Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies for Cold and Flu Season: What Is the Science?

Kathi J. Kemper, MD, MPH

Disclosures

November 03, 2009

The Cases

Jessica is a 37-year-old married mother of 2 boys -- one in prekindergarten and the other in second grade. She would like to reduce her family's risk of getting H1N1 influenza this year. Jessica understands the importance of hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and avoiding contact with ill people. She has been advised to get a flu vaccine, but also wants to know whether any vitamins, minerals, or homeopathic remedies can protect against influenza. Jessica is already making sure her boys get "plenty of fluids" and "plenty of sleep."

David is a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician who has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). After a nurse told him that probiotics might help his IBS symptoms, David looked up probiotics on the Internet and learned that they might promote optimal immune function. David asks whether taking probiotics can help prevent respiratory infections this winter.

Laura is a competitive ice skater who wants to know what kind of herbal cold and flu remedies are appropriate to use according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Her grandmother gives her tea with honey and lemon when she gets a scratchy throat and cough. Jessica's mother cooks with extra garlic and makes a big batch of her chicken soup as soon as the first person in the family starts coughing in November. Jessica's friend, Juan, says his grandmother tells him that to reduce his risk of catching a cold, he should not drink milk or eat cold foods. Laura is pretty sure all these remedies are acceptable to the IOC, but she wonders whether there are specific herbal products she can take if she starts to feel sick. She knows she can't take over-the-counter decongestants, and antihistamines make her feel too foggy to function.

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