Does Oscillococcinum Work for the Flu?

by Rachael Link, MS, RD

In recent years, Oscillococcinum has secured a slot as one of the top over-the-counter supplements used to treat and reduce symptoms of the flu. However, its effectiveness has been called into question by researchers and healthcare professionals alike.

This article tells you whether Oscillococcinum can really treat the flu.

What isOscillococcinum

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic preparation that’s typically used to relieve flu symptoms.

It was created during the 1920s by the French physician Joseph Roy, who believed he had discovered a type of “oscillating” bacterium in people with the Spanish flu. He also claimed to have observed the same strain of bacteria in the blood of people with other conditions, including cancer, herpes, chicken pox and tuberculosis.

Oscillococcinum was formulated using an active ingredient that’s extracted from the heart and liver of a certain kind of duck and has been diluted several times. The preparation is believed to contain specific compounds that can help fight symptoms of the flu. Yet, how it works remains unclear.

Though the effectiveness of Oscillococcinum remains highly controversial, it’s widely used around the world as a natural remedy to treat flu-like symptoms, such as body aches,headache, chills, fever and fatigue (1).

It’s Highly Diluted

One of the primary concerns surrounding Oscillococcinum is the way that it’s produced. The preparation is diluted to 200C, which is a measure commonly used in homeopathy. This means that the mixture is diluted with one part duck organ to 100 parts water.

The dilution process is then repeated 200 times until there’s hardly a trace of the active ingredient remaining in the final product. Dilution in homeopathy is believed to increase the potency of a preparation (2).

Unfortunately, research is still limited on the effectiveness of these ultra-diluted substances and whether they have any benefits on health (3,4).

Bacteria Don’tCause Influenza

Another issue with Oscillococcinum is that it was created based on the belief that a specific strain of bacteria causes influenza. This strain was also supposedly identified within the heart and liver of a kind of duck, which is why they’re used in the formulation of Oscillococcinum.

The physician credited with the creation of Oscillococcinum also believed that this type of bacteria could be beneficial in the treatment of many other conditions, includingcancer, herpes, measles and chickenpox. However, scientists are now aware that influenza is caused by a virus rather than bacteria (5).

Furthermore, none of the other conditions believed to be treated by Oscillococcinum are caused by bacterial strains either. For this reason, it’s unclear how effective Oscillococcinum can be, given the fact that it’s based on theories that have since been proven false.

More Research is Needed on Its Effectiveness

Studies on the effectiveness of Oscillococcinum have turned up mixed results. For example, one study in 455 people showed that Oscillococcinum was able to reduce the frequency of respiratory tract infections (6).

However, other research found that it may not be particularly effective, especially when it comes to treating influenza. A review of six studies reported no significant difference between Oscillococcinum and a placebo in the prevention of influenza (7).

Another review of seven studies had similar findings and showed that Oscillococcinum was ineffective at preventing influenza. The results suggested that Oscillococcinum was able to decrease influenza duration but only by less than seven hours, on average (8).

Research on the effects of this homeopathic preparation is still limited, and most studies are considered low-quality with a high risk of bias.

High-quality studies with a large sample size are needed to determine how Oscillococcinum mayimpact flu symptoms.

It May Have a Placebo Effect

Though research on the effectiveness of Oscillococcinum has turned up mixed results, some studies suggest that it may provide a placebo effect.

For example, in one review of seven studies, no evidence was found to suggest that Oscillococcinum could effectively prevent or treat influenza. However, researchers did notice that people taking Oscillococcinum were more likely to find treatment effective (8).

Other research suggests that many of the benefits associated with homeopathic preparations like Oscillococcinum may be attributed to a placebo effect rather than the medication itself (9). But because of the conflicting findings on the effectiveness of Oscillococcinum, more research is required to determine if it may have a placebo effect.

It’s Safe with Minimal Risk of Side Effects

While it’s still unclear whether Oscillococcinum can help relieve symptoms of the flu, studies have confirmed that it’s generally safe and can be used with minimal risk of side effects.

In fact, according to one review, Oscillococcinum has been on the market for over 80 years and has an excellent safety profile due to the lack of reported adverse effects on health (10).

There have been some reports of patients experiencing angioedema, a type of severe swelling, after taking Oscillococcinum. However, it’s unclear if the preparation caused it or if other factors may have been involved (11). Additionally, keep in mind that Oscillococcinum is sold as a dietary supplement rather than a drug in many areas, including the US.

Therefore, it’s not regulated by the FDA and not held to the same standards as conventional medications in terms of safety, quality and effectiveness.

The Bottom Line

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic preparation used to treat flu symptoms. Due to the questionable science behind the product and a lack of high-quality research, its effectiveness remains controversial.

It may offer a placebo effect rather than true medicinal properties. Yet, it’s considered safe with minimal side effects. If you find that it works for you, you can safely take Oscillococcinum when the flu plagues you.

Related at Care2

Image via Thinkstock

30 comments

Thomas M
Past Member 1 months ago

Thank you

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Vincent T
Past Member 1 months ago

thanks for this

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Camilla V
Camilla Vaga2 months ago

thx

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Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jetana A
Jetana A2 months ago

The placebo effect is powerful! There's obviously a lot of belief in the effectiveness of this remedy, which has proven safe over the better part of a century and is inexpensive compared to pharmaceuticals (which aren't all that effective against flu).

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Janet B
Janet B2 months ago

Thanks

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R2 months ago

I agree with David...the only benefit is the placebo effect.

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David F
David F2 months ago

I am a big believer in the placebo effect so take these pills.

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Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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