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Will Chinese Herb Andrographis Ease Misery of Flu?

Evidence supports taking the herb Andrographis paniculata to relieve cold and flu symptoms. It helps more than placebo.

As we move into spring, flu season is receding. We will not hear public health announcements urging us to get our flu shots for another six months. But the question remains: what can you do if you catch the flu? Most over-the-counter flu remedies only relieve symptoms temporarily. Moreover, their effectiveness can vary quite a bit. The FDA has approved three prescription medicines for treating influenza, but one is reserved for hospitalized patients. Like elderberry (Sambucus nigra), the Chinese herb Andrographis paniculata has a reputation for speeding recovery from influenza. Is this warranted?

Can Andrographis Help Treat Flu Symptoms?

Q. The flu I had after Christmas was beastly, and the medicine my doctor prescribed made me sick. For future reference, are there any herbal protocols for the flu? I am specifically interested in Andrographis, because I read it could be helpful.

Benefits of an Adaptogen:

A. Traditional healers have used the Chinese herb Andrographis paniculata to treat upper respiratory infections like colds or the flu. It is considered an adaptogen that has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immune modulating effects (Pharmaceuticals, Sep. 8, 2020).  In addition, it can help repair damage from oxidative stress.

In most clinical trials, Andrographis extract is better than placebo for relieving symptoms of colds or flu. A recent study showed similar results against the common cold (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, May 2023). Many people might welcome such relief,

Are There Downsides?

For best results, people need to take this herbal remedy at the first sign of symptoms (Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, June 11, 2021).  Although some people suffer digestive distress or rash, Andrographis appears to be generally safe (Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, June 2021).

An analysis that compared medications made of concentrated andrographolide with herbal preparations of Andrographis found that the concentrated injections sometimes cause serious reactions (Frontiers in Pharmacology, Jan. 28, 2022). The investigators described severe digestive distress, skin rash or dangerous allergic reactions. In contrast, most people who reacted to herbal Andrographis preparations had only mild problems.

To be fair, though, doctors usually classify the nausea that some people experience from oseltamivir (Tamiflu) as a mild reaction. We don’t know if any individual would be more or less comfortable using herbal products to ease their flu symptoms.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Panossian A & Brendler T, "The role of adaptogens in prophylaxis and treatment of viral respiratory infections." Pharmaceuticals, Sep. 8, 2020. DOI: 10.3390/ph13090236
  • Raj JP et al, "Efficacy and safety of AP-Bio®(KalmCold®) in participants with uncomplicated upper respiratory tract viral infection (common cold) - A phase III, double-blind, parallel group, randomized placebo-controlled trial." Complementary Therapies in Medicine, May 2023. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2023.102934
  • Narimanyan M et al, "Early intervention with Kan Jang® to treat upper-respiratory tract infections: A randomized, quadruple-blind study." Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, June 11, 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2021.06.001
  • Shang Y-X et al, "Adverse effects of andrographolide derivative medications compared to the safe use of herbal preparations of Andrographis paniculata: Results of a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical studies." Frontiers in Pharmacology, Jan. 28, 2022. DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2022.773282
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