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influenza

  • The strongest case for the use of nutritional supplements can be made, even to the typically skeptical mainstream medical community, when traditional pharmaceuticals have shown to be of limited efficacy. In such cases, the use of nutraceuticals as both preventive and therapeutic agents becomes very compelling. The need to consider and employ natural bioactive compounds is particularly strong in the field of infectious diseases.

    Infectious diseases remain a significant public health threat in the U.S. and throughout the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that five to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu, more than 200,000 are hospitalized and about 36,000 die on average from flu complications every year. This year the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine was associated with an even more severe flu season. Furthermore, the pandemic threat from mutating influenza viruses such as the H5N1 virus, better known as “avian flu” or “bird flu,” is particularly worrisome given that the virus strain which caused human illness and death in Asia was found to be resistant to two antiviral medications most commonly used to treat influenza infections. Likewise, there is currently no specific treatment for the West Nile virus, although cases were reported in 43 states last year. Another health risk relates to opportunistic and often-drug-resistant infections. Such infections tend to occur at health care facilities and among immunocomprised patients but also occasionally affect healthy patients. (As was the case with “community-associated MRSA” that made the headlines in 2007.) So in this era of continued emergence of new or increasingly common infectious agents, not to mention the increasing threat of bio-terrorism in which infectious agents could be used as weapons, natural compounds that have the potential to modify the body’s response to acute infection must be considered.

    While there are plenty of nutritional supplements claiming immune boosting properties, very few compounds have undergone rigorous research and rarely are products studied in response to actual infectious diseases. Furthermore, studies on the most popular immune ingredients, such as vitamin C, ginseng or echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold, have produced mixed results. Finally, the mechanism of action of most of the ingredients is still unclear, making it difficult to infer their efficacy for conditions more serious than the common cold.

    One exceptional ingredient in this respect is AHCC (an acronym for Active Hexose Correlated Compound), a novel bionutraceutical developed in Japan that has been extensively studied and used as a countermeasure to infectious disease. Studies on the effects of AHCC on influenza, avian flu, West Nile virus, MRSA and opportunistic infections make it one of the most researched natural compounds for stimulating the immune response to viruses and infections. Manufactured using a proprietary process that entails enzymatic fermentation of hybridized subspecies of cultivated medicinal mushrooms, AHCC is rich in oligosaccharides (74 percent by dry weight). While most medicinal mushroom extracts tend to contain mostly beta-glucans, AHCC is rich with alpha-glucans (a different type of a complex sugar molecule) which have a low molecular weight of under 5,000 Daltons (as compared to >200,000 for most other well-known immune support ingredients).

    The body of research supporting the immuno-modulating properties of AHCC is vast and growing. Supported by over 80 studies, AHCC has been extensively studied by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the affiliated Faulkner Hospital, Yale University School of Medicine, Drexel University Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology, and SUNY Binghamton’s Department of Biological Sciences, among many others.

    In addition to drawing significant interest in the academic community, AHCC has gained an impressive level of adoption in the medical community. Over 700 hospitals and medical clinics throughout Asia prescribe AHCC to patients as part of an immune enhancement maintenance regimen. Hundreds of doctors throughout the world have also used AHCC as an adjunct alternative therapy for cancer, hepatitis C and other chronic conditions. Consequently, AHCC has become the number one selling specialty immune supplement in Japan and has gained broad acceptance in the U.S., where it is available in most health food stores nationwide.

    Both human and animal studies have pointed to AHCC’s ability to enhance the activity of natural killer cells (“NK cells”). These cells provide a crucial first defense for the body, launching a rapid attack while the other cells of the immune system are still mobilizing. Researchers believe that although the ability of NK cells to destroy tumors and virus-infected cells is present at birth, NK cells have to be activated. Thus, agents that stimulate NK cell activity might be expected to enhance the control of tumors and virus replication.

    Activated NK cells are believed to help the body through two modes of action. First, they promptly secrete cytokines— chemical messenger proteins that “awaken the artillery” of the body’s immune system. Second, NK cells secrete substances that directly induce the destruction of tumors and virus-infected cells.

    It has also been shown in numerous studies that NK cells play a significant role in controlling virus infections, and the correlation between NK cell activity and the frequency of the common cold has been well established. So the clinical evidence that AHCC increases NK cell activity and the fact that NK cell activity helps the immune system fight viral infections suggests that AHCC is a potential agent to boost the NK cell response to viral infections. However, while this inference is compelling, direct research on the effect of AHCC on viral infections is required. And fortunately such research exists. AHCC has been the subject of several studies, which investigated its potential as a countermeasure to various infectious diseases, including the H1N1 influenza (flu) virus, the H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu) virus, West Nile virus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and several other opportunistic infections (Klebsiella pneumoniae, Candida albicans and Pseudomonas aeruginosa).

    The challenge of researching infectious diseases is there are no ethical, practical or reliable means of evaluating the human response to infectious agents, forcing researchers to rely on animal models. Therefore, the research strategy for AHCC has been to show efficacy in infectious diseases using animal models while conducting human clinical trials to demonstrate its ability to stimulate NK cell activity in immune compromised patients.

    Two published peer-reviewed human clinical studies (on 269 and 40 subjects respectively) evaluating advanced liver cancer showed extended survival, lower recurrence and improved quality of life among patients taking AHCC. Several other studies demonstrated the ability of AHCC to significantly increase NK cell activity in immune compromised patients.

    While these clinical studies support the efficacy of AHCC in humans, animal studies have been used to examine whether AHCC can be effective in fighting specific viruses and explore the mechanism or mechanisms for the observed effects. The most recent study published in the prestigious Journal of Nutrition examined the effect of AHCC on the influenza (flu) virus. The research found that mice supplemented with AHCC showed increased survival and maintained body weight during the infection compared to controls (indicative of a less severe infection). Supplementation with AHCC also resulted in enhanced NK cell activity in the lungs and spleen and rapid virus clearance from lungs. So the data clearly suggested that AHCC supplementation enhanced NK cell activity in response to influenza infection, which was associated with a decrease in lung virus titers, a less severe infection and increased survival.

    Another study looked at the effect of AHCC supplementation against infection with H5N1 avian influenza virus (bird flu). Mice were infected with 100 times the 50 percent lethal dose of the H5N1 influenza virus. The control mice that did not receive AHCC demonstrated 100 percent mortality at 12 days post-infection. In contrast, the group that was fed AHCC prior to infection demonstrated a 30 percent survival through 28 days post-infection. In a second study utilizing the same protocol, the effects of AHCC supplementation alone were compared to H5N1 vaccination (the flu vaccine) alone as well as the combination of AHCC supplementation and the flu vaccine administered together. Vaccination alone resulted in approximately 80 percent survival, while AHCC supplementation combined with vaccination resulted in 100 percent survival. This data suggests while AHCC supplementation alone offers some protection against mortality associated with highly-virulent avian influenza virus infection in mice, supplementation with AHCC may be even more effective as an addition to the flu vaccine.

    In another study, mice infected with a lethal dose of West Nile virus showed that mice supplemented with AHCC prior to the infection exhibited an increase in survival and a decrease in virus load in the blood at four days post-infection.

    Looking at “opportunistic” or hospital-acquired infections, the effects of AHCC supplementation on the resistance to Klebsiella pneumoniae (principally associated with bacterial pneumonia and urinary tract infections) was studied in both infected and stressinduced mice. Again, the AHCC-supplemented mice demonstrated increased survival, increased mean time until death, decreased susceptibility to infection and increased bacterial clearance from the blood. Studies on other types of opportunistic infections including methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Candida albicans and Pseudomonas aeruginosa provided similar results: AHCC overwhelmingly increased survival in immune compromised mice in response to infectious challenge.

    Given the abundance of preliminary positive results across different infections, AHCC supplementation demonstrates valuable and clinically-relevant potential as an immune-enhancing compound. Furthermore, since AHCC supplementation was shown in one study to be even more beneficial when used in conjunction with the flu vaccine, studies are underway to further evaluate the use of AHCC as a preventive during flu season. Finally, AHCC boasts a strong safety profile supported by a Phase I study conducted at Harvard, a 20-year history of use in Japan, its adoption by over 700 clinics and use by an estimated 70,000 people worldwide (including 20,000 in the U.S.). Thus, there is a strong case to be made for adding AHCC to a daily supplement regimen to support the body’s immune system, not only during the apparent times of increased infectious threat such as the flu season, but also all year long.

    Dr. Fred Pescatore, M.D., MPH, is the Medical Director of Partners in Integrative Medicine and an author of several best-selling books on health and nutrition.

    Barry Ritz, Ph.D. is the Professor of Bioscience and Biotechnology at Drexel University, whose paper on AHCC and influenza was recently published in the Journal of Nutrition.

  • There has been a lot of publicity about the need for everyone to get a flu shot for protection from swine flu and seasonal flu. However, there are mixed reports surfacing on the efficacy of the existing vaccines.

    • "There is no evidence that any flu vaccine, thus far developed, is effective in preventing or mitigating an attack of influenza". Dr. J. Anthony Morris, former Chief Vaccine Officer, FDA.
    • In the October 2008 issue of the Archive of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine it was reported that vaccinating young people against the flu had no impact on flu related hospitalization.
    • A large-scale systematic review of 51 studies published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found no evidence that the flu vaccine is any more effective than placebo for children. The study involved 260,000 children.

    On the other hand, there very good evidence to support the use of a variety of natural strategies to deal with any flu. Some of these strategies include:

    • Avoid sugar, which lowers the immune systems strength.
    • Get plenty of sleep, which helps the body to regenerate and balance itself.
    • Avoid stress, which also lowers the strength of the immune system.
    • Wash your hands and use sanitizer cleansers, if washing is not possible.
    • Eat whole foods, no processed foods, especially plenty of vegetables.
    • Certain supplements have been shown to have a good impact on preventing the flu and lessening the symptoms. These include Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin A, L-lysine, Garlic, Echinacea, Olive leaf extract and Elderberry.
    • The regimen used by the Bens family, and anyone who asks for help, includes:
    1. Vitamin D- 2,000-4.000 iu/day – Extremely effective at flu prevention.
    2. ACF Prevention-Immune Support from Buried Treasure. Potent anti-flu formula.
    3. Oregacillin from Physicians Strength. Clinically tested anti-viral formula.
    4. Oscillococcinum- Strong Homeopathic symptom relief.
    5. Olive Leaf Complex- Made by Barlean’s for bacterial and viral conditions.
    6. Vitamin C- If your condition moves into your lungs Dr. Andrew Saul recommends taking 2000 mg of vitamin C every 6 minutes until you get relief. Dr. Saul resolved his viral pneumonia in 3 hours with this approach.

    These natural flu prevention and treatment strategies have good scientific evidence as well as support from doctors in actual practice. They are not only effective; they have no side effects. Most of the flu vaccines not only have little scientific evidence, they also have numerous possible negative reactions including increased risk of asthma, autism, and neurological damage. The sooner you start the above treatment the better your results will be.

    A strong immune system appears to be the best way to combat any flu.

  • Last flu season was the worst in nearly a decade. It was a wake-up call to how serious influenza can be and highlights the importance of properly preparing before the season is in full swing. Nobody wants to get flu, so it is crucial that we all know how to do our part to prevent and limit its spread.

    Preparing for Flu

    There is a lot you can do to prepare for this flu season. Don't wait until symptoms strike - make sure you're ready to take quick action if flu hits your household. Create an emergency contact list with nearby clinics and doctor phone numbers. Consider getting vaccinated. The flu vaccine prevents against some strains of flu and can make your symptoms milder if you get infected from other strains not included. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October before the regular flu season begins, as it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body.1

    You can take everyday precautions to decrease the spread of germs during flu season. The number one thing you can do is avoid individuals who are infected. You will also want to wash your hands and sanitize the surfaces around you.

    There are a couple of things you can do to build your immune system, so it is strong and ready when flu season arrives. Moderate exercise is a positive way to maintain and support a healthy immune system that is capable of fighting off viruses. Studies show that when you incorporate moderate amounts of exercise into your routine increases your immune system function.2 (Take care not to exceed your body's limits, causing physical and psychological stress and talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.)

    The best defense against the flu is making sure to get enough sleep. Be aware of how much sleep you are getting each night to keep your body well rested. Different age groups require varied hours of sleep each day. Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and teens require even more, about 9 hours daily. Growing children need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night.3

    Limiting stress is also important for maintaining a healthy immune system. A relaxation technique I use with my patients is simple, yet effective - breathing. This may seem rudimentary, yet it is a practice that is often overlooked. Take a quiet minute to focus on your breathing. It can be a great way to de-stress at work or before bed. The act of consciously breathing relaxes the mind and lowers stress hormones that weaken the immune system.

    Treating Flu

    If you are like most of my patients, you simply might not know what to do when you get flu, or how to recognize it when it starts.

    Many people think they have never had flu or won't get flu, even though the CDC estimates that 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population on average suffers through symptoms each year and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized.4 Recognizing flu symptoms is an important first step toward diagnoses and recovery.

    Here are the signs to look out for when deciding if you have flu:

    • A 100°F or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with flu has a fever);
    • A cough and/or sore throat;
    • A runny or stuffy nose;
    • Headaches and/or body aches;
    • Chills;
    • Fatigue; and/or
    • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common for children).

    Once you determine you have flu, it's time to take immediate action. If you or someone in your family comes down with flu, here are some tips for recovery:

    • Take probiotics: Help restore balance to the gut microbiome and strengthen its ability to interact with your immune system. Over 70 percent of the immune system resides in the gut.5 Gut-friendly bacteria are needed not only for a healthy digestive system but also for a robust immune system. Probiotics can be taken sublingually or incorporated into your diet through foods high in live cultures and fermentation such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
    • Take a homeopathic medicine: I recommend that my patients keep Oscillococcinum on hand: an easy-to-take, non-drowsy medicine that can be used for anyone ages 2 and up. Clinical studies show that Oscillococcinum shortens both the severity and duration of flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, body aches, chills, and fever. The latest study published in a British scientific journal found that when patients took Oscillo within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms nearly 63 percent showed "clear improvement" or "complete resolution" within 48 hours.6 It's widely available at local supermarkets or pharmacies.
    • Eat chicken soup: Mother knew best when she served you a hot bowl of chicken soup as it has properties that slow the movement of infection-fighting white blood cells. According to research published in the journal Chest, when white cells move more slowly, they spend more time in the areas of the body that need them most. The steam from the soup also helps open stuffed-up nasal passages, and the salty broth can soothe a sore throat.
    • Suck on zinc lozenges: Pop them as soon as you feel symptoms set in. Zinc is a mineral essential to the immune system, and a 2013 Cochrane Library analysis of 18 trials found that ingesting a daily dose of 75 milligrams within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms reduces the duration of the illness.7
    • Take olive leaf: The main component of the olive leaf, Oleuropein, provides the distinctive tangy, pungent, bitter flavor found in high quality extra virgin olive oils. It's also responsible for most of olive oil's antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and disease-fighting characteristics that help modulate the body's inflammatory response and promote peak immune system performance to help you tackle flu. Use it to help fight bacteria and viruses and defend against cold and flu.
    • Try elderberry: The elderberry plant has been used medicinally for many years and is thought to help treat the flu by increasing the number of antibodies that fight off flu viruses. Elderberries contain hemagglutinin protein. This protein has been shown to stop a virus' capability to replicate and prevents the virus from causing infection if taken before exposure. Elderberry extract is found in a number of easy-to-take forms, like syrups and gummies. When taken after infection, this supplement can keep the virus from spreading and reduces the duration of flu symptoms.8

    In addition to taking Oscillococcinum and getting plenty of rest, also take immune-boosting supplements including vitamin C, D, and omega-3. Most importantly, do not hesitate to seek medical attention if symptoms escalate.

    Containing Spread of Flu

    If just one person in your household comes down with the flu, it can spread to everyone in a matter of hours. You may be able to pass on flu to someone else before your symptoms present. Most people are contagious in the first 3 to 4 days after their symptoms begin but can remain so up to 7 days after becoming sick.9

    Studies show that merely breathing can spread flu viruses. Researchers have noted that almost half of the airborne particles surrounding a person suffering from flu are from their breathing, not sneezing or coughing.10 This is an important factor to consider when you feel sick and wonder if you should go to work or school, etc. You can't stop breathing, so it is in everyone's best interest to stay secluded if you have flu.

    Flu is a virus that can make the body vulnerable to other serious health complications, such as bacterial pneumonia. Deaths from flu are often caused by complications from a weakened immune system and can also compromise other existing health problems. If symptoms worsen after the first three days of illness, especially if fever subsides and then returns, seek medical attention right away.

    For more flu-fighting tips, follow @DrRedcross or visit DrRedcross.com or Oscillo.com.

    References

    1. Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/vaccinations.htm#when-vaccinate. Published August 31, 2018.
    2. Nieman DC. Exercise, upper respiratory tract infection, and the immune system. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1994;26(2):128-139. doi:10.1249/00005768-199402000-00002.
    3. Davis JL. Prevent Flu: Healthy Habits Beat the Virus. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/prevent-flu-healthy-habits-beat-the-virus. Published October 2010.
    4. The Flu Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm. Published July 12, 2018.
    5. Downey M. Probiotics Offer Powerful Anti-Flu Defense. Life Extension Magazine. https://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2018/2/Probiotics-Fight-Dangerous-Winter-Flu/Page-01.
    6. Papp R, Schuback G, Beck E, et al. Oscillococcinum in patients with influenza-like syndromes: a placebo-controlled, double-blind evaluation. Br Homeopath J. 1998;87:69-76.
    7. Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD001364. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub4. Published June 18, 2018.
    8. Sibley C. Elderberries: A Potent Cold and Flu Remedy? Pharmacy Times. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/cate-sibley-pharmd/2017/10/elderberries-a-potent-cold-and-flu-remedy. Published October 19, 2017.
    9. Key Facts About Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. Published August 27, 2018.
    10. Preidt R. Flu May Be Spread By Just Breathing. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20180119/flu-may-be-spread-by-just-breathing#1. Published January 19, 2018.