By William Faloon
Widespread reports of overcrowded emergency rooms and flu-related deaths are occurring in most states.
Each season since 2004–05, the CDC has estimated the effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccine to prevent influenza-associated respiratory illness. This season, early data from the CDC's surveillance program involving 1,155 children and adults with influenza-related respiratory infection during December 3, 2012–January 2, 2013 showed that the estimated vaccine effectiveness was only 62%.
Several different strains of influenza virus are causing illness. Of those individuals afflicted with influenza A viruses, 100% were the influenza A subtype H3N2 virus. This particular subtype has been thus far linked with more severe illness, in particular with aging individuals.
Protection provided by influenza vaccination varies significantly, based in part on health and age of the person vaccinated. In general, the influenza vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children. Aging individuals and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.
Responding to media reports, members have called our health advisors with questions about what they should do to protect their health during this season's influenza season, the worst in the past 10 years.
The good news is that Life Extension® members obtain a considerable amount of immune support via the supplements they already use, especially those taking higher-dose vitamin D, DHEA, and Reishi.
An important question, however, is what one should do if they develop symptoms of a viral infection? This is a legitimate concern because in a typical year, flu virus infections kill thousands of Americans and create miseries for millions.1,2
Over the past 33 years, Life Extension personnel have experimented with different cocktails of nutrients, hormones and drugs in order to minimize the impact of the common cold and typical flu viruses.
In this article, I will reveal what has worked for me personally to ward off common cold/flu viruses and what has been validated in the scientific literature to be effective.
I will also elaborate on some aggressive prescription drug strategies to consider in the event you contract a severe form of influenza.
Don't Wait for Full-Blown Illness to ManifestPeople often wait until they are very sick before seeking influenza treatment. This delay can preclude rapid eradication of the infectious agent. In some cases, treatment delay can be lethal.
I have found enormous personal benefit by taking aggressive actions upon the onset of the very first cold-flu symptom. I respond to a mild symptom the way some people do after they have suffered days of agonizing flu virus miseries. My strategy is to not let the virus gain a foothold in my cells. Up until now, my approach has apparently succeeded in as much as I have not suffered more than a day of significant cold-flu illness since January 1983.
I am going to reveal my personal program in the following paragraphs, but the key point I want to emphasize is to immediately address the very first symptom of a cold-flu viral infection like it is the most lethal agent you have ever encountered. I analogize this approach to dropping a nuclear bomb when conventional weapons might be adequate.
While some people wait until full-blown viral symptoms manifest, I don't have a choice. Life Extension is a 24-hour/day operation with no room for down time. I don't have the luxury of calling in sick just because a virus has invaded my body.
If you were to contract influenza this year, it is especially critical that you immediately initiate the anti-viral drug therapies I will discuss later in this e-mail. Anti-viral drugs can be effective, but only when they are initiated within 24–48 hours of the manifestation of symptoms.
Unleashing the Nuclear BombI typically work an intense schedule with frequent exposure to sick people, yet I have gone 30 years without suffering a serious cold-flu viral infection.
While it would be convenient to credit the supplements I take every day, the fact is that I follow an aggressive protocol as soon as I feel that a viral infection may be taking hold.
Scientific studies substantiate the individual components of what I do, but there have been no clinical trials to support the use of this entire protocol. I'll discuss some of the research that supports my rationale later, but here are the drugs, nutrients, and hormones I take as soon as the first symptom of common cold or flu manifests:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet®) in the dose of 800–1000 mg each day. This drug is sold over the counter in pharmacies to combat heartburn, but its beneficial side effect is to boost immune function by reducing T-suppressor cells, thereby keeping the immune system in a hyperactive state. While sold over-the-counter, it would still be wise to read the package insert in case this drug is contraindicated for you. For most people, cimetidine provides a powerful immune system stimulation that is particularly effective against certain viruses.
- Garlic (high allicin) in the dose of 9,000 mg once or twice a day. This potent form of garlic will cause painful stomach-esophageal burning if you don't eat food right afterward. The intake of 9,000 mg of this kind of garlic will cause you to reek of a strong sulfur odor, but saturating the body with this pungent garlic is the objective. Garlic has shown direct viral-killing effects in a number of published studies.
- DHEA in the dose of 200–400 mg early in the day. This is much higher than normal, but DHEA has shown some unique benefits in boosting one's ability to mount a stronger immune response and also protecting against dangerous inflammatory cytokine responses that sometimes occur in response to viral infections.
- Lactoferrin in the dose of 1200 mg a day. This natural constituent of mother's milk boosts natural killer cell activity and can kill certain viruses.
- Zinc lozenges in the dose of two 24 mg lozenges every two waking hours. Please be aware that this is a very high dose of zinc and is considered toxic if taken over the long term. You should only do this for a few days. Zinc has shown a direct effect of inhibiting the ability of cold viruses from latching on to your cells.
- Melatonin at bedtime in the high dose of 10–50 mg. Melatonin induces a powerful immune response and this high dose can facilitate the deep sleep one often needs to fend off an infection. This dose of melatonin may make you extremely tired, so please only take this before bedtime and do not operate any machinery or vehicles after ingestion.
- Aged garlic extract in the dose of 3600 mg a day. There are unique immune-boosting compounds in aged garlic that work differently than those found in high-allicin garlic.
Garlic's Unsung BenefitsWith all the high-tech advances occurring in medicine, garlic would appear to be a relic of the past. Yet the scientific literature documents that garlic has powerful effects against certain viruses.
For instance, a study tested one capsule daily of an allicin-containing garlic supplement from November thru February on a group of 146 volunteers.4 Half the group received the garlic while the unfortunate other half got a placebo. The placebo group suffered 63% more common cold infections compared to the garlic group. Even more significant, those in the garlic group who did catch a cold suffered symptoms for an average of only 1.52 days compared to 5.01 days for the placebo group.
This placebo-controlled study corroborates the benefits I have personally derived by taking much higher doses of garlic as soon as cold symptoms present.
The conclusion of the doctors who conducted this garlic study was, "An allicin-containing supplement can prevent attack by the common cold virus." Considering the number of people afflicted with a common cold each year, you would think this would have been the lead news story of the day. Instead, this study has remained buried in a scientific journal, while the medical establishment still states "there is no cure for the common cold."
Ribavirin is a prescription drug that has potent anti-viral effects.5-18 Yet a Chinese study showed that at least in the test tube, garlic is more effective than ribavirin in inhibiting viruses that attack the intestinal track.19 Life Extension has recommended ribavirin to treat various viral infections in the past, but in this particular study, garlic was shown to be superior.
A number of published studies indicate that both high-allicin garlic and aged-garlic support healthy immune function while exerting anti-viral effects.20-26 Low-cost garlic may be nature's most powerful weapon against certain viruses.
Tagamet®'s Lifesaving Side EffectTagamet® is the brand name of what used to be the most popular drug to treat heartburn. Now that it is off patent, we refer to Tagamet® by its generic name "cimetidine." A little-known side effect of cimetidine is that it inhibits the production of T-suppressor cells.27 In doing so, it boosts immune function by preventing the immune system from turning itself down.
Cimetidine has shown other immune-modulating effects such as increasing natural killer cell activity and boosting levels of natural immune stimulants interleukin-2 and gamma interferon.28-30 Human studies demonstrate cimetidine's efficacy against herpes and viral warts.27,31-34
Since cimetidine is safe for most people, taking 800–1000 mg at night (or 200 mg three times a day and then 400 mg at night) seems like an effective way to temporarily turn up the immune system.
Cimetidine in 200 mg tablets can be purchased over-the-counter at pharmacies. The directions in the over-the-counter package insert say that up to 800 mg a day is safe, but some published studies where cimetidine is used as an anti-viral agent have used up to 1000 mg a day.35
Mother's MilkIt is well known that infants obtain protection against certain infections from components contained in mother's milk. One such component is lactoferrin, which has well documented immune potentiating effects.36-38
Lactoferrin may stimulate macrophages, which in turn may help to induce cell-mediated immunity.39 Although many of the studies are on animals, lactoferrin is naturally present in many mucous membrane secretions in the human, suggesting an innate human anti-microbial function.40,41
A study published this year showed that lactoferrin inhibits viral infection by interfering with the ability of certain viruses to bind to cell receptor sites.37
Immune-Boosting HormonesDehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its metabolites have demonstrated powerful immune enhancing and anti-viral effects.42-49 The administration of 50 mg a day of DHEA to elderly men resulted in the following immune enhancements compared to placebo:50
- Increase of 35% in the number of monocyte immune cells.
- Increase of 29% in the number of B immune cells.
- Increase of 62% in B-cell activity.
- Increase of 40% increase in T-cell activity.
- Increase of 50% in interleukin-2.
- Increase of 22% to 37% in natural killer cell number.
- Increase of 45% in natural killer cell activity.
Melatonin has broad-spectrum immune-enhancing effects and has been specifically shown to decrease viral load and prevent death in mice infected with certain viruses. The conclusion of one melatonin study was:
"The immunomodulatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects of melatonin suggest that this indole must be considered as an additional therapeutic alternative to fight viral diseases."53
Another study examined the immune function benefits of melatonin and found that melatonin activated interleukin-2 and gamma interferon, the body's natural hormone-like agents that facilitate T-helper cell production.54
Taking higher-dose DHEA in the morning (200–400 mg) and higher-dose melatonin (10–50 mg) before bedtime would appear to be logical approaches to follow when battling a viral infection.
Preventing Cold Viruses from Lodging in Your BodyA number of published studies show that if zinc lozenges are taken within 24 hours of the onset of common cold symptoms, the severity and duration of cold miseries are significantly diminished.55-58
Rhinoviruses are the medical term to define viruses that cause the common cold. Rhinoviruses attach to cell receptor sites in sinus and throat tissues, become lodged in nose-throat cells, and then replicate out of control.59 By binding to the same cell receptor sites as do cold viruses, zinc inhibits the ability of rhinoviruses to take hold in the body.
A meta-analysis of all the published literature on zinc lozenges was conducted and the conclusion of the report was:
"Clinical trial data support the value of zinc in reducing the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold when administered within 24 hours of the onset of common cold symptoms. Additional clinical and laboratory evaluations are warranted to further define the role of ionic zinc for the prevention and treatment of the common cold and to elucidate the biochemical mechanisms through which zinc exerts its symptom-relieving effects."55
The key here is to suck on two 24 mg zinc lozenges at the very first symptom of a cold and continue doing this every two waking hours. Once rhinoviruses bind to their receptor sites in the nasal tissues and begin replicating, zinc lozenges lose their efficacy. Considering how inexpensive zinc lozenges are, it makes sense to keep them in the medicine cabinet so that they are immediately available if cold symptoms manifest.
One caveat to remember is that chronic use of zinc in doses over 100 mg a day may suppress immune function.60 If one were to suck on two zinc lozenges every two hours over the course of a day, the amount of total zinc intake can easily exceed 300 mg/day. This does not appear to be a problem in the short-term, but if you start taking zinc lozenges and your cold miseries do not subside, you would be better off ceasing it after a few days. Remember that less than 100 mg a day of zinc can improve immune function whereas long-term use above 100 mg/day concerns some doctors.
Dealing With Lethal Influenza InfectionsOne should not take any flu virus infection lightly.
Way back in 2003, Life Extension advised its members to take the prescription anti-viral drug Tamiflu® if flu symptoms developed. A complete description of Tamiflu® can be found in the Influenza Chapter of the Disease Prevention and Treatment (2003) book or it can be accessed online at http://www.lef.org/protocols/infections/influenza_01.htm61
Tamiflu® may be especially effective when initiated within 24-48 hours of contracting influenza. Government health agencies stocked up on Tamiflu® years ago and rationed it when the avian flu raised concern. There is no longer a shortage and it should be available in most pharmacies as long as you have a prescription. Another anti-viral drug called Relenza® may also be considered if you contract severe flu symptoms. If one is stricken with severe influenza, conventional doctors may prescribe one of these drugs.
Ribavirin is a broad-spectrum anti-viral drug. Life Extension discovered its unique benefits in 1983 by giving it to cats that contracted feline leukemia, a viral-induced disease. Ribavirin proved highly effective in curing feline leukemia in our limited use of it, yet no studies have been published to validate our serendipitous finding. Since 1983, Life Extension scientists have personally taken ribavirin when flu symptoms occur, and it has proven highly effective on an anecdotal basis.
Tamiflu® is safer than ribavirin and ribavirin should only be considered in cases of severe viral infection that do not respond to conventional therapies.
The Life Extension Foundation® waged a multi-decade war against the FDA to get ribavirin approved in the United States. The FDA finally capitulated in the late 1990s and approved ribavirin as an adjuvant treatment for hepatitis C.
A concern with using ribavirin is that it has been shown to cause anemia is some people.62 This always puzzled us at Life Extension, since we were not hearing of our members encountering an anemia problem in response to ribavirin. A study may have solved the mystery as to why our members did not suffer ribavirin-induced anemia. It turns out that ribavirin induces anemia at least partially by causing excess free radical damage to red blood cells.63 Since Life Extension members take loads of antioxidants, they were unwittingly protecting themselves against ribavirin/free radical-induced anemia.
Whether ribavirin has efficacy against this year's influenza outbreak is unknown at this time, though ribavirin's mechanism of action against common influenza viruses indicates it might produce additive benefits to either Tamiflu® or Relenza®. If you are severely stricken with influenza that is not responsive to any other treatment, ask your doctor to consider prescribing 400 mg of ribavirin to be taken three times a day until viral symptoms subside. (Please note that ribavirin is sold in the United States in 200 mg capsules.)
Vitamin D Boosts Immune Function and Suppresses InflammationFlu viruses induce a massive inflammatory response that can kill the victim in rare cases. In many cases, it is not the virus that kills, but the body's hyper-reaction to the virus — in the form of uncontrolled overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Vitamin D down-regulates the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha.39
By down-regulating excess pro-inflammatory cytokine production, vitamin D could save the lives of those stricken with acute flu viruses. Some other cytokine-suppressing agents include fish oil,64-80 green tea,81-98 borage oil,99-102 curcumin,103-115 and flavonoids.116-125
Severe flu infection sometimes causes bacterial infections to occur in the lungs.
In addition to the proper antibiotics, vitamin D may also help combat concomitant bacterial infections by up-regulating the expression of antimicrobial peptides in immune cells.45
Antimicrobial peptides are components of the immune system that protect against bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Secreted by immune cells throughout the body, antimicrobial peptides damage the outer lipid membrane of infectious agents (including influenza viruses), rendering them vulnerable to eradication.
Here are the results of three studies showing the potential of vitamin D to thwart influenza viruses:
- A 2009 study involving 1,900 participants found that the lowest 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood levels were associated with a 36% higher risk of colds or flu, and a whopping 467% greater risk of colds and flu for those with asthma and the lowest vitamin D blood levels.126
- A 2010 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that participants taking 1,200 IU per day of supplemental vitamin D3 were 42% less likely to get infected with seasonal flu than those who were given a placebo.127
- A 2012 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that supplemental vitamin D3 in 744 study participants experienced about 48% less acute respiratory infections due to either common cold or influenza viruses during the winter months compared to study participants that did not receive supplemental vitamin D.128
Symptoms of the Flu
- Symptoms of flu include very rapid onset of fever, which is usually high, and cough
- Runny nose or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Fatigue or tiredness, which can be extreme
- Diarrhea and vomiting
Here are the emergency warning signs that should signal anyone to seek medical care urgently:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Quadruple Anti-Viral Drug TherapyIf one develops influenza, it would make sense to immediately initiate Tamiflu® anti-viral drug therapy in the normal dose of 75 mg twice a day (for five continuous days). In treating severe flu infections, ask your doctor to consider taking as high as double the normal dose of Tamiflu®, which would be 150 mg twice a day and to do this for seven continuous days.
Relenza® functions by the same anti-viral mechanism as Tamiflu®. The advantage of Relenza® is that it is administered as an inhalant and delivered directly into the lungs. Since the influenza often inflicts its lethal effects in the lungs, Relenza® might be more effective than Tamiflu® in combating certain influenza infections.
The problem with using only Relenza is that influenza rapidly can progress to a systemic illness. While Relenza® might eradicate flu viral replication in the lungs, one would still want the systemic anti-viral benefits of Tamiflu®.
Relenza® and Tamiflu® interferes with viral infections by blocking the active site of the influenza viral enzyme called neuraminidase. Drugs that inhibit neuraminidase cause influenza viruses to aggregate at the body's cell surface and reduces the number of viruses released from infected cells.
Since Relenza® and Tamiflu® are both neuraminidase inhibitors, doctors often believe that a person should only take one of these drugs (i.e., Relenza® or Tamiflu®) when treating influenza viral infections.
Those seriously infected may ask their doctors to consider 75 mg twice a day of oral Tamiflu®, along with the inhaled dose of 5 mg of Relenza® twice a day. Relenza® and Tamiflu® have both been used at higher doses without apparent toxicity.
As with most currently available anti-viral drugs, treatment with Relenza® and/or Tamiflu® should start in the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.
The drug ribavirin inhibits viruses via mechanisms that are different than Tamiflu® and Relenza®. One of these mechanisms is to disrupt viral RNA synthesis, causing viruses to self-destruct. Ribavirin is available as a 200-milligram oral capsule and in inhalant form. If one contracts a severe flu, it would appear logical to ingest 800–1200 mg a day of ribavirin in oral capsule form, in addition to Tamiflu® and/or Relenza®.
If you are in a hospital setting, it might be appropriate to find a lung specialist (pulmonologist) who will consider prescribing and then administering ribavirin in an aerosolized liquid spray via a nebulizer. By inhaling ribavirin, it may be possible to adequately inhibit viral replication in the lungs.
You may need to find a cooperative pediatrician to arrange this because aerosolized ribavirin is only approved to treat infants and small children with severe forms of pneumonia. Your doctor will have to calculate a higher dose of aerosolized ribavirin based on your weight and clinical condition.
I use the term "consider" when asking a doctor to prescribe aerosolized ribavirin since there are no studies in which inhaled Relenza® and aerosolized inhaled ribavirin have been used together. There is always a possibility of adverse interactions between these two inhaled drugs. On the flip side, if you are stricken with a severe case of the flu, your doctor should be more willing to consider unproven therapies that have a logical basis of efficacy.
Amantadine is a drug approved by the FDA to treat Influenza A. This drug functions by inhibiting the activity of the M2 protein in a way that precludes the influenza virus from replicating once it is inside a cell. As with other anti-viral drugs, treatment should be initiated within 48 hours. When amantadine is administered later in the course of a viral infection, it is virtually useless as the body is already overwhelmed with viral particles.
Amantadine was extensively given to chickens over the past decades to treat avian flu. Chickens have since developed a resistance to this drug. That does not mean, however, that amantadine might not be effective in a human who contracted influenza. Since amantadine works via mechanisms that are different than Tamiflu®/Relenza® and ribavirin, it might be logical to add 100 mg twice a day of amantadine in addition to ribavirin and Relenza® and Tamiflu®. (If you are over age 65, the recommended dose of amantadine is 100 mg a day or less.)
I have written this article based on numerous inquiries made by Foundation members. There are additional strategies that may be considered to combat common cold-flu infections, but I wanted to convey what I do personally when confronted with a virus.
The fact that the recommendations made at the beginning of this article have worked for me does not mean they will work for you. There is a scientific rationale, however, to using cimetidine, garlic, and other readily available and inexpensive agents when confronted with a typical viral illness. The FDA, of course, does not approve any of these approaches.
If one contracts an influenza virus, the immediate initiation of aggressive anti-viral drug therapies is paramount. Whether or not you actually contract the flu, it makes sense to initiate aggressive actions if you contract flu-like symptoms. Early treatment of common cold or typical flu viruses can result in rapid eradication of the virus from your body.
As a Life Extension member, please be assured that we are committed to providing you and your doctor with scientific-backed information to most logically combat avian and other influenza viruses.
For additional suggestions on drug therapies to treat serious cases of the flu, refer to the January 2010 edition of Life Extension Magazine®.
For Longer Life,
Caution: If you are taking any medications or have serious health problems, you must first consult with your own health care professional before following this strategy. Those with certain hormone sensitive cancers, for example, may not want to take DHEA. This article is for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. There are side effects to all of the drugs discussed in this letter, making it crucial that you have a knowledgeable health professional overseeing your treatment.
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