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Swine Flu Virus Update August 2009

August 14, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

News reports about the so called Novel H1N1 Swine Flu continue to roll in from around the world. On a daily basis, governmental agencies and medical specialists offer the best information they currently have about how to contain the spread of this pandemic. There’s no question that it’s important to keep up to date on the breaking news. But more and more, it appears that acting on a personal level is one the best options we have. I’m referring, specifically, to measures that we can each take to keep ourselves well. Staying healthy contributes to a grassroots effort to help minimize the impact of this virus. This is a way of applying the “think globally, act locally” philosophy to this worldwide health matter.

As we speak, Swine Flu vaccines are being tested in the general population for both efficacy and safety. The results of these preliminary trials won’t be known for some time. If all goes well, a viable vaccine may be available in late September to mid-October. (1,2,3) In the meantime, important findings were recently announced about both conventional and holistic alternatives for dealing with the flu. Here’s a brief overview of the information that’s currently in publication:

Beta Glucan - Beta glucans are unique carbohydrates found in foods such as baker’s yeast, certain grains (barley and oats) and mushrooms. They are believed to possess an immune modulating effect in the human body. A recently published study in the Journal of Applied Research documents the ability of a beta glucan extract from baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to diminish the frequency of seasonal colds and flu. 40 healthy adults with ages ranging from 18 – 65 took a daily dose of 500 mg of this extract or a placebo. The treatment period coincided with the typical cold and flu season. Over the course of 12 weeks, those receiving the beta glucan supplement reported missing 0 days of school or work. The participants taking the placebo missed an average of 1.38 days. An improvement in “quality of life” and a lower likelihood of fever incidence and severity were noted in the beta glucan group as well. This led the authors of the trial to determine that this supplement may “reduce some risks associated with upper respiratory infections”. Successful studies from 2004 and 2008 provide a basis for these current findings. (4,5,6,7)

Pomegranate - A test tube study published in the July 2009 edition of Phytomedicine found that a pomegranate extract might be helpful in the battle against influenza. An interesting side note is that combining pomegranate with Tamiflu (oseltamivir) appeared to have a compounding/synergistic effect. The authors of the experiment concluded that, “Pomegranate extracts should be further studied for therapeutic and prophylactic potential, especially for influenza epidemics and pandemics”. This is not the first time that researchers have detected antiviral properties in pomegranate extracts. But it’s important to keep in mind that the evidence thus far is highly preliminary in nature. It’s application in a real world setting is hard to predict. A brief word of caution – a new case report highlights a possible interaction between frequent pomegranate juice consumption and blood thinning medications. Since such drugs require careful monitoring, it would be wise to discuss the start or discontinuation of pomegranate supplementation with your doctor before making any changes. (8,9,10,11,12,13)

Probiotics - I’ve covered the topic of pre and probiotics quite extensively in the past. Their application in bolstering immune function and possibly deterring viral infections is supported by two newly published papers. The first appears in the journal Pediatrics. In that trial, 326 young children (3 – 5 years old) were given one of three treatments over the course of 6 months. Treatment 1 consisted of an inactive placebo. Treatment 2 contained a single strain of healthy bacterium (Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM). The third treatment contained the single strain plus an additional bacterium known as Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis Bi-07. All treatments were administered twice daily. The scientists reported the following results:

  • The single strain of bacterium reduced coughing by 41%, fever by 53% and runny nose by 28%. The duration of said symptoms was also 32% shorter than in those using the placebo.
  • The dual-strain bacteria produced the following declines: cough – 62%, fever – 73% and runny nose – 59%. Symptom duration decreased by 48% on average.
  • The children receiving the single and double strain supplements needed 68% and 84% fewer antibiotics respectively.

In addition, there was about a 30% reduction in “sick days” (days missed in group child care) in the youngsters receiving probiotics. These study results support a recent systemic review that was also optimistic about the role of probiotics in the management of respiratory tract infections. (14,15)

Tamiflu and Relenza - The good news about these antiviral medications is that they seem to shorten the length of flu related symptoms by 1/2 – 1 1/2 days. New evidence suggests that they can also help reduce the spread of influenza by approximately 8%. The bad news is that they don’t appear to reduce the incidence or magnitude of flu-related complications such as asthma symptoms, ear infections and the requirement for antibiotic treatment. In addition, significant side effects have been noted in recent studies. In a group of 103 participants, over 50% reported experiencing side effects. Most of the adverse reactions were related to intestinal issues (nausea) and an “increased risk of vomiting”. Other unwanted effects included “mild neuropsychiatric” symptoms, including nightmares. More alarming reports have been documented in Japanese children undergoing anti-influenza treatments. Severe consequences such as delirium, hallucinations, encephalitis and even death are evidenced in the medical literature. But, these rare incidents are thought to be influenced by other independent health factors. Still, the potential risks are great enough to lead some health authorities to urge that Tamiflu be used very selectively, if at all, in children with seasonal flu. (16,17,18)

Source: Journal of Environmental Geochemistry and Health – March 2009(a)

Vitamin D - The Public Health Agency of Canada just announced plans to evaluate the role that vitamin D could play in curtailing the spread of influenza. Their reasons for doing so are most likely influenced by the current Swine Flu concern. But perhaps it also has something to do with emerging data that suggests that vitamin D: a) is commonly deficient in vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly and; b) may prevent and potentially help treat viral infections alongside conventional medications. Ameliorating either or both of these situations would result in less stress and huge monetary savings for the Canadian health care system. (19,20,21,22,23)

Zinc - Supplementing with a mere 15 mg of zinc per day helps improve the function of immune system cells (T cells) that play a vital role in containing viral infections. This is a conservative amount of this essential nutrient and can easily be attained by simply taking a daily multivitamin and mineral formula. The trouble is, many people don’t do it. This is an inexpensive and easily modifiable change that can be enacted by nearly everyone. This proactive step can correct many micro-nutrient deficiencies that are known to contribute to impaired immune function. (24,25,26)

When health scares like the Swine Flu come down the pike, they should remind us that we need to be responsible for our own well being. One the best ways of doing that is to help those around us to also stay healthy. I believe that setting a positive example is one of the best ways to encourage others in this respect. The closer we personally come to being the “picture of health”, the more likely that others will follow suit. Make sure that you’re doing all that you can to stay well in these uncertain times. After which, please take the additional step of sharing your success with others. This is not only the right thing to do, but also a very real wellness strategy that will likely help us all.

Be well!

JP

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12 Comments & Updates to “Swine Flu Virus Update August 2009”

  1. Jonathan Steele, RN Says:

    Two Studies found on PubMed show a simple boosting of the immunity can make the symptoms less severe even in those over 65.

    This is old news. Look at the dates of the studies. They are from a few years ago.

    We can boost our immunity with diet or with supplements as the study indicated. Either way, the H1N1 Swine flu is over rated. Considering the dangers of the vaccine, if your worried, start boosting your immunity. Otherwise, live a healthy life style and worry about being hit by lightning. The lightning is probably the greater risk.

    Good health to you.

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Jonathan.

    I hope you’re right about the threat that the Novel H1N1 Swine Flu virus presents. Time will tell.

    I regularly cite brand new studies and relevant studies that are older. Each citation/study provides an added piece to the puzzle, IMO.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Nina K. Says:

    Dear JP,

    i read about the l-arginin vs. l-lysin thing, both are neccessary but l-lysin works against viruses, because they need arginin to proliferate. my hope is, that like in the case of other viruses like the normal “flu” herpes zoster etc. lysin rich foods will help to protect against an infection. lysin rich foods are almost all kinds of meat and fish, nuts and cereals with high protein load contain mostly a lot of arginin (which is also important). Chocolate and peanuts – typicall snacks when people are stressed – lead often to an outbreak of herpes simplex.

    maybe this will be helpful to know :-)

    Nina K.

  4. JP Says:

    Nina,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. To the best of my knowledge, (unfortunately) lysine isn’t effective against all viral offenders.

    I did a brief search regarding arginine consumption and the influenza virus and only found a study that hints at a mildly positive effect of arginine intake re: flu progression.

    http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/135/5/1146

    I think, at this point, it would be premature to suggest applying an arginine-restricted diet as a general preventive measure against the flu. The reason why is because I just don’t know if the lysine/arginine interaction, that is supposedly at work in the case of HSV-1, may not relevant with regard to the Novel H1N1 Swine Flu virus or influenza in general.

    Many arginine rich foods such as certain fish, spinach, turkey are just too healthy to avoid unless we have good reason to.

    I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for information about this topic and will gladly share anything I find. Please do the same!

    Be well!

    JP

    PS – Very preliminary research suggests that chocolate may actually have antiviral properties under in certain circumstances:

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119190122/abstract

  5. Nina K. Says:

    JP,

    thank you so much for searching information about lysin/arginin. so my “hope” is destroyed ;-) . In the case of swine flu the best medicine woulde be – eat as healthy as possible and wash hands more often.

    A few days ago i read on a german homepage of a doctor: sunlight is healthy because of vitamin d and so on, but when you stay too long in the sun, like beach vaccation, despite high spf – the sun exposure will have a immunsuppressive effect. That is an interessting effect, i can’t remember the exact chemical reactions for that. So i have no interesst in beach vaccation this year ;-)

    Stay healthy and thank you so much for your articles here.

    Nina K.

  6. JP Says:

    Nina,

    A healthy diet and good hygiene are indeed essential, IMO. But, in terms of sun exposure, a burn or tan in never necessary. Getting some limited non-peak UV exposure is generally all that’s needed.

    Supplementation (with vitamin D) is another safe and effective way to derive much of the benefits of this immune-supporting hormone.

    BTW, eating a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fats can help discourage sunburn! So, it all comes full circle! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Rosalind Says:

    I recently received info in one of my health newsletters that
    supplementation with extra Vitamin D3 is a natural deterrent to
    getting the H1N1/Swine flu virus. Certainly a whole lot safer than any vaccine would be. Plus, with the Fall/Winter months ahead, less actual Sunshine available, our immune systems will
    benefit too. Just be sure it’s Vit D3!

  8. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Rosalind.

    I agree that the D3 form (cholecalciferol) seems to be superior to the vitamin D2 form (ergocalciferol).

    I’m certainly taking my vitamin D and trying to keep it at an optimal level. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Phil Says:

    I am surprised I cannot find more about the wonderful effects of Beta Glucan, such a great adjunct and Immune potentiator

    I only see a mention from time to time, not many are aware of the benifits

    One day I believe this will be a major additive in foods, drinks, cereals, breads, etc. It also protects against radiation

    Why do you think it is underutilized and undiscovered to a degree ?

    I take it on a regular basis and use the 1/3, 1/6 beta glucan

  10. JP Says:

    Good day, Phil.

    I think the primary reason is because many parts of the world still don’t think of food as being medicinal. It’s typically not a big part of the modern medical health care system. Also, there are variations in beta glucan activity based on the source of the glucans – mushrooms vs. oats vs. yeast, etc.

    Having said that, there are quite a few clinical studies currently underway and planned using beta glucans as the active portion of the trial.

    http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=beta+glucan

    Hopefully the results of that research will be positive and help to spread the word about it.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Robert barrett Says:

    hi phil your right about the effects of beta glucan ive been taking it for quite some time myself and one time i caught a very bad cold so i took 1000mg over a 12 hour period and the next day later i was recovered 100% that cold only lasted about 16 hours, beta glucan is truly wonderful stuff everyone should take it its a pitty not many people know about its benifits it also increases survival rate of up to 60% of those infected with anthrax.

  12. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Robert!

    Be well!

    JP

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