Influenza viruses cause the flu, an infectious respiratory disease. There is no cure, but most people usually get better on their own. Natural treatments can help ease symptoms and reduce recovery time at home.
Antiviral medications may also reduce the severity of symptoms and speed up the recovery process by a day or two.
This article discusses several natural flu remedies and highlights those that children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid. The article also indicates when to see a doctor.
There are various types of influenza, including A and B, which are the most common.
A few natural remedies that researchers have shown may be effective include:
Getting proper rest is one of the easiest ways to help give the body a chance to recover. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with the flu should stay at home and try to get as much rest as possible.
People with the flu can quickly become dehydrated as their body works to fight off the influenza virus.
People can hydrate by eating certain foods and drinking plenty of clear liquids, such as water or drinks with electrolytes.
Learn about what foods to eat to stay hydrated here.
Only use sterile, filtered, or treated water for nasal rinses to avoid the risk of infection.
Always follow the manufacturer’s advice on how to clean the device.
Humid environments and inhaling steam can help keep respiratory passageways moist and keep mucus flowing. This may help reduce flu symptoms in some cases.
Try taking a long, warm bath or shower or using a personal humidifier.
Some foods and supplements that may help fight the flu include:
Elderberry and other berries
Elderberries contain immune-modulating and antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. Many other types of berry contain these too.
In one study, researchers gave a particular brand of elderberry extract to people sick with influenza B. The participants took the extract daily for 3 days. Symptoms resolved in 46.7% of participants who took the extract but in only 16.7% of participants who took a placebo.
In one study, drinking echinacea hot drinks was as effective as the antiviral medication oseltamivir and reduced the risk of adverse side effects or complications.
Ginseng root may reduce upper respiratory infections, including the flu. That includes American ginseng and Asian ginseng, specifically the extract CVT-E002.
Some studies show that taking CVT-E002 may reduce the severity of flu symptoms and their duration.
High doses of oral zinc oxide supplements contain high levels of antioxidants that may reduce the length and severity of influenza infections.
Zinc is naturally present in the following foods:
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) indicate that people should avoid applying topical zinc products in the nose because this may result in permanent loss of sense of smell.
Vitamins C and D
The antioxidants in vitamins C and D may help reduce the severity and lengths of viral respiratory infections.
A person can find vitamin C in many different foods, including citrus fruits and foods and drinks fortified with vitamin C.
A person can find vitamin D in fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products. UV rays also trigger a person’s skin to make vitamin D.
According to a 2015 article, licorice root extract contains antiviral and immune-mediating compounds, including nearly 300 flavonoids. Flavonoids give plants their color and have many health benefits.
These compounds seem to interfere with the replication of influenza A viruses and several other types of viral respiratory infections. They may also improve the body’s immune response.
Pregnant people should avoid using licorice.
The root of star anise contains several antiviral compounds.
These include spirooligananone A and B. A 2020 article in Phytotherapy Research stated that spirooligananone B had significant beneficial effects against the influenza A virus.
Star anise also contains shikimic acid, which scientists use to create the antiviral medication Tamiflu (oseltamivir).
A 2020 in vitro study concluded that 0.625–5 milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml) of aqueous dandelion extract reduced the risk of infection by the influenza A virus in human lung cells.
The researchers proposed that the extract may have reduced viral replication rates. People can take dandelion as a supplement or eat it as a salad green, in wine, soups, or teas.
Pregnant people should avoid using dandelion.
Milkwort contains antiviral compounds called xanthones.
According to an older article, xanthones from the milkwort species Polygala karensium may help treat and prevent disease due to the flu viruses.
Cinnamon bark is one of several ingredients in a traditional Japanese medicine called maoto, which may have an antiviral effect. It is typically safe to use cinnamon in foods.
Pregnant people should avoid using cinnamon.
Probiotics, especially Bifidobacterium strains, seem to help improve immune responses to influenza by changing gut bacteria levels or types and reducing inflammation.
Other strains of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. brevis, may also enhance the action of natural virus-killing cells. People can find most probiotics in fermented products or supplements.
Other natural remedies with potential antioxidant or antiviral compounds include:
There are no specific at-home, natural remedies for pregnant people with the flu.
Flu remedies to avoid
Pregnant or breastfeeding people should avoid taking certain supplements or consuming too much of the active ingredients.
They should avoi:
There are no specific natural remedies for influenza infections in children. However, doctors often recommend that infants that are breastfeeding receive vitamin D supplements.
Flu remedies to avoid
Parents and caregivers should not give star anise to their children, including infants, toddlers, and older children.
This is because there is a risk it may contain a poisonous types of star anise, such as Japanese star anise.
People should talk to a doctor if they have concerning symptoms or symptoms that do not respond to treatment.
Seek emergency care if the following symptoms occur:
- high fever, greater than 101.4°F, or any fever in children under 12 weeks of age
- persistent chest pain
- breathing problems
- dizziness and confusion
- severe headache or whole-body aches
- bluish lips or face
- dehydration and not urinating
- symptoms that improve, then worsen or return
People with a high risk of developing flu complications should also talk with a doctor if they get the flu. They should do this within 2 days of developing symptoms.
People at a higher risk of developing complications include:
- young children
- pregnant women
- people with other medical conditions
- people 65 years of age and over
Talk with a doctor before using high doses of natural remedies or taking them for more than a few days or weeks.
Currently, there is no cure for the flu, and a person will usually get well on their own. However, several at-home, natural remedies may help reduce symptom severity or illness time.
Talk to a doctor about severe symptoms or those that do not respond to treatments.
Young children, pregnant and breastfeeding people, and people taking medications or who have additional health concerns should also talk with a doctor if they think they have the flu.