Cold comfort for the ailing

Can you fight flu? Esther Oxford looks at today's range of remedies
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The Independent Online
Many people eye their doctors suspiciously when the latter fail to prescribe a "cure-all" for flu-like symptoms.

The truth is, there is no cure-all. Pain-killers may alleviate aches; hot lemon drinks may offer psychological comfort. But anticholinergics, expectorants and decongestants are "useless", the results of a recent survey referred to in the British Medical Journal show. Researchers found no difference between those who inhaled vapour for an hour and those who did not.

Below, a range of practitioners offer their advice to patients with influenza. Many remedies have been tried; few have been tested. Until then it might be cheaper, and safer, to stick to traditional remedies: chicken broth and hot water with lemon, honey and added vitamin C.

Dr Phuoc T Huynh, a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, based in Cambridgeshire. Cost: pounds 12 for a consultation and pounds 5 for the herbs.

I use a formula called Ren Shen Baidu Tang. The formula is made up of a variety of herbs: ginseng (it gives energy), liquorice (harmonise), poria (reduces fluid retention), rhizoma ligustici (treats headache and improves blood circulation), notobterygium root (pain killer for the torso), pubescent angelica root (pain killer for legs), peucedani (sore throat and cough), platycodi (reduces phlegm), radix bupleuri (balances temperature), immature bitter orange (relieves abdominal pain and tension by breaking up stagnation from the intestine). Diet is also important. The food must be warm, not cold, and should be light. Dairy products should be avoided, as should other 'heavy' British staples such as fish and chips, because they are too difficult to digest. I would say that vegetable soup is ideal - with ginger tea. The patient must also rest.

Dr Lawrence Plaskett, Practitioner of Nutritional Medicine, based in Cornwall. Cost: pounds 40-pounds 60 for first consultation, pounds 25 to pounds 40 for any further consultations.

Influenza is the body's way of cleaning or detoxifying the system. A nutritionist can help the person carry the symptoms through with as little discomfort as possible. I would recommend a light diet and a homeopathic remedy such as Aconite (alcoholic extract of plant diluted to one part in a million million, as are most homeopathic remedies) or Belladonna. I would advise patients to minimise use of over-the-counter drug remedies: it is counter-productive to take such drugs when the body is doing its best to cleanse itself.

Debbie Moore, resident aromatherapist, based in Leicestershire. Cost: pounds 25 for a two-hour body massage and pounds 3-pounds 7 for a small bottle of essential oil.

My daughter has flu at the moment. I've been bathing her in oils and then applying lotion to her chest and feet. Lavender is good for calming the patient and boosting the immune system. It is also quite calming. Peppermint oil is cooling - especially if the person has a fever. Eucalyptus relieves stuffy noses and helps breathing. Tea Tree oil stimulates the body's healing system. Oils can be applied in various forms. Essential oils, can be taken in pure form through a vaporiser or on a tissue. For baths I recommend six to eight drops of essential oil. For massage, 15 drops of essential oil should be mixed into 50ml of base oil. For fast relief I recommend rubbing the oils into the groin or arm-pit. They hit the circulation faster.

Francis Treuherz, registered homeopath, based in London. Cost: pounds 50 for first consultation, pounds 30 for a follow-up. Remedies cost between pounds 2 and pounds 5.

Before prescribing a remedy for flu I look at the patient and ask them questions. Are they throwing their clothes off or are they well covered? Are they restless or do they prefer to keep still? Would they prefer hot drinks or icy drinks? Then I examine their tongue, ears or glands before asking the patient about their moods. Have you had any bad news recently? Are you particularly stressed? A popular flu remedy is Eupatorium (a plant extract which makes the patient feel sweaty and flushed). This is taken by patients with standard symptoms: aching bones, chill, night fever - the rationale being (as with all homeopathic medicine) that the cause of the problem can be used to treat it. Gelsemium (a plant extract) is good for slowly developing flu, which comes when the weather is still warm. Aconite is useful for a January or February flu, when patients feel chilled, restless and fearful. Allium-Cepa (made with an extract of red onion) is helpful for burning nasal discharge and watery eyes.

Boots pharmacist.

Sufferers should keep warm, drink lots of fluids and rest. We offer a range of products to relieve symptoms. Seven Seas Vitamin and Mineral Tonic (pounds 4.59) is fortified with vitamins A and D plus iron and trace minerals to provide energy, restore appetite and provide essential nutrients. Night Cold Comfort (pounds 3.35) contains antihistamines (to aid sleep), a decongestant, a cough reliever, and paracetemol (to reduce temperature and ease aches and pains). We also sell a herbal inhalant oil (pounds 1.49) made with menthol (decongestant), camphor (soothing) and natural oils. Then there are the standard brand names, such as Lemsip Menthol Extra (pounds 3.10 for 10 sachets), which contains vitamin C, a decongestant, Menthol and paracetemol.