were garnered from another study, which tested the ability of aged garlic extract to improve cold and flu symptoms. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention aged garlic extract was shown to enhance immune cell function and reduce the severity of colds and flu. In each of these new studies natural supplementation with specific super-food extracts demonstrated support in influenza prevention. This is very encouraging information that has the potential to improve the outcomes of thousands of flu sufferers around the world.
By Mimi Mudd