Colloidal silver and “immune boosting” herbs are just some of the products being promoted to a public that’s worried about swine (H1N1) flu. Taking proven steps to improve your immune system can be helpful amid this flu outbreak, but as we previously reported, the FDA alerted the public “to be wary of Internet sites and other promotions for products that claim to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure” swine flu. If you come across swine-flu-related fraud, you can report it to the FDA.
We’ve seen some of these promotions before with the bird-flu and SARS scares, but then, as now, the evidence-based Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says there’s little evidence that most supplements are effective for seasonal flu—and none of them have been tested on the new H1N1 flu. What’s more, some supplements can actually be dangerous.
We found one ad selling colloidal silver that claims the metal is, “the answer to prevent or treat Swine Flu, MRSA, and other bacterial or viral infections, and superpathogens.” Colloidal silver may have mild antiseptic powers, but it has no proven use against any illness. And even low doses can build up to toxic levels in the body. And silver ingestion can cause adverse affects, including a permanent bluish discoloration of the skin, nails and whites of the eyes; birth defects; and in severe cases organ damage and neurological disorders.
There’s also little evidence that “immune boosting” herbs and other supplements can help prevent flu. There is scanty evidence that elderberry can ease the severity of flu symptoms. And the homeopathic flu remedy, Oscillococcinum, also lacks convincing evidence.
We’ve also seen Internet sites offering generic Tamiflu without a prescription for the treatment of H1N1 flu. In the past, similar offers have been found to contain just vitamin C, and other ineffective ingredients. The only FDA approved treatments for swine flu are the prescription antiviral drugs Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). And those medications should be taken only when you need them and with a doctor’s prescription.
If you’re interested in improving your health, there are, indeed, many things you can do that have been proven to reduce the risk disease. Good nutrition, moderate exercise, managing stress, and getting a good night’s sleep can all help. See our full report on boosting your immunity, and our previous coverage on boosting your child’s immunity.
—Kevin McCarthy, associate editor
Keep up to date with our H1N1 (swine) flu coverage and recommendations.