The Basics on the Flu Virus


The CDC “estimates that influenza has resulted in between nine million and forty-five million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.” Because of the level of this disease burden, taking precautions and addressing symptoms in a timely manner is very important.

Flu is defined as a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, spread through the air from person to person. Signs and symptoms of flu include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • vomiting
  • loose stools
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • headache
  • muscle or body aches

The flu is not just a bad cold. Complications such as  pneumonia, myocarditis, and encephalitis, while uncommon, can lead to hospitalization or death, so when flu is suspected, proper medical attention is essential. Research shows that young children, pregnant women and older adults are at more risk of developing  complications. About 8% of Americans get the flu in any given year. This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control shows just how common and how potentially serious the flu can be. Naturopathic doctors are uniquely skilled at both prevention and treatment of influenza as outlined below.

Flu Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends injectable influenza vaccines for prevention of influenza for everyone over 6 months of age. The vaccine does not work immediately, so vaccination ahead of the flu season is encouraged. If you do take the flu vaccine, be sure to take a probiotic and include fermented foods in the diet to increase the microbiome diversity, in the weeks before being vaccinated, as studies show this enhances efficacy of the vaccine.

Some people still come down with the flu even when vaccinated. Vaccines are produced each season based on which virus strains seem most prevalent and potent. Statistics show that how well the vaccine works varies each season as the flu viruses continue to change. Manufacturers do their best to create vaccines that work, but further research is needed to create more predictably effective vaccines. Some people develop side effects from the vaccine like pain or swelling at the site of the injection, overall body aches or fever. 

Naturopathic doctors are well-trained to help you both prevent the flu, and to help treat flu symptoms should you become ill. Naturopathic treatments are guided by the Therapeutic Order emphasizing determinants of health and using the most gentle approaches possible. Educated extensively in therapeutic nutrition and botanical medicine, naturopathic doctors are also knowledgeable in the use of pharmaceuticals; as state laws allow, licensed ND may prescribe medications and are specially trained in drug/nutrient and drug/supplement interaction to provide you with comprehensive plan for the prevention and treatment of the flu. 

Reduce the spread of the flu:

Prevent catching the flu:

  • Stop or reduce smoking, as it increases your chance of coming down with the flu and with having complications should you fall ill.
  • Use a humidifier as a higher air humidity reduces virus survival and potentially decreases transmission. 
  • Prioritize daily exercise and stress reduction to help fight off flu.
  • Reduce or remove refined sugars from your diet
  • Stay well hydrated (think: water, tea, broths, diluted juices)

Support your immune system’s optimal work:`

  • Vitamin C helps reduce influenza infection by a number of biochemical actions. Foods high in Vitamin C as well as supplements can be put to good use.
  • Vitamin D has been shown to help prevent the spread of influenza. 
  • Consider taking a probiotic, which also offers protection against flu.
  • Elderberry can be used as an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antioxidant, often used in syrup form, has been shown to help prevent flu.
  • Garlic has anti-microbial properties to help support immune function and that help break up mucus. 
  • Thyme is another anti-microbial herb and immune stimulant to consider when working to prevent the flu. Likewise, Echinacea, an anti-inflammatory, immune modulating herb activates white blood cells to fight infection and may also be used for prevention.

If you are ill, there are many things to do to help shorten the duration of your illness, reduce its severity and help you be more comfortable.

Any and all of the supplements listed above under “prevention” are also helpful for the treatment of flu. For instance, research on elderberry (Sambucus) shows its capacity to decrease flu symptoms. Likewise, echinacea has been studied and confirmed to inhibit the influenza viruses and by modulating the immune response. If you have nausea, add ginger or chamomile tea as desired. If there is significant coughing, honey in warm water can help.  Herbal teas and tinctures made from ivy leaf, thyme and marshmallow root have all been examined and found to help reduce cough associated with influenza.

Place 1-2 cups of Epsom salt in a warm bath raising magnesium levels, which can aid in reducing lactic acid which in turn assists in reducing aches and pains while also helping to relax the muscles.

A hot water bottle can be a welcome presence if you’re chilly and sore.

Gentle massage can be very soothing, as it helps increase circulation and facilitate elimination.

Chicken soup has mild anti-inflammatory components, and a comfort for many with the flu.

Remember the essential role of rest and sleep. Science confirms that those who are sleep deprived are less able to fight off influenza. Take the time you need to heal and remember that everyone gets sick sometimes, and giving your system the rest it needs, promotes healing.  

Lastly, as you are recuperating from the flu, strategize ways to keep stress down and keep healthy habits up, so you do not fall ill again.

Flu is a potentially serious acute ailment. Accurate diagnosis and appropriate medical care, including conventional and naturopathic approaches, is essential. Working with your licensed naturopathic doctor to help delineate a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan to prevent influenza or treat it should you fall ill, makes good sense. Emphasizing your body’s inherent healing capacity, using gentle natural medicines to stimulate immune function and decreasing stress can all contribute to your staying healthy or overcoming a bout with influenza.

A service for the public from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM). The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge Amy Rothenberg, ND, for her contributions to the content of this FAQ.

INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.

Founded in 1985, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is the national professional society representing licensed or licensable naturopathic physicians who are graduates of four-year, residential graduates programs.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.