Swine Flu and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Here’s what I wrote about swine flu, from the point of view of integrative medicine, before all the flurry of writing about swine flu.

PREVENTION The most important preventive measure is the old standard–frequent hand washing. Also, do not rub or touch your eyes or nose when you are out in public and haven’t washed your hands. Buy, carry and use the non-alcohol based ecologic hand sanitizers. Cough into a tissue or your bent arm.

IMMUNE BOOSTERS Now, on to boosting the immune system. One of the best immune boosters is still Vitamin C. Take at least 500 milligrams, with 6 to 8 ounces of water, 4 times a day. Other immune boosters are strong anti-oxidants including Oprah’s current favorite, acai berry. Another one, which is known specifically to work for flu, is elderberry. There an alternative version of Airborne, Source Naturals “Wellness Fizz” which contains forsythia, and all the other herbs in the Yin Chiao formula I will describe below in the treatment section. as well as zinc, selenium, and elderberry.

SYMPTOMS It’s important to recognize the symptoms early: they are any combination of these–headache, cough, sore throat, fever, nausea, dizziness.

TREATMENT If you have any of these symptoms, get a prescription of Tamiflu and start it right away–it is effective only if you start it within 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms. Some types of flu viruses are already resistant to it, but the one that is causing the current outbreak isn’t. Probably the most effective treatment is Chinese herbs. They are effective in both killing the virus and helping resolve the flu symptoms. The best thing to take is a combination of two Chinese formulas–Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pian, and Zhong Gan Ling. They should be taken as a combination–two to four Yin Chiao tablets twice a day, and four to six Zhong Gan Ling tablets three times a day. They should be taken with food. It is also important to remember that if the person has signs of prostration–that is, too sick to get up–or shows any sign of dehydration, they should go to the hospital.

Now I just noticed an email from Consumer Reports (one of my favorites, by the way) that pretty much issues a blanket warning against use of any supplements or “immune boosters” which they put in quotes, as if there is nothing that can really boost the immune system. That inspired me to comment on my own recommendations, especially the ones regarding Traditional Chinese Medicine, which I have been practicing since 1978. Let me just make my own blanket statement here–Chinese herbal formulas can be effective for flu. Here’s the way I made my recommendations. Last year I did some research on formulas which had been used successfully in China for bird flu. I found one, but it was a formula that requires getting packets of raw herbs at a Chinese pharmacy, boiling them, and then drinking the (generally nasty tasting) tea. That’s not any help it this country because it’s just not going to happen here. Before I looked any further I checked with my partner, Dr. Leon Chen, who was an orthopedic surgeon in China, and was head of a large hospital department of orthopedic surgery in Kansu before he came here. He confirmed that the formula I had found was the real thing. Then we looked for Chinese patent formulas that had the same herbs in them, and came up with the combination of Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pian and Zhong Gan Ling, which I recommended. I have actually used this for flu for myself and for patients and it has worked. I have not specifically used it for swine flu. However, the way Chinese herbs work is different than Western drugs. They are very complex, and it is nearly impossible for viruses or bacteria to develop resistance to them. As a matter of fact, there are antimicrobial formulas that were first recorded in 200 A.D. that are still used, and still work. So with all due respect to Consumer Reports, an appropriate formula from Traditional Chinese Medicine is something that you can use to help you if you get the flu. By the way, there is also the issue of quality control for the Chinese patent formulas, a legitimate worry with all the contaminated products of various kinds coming from China, and something I am very careful with in my practice. The company I recommend is Mayway, which distributes Plum Flower herbs, all rigorously quality controlled. Mayway doesn’t sell the formulas directly, but you can buy them at www.chineseherbsdirect.com.