The flu has increased significantly over recent weeks with influenza A (H3N2) viruses predominating so far this season. In the past, A (H3N2) virus-predominant influenza seasons have been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in persons aged 65 years and older and young children compared to other age groups.1
So how can you protect yourself and recover quickly in the event you do get sick? Let’s look at how to fight the flu with Ayurveda.
In this article, we’ll cover…
What Is Influenza Or Flu?
Signs And Symptoms Of Flu
How Flu Spreads
Onset Of Symptoms
The Ayurvedic Approach To Flu
Building Your Resilience To Flu
Steps To Improve Your Natural Immunity
Ways You Can Cleanse The Upper Respiratory Tract
How To Easily Cleanse The Bowels
Additional Preventative Tips
If You Do Get The Flu…
Helpful Ayurvedic Herbs
READ MORE: 5 Homemade Ayurvedic Tonics That Help Calm Your Stomach ASAP
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms. They usually start suddenly.
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Although people with the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins, some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.
The time from when a person is exposed to the flu virus and infected, to when symptoms begin is about 1 to 4 days, with an average of about 2 days.2 The conventional treatment consists of flu vaccine and anti-viral drugs along with symptomatic treatment with analgesics and antihistamines.
Ayurveda does recognize the presence of germs, infections and the contagious nature of certain diseases. But the Ayurvedic approach relies more on making the body resilient to getting infections and treating the body as a whole when someone falls prey to an infection. Many herbal supplements, though mentioned for infectious illnesses and having been researched for their antibacterial and antiviral activity, show milder action in comparison to modern drugs.
Obviously, the aim of these supplements, according to Ayurveda, is to create an environment in the body which is not conducive to the invading microorganisms, and not to directly kill or interfere with their replication. But do they work?
Well, we do not advise you to replace conventional treatment, which includes immunization and antiviral and other drugs according to your doctor’s advice, with these herbal supplements. Herbal supplements are not meant to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure a disease. They may help your body in conjunction with other measures mentioned below and in addition to the conventional treatment prescribed by your doctor, to recover faster, by bringing the three bio-energies called doshas (namely Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) into balance. You should always inform your doctor (especially if you are pregnant) if you wish to follow any of the suggestions given here and do so with his or her permission.
The symptoms of flu closely resemble the Vata-shleshamika (sheleshma is a synonym of Kapha dosha) type of febrile illness. The illness involves aggravation of Vata and Kapha along with Pitta (which is a common dosha involved in every kind of fever). Thus, this illness involves vitiation of all the three doshas.
The symptoms of flu as mentioned in the “Handbook Of Domestic And Common Ayurvedic Remedies,” published by the Central Council of Research in Indian Medicine and Homeopathy, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi are: moderately high fever with pain in the joints, headache, cold, cough, feeling of heaviness and ‘moist wrapping’ in the body and excessive sleep. All or any combination of these symptoms may be present in a person having Vata-shleshamik fever.
As you can see, the aggravation of Vata and Kapha are heralding features of this febrile illness. The symptoms are marked by a runny nose which is called Pratishyaya (Pra-tee- sh-ya-yah) in Ayurvedic terminology. This itself means movement of Kapha towards the nose and its expulsion through the nostrils. This movement is triggered by the aggravated Vata. This pathology is common to both the common cold and the flu. But the similarity ends here and in the latter, the Pratishyaya turns to Kasa. Kasa is the Sanskrit name for cough originating out of the upper and lower respiratory tract. Kasa may progress to involve the sinuses to cause sinusitis (called Dushta Pratishyaya in Ayurveda) or lower respiratory tract to cause inflammation in the lungs which can cause pain while coughing and difficulty breathing. Here, the Pitta also gets involved and thus fever ensues.
What can you do to help the body to be more resilient to the flu and what can you do in addition to the conventional treatment once one is afflicted by the flu?
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The first step is to not let the Kapha and Vata get aggravated. All of you who know the basics of Ayurveda, already know that among the three bio energies (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) Vata and Kapha are cold energies and Pitta is hot. So, winter season, which is marked by cold weather, is the perfect time for these two doshas to get aggravated. Hence, preventing oneself from the onslaught of cold is the primary step. Covering your head and ears and also the nostrils while cladding yourself with multiple layers of winter clothing is mandatory. This applies more so to young children and the old. Similarly, having cold food and beverages should be strictly avoided. These are internal factors that contribute to the aggravation of Vata and Kapha.
Further, certain lifestyle factors like not resting enough, overdoing it, remaining awake at night or sleeping during the daytime are example of causes that can aggravate Vata and Kapha respectively. Any book or resource on Ayurvedic basic principles will list factors that can contribute to the aggravation of Vata and Kapha and all of these must be avoided.
Ayurveda suggests you take the following important measures during a viral illness like the flu, while keeping the Ayurvedic way of life in mind.
Overwork and sleeping during the daytime should be avoided.
Excessive indulgence in sex should be avoided.
Immunity supporting herbs like Amalaki, Guduchi, Ashwagandha, Tulsi and Ginger should be taken regularly.
Warm Tulsi Ginger Tea should be sipped several times a day. To make Tulsi Ginger Tea, take 10-15 leaves of holy basil or ½ tsp of dried tulsi leaves, 4-6 black peppers, 1 cm cube ginger, and ½ inch stick of cinnamon. Grind these together and then boil them in 1 ½ cups of water and reduce it to half. It should be sweetened with one teaspoon of raw sugar and sipped hot. Alternatively, if you are short of time, you can take ½ – 1 tsp of ginger juice with a pinch of black pepper mixed in one teaspoon of honey, 2-3 times a day.
READ MORE: How Ashwagandha Helps Hypothyroidism, Healthiest Vegetables For Fall, According To Ayurveda, Triphala For Weight Loss
Saline warm water gargling should be started with the first sign of irritation in the throat. Snuff 2-6 drops of mustard oil up the nostrils. Once it enters the throat, spit it out. This can be repeated 2-3 times in a day.
Steam Inhalation: Grate and boil a piece of ginger in water. As it comes to a boil, take it off the stove and put some eucalyptus oil in it. Inhale the steam to decongest a stuffy nose.
Bowels should be kept clean by drinking enough warm water, warm vegetable or chicken soups, and ingesting enough fiber in the diet. You can have Triphala, an Ayurvedic herbal formula of 3 dried, powdered fruits, as suggested by you Ayurvedic practitioner. Take this with warm water at bed time to have a clear bowel movement in the morning.
READ MORE: Triphala Benefits, Side Effects, Uses, Triphala Churna, Triphala Guggul, Butternut Squash Benefits + Vata And Pitta Pacifying Soup Recipe
Protect yourself from flu viruses by washing your hands often, especially if you are caring for someone who is sick.3 If you do get sick, protect others by staying home, seeing your doctor and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
In general, rest, protecting yourself from cold, having a nutritious and easily digestible diet and taking sufficient fluids are enough to take care of most attacks of the flu. But it is always safe to consult your primary care doctor for assessment to determine if you might need hospitalization or not.
These herbs may be useful in helping the body to take care of the Dosha imbalance specific to the flu.
If Pitta is involved, Pitta pacifying herbs like Guduchi (tinospora cordifolia), Amaltas, Chirayata, Kutki, along with Vata and Kapha pacifying herbs can be used.
One popular formula used by Ayurvedic practitioners in India for this illness is Gojivhadi Decoction. This works on Vata and Kapha dosha to restore balance. It is also combined with other Pitta pacifying herbs.
Gojivhadi Decoction contains the following herbs…
Gojihva (Sedge herb, leaf) or Onosumma bracteatum
Ystimadhu (Licorice, root) or Glycyrrhiza glabra
Misreya (Dill, seeds) or Anethum sowa
Draksha (Dried grapes, fruit) or Vitis vinifera
Anjira (Dried common fig, fruit) or Ficus carica
Unnava (Indian jujube, fruit) or Zizyphus sativa
Vasa (Vasaka, root) or Adhatoda vasica
Jupha (Hyssop, flowers or leaf) or Hyssopus officinalis
Sleshmataka (Cordia tree, fruit) or Cordia dichotoma
Khubakalan (London rocket, seeds) or Sisymbrium irio
Hamsapadi (Rusa grass) or Cymbopogan martini
Gula vanaphsa (Sweet violet, flowers) or Viola odorata
Atasi (Flax, seeds) or Linum usitatissimum
Khatami (Marshmallow, fruit) or Althaea officinalis
Kantakari (Yellow berried night shade, fruits or whole plant) or Solanum xanthocarpum
Maricha (Black Pepper, fruit) or Piper nigrum
Method of Preparation
Take one part (about half an ounce) of the above herbal ingredients in a coarse powder and boil in 16 parts of water. Reduce it to four parts. Strain and sip hot or let cool down until it gets warm. Add honey and enjoy.
It might not be possible for you to get this formulation or all of the ingredients. In this situation, you may discuss the merit of those which are available with an Ayurvedic practitioner and use them as per the advice. Alternatively, you can use Maharishi Ayurved’s Aller-Breathe tablets, the closest ready-to-use preparation. Use them according to the instructions.
1 “Seasonal Influenza A(H3N2) Activity and Antiviral Treatment of Patients with Influenza.”Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, 27 Dec. 2017, emergency.cdc.gov/han/han00409.asp.
2 “Influenza (Flu).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Oct. 2017, www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm.
3 “CDC Newsroom.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Jan. 2018, www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/t0126-flu-update-activity.html.
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