H1N1 and AntioxidantsNovember 6, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
A few weeks ago, I visited a local emergency room and was greeted with a special flyer that described symptoms and precautions pertaining to the H1N1 virus. Over the past month or so, the “Swine Flu” has directly affected several people that I know. In each instance, all of these friends and acquaintances have recovered completely. But judging by a review of various journals, magazines and newspapers, it doesn’t seem as though the level of interest and preoccupation with H1N1 has diminished substantially. Part of the reason is likely due to a very minimal number of cases where this particular strain of influenza has lead to tragic outcomes. One such instance was the focal point of a recent Larry King Live program.
One of the guests on Mr. King’s program was a well-respected integrative pediatrician by the name of Dr. Jay Gordon. He pointed out a particularly salient point that I think is worth repeating. According to Dr. Gordon, the biggest danger of the H1N1 virus “is a secondary bacterial infection almost all the time. This virus is not virulent. It’s not powerful enough to actually kill very many people, if any. But the immune system is set up to get a secondary bacterial infection. If that’s not taken care of, you can have a fatal case.” (1)
Now, a team of researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, believe they’ve found a natural way to assist the body in battling the H1N1 flu. It appears that the answer may lie in healthy foods and, perhaps, nutritional supplements. The “new” discovery centers around the effects of the H1N1 virus on lung tissue. A specific protein produced by this viral offender, known as the “M2 protein”, seems to damage pulmonary cells and prevents the lungs from effectively removing liquids which can lead to pneumonia and related complications. The take home message from the authors of the study is not that antioxidants will replace vaccines or other conventional treatments, but rather that they may play an invaluable role in dealing with influenza once it has already taken hold. (2)
There’s no question that these new findings are welcome news. But as it turns out, only the “M2 protein” aspect of this research is actually novel. Studies and even summary articles pertaining to the connection between antioxidants and influenza can be found in the scientific literature dating back at least 13 years. The trouble is, such research generally doesn’t get much play. That’s likely to change because of the Alabama data and the current concern about this flu pandemic. (3,4,5)
There are several antioxidants in particular that are documented as possessing activity against the influenza virus. Before I mention them, I want to point out that many naturopathic flu remedies are known sources of potent antioxidants. In the past I’ve mentioned a variety of botanical extracts (echinacea, elderberry, ginseng, green tea, Umcka, etc.) that are clinically validated with regard to immune stimulating and anti-viral properties. Every one of these is also a rich source of antioxidants. Is this simply a coincidence? Unlikely. (6,7,8,9,10)
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) – A laboratory study from September 2009 determined that NAC can inhibit the replication of the influenza virus and may promote an anti-inflammatory effect in lung cells. The German researchers helming the trial commented that, “antioxidants like NAC represent a potential additional treatment option that could be considered in the case of an influenza A virus pandemic”. This most recent study adds to a prior experiment from 2002 that established NAC’s immune boosting properties in vitro. In addition, a study from over a decade ago proved the worth of NAC in a human model. 262 men and women suffering from “influenza-like symptomatology” received either a placebo or NAC (600 mg) twice daily for 6 months. According to the authors of the trial, “NAC treatment was well tolerated and resulted in a significant decrease in frequency of influenza-like episodes, severity and length of time confined to bed”. They go on to remark that NAC did not prevent the flu but did “reduce the incidence of clinically apparent disease” and that it may be most useful in high risk populations. (11,12,13)
- Resveratrol – This “red wine” antioxidant has been the subject of numerous preliminary experiments involving viruses. A group of Italian scientists recently concluded that the “antiviral properties of resveratrol make it a potential candidate for the clinical control of proliferative (cancer) as well as viral pathologies”. A 2006 study in the journal Inflammopharmacology mentions that resveratrol (RSV) possesses “inhibitory effects on influenza virus replication”. Furthermore, an animal based experiment from 2008 examined the effects of resveratrol in rats exposed to pneumonia. It was determined that pretreatment with RSV “decreased bacterial burden in the infected lungs”, improved immune function (via Natural Killer cell activity) and ultimately reduced the mortality rate. A decline in lung inflammation was also noted in the animals treated with resveratrol. (14,15,16)
- Selenium – A lack of the trace mineral selenium has been implicated in compromised immune function. In fact, a flat out deficiency appears to affect the way we humans react to exposure to influenza, particularly in the epithelial cells located in the lungs. In addition, a 2004 study in 66 seniors found that a nutritional supplement containing selenium enhanced immune performance and resulted in fewer sick days due to upper respiratory infections. The duration of the trial was approximately 6 months and was placebo-controlled. All of the participants were also given standard flu vaccinations. (17,18,19)
- Vitamin C – There is a little known but clinically-proven strategy for protecting against “virus-induced respiratory infections”. This is according to a trial from 1999. The protocol involves taking high doses of vitamin C at the onset of “cold and flu symptoms”. Specifically, 252 test subjects took “hourly dosages of 1,000 mg of Vitamin C for the first 6 hours and then 3 times daily thereafter”. A control (comparison) group consisting of 463 volunteers took conventional decongestants and pain relievers. The Vitamin C users reported an 85% drop in cold and flu symptoms when compared to the conventionally treated volunteers. The authors of this observational trial concluded that, “Vitamin C in megadoses administered before or after the appearance of cold and flu symptoms relieved and prevented the symptoms in the test population compared with the control group”. A scientific paper from 2007 about avian flu suggests that the “proper use of ascorbic acid … could provide effective containment for the flu pandemic”. Further support for this hypothesis can be found in a laboratory experiment from October of 2008. In it, researchers note that Vitamin C and a form of C that is formed in the body (dehydroascorbic acid) possess direct anti-viral activity with relation to influenza virus type A. (20,21,22)
- Vitamin E – Finally, Vitamin E is perhaps the best researched antioxidant with regard to flu-related mortality. That is, at least in animals. Numerous experiments indicate that E may reduce flu complications in aged rats and, perhaps, even in younger lab animals. Some research even suggests the Vitamin E may be more effective in managing influenza than other antioxidants such as glutathione, melatonin or strawberry extract. In addition to protecting against pulmonary inflammation and reducing viral concentrations, Vitamin E also appears to decrease influenza associated weight loss in older mice. This may be relevant for senior patients who can’t afford even brief bouts of decreased food intake. (23,24,25)
Please understand that I’m not suggesting that you forego any form of appropriate medical treatment and that you opt for antioxidants instead. This is not what the new research from University of Alabama recommends nor what I am proposing. There is simply no need to take any unnecessary chances with a virus that, in the vast majority of cases, can be effectively managed. My intent in providing this information is that you simply consider it and discuss it with your health care providers. By doing so, you may open up an important line of dialogue that could influence your treatment path and the way many physicians approach this and future viral threats that will surely come.
Tags: Flu, Vitamin C, Wine
Posted in Nutritional Supplements