The “Flu,” Immunizations and Naturopathic Options

By Dr. Ayo Bankole

It is a Nasty One this Winter

Every so often we encounter a winter where influenza hits particularly hard. This is such a winter, especially for the southwestern states. In California, outpatient visits and hospitalizations for Influenza are reported as “above expected levels” by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Influenza Surveillance Program (CISP).   Death rates in California and other states are higher than usual. Typically, there are several strains of influenza that sicken a population at a given time. The influenza strain responsible for the most severe cases this winter is H3N2. Other, meeker strains are responsible for more mild infections.


The “flu” is caused by any of several different influenza type viruses. The peak season for infection is late December to early February. Characteristic symptoms suggesting flu include fever, body/muscle aches, sore throat, cough, fatigue, burning eyes, and headaches. Symptoms can last several days, and the infection is highly contagious. Symptoms alone do not always distinguish influenza from a severe upper respiratory tract infection caused by a non-influenza type virus. But what does distinguish influenza from other common cold viruses is its ability to cause significant complications such as pneumonia and death in at risk populations like the very young, the old, and the chronically ill, leading allopathic physicians to highly recommend annual flu vaccinations for high risk groups.

Influenza Vaccine Questioned?

According to Cochrane Collaborative which published a review of 116 studies in 2014 concluding that the preventive effect of the influenza vaccine on healthy adults is small. The report concluded that 71 people would need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of influenza and that vaccination shows no observable effect on hospitalization or work days lost. This modest effect contrasts the more optimistic view from the pharmaceutical industry. The Cochrane review sited a high rate of bias amongst these industry studies evaluated for the review and that less than “10% had good methodological quality” (Al-Ansary, Demicheli, Dipietranonji & Ferroni, 2014).

Since children and older adults are vulnerable to the potentially life-threatening complications of influenza, effective vaccinations for them are critical. The same Cochrane report included their findings on the influenza vaccine’s effect on children less than two years of age. The authors concluded that any positive effect is believed to be due to chance and that the vaccine was only as effective as placebo. Of note, their review of data from 2005 and 2007 found that the vaccine may reduce death, hospital admission, and pneumonia related to influenza; however, a reduction in the frequency of influenza was not found.

Naturopathic Flu Options

Because of the serious complications of influenza, notwithstanding vaccinations, minimizing its spread, optimizing immune function, and utilizing other therapies that inhibit influenza can all play a very important role in combating this infection. Two double-blind, placebo controlled human trials examining Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) both demonstrate improvements with influenza. The first study divided participants into two groups, one group receiving Elderberry while the other received a placebo. After three days, 87 percent of the patients taking Elderberry had no remaining symptoms while only 33 percent of patients taking the placebo were symptom free. Another group of patients were studied in similar fashion. The average time of symptom resolution was around 50 percent shorter in the group taking Elderberry compared to the group taking the placebo.

In 2005, Dr. John Cannell observed and documented the relationship between low levels of vitamin D in the winter with higher rates of Influenza in two groups of hospital patients. He found that none of the patients taking vitamin D developed Influenza while several in the group that did not take vitamin D developed Influenza. A study comprising 707 children in Toronto was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It compared the effect of high-dose vitamin D to standard-dose vitamin D supplementation on head and chest colds. The investigators concluded “the incidence of influenza was 50% lower in the high-dose vitamin D group…” (Aglipay, Birken, Parkin, 2017).

Minimizing Transmission

Those with underlying immune or cardio-respiratory illnesses, small children, and older adults should seek medical attention when influenza is suspected. Anyone experiencing influenza-like symptoms should stay home from school and work to prevent transmission to others. No matter one’s vitamin D or vaccination status, proper hand and surface hygiene can be maintained by thoroughly cleansing hands after nose-blowing and wiping all routinely touched surfaces like handles, door knobs, faucets and light switches with anti-microbial wipes. There is evidence proper vitamin D status prevents Influenza infections and minimizes transmission and Elderberry appears to effectively shorten the duration of influenza in children and adults. If these measures are followed, the impact and transmission of Influenza will dissipate.



Cochrane. (2014). Vaccines to prevent influenza in healthy adults. Retrieved from

Rivetti D et al: Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly, Cochrane Database Syst Rev 3:CD004876, 2007.

Jefferson T et al: Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines in elderly people: a systematic review, Lancet 366(9492):1165-74, 2005.

Demicheli V, Jefferson T, Al-Ansary LA et al: 13 March 2014

Cannell JJ et al: Epidemic influenza and vitamin D, Epidemiol Infect Dec;134(6):1129-40, 2006

Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009;70:1255-1261.

Aglipay M, Birken CS, Parkin PC, et al. Effect of high-dose vs standard-dose wintertime vitamin D supplementation on viral upper respiratory tract infections in young healthy children. JAMA. 2017;318(3):245-254.


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