You may have seen NBC's hit piece on the mother whose son had just died – the piece that uses the family's tragedy as an excuse to go after Larry Cook's FaceBook group "Stop Mandatory Vaccination." That piece is titled: "On Facebook, anti-vaxxers urged a mom not to give her son Tamiflu. He later died."
Before I read that article, I had never really looked into elderberry extract as a possible flu remedy. We do take elderberry/zinc lozenges sometimes, and we avoid pharmaceuticals as much as possible. (No, I would never use Tamiflu.) But I had never really looked into the elderberry component of it.
Until I saw this, from the NBC hit piece:
"The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu."
Because I've read a fair bit of mainstream medical reporting and I've seen how much outright propaganda gets published in "reputable" outlets masquerading as journalism, this last sentence jumped out at me.
"Really?" I thought to myself. "Did Brandy Zadrozny (NBC's ace medical journalist, who has carved out a niche for herself harrassing mothers of children who are ill or have died–but only the ones who question medical orthodoxy) really look into all of these treatments and determine that none of them are recommended for the flu?
So I decided to check.
The first one was the easiest. Even the CDC knows that breastmilk can be beneficial in protecting against the flu virus and other pathogens. Here's what it has to say on the matter (bold mine):
“A mother’s breast milk contains antibodies and other immunological factors that can help protect her infant from flu and is the recommended source of nutrition for the infant, even while the mother is ill.”
“When an infant has flu, the mother should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk to her infant. Infants who are ill need fluids to stay hydrated and breast milk is the best option.”
OK fine. But what about this kooky elderberry stuff? Surely that must be a bunch of woo-woo hippie crackpot nonsense?
Turns out, nope.
A study in 2004 of 60 patients found that those who took elderbery syrup within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms experienced relief of those symptoms an average of 4 days earlier than did patients given a placebo syrup.
Another study, in 2009, showed a dramatic improvement in flu symptoms in a group treated with elderberry extract as compared to a placebo group. And last year, a study published in the Journal of Functional Foods identified some of the mechanisms of action that make elderberry extract effective against the influenza virus.
Zadrozny might argue that just because there are studies supporting the use of elderberry extract against the flu, that doesn't mean that it is a "medically recommended treatment" for the flu–which is what she said it was not, in her hit piece against the grieving mother and the facebook group. But that statement is just vague enough ("medically recommended" by whom? Any doctor? Any medical professional?) to be untrue. Of course there is some medical professional out there who recommends elderberry extract as a treatment for the flu. More importantly though, there is scientific evidence supporting that recommendation–something Zadrozny is unaware of, and likely does not care about. After all, the purpose of her article was not the upholding of scientific accuracy.
Moving on to Thyme.
So, in the short period of time I spent looking up Zadrozny's claim, I did not find anything supporting the role of thyme in fighting off the flu. HOWEVER, I did find quite a bit about its properties as a potent anti-microbial agent, its ability to fight off bacteria, some viruses, and even superbugs. So... yay thyme! Who knew? I certainly wouldn't have, had it not been for Brandy Zadrozny's over-the-top hit piece on a grieving mother.
By the way, since the premise of the NBC article was that it was irresponsible of the mother to not give her ailing son Tamiflu, but to try some of these other (scientifically supported) remedies instead, I thought it worth pointing out that the makers of Tamiflu are currently being sued for misrepresenting the efficacy of the drug. According to the Lanier Lawfirm:
"Drug company Hoffmann-La Roche (OTCMKTS – RHHBY) bilked U.S. federal and state governments out of $1.5 billion by misrepresenting clinical studies and falsely claiming that its well-known influenza medicine Tamiflu was effective at containing potential pandemics, according to a recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit.
"The lawsuit claims the drugmaker’s scheme involved publishing misleading articles falsely stating that Tamiflu reduces complications, severity, hospitalizations, mortality and transmission of influenza. The company then used those articles to aggressively market the drug to the government for pandemic use. Relying on the supposed truthfulness of Roche’s claims, federal and state governments spent about $1.5 billion to stockpile Tamiflu to combat influenza pandemics, according to the complaint."
There's a lot more to say about the NBC piece, and I plan to write more about it soon. But I just wanted to share with my readers something I learned here: That while it is never a good idea to assume anything, and is a disastrous idea to build any kind of article or argument on assumptions, some assumptions can be a good place in which to start poking around. And this is one of them: The assumption that most of what the mainstream media has to say about alternative medicine (or you can substitute Beach Balls here) is flat-out wrong. This isn't always true of course, but it's a good place to start.
Anyway, thanks NBC, and thanks Brandy Zadrozny. Without your tireless efforts, I might never have known just how useful elderberry extract (and possibly thyme) can be against the flu!