Ian Spohn, ND, is a staff naturopathic doctor for Energique who enjoys challenging the dogmas of both conventional and alternative medicine. He is a passionate supporter of the paleo diet and classical homeopathy.
Bone-racking chills, aching muscles, and intense headaches are among the symptoms which can distinguish influenza from the common cold. The general medical recommendation is to treat influenza symptomatically, and with sore muscles and headaches among those symptoms, it is not surprising that many flu patients turn to over-the-counter analgesics such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), commonly known as aspirin. This and other salicylate drugs, however, come with an important caveat: they should not be given to children with influenza or other viral illnesses, due to the risk of a rare complication known as Reye’s syndrome. This caution should extend to older children and teenagers, as Reye’s syndrome has been known to occur in children as old as 17 who were given aspirin during viral infections. So what exactly is Reye’s syndrome, and why does it tend to affect children?
As far as is known, Reye’s syndrome is essentially a metabolic condition. The most notable and concerning symptoms, which include drowsiness, seizures, and loss of consciousness, are thought to result from cytotoxic edema in the brain, caused by an impairment in substrate utilization (cellular energy production) and subsequent failure of the cells’ ATP-driven Na/K pumps, similar to the classic pathological model of ischemic injury. Regarding Reye’s syndrome as a metabolic condition makes sense, given that the main treatment for Reye’s syndrome is to administer IV glucose (Weiner 2015). It is not clear why children in particular are more susceptible. What is clear is that ASA affects mitochondrial function, and for this reason, under certain circumstances, its use as an analgesic and antipyretic can be dangerous.
Oddly enough, in spite of this, there has been some recent speculation that aspirin might actually enhance mitochondrial function, which has even sparked hope that it might have the potential to treat diabetes. This is because some studies have actually shown an increase in mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation in response to ASA treatment. However, this increase in fat metabolism has subsequently been shown to accompany a concurrent decrease in carbohydrate metabolism, leading to the conclusion that ASA does not actually enhance mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation, but rather impairs carbohydrate utilization and merely induces fatty acid oxidation in compensation (Uppala et al., 2017). This might explain why Reye’s syndrome as a metabolic disease tends to significantly affect the brain: brain cells are dependent on glucose for energy and cannot utilize fatty acids. This might also explain why children with certain inborn errors of metabolism are at particularly high risk for Reye’s syndrome. If an inherited metabolic defect involves fatty acid oxidation, such patients will be consequently less able to compensate when a mitochondrial toxin impairs their cells’ carbohydrate metabolism.
Because it is difficult to predict an individual’s susceptibility to Reye’s syndrome, general recommendations are to avoid salicylates altogether in the treatment of children with viral infections. Fortunately there are alternatives: homeopathy, for instance, has a stellar record as an alternative flu treatment. In fact, the success of homeopathy during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 is often cited as one of homeopathy’s crowning vindications. This is especially pertinent when discussing Reye’s syndrome since the rival conventional medical treatment for the Spanish flu was … aspirin.
Below is a link to an excellent article from the New England Journal of Homeopathy, which itself contains excerpts from a much older article published in 1920 that recorded the testimony of MDs who used homeopathy to treat the Spanish flu.
Consider some of these testimonials from the article:
Dean W. A. Pearson of Philadelphia collected 26,795 cases of influenza treated by homeopathic physicians with a mortality of 1.05%, while the average old school mortality is 30%. …
In a plant of 8,000 workers we had only one death. The patients were not drugged to death. Gelsemium was practically the only remedy used. We used no aspirin and no vaccines. -Frank Wieland, MD, Chicago. …
Fifteen hundred cases were reported at the Homeopathic Medical Society of the District of Columbia with but fifteen deaths. Recoveries in the National Homeopathic Hospital were 100%.-E. F. Sappington, M. D., Philadelphia. …
Three hundred and fifty cases and lost one, a neglected pneumonia that came to me after she had taken one hundred grains of aspirin in twenty-four hours. -Cora Smith King, MD, Washington, DC
The consensus among homeopathic doctors was that the massive doses of aspirin being prescribed by conventional physicians, who in some cases exceeded an unbelievable 30 grams per day (that’s 30,000 mg!), were causing pulmonary hemorrhage that was being mistakenly diagnosed as pneumonia before proceeding to kill the patient. It has always puzzled epidemiologists that the Spanish flu caused greater mortality in young, otherwise healthy patients than in the very young and very old, the opposite of what is normally observed in infectious epidemics. One theory that has been put forth to explain this is that younger, healthier patients were more likely to receive the highest aspirin doses since dosages are generally adjusted down for pediatric and geriatric patients. This might also explain why so many doctors were claiming better results from homeopathy.
“I had a package handed to me containing 1,000 aspirin tablets, which was 994 too many. I think I gave about a half dozen. I could find no place for it. My remedies were few. I almost invariably gave Gelsemium and Bryonia. I hardly ever lost a case if I got there first, unless the patient had been sent to a drug store and bought aspirin, in which event I was likely to have a case of pneumonia on my hands.” -J. P. Huff, MD, Olive Branch, Kentucky.” (Dewey 1920).
Fortunately, homeopathic remedies are still available for symptomatic treatment of the flu. Whether a patient is seeking alternatives to salicylates out of concern for Reye’s syndrome, out of concern for ASAs other more hemorrhagic side effects, or simply because they do not address the underlying cause of the disease, formulations are available that contain the most popular homeopathic flu remedies, which are intended to address the underlying factors causing the disease. Energique’s Grippe HP™, for instance, contains both Gelsemium and Bryonia, which J. P. Huff, MD, found so indispensable during the Spanish flu, as well as other remedies recommended by homeopaths for influenza (or “La Grippe,” as the French rather quaintly refer to it). Often, the particular strain of influenza determines what remedy will be most effective, so if individualized treatment is not available, a combination homeopathic product may be used to provide a more “broad spectrum” of coverage.
Weiner, D. (2015). Reye’s Syndrome. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/803683-overview. Accessed 2/6/18.
Uppala R, Dudiak B, Beck ME, et al. Aspirin increases mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 2017;482(2):346-351. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2016.11.066.
Dewey, W.A. Homeopathy In Influenza – A Chorus of Fifty In Harmony. Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, 1920-21; XIII: 1041.
Any homeopathic claims are based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence. Not FDA evaluated.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.