Apr 292009

First of all, don’t buy the media generated hysteria because all that adrenalin is just really bad for your immune system.

I’m totally not to going to write a full explanation of the Swine Flu virus because lord knows there’s plenty of that online already. Suffice to say the current fears result from a Swine Flu (there’s been lots of Swine flus) variation that contains genetic material from swine, avian and human strains of flu. It is now confirmed to be able to spread from human to human and it is a descendant of the dreaded 1918 pandemic flu (which, contrary to common belief, was so deadly not because of the flu itself but because of the strep infection that accompanied it as well as some of the very inappropriate treatments used at that time).

So far, I don’t see any reason to panic but I’ve had about a dozen requests for a flu post, so here you go. Below is a list of my first thoughts on preventing Swine Flu from Mexico or any other flu. My experience and observation tells me that flu prevention is much more about nourishing the body than ~fighting~ any virus, so my suggestions will focus on just that.

  • Avoid a hyperactive (or hypoactive) immune system (and theoretically, the cytokine storm) with immunomodulators (rather than simple immune stimulators) like Elderberry. Elderberry is extra nice because it has also been shown to disarm flu viruses and prevent them from replicating in the body. Elder flower is a fine relaxant diaphoretic and lung tonic as well, and all around near perfect flu prevention and treatment remedy. I especially like my Elderberry Elixir recipe (scroll down til you see the recipe) to treat and prevent a variety of flu and cold bugs. Other cooling herbs useful in the treatment of hyperimmune or autoimmune conditions include Peach, Cherry, Rose and Honeysuckle.
  • Get your Vitamin D. Not actually a vitamin, this necessary steroid hormone is usually obtained through normal exposure to sunlight and diet, but supplementation is becoming increasingly necessary for those who live in Northern climes or spend much of their time indoors (that would be most of America, I suppose). Vitamin D (cholecalciferol) is important for a properly functioning immune system, especially in the respiratory tract. Up to 10,000 IU/per day is safe, and Paul Bergner says that “In order to rapidly raise se rum levels to ward normal, up to 40,000 IU/day might be safely given for a period of six weeks, followed by daily doses of 4000-10000 IU.”
  • And your Zinc. I like a dose between 10-20 mg for preventative purposes.
  • Bioflavanoids – Berries, greens and brightly colored vegetables – eat them in quantity. Nourishing herbal infusions (Rose, Elderberry, Nettle, Raspberry) tend to have large doses of bioflvanoids as well.
  • Essential Fatty Acids – Cod liver oil is a longstanding traditional preventive method for flu and cold prevention, and a very good idea year round. Sorry, plant based EFAs just won’t cut it, so go for the ones found in fatty fish and certain other wild and grassfed meats.
  • Reduce sugar and simple carbohydrate intake. Even the sugar contained in honey or fruit is perfectly capable of supressing your immune system.
  • Sleep. Lack of adequate rest and sleep is known to depress the immune system so get your Z’s and avoid longstanding sleep debt at all costs.
  • Support the body’s natural fever and elimination processes with diaphoretics rather than using NSAIDS to suppress the body’s healthy immune processes. The classic fever tea of Yarrow, Mint and Elderflower is time tested and very effective, although I prefer to use Monarda rather than Mint in many cases.


“Influenza Prevention” by Paul Bergner, from the Summer 2008 issue (Volume 15, Number 4) of Medical Herbalism.

  29 Responses to “Avoiding the The Cytokine Storm and Swine Flu Panic”

  1. HMM, I just read online an articvle by a researcher who witnessed bird flu in Viet Nam, he advise to absolutely NOT take honey or elderberry (or chocolate either), said it would INCREASE the cytokine storm and increase the flu’s lethality.

  2. I love your advice! We’re doing similar things in our family. I’m reacting like I would if any flu virus was going around. Since the weather is good for being outdoors, we’ve been spending our time there rather than in crowded indoor events. We’re getting our sunlight and fresh air, and we’re trying to eat the foods that support a healthy immune system. Lots of greens, etc. I’m like you – I really don’t see the need to panic. Just the need for the natural common sense that keeps a family healthy! I’m going to twitter a link to your article. I’ve been touching on this a bit on my site as well, and will be discussing a little more in the days to come. So important to nip that fear in the bud! Thanks again.

  3. Hi Kiva-

    What do you recommend as a form of Vitamin D? A supplement? Pill or liquid?


  4. Thanks for this post Kiva. I was wondering what you would recommend and had already started the elderberry I made some time ago.

  5. G.B. I don’t see any logic behind that at this point (seeing how Elderberry is immunomodulating, not just immune stimulating), are you sure they’re referring to Elderberry, or are they specifically talking about Sambucol? It would definitely make a difference, and all the talk I’ve seen/heard so far refers to Sambucol, a proprietary product

    Besides, to be perfectly honest, they don’t seem to have much of an idea of real triggers of cytokine storm anyhow, so it’s all mostly theory at this point. If you listen to the media long enough, you might want to stop breathing or drinking water as well 😉

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Diane and Siobhan!

    Wendy, I’ve just been using the NOW softgels, but I don’t have any specific recommendations at this point. I’ll let you know if I discover that one form is more helpful than another, or maybe Darcey will chime in here….

  6. I was just looking at a picture of the root of it on your site.


    lomatium dissectum tincture




    “During the world wide influenza epidemic of 1917, the effectiveness of Lomatium dissectum came to the attention of the American white man, Dr. Alstat explained, when it was observed that native Americans in the Southwest were recovering rapidly from the virus that was killing others.

    “A doctor named Ernest Krebbs, who was working in the desert in Nevada, found that the Indians there were peeling dissectum root, drawing and boiling it and skimming off the oil. Using about a pound of herb, the Indians were getting well within a week’s time.” Krebbs and other doctors began using the root and found it had significant healing effects. It gained in popularity, and soon four manufacturing plants were producing the extract. Since it was a Western frontier remedy, however, dissectum never attracted the attention of the medical profession in general, and shortly after the influenza epidemic died off, interest in dissectum died as well.”

  7. Yes, Lomatium can be very useful in treating viral afflictions and probably especially helpful in cases of cytokine storm, BUT lomatium comes with some really interesting side effects (nasty nasty rash) depending on how it’s prepared and dosed. The preparation you quoted is the most traditional one and seem to not have the rash associated with it.

  8. Thanks for this wonderful article, Kiva. I put a link to it in my recent blog on Courage Inc. When I read it I remembered how a media storm about some other potential destruction or disaster had me at the commissary buying plastic bags, bandaids, and duct tape like a mad woman and also paralyzed me in other ways. Your down to earth practicality about taking care of what needs taking care of and in an earth-grounded way, is perfect…. If anybody starts reading Courage, Inc., I know they’ll appreciate a shot of practical good sense.


  9. Hi Kiva,
    Thank you for posting this.
    I included your link in a post entitled “Swine Flu Prevention the Natural Way”.

    I know it’s been a while since I last stopped by so please forgive me if I missed something but may I ask when your herbal will be published?

    Oh and I almost forgot, I also linked your “golden flax bread” in my “Bread on a Gluten Free Diet” post.


  10. Yeah, here is a link to a report on the rash. I couldn’t get the picture to come up. They said lower the dose if the rash comes and it’s a sign of massive die-off.



  11. Hi Alchemille, thanks for the links! The herbal should have been done by now, but getting behind on student work has put it behind schedule as well. I’m currently hoping to have it done by my birthday in July but I don’ have a concrete date yet. I’ll certainly do a post announcing it as soon as I know. Thanks for stopping by!


  12. Yeah, I’ve read Paul’s article, it’s great (as Paul tends to be 🙂 ). I don’t necessarily agree that it’s die-off though, or it would be more likely to happen with all preparations of the root. I’ve also used alteratives and diaphoretics in the formula as recommended by Michael Moore and others and still had the rash happen, so ~shrug~.

    Either way, if you have a serious flu and are worried about a life or death kind of situation, a rash probably isn’t a big deal. I probably wouldn’t use it for prevention though except in very small doses (although I have occasionally seen the rash happen at even drop doses).

  13. I have been reading your very informative and well put together blog for almost a year. I kept checking your blog hoping you would do a post about this flu – thank you for doing one.

    I am right in the hotbed of infection in Tx where they are closing most of the schools.

    I was concerned when we were told to go to a Dr. if we are just coughing or sneezing. Going to a crowded waiting room where others may have another flu type or a cold and I might have swine flu and pick up their viruses – or I might have a cold and pick up swine flu concerned me. I found very little info where someone admitted the waiting room is a hotbed of contamination.

    On that point and for others who just cannot afford a Dr. visit for a cough have you heard of the internet formulation for herbal tamiflu (turmeric extract, star anise, fenngureek and thyme – with actually no formula given). I know not to just go and mix those things together without any knowledge about that – but do you think that even would make sense?

    And can you make any recommendation of where to find elderberry (I ended up at a Health Food Store getting an elderberry ‘viral block’ pill). Would dried berries or frozen berries be for sale – I do not know the standard way to get elderberry other than finding it in the woods or buying a finished product in the form of a pill. I had been meaning to study up on local availability of elderberry before next year flu season.

    Any feedback appreciated.

  14. I just read your post about elderberries being fine if they are dried – thanks for pointing that out – as always very informative.

    Also: any comments about garlic and if you like it the best way to take it?

  15. Glad to see you mention Yarrow too. Matthew Wood in his great Book of Herbal Wisdom and Ryan Drum have both mentioned Yarrow as Flu preventative.


  16. Richo at Horizon Herbs talks about Lomatium and then suggests, instead, due to the rash, to check out Baikal Skullcap.

  17. Follow up: my husband was exposed to this at work and he started showing flu sympotms and the clinic told us to ‘treat the symptoms at home’, mainly being the fever under control and any dehydration.

    Such conflicting advice here in the hotbed of contagion.

    The ‘go to Dr. if you cough or sneeze’ and take your family too for treatment is just not going on in reality at our clinic.

    The clinic also mentioned they do not give out Tamiflu as a precaution among family members of someone with swine flu.

    Of course, anyone should call their own Dr. or clinic and ask what to do.

  18. Nice post Kiva, thanks.

    I dont’ have very good internet access at the moment, so can someone please clarify?

    Does the current ‘swine’ flu cause a cytokine storm?

    Are the deaths in Mexico because of a cytokine storm, or something else?

  19. Good question, Kate. As far as I know, nobody’s sure. The official answer is that it MAY cause cytokine storm. The deaths in Mexico may or may not be associated with that. I think that Paul Bergner was recently saying that the death toll in Mexico was not disproportionately large but simply the result of a widespread virus in a generally poor country with inadequate health care.

    The cases in the US don’t seem to be causing anything like cytokine storm as far as I’ve heard.

  20. Think we’re dealing with a bout of swine flu now.

    didn’t use elderberry at the fever stage as worried about the cytokine storm –glad to hear the immunomodulator rather than activator. Used my anti flu soup in big quantities — will write up recipe if prodded.

    I always throw turmeric and thyme at anything viral. I think it’s pretty safe to use kitchen herbs/spices …and still has an effect i think -fenugreek and star anise I’ve not used but seem quite logical anti-virals.
    My DH has been left with a hacking cough and sore throat so today I made our families traditional elderberry cough cure.

    Val- you can often buy dried elderberries in wine making shops.

    Really tickled to have found such a great blog

  21. Glad you’re enjoying the blog, Deggie.

    I wouldn’t focus so much on “anti-virals” in this case, I would focus on strengthening the native body ecology with bone broths and other nourishers. Yes, most kitchen spices high in volatile oils are likely to be anti-viral by their very nature. The aromatics are very nice for opening up the lungs and are usually diaphoretic as well. Of course, which spice/herb is called for depends very much on the individual case of flu 🙂

  22. Ok so it’s been a while since the last post on this topic but thought I would reassure myself. Currently where I live there is an out break of some sort of Flu virus.. they haven’t gotten any tests back yet for H1N1 as it takes 10 days. I bought a case of the Elderberry Concentrate (just basically Elderberries and Raw Honey) and have been giving to my family. Both my daughters are currently sick, should I stop the Elderberry incase of the cytokine storm?? I know you noted above that it isn’t possible but as this isn’t a homemade product should I be worried?

    • I don’t know the product but if it really is just elderberries and honey you should be fine… I’ve used elderberry in many cases of H1N1 now, and it’s worked great. The chance of cytokine storm seems extremely low, and in addition, it’s my personal understanding that whole elderberry would help not hinder, in such a case.

  23. I am glad you answered:) I was a little worried that I had made a mistake as I have never used elderberry before. May I as what dosage you are using while treating those cases of H1N1?? and is elderberry something you should be taking even when you are not sick?? to ward off the flu? If so I need to order more elderberries lol

  24. The dosage is listed here with the recipe: http://bearmedicineherbals.com/?p=820

    And some people do use it as a basic preventative, but I only take when I feel symptoms coming on or I’ve just been really exposed to something nasty.

  25. Thanks again:) one laast question I promise, I have a 4 month old baby who has come down with a fever(my older two children had it a few days ago, and at my daughters school there is an outbreak of H1N1) I gave the older two elderberry right away, it worked amazing. However I am hesitant to give it to my baby and I cannot seem to get his fever down. The stuff I have as I said has raw honey which I heard is bad for babies. I am really worried about him as it’s been over 12 hrs with this fever I cannot break and his chest sounds horrible.
    If i gave him elderberry tea would that be ok?? if so, how much would you reccommend?
    I am sorry to ask you this but I live in a very small place and it’s nearly impossible to get sound advice here, even to get into the Dr’s takes a week. Thank you so much:)

  26. Dee, are you breastfeeding? If so, I suggest you take the elixir yourself and he’ll get it through your milk. Otherwise, yes, I’d think small amounts of the tea would be preferable to any honey…

    My guess (and it is a guess on my part, without seeing the infant’s size, weight, state etc) would be 1/2 tsp of tea at a time, probably every couple of hours. I would combine flower and berry in the tea if you have them both on hand.

    Are you humidifying his room or the house? Do you have any gentle chest type salves on hand?

    Hope he feels better soon!

  27. I am not breastfeeding so I did give him the elixer(with the raw honey) just a little bit because I didn’t have the flower leaves just the berry. Where I live there is no where to purchase these:( very frustrating.) So I was at a loss and the temp getting higher so I gave him a little of the elixir and voila! one hour later fever gone
    Thank you so much for your advice. I am going to order the flower right now if I can find it online.
    I do have one type of salve here Ill have to check what is in it. I bought it for my daughter so I am not sure if I can use it on the baby.
    You are the best I am so glad I found this site:) Thank you again

  28. SO glad he’s doing better!

    You can get the flowers from mountainroseherbs.com or pacificbotanicals.com for sure…. then you can make a tincture to keep on hand and also have some for tea 🙂

    You’re very welcome 🙂

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