Defense Against "Super Bugs" with Nutritional Supplements
Colds and flu are upper respiratory viral infections that are relatively harmless when compared to the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant "super bugs". The long term effects of antibiotic overuse are beginning to hit home. And with the emergence of new and more virulent strains of flu, AIDS, and other immune disorders, we may be at the limits of what antibiotics can deliver.
Once considered exotic and found
primarily in hospitals, antibiotic-resistant pathogens are rapidly becoming
evident in commonplace settings. Following decades of over-prescribing and
misuse, researchers and scientists now face the end of the "Golden
Age" of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance appears "to be on the verge
of desperation," said Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, who chaired an
Institute of Medicine panel that met last May to discuss global efforts to fight
the growing problem.
Among the growing strains of resistant pathogens that are emerging:
Staphylococcus epidermidis is bacteria found primarily in skin tissue. Once considered a non-threatening contaminant, it is now a leading cause of hospital-acquired bloodstream infection. More than 80 percent of Staphylococcus epidermidis found in U.S. hospitals is now methicillin resistant. Recent studies have found S. epidermidis to be resistant to quinolones, cephalosporins and vancomycin.
Drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae (DRSP) is a growing threat. Strepto-coccus pneumoniae infections — including pneumonia, sinusitis, meningitis and otitis media — are a leading cause of death and illness among the elderly, young children and persons with underlying medical conditions. Penicillin, the most often used antibiotic, will no longer work on 40 percent of S. pneumoniae cases.
Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of skin infections, endocarditis (heart valve infection), osteomyelitis (bone infection) and sepsis (blood stream infection), first evidenced signs of resistance to the drug methicillin in the 1960s. Since then S. aureus strains have shown resistance to penicillins, macrolides, fluoroquinolones and lincosamides.
Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), is a major cause of hospital-acquired infection. VRE has become resistant to virtually all antibiotics, including vancomycin.
The result of these changes is that doctors now have to work harder to fight these infections while researchers race to develop new antibiotics. Although new agents, such as Synercid® (quinupristin/dalfopristin), are slowly being developed, the genie may be out of the bottle for good. Bacteria are extremely capable of adapting to new antimicrobial weapons. Without drastic controls on how antibiotics are used, new strains will continue to evolve, at a rate faster than science can match.
Nutrition for Immunity
Humans lived for millions of
years without pharmaceutical antibiotics. Pharmaceutical antibiotics were
introduced into medicine in the 1930s to 1940s. Prior to that time, physicians
and their patients relied primarily on antimicrobial substances like colloidal
silver, antispetics like alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, and various plant
extracts which stimulated the body"s own defense mechanisms. This latter
approach that of stimulating the body"s defenses is rarely considered today
in "orthodox" medicine. Although there are few immune-stimulating
pharmaceutical drugs available today, there is a number of immune-enhancing
nutrients and herbs that can dramatically energize a flagging immune system, and
help overcome an attack by bacteria and viruses.
Herbs have been used for centuries in virtually every culture in the world. Native American medicine relied heavily on the use of herbs, and traditional herbal remedies are still commonly prescribed in Eastern countries such as China, Korea, and Japan as well as Europe. Over time, trial and error led to the development of folk medicines, and the most effective remedies were passed down through the generations. Herbs have been used in an attempt to treat nearly every known affliction and disease, with mixed results. While some herbs have been shown to be ineffective, others have stood the tests of time and research, proving their worth. The following examples point out how nature has provided us with safe, effective methods of improving our health and quality of life.
Astragalus treatment leads to an increase in T-helper cell activity. This increase in immune function was clearly demonstrated in one study where immuno-deficient and healthy normal mice were treated with Astragalus extract.3 This effect has been noted in humans as well. When mononuclear cells from cancer patients and healthy volunteers were inoculated with extracts of Astragalus, not only did T cell levels rise to levels similar to that of healthy cells (prior to treatment), T cell levels in cells from healthy individuals were also significantly increased.
More recently Echinacea has been closely examined for its influence on immune cell proliferation, antibody production, and antiviral activities.5 One of the most popular uses of Echinacea is for support and recovery from the common cold and influenza. Two recent studies support the use of Echinacea for this purpose.
In the first study, 108 patients with colds received either Echinacea or placebo for eight weeks.6 Of those patients receiving the Echinacea, 35.2% recovered and remained healthy, while only 25.9% of the placebo group remained healthy. When the patients did become infected, the length of time between infections was 40 days for the Echinacea group vs. only 25 days for placebo. When infection did occur in patients receiving Echinacea, effects were less severe and resolved quicker. Patients showing evidence of weakened immune system (CD4/CD8 ratio) benefited the most from Echinacea.
In a second study, 180 patients with influenza were given either an E. purpurea Echinacea extract or a placebo. The group receiving Echinacea showed significant reduction of cold symptoms.7
Additional human studies have shown similar immune system activity. For example, patients with inoperable liver cancer, following treatment with echinacea, experienced a dramatic reduction in the side effects associated with chemotherapy and an enhanced quality of life, improved immune function, and a significant rise in natural killer cell activity with CD4 levels.8 Some of these protective effects are mediated by the increase in cytokine production, such as increased levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) and interleukin-1 (IL-1).
In addition to its immunosupportive actions, Echinacea has also demonstrated mild antibacterial activity, due largely to echinacoside, a complex caffeic acid derivative found in high concentrations in the root of E. angustifolia. Echinacoside has been shown to have antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus, Corynebacterium diphtheria, and Proteus vulgaris.1,9,10
Both the root and the bark of Cat"s Claw, a liana growing to 100 feet or more, are sources of a rich variety of pharmacologically active compounds. Among some of the compounds found in U. tomentosa are catechins, alkaloids, ellagic acid and other phenolic antioxidants which are beneficial in the treatment of specific types of cancer. The most immunologically active alkaloids, the oxindole alkaloids, isopteropodine and pteropodine, have been found by Dr. Klaus Keplinger, an Austrian researcher, to stimulate immune function. In additon, the presence of glycosides, proanthocyanidins and beta sitosterol help provide anti-viral, anti-tumor and anti-imflammatory support for the body.
Soviet researchers have been particularly keen on ginseng and have claimed their studies show the herb and its extracts can boost immunity, inhibit cancer, increase energy and physical stamina and have variable effects on blood pressure and blood sugar.
A recent study found that ginseng helps prevent symptoms of the common cold and improves antibody response to influenza vaccine. For 12 weeks, 227 volunteers who visited three private medical practices in Milan received daily oral capsule doses of either 100 mg of a standard Ginseng extract or a placebo. During the fourth week they received an influenza vaccination. There were only 15 cases of influenza or common cold in the group receiving the ginseng extract, versus 42 cases in the group receiving the placebo. By the eighth week, antibody titers rose to an average 272 units in the ginseng group, versus only 171 units in the placebo group. Additionally, at both the eighth and twelfth weeks, natural killer cell activity was nearly twice as high in the Ginseng group versus the placebo group.11
Antioxidants And Immune Support
Antioxidants not only reduce disease symptoms, but may also reduce the long-term effects of chronic oxidative stress, which has been linked to the development of cancer from some viral infections. Oxidative stress is seen in individuals infected with influenza, immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis.12
Other studies have shown that higher vitamin C concentration increases the proliferative responses of T lymphocytes in vitro. Vitamin C has also been reported to induce the production of interferon in cell culture, and one study has found a correlation between natural killer cell activity and vitamin C concentration in leukocytes. Under in vitro conditions, vitamin C has been found to inactivate viruses and bacteria. In human studies doses higher than 100 g per day have been used for severe bacterial and viral infections.13
In a recent study, Italian researchers found that 2 grams per day of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was effective in restoring bronchial responsiveness in hospital workers suffering from upper respiratory infections. The authors suggest that ascorbic acid can effectively re-establish the redux state in inflamed airways and may prove beneficial for treatment of coughs during upper respiratory infection.14
Just as vitamin E protects serum lipoproteins and regulates prostaglandin balance, new research suggests that vitamin E supplementation may enhance phagocytosis, cell-mediated immunity, humoral immunity, and reduce the effects of stress on the immune response. 15
In an animal study on heart disease in the elderly, aged mice were fed vitamin E at 500 parts per million 2 months before exposure to influenza. These animals were found to have substantially lower amounts of the influenza virus in their lungs than control mice given smaller amounts at 30 parts per million.16
A related study on age and immune
response involved 47 subjects, aged 61 to 79 years. Researchers reported that
those receiving a supplement containing vitamin E and other micronutrients
showed a significant increase in immune response. Specifically, an increase in
CD57 natural killer cells, T cells and T cell subsets. Conversely, in the
placebo group there was a decrease in T cells, CD4 cells and the CD4:CD8 ratio.
Researchers concluded that nutritional intervention provided an effective
approach for delaying the overal decline in immune funtion noted with increasing
One 1996 study of newborn infants recorded substantial decreases in upper respiratory infection in newborns given 50,000 IU of vitamin A versus a placebo. Researchers concluded that neonatal vitamin A supplementation reduces infant mortality rates, as well as lessens the severity of respiratory infection.18
A second study linking vitamin A intake and respiratory infection followed 28,000 children between six months and six years of age. Higher intake of vitamin A was strongly associated with fewer upper respiratory infections, lessened incidence of diarrhea and a reduction in cough and fever. Of notice, there was a significant positive association with vitamin A intake and the lowered incidence of cough alone, a sign of a healthy respiratory epithelium.19
Reishi is prescribed in China for a number of psychiatric and neurological afflictions, including diseases involving the muscles, anorexia, and debility following lengthy illnesses. In an eight-month study of Alzheimer"s disease in Japan, patients taking a Reishi mycelium product demonstrated significant improvement.
Recently, Russian scientists have taken an interest in Reishi. They found that in addition to the cardiovascular benefits mentioned above, Reishi showed a significant preventive and therapeutic action against plaque build-up ("Plaque" is a fatty goo which is comprised of a combination of oxidized cholesterol, calcium, and degenerated white blood cells ["foam cells"]. It is deposited on the walls of arteries which restricts blood flow by narrowing the passage within arteries resulting in atherosclerosis).
In 1990, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio found that Reishi could be effectively used in treating stiff necks, stiff shoulders, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the fine membrane lining the eye and eyelids), bronchitis, rheumatism, and improving "competence" of the immune system without any significant side-effects.
1. Zhao KS, Mancini C, Doria G. Enhancement of immune response in mice by Astragalus membranaceus extracts. Immunopharmacolgy 20: 225-34, 1990.
2. Sun Y, Hersh E., Talpaz M, et al. Immune restoration and/or augmentation of local graft versus host reaction by traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Cancer 52: 70-73, 1983.
3. Zhang Z, Wen Q, Liu C. Hepatoprotective effects of astragalus root. J Ethnopharmacol 30: 145-49, 1990.
4. Hobbs C. Echinacea, a literature review. HerbalGram 30:33-48, 1994.
5. Tyler VE. Report on the 41st Annual Congress of Medicinal Plant Research. HerbalGram 30: 66-74, 1994.
6. Schoneberger D: The influence of immune-stimulating effects of pressed juice from Echinacea purpurea on the course and severity of colds. Results of a double-blind study. Forum Immunologie 8:2-12, 1992.
7. Braunig B, et al.: Echinacea purpurea radix for strengthening the immune response in flu-like infections. Z Phytother 13:7-13, 1992.
8. Brown DJ. Phytotherapy review and commentary. Townsend Letter for Doctors. Aug/Sept: 789, 1992.
9. Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal. Pharmaceutical Products Press, Binghamton. NY, pp 115- 117, 1993.
10. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal, edited by F. Leyel, Hafner Press, New York. NY, p 265, 1974.
11."Efficacy and Safety of the Standardized Ginseng Extract G 115 for Potentiating Vaccination Against Common Cold and/or Influenza Syndrome," Scaglione, F., et al, Drugs in Experimental and Clinical Research, 1996;22(2):65-72.
12. The formation of nitric oxide also occurs in viral infection. "Oxidants and Antioxidants in Viral Diseases: Disease Mechanisms and Metabolic Regulation," Peterhans, Ernst, Journal of Nutrition, 1997;127:962S-965S.
13. "Vitamin C and Infectious Diseases," Hemila, Harri, in Vitamin C in Health and Disease, Packer, Lester and Fuchs, Jurgen (eds.), 1997;Chapter 27:471-503. 27873 [inf] PEARL
14. "Effect of Ascorbic Acid on Increased Bronchial Responsiveness During Upper Airway Infection," Bucca, C., et al, Respiration, 1989;55:214-219. (Address: Caterina Bucca, M.D., Clinica Medica I, Via Genova 3, I-10126 Torino, Italy) 25207 [all, pul]
15. "Nutrition and Immunity Part 2: The Role of Selected Micronutrients and Clinical Significance," Bowers, Timothy L., Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, 1997;4(3):96-101.
16."Vitamin E May Ward Of Heart Disease as Well as Flu," Stenson, Jacqueline, Medical Tribune, May 23, 1996;2
17. "Effect of Vitamin and Trace Element Supplementation on Immune Indices in Healthy Elderly", Pike, Jennifer and Chandra, Ranjit, Kumar, International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 1995;65:117-120.
18. "Impact of Neonatal Vitamin A Supplementation on Infant Morbidity and Mortality," Humphrey, Jean, H., ScD, et al, Journal of Pediatrics, April, 1996;128:489-496.
19. "Dietary Vitamin A Intake and The Risk of Diarrhea and Respiratory Infection Among Sudanese Children", Fawzi, Wafaie W., et al, Journal of Nutrition, 1995; 125:1211-1221.
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