Monday, November 30, 2009

Immune System Boosting in Response to Threat of H1N1 Pandemic

In the context of influenza, mainstream medicine thinks of immunity and immune boosting in terms of vaccines. This translates into artificial active manipulation of the adaptive immune system. Traditionally the new flu vaccine offered each year is composed of strains determine by a consensus reached months before the season starts and to some is akin to using a crystal ball to forecast the future. H1N1 is different in that a vaccine can be made from the currently active strain although time is short, and the vaccine will receive only limited testing over a very short period. Given the circumstances, it is quite impossible to test for adverse effects that might occur months after inoculation. The recommendation that all pregnant women be vaccinated is a pure act of faith based on earlier experience that there will be no adverse effects on either the mother, the fetus, or the child, either in the near or long term. Some expectant mothers may find this worrisome. Also, flu vaccines drawn from multi-injection bottles generally contain the famous mercury preservative. H1N1 vaccines is also said to contain a chemical or chemicals that augment the effectiveness but these have not been used before and thus not extensively tested.

The approach which impacts the adaptive immune system is of course practical but ignores the innate immune system which may well be more important if the N1H1 virus mutates or if other vaccines do not contain the appropriate strains for the coming flu season. For those who do not believe in vaccines for one reason or another, the innate immune system becomes paramount to their defence against this and other flu viruses. Mainstream medicine tends to ignore protocols that boost the innate immune system because they involve mostly non-prescription substances obtained at the health food store and because the research available does not meet their standards. The latter factor is not surprising. Using the profits of the drug companies as a standard, there is no significant money to be made and thus no money for trials that would satisfy those who insist that every intervention be backed by large randomized clinical trials that follow after phase I and II trials. This philosophy ignores the fact that a significant fraction of the modern medicine is not evidence based, a situation which one or two major peer reviewed journals have recently had the courage to document. And it obviously is ignored in the case of seasonal vaccines.

The innate immune system comprises the mechanisms and cells that defend an organism from infection by other organisms by recognizing and responding to pathogens in a generic manner, recruiting immune cells to the sites of infection, activating processes that identify invaders, and promote the clearance of dead cells or antibody complexes. Involved is the identification and removal of foreign substances present in organs, tissues, the blood and lymph by specialized white blood cells. Thus the healthy immune system distinguishes between self and non-self. Recommendations commonly encountered suggest the immune function may be protected and enhanced by supplementation.1-3 Included are the following which are readily available in most health food stores:

Selenium, 200 micrograms/day (maximum)

Zinc, 30 mg/day (maximum)

Probiotic sources guaranteed to contain significant levels of beneficial bacteria (billions of cells) such as some yogurts, e.g. Activa®

Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) 1-2 g/day

Garlic extract, 1 g/day

Grape seed extract 100-200 mg/day

Green tea extract, 325 mg of EGCG/day

N-acetyl cysteine, 600-1000 mg/day

Alpha Lipoic acid, 200-500 mg/day

Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) such as ImmPower®, 1-2 g/day

Vitamin D3, 4000-5000 IU/day

Beta 1,3/1,6 glucan, 750 mg twice daily. The preparation derived from baker's yeast cell walls appears popular, e.g. Immutol®

Black elderberry extract, dose as suggested by supplier.

Vitamin A, 5000 IU/day maximum

Vitamin C, 200-500 mg 3 times a day

Vitamin E (natural source), 400 IU/day

Vitamin B6, 50-100 mg/day

The reader is cautioned that the scientific evidence of immune function enhancement associated with the above supplements is limited, mostly dependent on rodent studies which may or may not be applicable to humans, and in some cases (e.g. AHCC) the evidence mostly involves individuals with cancer or other disorders and when normal healthy individuals are studied, only some immune functions are enhanced. The strongest evidence appears to exist for vitamin D. But the silence regarding vitamin D remains deafening. On the current vitamin D Council website there are two anecdotal emails from physicians regarding the apparent remarkable power of vitamin D to prevent flu. On the home page, click on the link "vitamin D and the H1N1 swine flu."

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