Influenza (more commonly called the flu) is caused by three main types of viruses: type A, type B, and type C. Of the three, type A is the most common by far, as well as the most potentially severe; type B is the second most common; and type C is relatively uncommon.
The symptoms of influenza are similar to those of the common cold but almost always more severe. The onset is usually sudden, with fever up to 103°F (39°C), severe exhaustion, and muscle and joint aches (especially in the back and legs), in addition to a prominent headache, runny nose, sore throat, and possibly a cough. As the illness progresses, the muscle aches tend to get worse and the cough becomes more prominent. When you have influenza, you may notice that you’re sensitive to light, your eyes may water, and you may even experience nausea and vomiting. While the majority of these symptoms should abate in a few days to a week, you may find that your fatigue and weakness linger and that you tend to sweat easily for weeks.
Although it’s annoying to everyone who gets it, influenza can be dangerous for the very young and very old; women in the third trimester of pregnancy; and those with lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, blood diseases (such as sickle-cell anemia), or immunosuppression (as with AIDS or leukemia). Flu can also worsen chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis, possibly leading to hospitalization. Other possible complications include inflammation of the brain, heart, or nervous system.
Note: Homeopathic treatment should not be relied upon to prevent dangerous complications of influenza.
Two widely used homeopathic flu remedies have been studied in scientific trials; evidence is quite promising for the first remedy.
Oscillococcinum is a widely available homeopathic treatment for flu. It is made from tissue that might be infected with flu—ducks, which are known to carry influenza. Thus, this remedy is very much like a homeopathic nosode. Oscillococcinum is of 200c potency, meaning that it is diluted to one part in 10 400 (a dilution so high that even if you started with a chunk of duck the size of the sun, not one molecule would remain).
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving nearly 500 people found that participants who took Oscillococcinum improved faster than those taking only placebo.1 This study was performed during an influenza epidemic in 1989 in France.
Participants who received Oscillococcinum rather than placebo demonstrated a significantly greater percentage of early recovery rate (within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms). Overall, about 61.2% of participants in the Oscillococcinum treatment group gave it a favorable judgment, whereas only 49.3% in the placebo group rated their “treatment” favorably. This difference in positive perception by the treatment group was statistically significant. Furthermore, the treatment group used significantly fewer optional symptomatic medications (such as acetaminophen) than the control group. This suggests that their symptoms were less severe.
In a similar double-blind study performed in Germany, investigators gave 334 people with flu-like symptoms (within the last 24 hours) either Oscillococcinum or placebo 3 times daily for 3 days.2 Again, significant benefits were seen.
Oscillococcinum increased the likelihood of improved influenza symptoms in 2 days compared to placebo in a review of two randomized trials with 796 patients. A beneficial effect was also shown at 3 days, but not at 4 days or 5 days.5
However, while these results are apparently very positive, the published reports are scant on detail, making the quality of these studies difficult to fully assess.
Another widely used flu treatment, called L52, is a liquid homeopathic formula consisting of 10 ingredients: Eupatorium perf., Aconite, Bryonia, Amica, Gelsemium, China, Belladonna, Drosera, Polygala and Eucalyptus. A large double-blind, placebo-controlled study (about 1,200 participants) evaluated the effectiveness of L52 for preventing flu, rather than treating it.3 No benefits were seen. However, L52 has shown some promise for treatment of flu.4
In classical homeopathy, there are many possible homeopathic treatments for flu, to be chosen based on various specific details of the person seeking treatment.
For example, if you are experiencing chills up and down your spine, and you feel tired and weak but not thirsty, then you might be given homeopathic Gelsemium. Further details of this remedy’s symptom picture include headache, runny nose or sore throat, and a desire to be left alone.
However, different axillary symptoms might indicate an alternate choice of remedy. For example, suppose you have the flu and are very thirsty, especially for cold drinks, and you feel better in a cool room than a warm room. Your other symptoms include pain with motion and irritability. These symptoms fit with the homeopathic treatment Bryonia.
Several herbs and supplements may be helpful for treating symptoms of flu. For more information, see the Colds and Flus article.
For a thorough explanation of homeopathy, including dilution of therapies, see the Homeopathy Overview.
1. Ferley JP, Zmirou D, D’Adhemar D, Balducci F. A controlled evaluation of a homeopathic preparation in the treatment of influenza-like symptoms. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1989;27:329–335.
2. Papp R, et al. Oscillococcinum in patients with influenza-like syndromes: a placebo-controlled double-blind evaluation. Br Hom J. 1989;87:69–76.
3. Ferley JP, Poutignat N, Azzopardi Y, et al. Evaluation in the context of outpatient medicine of the activity of a homeopathic complex in the prevention of flu and flu symptoms [translated from French]. Immunol Med. 1987;20:22–28.
4. Lecocq P. Therapeutic approaches for influenza syndromes [translated from French]. Cahiers Biotherap. 1985;87:65–73.9.
5. Mathie RT, Frye J, Fisher P. Homeopathic Oscillococcinum(®) for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like illness. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012:CD001957.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 9/18/2014