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Jane Seymour Pioneers Natural Flu Remedies

By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Jane Seymour may live in an era of high-tech health care, but her secret to staying well is actually more similar to pioneer treatments her character on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman prescribed.

"Homeopathy is based on treating like with like," says Seymour, whose sister is a homeopathic doctor. "It's a little akin to the concept of vaccination.  Homeopathic treatments allow the body to learn how to fight whatever illness it is you have."

With flu season abating but far from over, a lot of people are still getting sick. Seymour has several tips for weathering the remaining cold and flu season.

"The flu is a truly miserable experience," says Seymour, who has gotten flu shots in the past but did not get one this year. "I have to be really careful not to get colds or flu because for me they develop into serious respiratory illnesses because I had walking pneumonia before."

Seymour says staying healthy starts with listening to your body and "building your immune system year round, not just during cold and flu season."

"When I start to get the flu I can feel myself getting really chilly," Seymour notes. "And then the fever follows so I will immediately take a homeopathic remedy that matches my symptoms. While shooting Doctor Quinn I would self medicate using a homeopathic kit my sister gave me and I never missed a day the entire time."

Recently both Seymour and one of her six children started to come down with a cold but both avoided getting sick.

"I didn't know if it was the flu or a cold," Seymour says. "So since he didn't have a fever I chose to treat it as a cold. I gave him a homeopathic remedy and seemed to be doing quite well by the following day and didn't miss any school."

The enemy within

But every year more than 50 million Americans are sickened by colds and influenza, or flu for short. And knowing the difference between the two can literally mean life or death because according to the CDC influenza causes more than 100,000 hospitalizations and claims more than 20,000 lives annually.

"The most important indication you have flu rather than a cold is high fever," says Michael Hirt, a Harvard-trained internist and founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine in Tarzana, California. "Common cold fevers can tend to be 99 or 100.6 - rarely higher than that. The flu fevers tend to be at least 102.5, 103, or 104 - even higher in children. Flu is also associated with severe muscle ache. It hurts to move or to breathe. You feel like you've been hit by a truck."

The influenza virus is spread by little respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing. It is also spread by hands contacting an infected surface and introducing the virus into the body by rubbing your eye or eating with your fingers.

"Washing your hands is recommended any time you're going to touch your face and before eating and drinking," Hirt advises. "A lot of people would avoid illness if they were mindful of this, not in an obsessive way, but a more diligent way."

But if you do get the flu, there's still hope.

Tamiflu is a medication that treats influenza A and B, the two major strains of influenza, by disrupting the virus's ability to copy itself. It has a low side effect profile and when taken within the first 12-36 hours of flu symptoms can significantly shorten the duration of the flu and limit the intensity of the symptoms.

But because influenza is the only thing that Tamiflu treats, and most of what people get is not the flu but the common cold or flu-like illnesses, Hirt says he also treats a lot of patients using some effective, well documented natural treatments.

"The number one treatment, with some good data behind it in terms of shortening the duration of the illness, is black elderberry extract," says Hirt, who recommends one type called Sambucol. "It works by being a direct anti-viral agent. Sort of like a natural Tamiflu for both influenza and flu-like illnesses."

Seymour takes Sambucol herself. Black elderberry extract can be found in a syrup form, lozenges, or capsules. Hirt advises taking it at the first sign of symptoms but cautions that diabetics use a sugar-free version.

Natural arsenal

Hirt also prescribes these natural cold and flu fighters:

  • Green tea - Hirt recommends capsules which are more potent than tea. Green tea works as an immune system booster, an anti-viral and it also has anti-bacterial properties. "I take it twice a day, every day on the frontlines in primary care medicine to keep me from getting ill," Hirt says. "Decaffeinated green tea is probably the best way to take it so that you're not hyped up and unable to sleep which definitely lowers your immune system."

  • Garlic -- Nicknamed 'Russian penicillin,' this herb has broad antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-yeast properties. Hirt recommends against using odorless garlic because it means the manufacturer has removed all traces of the most essential nutrient. Instead he advises taking enteric-coated garlic pills that dissolve deeper in your digestive track and therefore doesn't produce garlic breath or give you garlic odor. Enteric-coated garlic is absorbed better so it can get into your system and seek out and destroy flu and flu-like illness viruses.

    "The caution here is, that like aspirin, garlic is a blood thinner," notes Hirt, who is also board-certified clinical nutrition specialist. "So if you're already taking aspirin or more serious prescription blood thinners you have to be careful and consult your doctor."

  • Echinacea and goldenseal - While there have been recent reports that question the efficacy of Echinacea, Hirt notes that like anything else in human disease and treatment people respond differently to different treatments. "The same is true for Echinacea," Hirt explains. "It doesn't work for everyone but Echinacea has been around for a long time because it is effective for some number of people, maybe not the majority."

While Seymour also takes zinc lozenges and as much as 10,000 mg of vitamin C when she feels symptoms coming on, she swears by Echinacea.

"Echinacea can help boost your immune system at the onset of a cold," the actress says. "Or it can be used at a lower dose to help prevent cold or flu. We use it a lot and it works extremely well." Since Echinacea is an immune stimulator, it is not recommended for those whose immune systems are over-stimulated. 

And Hirt has a general caution for all herbs.

"With any of the herbs it can be a problem to insure that what is on the label is actually in the bottle," Hirt states. "Sticking with national brands always tends to be your best bet. There are also organizations like Consumerlabs.com that review the quality of certain manufacturers and supplements."

Seymour isn't one to throw caution to the wind either and points out that homeopathy is both effective and well documented.

"People pooh-pooh homeopathy even though it has been going on a lot longer than western medicine," Seymour says. "But the willow bark tea Dr. Quinn prescribed is basically aspirin. It may seem funny but Dr. Quinn had it right."

Created: 1/17/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 1/17/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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