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Americans Seek Alternatives for Flu Protection

Research suggests herbs are promising alternatives

Austin, TX (October 26, 2004). The shortage of flu vaccine has forced millions of Americans to seek alternatives. These alternatives include options that have shown success in clinical studies. The United States has lost much of its vaccine supply and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are instructing clinics and hospitals to vaccinate priority groups. These include the elderly, the very young, healthcare workers, those with heart, lung, or metabolic diseases, and those with weakened immune systems.

The American Botanical Council (ABC), an independent nonprofit research and education organization providing information about herbal medicine, points out several natural options that may help normal, healthy adults protect against flu, diminish flu symptoms, and/or shorten flu intensity and duration.

Some herbs have demonstrated benefits when taken at the first sign of flu symptoms. According to ABC founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal, there are a handful of herbs with proven safety that can help improve the body’s immune functions. These herbs include the popular herb echinacea, the traditional and increasingly popular immune booster, elder berry, and the Chinese herb andrographis.

Clinical studies on echinacea show that it can diminish the symptoms and duration of colds and flu. Blumenthal noted that although some recent clinical trials on echinacea have not confirmed its effectiveness, others have. One recent Canadian clinical trial on an echinacea extract (Echinilin®, Natural Factors, Burnaby, British Columbia; sold in the U.S. as Echinamide™), showed that the herbal extract lowered respiratory tract symptoms in people with colds.

In a recent Norwegian study scientists were able to demonstrate that patients receiving elder berry extract (Sambucol®, Razei Bar, Jerusalem, Israel) recovered from the flu four days earlier than patients in the control group. The study revealed that the elder berry extract shortened the duration of flu types A & B by four days, in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Symptoms were also made less severe with no significant side effects reported.

“Some of the best things about elder berry are its mildness, its safety, and its great taste,” added ABC’s Blumenthal. “It’s a good remedy for children too.” ABC will soon publish a monograph on elder berry. This monograph is based on a search of the scientific literature and includes the clinical and laboratory research documenting the beneficial immune-stimulating properties of elder berry preparations.

In addition to echinacea and elder berry, andrographis is an herb with pronounced benefits for the immune system, said Blumenthal. A recent published review of 11 clinical trials shows that andrographis is safe and effective in treating upper respiratory tract infections associated with colds and flus. “Unfortunately,” added Blumenthal, “despite its good record of being scientifically documented for its safety and benefits, it has not yet become popular in the United States, although it is available from a few manufacturers.”

Andrew Weil, MD, best-selling author and leader in integrating conventional and alternative medicine, and a member of the ABC Advisory Board, has been providing consumers advice on alternatives during the flu vaccine shortage. According to Weil, “There are other ways of preventing and treating influenza. My first choice is to take a standardized extract of astragalus, a well-known Chinese herb throughout the flu season. It is nontoxic and has immune-boosting activity. People should be aware of other herbal treatments such as echinacea and elder berry extract. (Of course they should also make an effort to avoid sick people and to wash hands frequently.)”

Extensive information about echinacea, elder berry, andrographis, astragalus and other herbs is available from ABC ( The American Botanical Council is the nation's leading nonprofit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs and medicinal plants. The 16-year-old organization occupies a 2.5 acre site in Austin, Texas where it publishes HerbalGram, a peer-reviewed journal. ABC is also the publisher of The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, a continuing education and reference book, which contains extensive monographs on the safety and efficacy of echinacea and 28 other popular herbs. The soon to be released elder berry monograph will be shipped by ABC with copies of The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs.

Contact: ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345, ph: 512-926-4900, fax: 512-926-2345. Website:


Coon JT, Ernst E. Andrographis paniculata in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review of safety and efficacy. Planta Medica. 2004;70:293-296.

Goel V, Lovlin R, Barton R, et al. Efficacy of a standardized Echinacea preparation (Echinilin™) for the treatment of the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2004;29:75-83.

Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, et al. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J International Med Res. 2004;32:132-140.