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Hepatitis C Management: A Flu-Fighting Berry

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. December 17, 2012

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Armed with elderberry, those with Hepatitis C have a helpful tool to persevere through this cold and flu season.

Every fall and winter, the threat of influenza weighs on those living with Hepatitis C – or any other type of chronic liver disease. Besides increasing immunity against influenza, elderberry may help curb influenza’s impact and longevity. Although not advised to replace the annual flu vaccine, an elderberry preparation is a great natural addition to the Hepatitis C arsenal against cold and flu illnesses.

Influenza

Also known as the “flu,” influenza affects an average of 5 to 20 percent of the United States’ population. More than just a bad cold, the flu is potentially serious. This common illness is especially problematic for those with chronic Hepatitis C because affected individuals are at an increased risk of influenza-related complications. The complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear and sinus infections, are no laughing matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year with the flu. Depending on the strain, 3,000 to 49,000 people lose their life to flu-related complications each season.

One of the biggest obstacles people with Hepatitis C face during the cold and flu season is finding medications that are safe for their liver. The Hepatitis C virus continually incites liver inflammation that can lead to liver damage. Thus, affected individuals must avoid (or at least minimize) medications known to injure the liver. Many over-the-counter medications for cold and flu contain acetaminophen, a common pain reliever and fever reducer. As one of the leading causes of liver toxicity from an accidental overdose, acetaminophen-containing drugs warrant caution for people with Hepatitis C. Prompting the search for safer alternatives, acetaminophen is either the primary or auxiliary ingredient in a majority of medications for cold and flu.

The Flu Shot

Because of their increased susceptibility to complications, the seasonal flu vaccine is typically recommended for those with chronic Hepatitis C. Advocates claim that the best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination. The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone:

  • over the age of 6 months
  • unless they are allergic to eggs or have had an allergic reaction to a prior flu shot

The formulation of the flu shot changes every year to protect people from current strains.

People living with Hepatitis C, cirrhosis and those undergoing Hepatitis C antiviral treatment are all encouraged by the medical community to receive an annual flu shot. Although it may seem counterintuitive to get the flu shot while on interferon-based Hepatitis C therapy, experts assert that it is an ideal time to get a flu vaccination because interferon stimulates the immune response.

Studies have found that in healthy adults, the flu vaccine can decrease the chances of coming down with the flu by as much as 70 to 90 percent. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine only defends against a particular strain of influenza; it does not offer any protection against a cold or other flu strain.

Elderberry

Whether or not a flu shot has been received, there are no guarantees that anyone will escape the pitfalls of cold and flu season. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is an herb with a long history of use as a folk remedy for colds, sinus and respiratory infections and the flu. Taking elderberry at the first sign of feeling under the weather could help prevent a cold or the flu from settling in. If the telltale headache, fever, congestion, sore throat, muscle aches, cough and general misery do strike, elderberry may reduce the illness’ duration and lessen symptom severity.

Although lacking concrete evidence in large, independent, human trials, elderberry extracts have been found to fight off viruses that attack the respiratory system. Researchers believe that anthocyanins, compounds found naturally in elderberries, may be the active component that strengthens the immune system and blocks the flu virus from sticking to our cells. In addition, elderberry appears to inhibit neuraminidase, the enzyme used by the influenza virus to spread infection to host cells.

One small study found that:

  • five days of elderberry syrup (15 ml four times a day) was more effective than a placebo at relieving flu-like symptoms
  • those who took elderberry had nearly recovered by the third or fourth day of treatment
  • those who took the placebo required seven to eight days for recovery

In another study, researchers at Justus-Liebig University in Geissen, Germany reported that a concentrated liquid extract of black elderberries inhibited the growth of influenza A and B viruses and bacteria associated with upper respiratory tract infections.

While elderberry extract supplements appear to have an extremely high level of safety and tolerability, several sources caution against experimenting with your own elderberry concoction. This is because fresh leaves, flowers, bark, young buds, unripe berries and roots from the elderberry plant contain cyanide and could potentially result in cyanide poisoning. Luckily, commercially prepared elderberry – in the form of juice, syrup and capsules are cooked and devoid of this toxin.

Managing cold and flu season takes on an additional urgency for individuals with Hepatitis C or other chronic liver disease. While the flu shot provides a substantial layer of protection against seasonal influenza strains, it is still relatively easy to catch whatever bug is going around in the fall and winter. To minimize someone with Hepatitis C’s reliance on potentially harmful cold and flu remedies, elderberry supplementation is a well-known natural treasure that should reside in your feel-better toolbox.

References:

http://altmedicine.about.com/od/coldsandflu/a/fluremedy.htm, Flu Remedies, Cathy Wong, Retrieved December 9, 2012, about.com, 2012.

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/, Seasonal influenza (flu), Retrieved December 9, 2012, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012.

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/CAM_Dietary%20Supplements%20to%20Avoid.pdf, Dietary Supplements to Avoid, Retrieved December 9, 2012, Hepatitis C Support Project, June 2012.

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/flu_shot.pdf, Flu Shots, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved December 9, 2012, Hepatitis C Support Project, September 2012.

http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/faqs/flu-shot.asp, If you have Hepatitis C, should you get a flu shot?, Rena K. Fox, MD, Retrieved December 9, 2012, US Department of Veteran Affairs, 2012.

http://www.hepatitis-central.com/mt/archives/2010/10/hepatitis_c_eig.html, Hepatitis C: Eight Tips for the Cold and Flu Season, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved December 9, 2012, Hepatitis Central, 2012.

http://www.lahey.org/Departments_and_Locations/Departments/Cancer_Center/Liver_Cancer_Center/Ebsco_Content/Hepatitis_C.aspx?chunkiid=21688, Elderberry, Retrieved December 9, 2012, EBSCO Publishing, 2012.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/125883-black-elderberry-benefits/, Black Elderberry Benefits, Jane Smith, Retrieved December 9, 2012, Decision Media, Inc., 2012.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/219567.php, New Research On Black Elderberries Shows Activity Against Flu Viruses And Respiratory Tract Bacteria, Retrieved December 9, 2012, MediLexicon International Ltd., 2012.

http://www.pkdiet.com/pages/herbs/herb.htm, Herbs: kidney and liver, Retrieved December 9, 2012, pkdiet.com, 2012.

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  • Cyberpym

    I’ve been eating elderberries for years. I like the taste and they grow all around my garden (elder trees that is). Also my husband used to make elderflower wine which was lovely and I’ve never before, heard of problems with cyanide poisoning. The only reason that I stopped drinking elderflower wine was because of the alcohol content.