6 supplements that really work

As a nutritionist I am very aware that some in my profession have a bad reputation for putting people on a long list of supplements that do little or no good. Whenever feasible, I always look for the smallest number of supplements that will do the job. Here are six supplements that I have found to be particularly effective either on their own or when taken with just a few other products.

If you like this article, post a comment below or email me and next month I’ll cover a few more of these supplements. There are probably a dozen more that could fit in this category.

1. BioEssence: immune system support
This was the first Chinese herbal combination I started to use in my practice based on the recommendation of a friend from Tennessee, Dr. Dan Kalb, who used to head the Family Practice department at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston. It turned out to be incredibly effective for everything connected with the immune system. This includes rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, skin disorders including eczema and psoriasis, not to mention allergies and asthma.

What amazed me the most about this herbal combination is that it does not work by suppressing the immune system, like western drugs for these conditions do, and has few or no side effects. I will not claim that is works in every case, but it does often enough, and when it does the results can be almost miraculous and remarkably fast.

Results I saw with this product gave me the incentive I needed to study Chinese herbal medicine, and I am glad I embarked on this project because it is now enabling me to help many more people in ways I couldn’t do before.
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Flu shots and respiratory complications from the flu

Parents continue to hear that they should vaccinate their children against the flu, and that they should do so especially if their children have asthma. However, an overlooked detail is that the effectiveness of flu shots in children with asthma has never been proven through research. A newly released study that for the first time evaluates the effectiveness of flu shots in children with asthma reaches very different conclusions. The study analyzed data from the past eight consecutive years and looked at the rate of hospitalization for respiratory complications from the flu among children who were or were not vaccinated and those who had and did not have asthma.

What the study found is nothing short of amazing. Among non-asthmatic children, being vaccinated led to a slightly higher – you read correctly, I didn’t mean lower – rate of hospitalization for complications from the flu. However, among asthmatic children the rate of hospitalization was three times higher for vaccinated children. In other words children were three times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory complications of the flu if parents followed medical advice and had them vaccinated.
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Preventing Swine Flu and the flu in general, and avoiding vaccine side effects

Although to date the H1N1 (or “swine flu”) vaccine has not been released, there is already talk about it becoming mandatory. Concern among parents and others, including people who have not vaccinated before, is that this time they should.

When deciding whether to vaccinate of not, consider that even though swine flu has spread rapidly across the world, most people who had it experienced unusually mild flu symptoms. In rare cases it affects the lungs causing pneumonia, which could become life-threatening.

Though I believe that the risk of these severe complications can be all but eliminated with a few natural precautions, no one can prove definitively that this is so.

Also consider that the swine flu vaccine is not just the usual flu vaccine adapted to a new strain, it is a newly engineered vaccine. Given how quickly it is being developed, it is impossible to rule out the risk of potentially severe side effects that may only become apparent after the vaccine is released in the population.

There is a historic precedent to this. In 1976 the United States was hit by a similar swine flu virus and, just like today, there was a great deal of concern for its possible deadly consequences. Also just as we are seeing now, there was a huge rush to produce a vaccine that, once released, was found to cause an often-fatal neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS).
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Dealing with the latest flu scare

When it comes to flu scares, I guess you could consider me a skeptic. Basically I continue to see the flu as a mild though annoying seasonal illness that can be effectively prevented, or its impact lessened, with a few simple measures.

Over centuries there have been a small number of more severe flu outbreaks that caused thousands of deaths over short periods of time. While the risk of such an outbreak in our lifetimes is remote, it does exist, as do the risk of being struck by lightning, being run over by a car, or drowning at the beach.

If and when a severe flu outbreak does strike it will be from a suddenly mutated strain of the flu virus and vaccines will be of no use. In fact, there will be little to do aside from the simple preventive measures I am about to discuss below.
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Natural Treatments for Allergies, Colds and Flu, and Bacterial Infections

In this piece I am going to discuss several specific brand-name products, something I have not done in the past in my newsletter to avoid appearing commercial. On the other hand there is no other way for me convey this information without sharing with readers the products I have used in some cases for years and that have worked for me and for my patients.

Rest assured that this is not commercially driven and that no one is paying me to promote their products, something I would definitely find objectionable and would never agree to do. Further proof of this is that the products I mention are from different manufacturers and reflect the brands I have found to be most valuable for each application. You can search for the products I am recommending under their respective names and I am sure you will find different sources for each one of them. At the same time, these products are all available from my office or online store, which is a supplement website I started for the convenience of people ordering supplements from out of town and those who prefer online ordering.

As I am sure you noticed when reading the email reprinted above, diet plays a big role in strengthening the immune system, breaking the cycle of illness and strange as it may seem even reversing allergies to airborne substances like pollen or dust.
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Bird Flu: Fact or Fiction?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear all this talk about a bird flu pandemic right at the beginning of the regular flu season, I become suspicious it’s just another ploy to sell more flu shots!

Not only that, but who ever heard of Tamiflu before all this? I guess many people will ask for the drug for the first time this season and apparently some have already started stockpiling it. Another “benefit” of this commercial campaign for Tamiflu is that side effects didnít even need to be mentioned, nor the fact that it – and other, similar medications – have a very poor record of effectiveness. They have also not been proven to help with the bird flu, but I guess that in an emergency who needs proof?

I am not saying that bird flu concerns are entirely fabricated, and certainly measures being taken to limit its spread are appropriate, but we need to realize that this virus was first identified in 1997 and to date itís still nothing more than a bird epidemic with sporadic human contagion.

Of course this could change and if we look at the history books it is a fact that some of the worst flu pandemics originated in birds. But then there have been many more bird epidemics that never spread to humans. In the past 30 years alone we have had half a dozen predicted pandemics without a single one materializing, a fact that no one seems to remember right now.

Let’s try to separate fact from fiction! The best site I have found for balanced information on this issue with regular updates is http://www.birdfluhype.com/index.html.

An interesting fact I learned from this site is that as of last month there were a total of 121 people confirmed to have been infected with the illness, and 62 died. 121 people since 1997 worldwide sounds like nothing, but the death rate makes it look like the worst flu on record, a real cause for concern. But are these numbers even correct?

According to a little-publicized study from the World Health Organization (WHO) there are thousands of unrecorded human cases of bird flu, possibly as many as 10,000. These were not recorded simply because they were mild cases, sort of like a regular flu, and no fancy tests were done to identify the viral strain. On the other hand there is certainty on the total number of deaths, but while 62 deaths in 121 is very frightening, 62 in 10,000 – or a 0.62% death rate – seems far more routine.

So what should we do about flu shots? As I always say everyone needs to make this decision for him or herself, but I personally never chose to have one. What’s the need? I must admit that the last time I got the flu (I had not been taking my usual dose of Vitamin C) I was not too happy, but then two days later I was enjoying life again!

If you are thinking about getting a flu shot, consider the following:

• It is ineffective against bird flu

• It is laced with a variety of toxins, including mercury, aluminum, MSG and many more

• Its effectiveness against the regular flu is estimated at no more than 60% or so, but this number drops dramatically among the immune-compromised individuals who supposedly need it the most. A recent study showed that, while the number of individuals over 65 taking the flu shot has increased dramatically, the death rate from the flu among the same population has not budged! Read more at http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/influenza/general/news/feb1605elderly.html

For my part, the following are the supplements I use and recommend. With them, I rarely get the flu and when I do I generally recover in a couple of days:

• Vitamin C: the fact that vitamin C can increase our resistance to viruses has been shown in so many studies dating back decades, itís not even worth it for me to quote any. I find that when I take about 1 to 2 grams of vitamin C every day I am not normally vulnerable to the flu. In the rare cases when I have caught it, I increase my intake of vitamin C to several grams every hour and this helps reduce the duration of the illness. Too much vitamin C causes diarrhea, and when I am ill I will take as much as I can handle until I experience this problem. This is called taking vitamin C to “bowel tolerance,” but if you decide to try this be sure to use properly buffered vitamin C.

• Antiviral herbs: I don’t normally take these but I recommend them for people who are especially vulnerable to the flu even with vitamin C. The product I recommend is called ViraCon, which is available only through healthcare professionals. Antiviral herbs work best when taken every day throughout the season.

• Colloidal silver: I recently started recommending a product called Argentyn 23. This product contains less silver than the one I used to recommend and is therefore safer, even for toddlers and small children. You can read about it here http://www.sovereignsilver.info/index.php. Colloidal silver has a long history of use in fighting viruses, bacteria and yeast. It can be very helpful not only to shorten the duration of the flu but also to prevent complications in susceptible individuals. Articles warning of the dangers of colloidal silver that are found all over the Internet refer to products, often homemade, that contain silver particles much larger than the ones found in the Argentyn 23.

• Lauricidin: this is a natural antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial substance first isolated in human breast milk. It is now extracted from coconut oil for commercial use. It is non-toxic and safe for all ages. It can be taken as a preventative or after the onset of symptoms. Read about it at http://www.lauricidin.com/default.asp.

Systemic enzymes: the natural solution for inflammation, pain and more

The expression “systemic enzymes” refers to enzymes taken between meals on an empty stomach, as opposed to digestive enzymes taken with food. When enzymes are taken between meals they are absorbed and have effects that are systemic, or throughout the body. By contrast, digestive enzymes are designed primarily to support digestion.

The very idea that enzymes could be absorbed when taken by mouth was initially questioned because enzymes are large proteins and the body typically digests protein down to its amino acid components and only absorbs those.

However, research conducted by Max Wolf MD, PhD at Columbia University through the 1970’s proved definitively that enzymes are absorbed and not digested. Nevertheless, skepticism and prejudice regarding enzyme absorption continues to be widespread in the medical community and many college nutrition texts continue to state that enzymes cannot be absorbed. The research on enzyme absorption is reviewed in the booklet “Enzymes, the Fountain of Life” available for a nominal charge from www.amazon.com.

The discovery that the body is capable of absorbing enzymes without digesting them provides further evidence of the central role they play in health. The mechanism of enzyme absorption may have evolved to conserve and recycle enzymes once digestion was complete or to absorb enzymes found in food, as most foods in their natural fresh state are rich in enzymes.

In fact, enzymes play many critical roles in health, and digestion is only one of these. Enzymes are the key that enables chemical reactions to take place inside the body. Without enzymes there can be no metabolic activity, and life as we know it would come to an end. Scientists have identified 3,000 enzymes in the human body that are responsible for carrying out thousands of chemical reactions each on a daily basis. Even though there are so many different enzymes, most of them are derivatives of protein-digesting (proteolytic) enzymes, and these can be taken as supplements.

To get an idea of the importance of enzymes in health, consider that all the B vitamins we take have only one function in the body: to act as coenzymes, critical components that activate enzymes. Minerals themselves act primarily as catalysts, another essential prerequisite for enzyme to work. If you ever wondered why some people do so well with B vitamins, whereas others don’t seem to respond at all, the answer may be that those who do not respond are deficient in enzymes. You cannot facilitate the action of something that is not there!

It is a fact that we are born with the capacity to produce all the enzymes we need, but at different times we can lose this capability for a variety of reasons, including poor diet, viral or other infection, and exposure to mercury or other toxins. Aging itself causes us to lose the ability to make enough enzymes, and the first thing we may need to do to combat any effects of aging is to replenish our enzymes.

The benefits of systemic enzymes are also backed by substantial research. Just typing in a few keywords in PubMed – the internet service that provides access to medical research – yields hundreds of entries. I will not cover this research here but will include a few links at the end of this article for anyone wanting to know more. In summary, there are five different areas of health in which systemic enzymes have been found to have benefits. Each of these areas is covered briefly below:

1. Fighting inflammation
Acute inflammation is a healthy process that enables us to fight off infections or initiate recovery from trauma. However, chronic inflammation is purely destructive and results from the body’s inability to shut down the inflammatory process when it is no longer needed. As I often say to people, pain from an injury is normal during recovery, but pain that lasts months or years with no sign of abating indicates that something in the body has gone awry. Today, this type of chronic pain is our countryís Number One epidemic, accounting for more visits to doctors’ offices than any other cause.

But chronic inflammation is more that just pain. For example, a marker in blood called high sensitivity C-reactive protein (HS-CRP) was found to be a better predictor of heart disease than high cholesterol, cholesterol ratios or anything else. HS-CRP is nothing other than an indicator of chronic inflammation. The more scientists learn about inflammation the more it becomes apparent that it plays a role either in causing or establishing a favorable environment for the development of almost all diseases of aging, from cancer to diabetes, and even neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Systemic enzymes have been shown repeatedly in research to alleviate chronic inflammation and pain. Studies comparing various enzyme formulations to medications have typically found that enzymes work as well as or better than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in controlling pain. The major differences are that enzymes take longer to start working and several pills need to be taken multiple times a day for optimal benefits.

Another important difference is how they work. Medications including aspirin, ibuprofen, Celebrex, Vioxx and other NSAIDs all work by suppressing the bodyís production of chemicals known as prostaglandins. Some prostaglandins cause inflammation and pain, while others play important roles in protecting the intestinal lining, the heart, or the kidneys. As a result, all these medications have side effects that range from stomach irritation and ulcers to heart disease and death.

By contrast, enzymes work by enhancing the body’s inborn mechanisms to control pain and inflammation. They normalize immune function by breaking down abnormal proteins known as circulating immune complexes (CICs) that keep triggering the inflammatory cycle. They also help reduce swelling and literally digest away irritating protein deposits in joints and other inflamed areas of the body.

A type of enzyme that has been shown to be particularly helpful in controlling inflammation is the pineapple-derived enzyme bromelain. Although taking bromelain alone can help, studies and clinical practice indicate that enzyme combinations that include bromelain alongside other enzymes work best by creating synergistic effects.

In hundreds and possibly thousands of studies on the anti-inflammatory actions of systemic enzymes, no adverse effects have ever been identified, only added benefits, some of which are reviewed in the sections below.

2. Breaking down fibrosis and scarring
Enzymes are also helpful is controlling or reversing the deposition of fibrin in tissues. This is often a result of aging and loss of the body’s ability to produce its own enzymes that naturally control fibrin deposition. Fibrin ends up choking off the supply of blood and nutrients to peripheral areas of the body, leading to hardening and drying up of organs and other tissues that were once soft and pliable.

In certain conditions, this process is particularly severe. In fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by diffuse and unrelenting muscle pain, fibrin deposits in muscle tissue can be demonstrated microscopically. In this condition the pain is not a result of inflammation and is typically not alleviated by NSAIDs. However, it often responds to high doses of systemic enzymes as these slowly break down and dissolve fibrin deposits.

Other conditions associated with fibrin buildup include fibrocystic breast disease, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and even arterial sclerotic plaque. All of these conditions can be helped to varying degrees with systemic enzymes.

Scar tissue formation after surgery can also be a severe problem and may even require a second surgery for its removal. Research has shown that systemic enzymes help speed up recovery from surgery while reducing swelling and scar tissue formation. Given enough time and sufficient doses, enzymes can also break down existing scar tissue.

An enzyme called serrapeptase or serratia peptidase has been shown to be particularly helpful in this area. It is produced by the larval forms of the silk moth that use it break down their cocoon walls, one of the most fibrous substances known in nature. Like bromelain, serrapeptase has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory effects but seems to excel at breaking down fibrin deposits and scar tissue. Some doctors have even used it to help clear arterial plaque, although evidence of its benefits in this area is scant and there are no published studies to confirm it.

3. Cleansing the blood
We all know that blood distributes nutrients to tissues, but what we may not think of is that it also collects garbage produced by cell metabolism throughout the body. It is then the liver’s job to break down this metabolic waste and package it for excretion from the body. However, it is easy to see how, in today’s toxic environment, the liver can become overwhelmed and no longer able do this very efficiently.

In addition, various proteins including fibrin, plasmin, and others can build up in blood causing it to become thick and sticky, and increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Systemic enzymes have been shown to break down metabolic waste enabling the body to easily eliminate it. They also break down the proteins that lead to clot formation, effectively thinning the blood and improving its flow characteristics.

The only caution here is for people already on blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin, Heparin or Plavix. These people should only take enzymes under direct medical supervision while at the same time cutting back their medications. As the enzymes reduce the need for these drugs, they also increase the drugsí effectiveness, leading to a risk of overdosing and spontaneous bleeding.

Although all systemic enzymes have some blood-thinning effects, an enzyme called nattokinase has been researched specifically and found the particular benefits in this area. It is derived from a fermented soybean product called natto used in traditional Japanese medicine for thousands of years. In Japan, natto is believed to increase longevity, strengthen the heart and sharpen the mind. Modern researchers have found it to have potent blood-thinning actions resulting from its capacity to digest proteins that lead to clot formation. Unlike blood-thinning medications it does not have a toxic dose and will not lead to spontaneous bleeding at any level of intake.

4. Normalizing immune function
Systemic enzymes have been shown to have an adaptogenic (normalizing) effect on the immune system. This involves stimulating immune function, in conditions involving immune deficiency, and calming down the immune system in conditions associated with excessive immune activation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

5. Fighting viruses
There are a number of studies showing that systemic enzymes have antiviral effects. In some studies enzymes were shown to have similar effects to medications like Acyclovir in controlling shingles and other herpes-related conditions. Other studies have shown that enzymes can slow down viral replication in HIV and hepatitis C.

The action of enzymes in this area is surely complex but results at least in part from strengthening and normalizing immune function. It also appears that enzymes have a direct action to neutralize viruses by “digesting” proteins they use to attach to and infect human cells.

Useful links and references:

The book “The Aspirin Alternative” available from www.amazon.com reviews some of the research on systemic enzymes. Although interesting, this book promotes a specific product that may no longer the best choice.

The website www.totalityofbeing.com also contains a number of interesting articles on enzymes and some references to published research. This site also promotes a specific line of products.

The site http://www.worldnutrition.info/index.html contains information and research on a line of products this company produces. In my experience these products are well-formulated and produce excellent results although unfortunately quite expensive.

Top-quality vitamin manufacturer Thorne has an excellent review of the research on the pineapple-derived enzyme bromelain at http://www.thorne.com/altmedrev/fulltext/bromelain1-4.html. Keep in mind, however, that enzymes like bromelain work best in combination with other enzymes. In addition, some people – including many children with autism – have trouble tolerating fruit enzymes like bromelain.

The enzyme serrapeptase is sometimes called the “butterfly enzyme” although this is not truly accurate as in reality it is made by a moth. In any case it is also very effective either as an alternative to bromelain or in combination with it. Find references to research on this enzyme at http://www.enerex.ca/articles/serrapeptase.htm.

The site http://www.springboard4health.com/notebook/health_nattokinase.html provides a nice description and review of the research on nattokinase. Although they also sell this product I am not familiar with this company or the quality of their products.

Could a hidden virus be the common link in autism, chronic fatigue syndrome and others

A virus is nothing more than a submicroscopic gene fragment covered in a fat or protein envelope. On their own viruses are completely harmless and basically inert; yet we all know they can have devastating effects when they gain access to the body.

When a virus enters the body, the immune system recognizes it because of the protein markers, called antigens, it carries. This recognition leads the body to mount an inflammatory response that accounts for symptoms such as fever, aches, and so on. In most cases this response succeeds in clearing the virus from the body.

Some viruses are known to resist this assault by the immune system and set up permanent residence inside the body. Some, like hepatitis C or HIV, cause progressive destruction of their target cells and tissues, eventually leading to death. Others, like herpes, lie dormant, basically doing nothing, until stress or some other factor weakens the body’s resistance and they then suddenly “wake up” and start causing trouble once again.

But what if there was a “new” type of virus that found a way to mutate and lose its marker proteins so that the immune system could no longer recognize it? It would be able to enter the body and cause trouble undisturbed. Not only that, it would also be very difficult to establish who has this virus and who doesn’t, given that we usually test for the presence of viruses by measuring markers of the immune response.
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Are you ready for the next flu shot?

Although summer is just over, if you read newspapers or have children you’re probably all too aware of the upcoming flu season and the need to once again make a decision about the flu shot.

During the summer, while many of us were thinking about vacation or trips to the beach, the staffs at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and pharmaceutical companies were hard at work planning for a successful “immunization season.”

According to a recent article by Dr. Sherri Tenpenni, published on the online weekly magazine Red Flags (www.redflagsweekly.com), the CDC spent the last few months hatching a seven-step plan to insure high vaccination rates.

The plan includes disseminating posters, fliers and other documents, stressing the potential dangers ñ including death ñ of the flu, and releasing reports through the media “helping to foster the perception that many people are susceptible to a bad case of influenza.”

Personally, I have never had a flu shot; I take vitamin C. I used to think that vitamin C made me completely immune to the flu, but in a few instances I realized this wasn’t always true. I still think that vitamin C helps me resist the flu most of the time, even though I am exposed to it frequently because of my work. When I do catch it, it seems to be mild or at least short-lived.

Getting immunized for the flu is a decision we all need to make for ourselves, but in making this decision we may consider a few facts. If there is a risk of death from the flu, is it any greater than the risk of, say, being struck by lightening? And we need to also take into account what’s in the shot, aside from the active vaccine. Last year’s vaccine contained such additives as mercury, aluminum, antifreeze and a host of other chemicals that are toxic to the brain, immune system, and possibly other systems of the body as well.

The final question: does the vaccine even work? In case you’ve forgotten, last year’s vaccine was developed for the wrong strain of the virus and it turned out to be basically ineffective. On the other hand, natural products, including vitamin C, anti-viral herbs and immune-boosting supplements can help prevent the flu at least most of the time and have side benefits, rather than side effects.

To read the entire article about the CDC and its vaccination strategy go to http://www.redflagsweekly.com/conferences/vaccines/2004_aug30.html

Licorice root extract found to inhibit replication of the SARS virus

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in lakes and other bodies of water. In recent years, it has become popular as a dietary supplement because it has been found to be a rich natural source of nutrients.

The sudden outbreak of SARS led to a flurry of research to find an antiviral agent that could reduce the severity of the disease and promote recovery. The virus responsible for SARS was found to belong to the coronavirus, a family that also includes the cold and flu viruses.

A German study evaluated the efficacy of various agents, including interferon, to inhibit viruses isolated from SARS patients. One of the agents evaluated was glycyrrhizin, an extract of the herb licorice root, and this particular substance proved to be the most effective one of all those tested.

Researchers found that, in addition to inhibiting replication of the virus more effectively than any other drugs, glycyrrhizin also inhibited ability of the virus to infect healthy cells. The authors also commented that glycyrrhizin had previously been used in the treatment of patients with HIV and chronic hepatitis C. Compared with the other agents tested, glycyrrhizin has the lowest occurrence of side effects: only increased blood pressure in susceptible individuals with long-term use. (The Lancet, June 2003; 361 (9374): 2045-6)

Licorice root standardized for its glycyrrhizin content can be purchased in the United States over the counter as a dietary supplement. Although the SARS epidemic seems to be behind us, glycyrrhizin can be considered as part of a strategy to address a variety of chronic and acute viral conditions in both children and adults.

Other herbal extracts have also been shown to be active against viruses. These can be combined with glycyrrhizin to obtain a synergistic effect at lower doses, thus reducing the risk of side effects and possibly even increasing effectiveness.

I will review a few of these herbs briefly:

Elderberry extract has been used traditionally to protect from the flu and other viral conditions.

Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) has been shown to inhibit the replication of influenza viruses A and B (Boil Pharm Bull 1995;18(2):295-9). It has also been shown to inhibit HIV proliferation in animal studies (Cell Mol Biol Res 1993;39(2):119-24), and Epstein-Barr virus in humans (Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1992;40(2):531-3).

Astragalus has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine for a variety of viral conditions. Research has shown its ability to correct deficient T cells (immune cells) in cancer patients (J Clin Lab Immunol 1988;25:119-23).

Berberine, an extract of several herbs, has been shown to have strong inhibiting effects against various fungal, bacterial and viral organisms (Can J Microbiol 1969;15(9):1067-76, J Prosthet Dent 1990;64(6):691-4).

Hypericin, extracted from St. John’s wort, has been shown to be effective against herpes simplex virus I and II and Epstein-Barr virus, among others. It received a European patent as an antiviral drug, but is available in this country as a dietary supplement.

Protein in spirulina can inhibit deadly viruses

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in lakes and other bodies of water. In recent years, it has become popular as a dietary supplement because it has been found to be a rich natural source of nutrients.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that a protein named cyanovirin-N (CV-N) contained in spirulina has the ability to slow down the progression of viruses, including HIV and Ebola, by reducing their ability to infect healthy cells. When this protein was administered to mice infected with the Ebola virus they were not cured, but their life was extended – quite a remarkable result! See www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/ebola for more information on the NCI report and the antiviral properties of CV-N.

While the CV-N protein is not currently available in pure form, spirulina itself may offer some of the same antiviral protection in addition to numerous other benefits. For example, the Russians used spirulina to decontaminate children who had been exposed to high-level radiation during the Chernobyl disaster. The Institute for Radiation in Minsk had the children take 5 grams of spirulina daily and observed a 50% decrease in body levels of radiation after twenty days. These results are impressive, especially considering that radiation levels decline very slowly if left untreated. Based on this experience, the Russian ministry of health now recommends spirulina as a standard treatment for radiation exposure.

The U.S. medical system may not lend much credence to reports like this one and is much more interested in high-tech and expensive solutions rather than simple natural ones. Nevertheless, the Russian experience with spirulina is of value for all of us, especially now that we face the possibility of nuclear terrorism in our country.

The Russians chose spirulina in the first place because Japanese researchers had found it to be a rich source of naturally occurring metallothioneins (MT’s). MT’s are proteins made in the body (and elsewhere in nature) that help protect us from environmental toxins, including radiation and heavy metals such as mercury or lead. A human genetic variant that leads to inefficient metallothionein production is believed to be a trigger for autism and ADHD in children who are exposed to excessive amounts of toxins.

In such cases, it is more likely that we are dealing with a normal genetic variant known as a polymorhism rather than a true genetic disorder. Such polymorphisms determine things like our appearance, but also the way that we digest food or eliminate toxins. In a relatively clean environment, a less efficient MT production is not a major disadvantage, but it becomes one when, for example, we begin to inject infants with vaccines that contain mercury. People with this genetic variant who escape childhood disorders such as autism or ADHD may have an increased risk of chronic health conditions in adulthood, although I don’t think this has ever been studied.

Before you run out to buy a bottle of spirulina, you should be aware that different strains have very different nutrient profiles. Spirulina pacifica and Hawaiian pacifica are considered the best strains. However, growing conditions, harvesting and bottling practices all impact the quality of the product and, unfortunately, much of what is available in retail stores is contaminated and of inferior quality.

Additional information on the benefits of spirulina can be found in the May 1997 issue of an Australian publication, “The Medifile Report” (Post Office Box 78, Ourimbah, NSW 2258, Australia, tel. 043-622-458 or 621-871).