New Theory on the origin of the flu

November 15, 2005

A recent theory claims that one does not catch the flu from contagious people, but by the activation of a dormant virus activated by vitamin D deficiency.

Serious medical journals do not often engage themselves with what private individuals think. In the latest issue of “The British Medical Journal” an exception is made on the journal’s last page, which is written regularly by the pretty named but anonymous female doctor, “Minerva.” Minerva has given her readers interesting scientific news, great and small, every week for decades.

This time she has pointed out a “blog” (an internet forum) with a gripping story on the virtues of vitamin D and why the flu sets in during the winter. She relates that the blog’s author is a member of “The vitamin D council,” a non-profit organisation which wishes to combat vitamin D deficiency.

Minerva recounts that he may be just another person who has hopped aboard the flu bandwagon. But could he possibly have found something important?

The blog is written by the Californian Dr. John Cannell. He explains, including many citations, first and foremost his theory about how the flu arises. The theory states that the flu is not so much the result of contagion, but more the activation of a dormant virus which we already have in our bodies. This virus can be activated and cause the flu when we are weakened by vitamin D deficiency during the winter. It is similar to the mechanisms behind cold sores, where the virus is dormant but can be activated causing a break out.

Does this sound like nonsense? In 2003, a department in the United State’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) disclosed that they had been unable to find any English language documentation for the flu being able to be infectious from person to person.

The recently dead epidemiologist, Edward Hope-Simpson discovered that when the elderly get shingles, it is caused by the same virus which causes chickenpox as a child. It becomes dormant in the body but can cause shingles when one is weakened by age.

Hope-Simpson became interested in the well known, but quite strange, fact that the flu only arises when the sun weakens during the winter. In the tropics, one gets the flu during the rainy season. He found that influenza outbreaks with exactly the same virus occurred year after year at almost exactly the same time in two far separated places, Prague and his English home town, Cirencester. With the help of old church records he found that, despite our faster daily lives, flu epidemics arise at the same time of year as they have for the last 400 years. This is true even in isolated towns; in such places the flu comes at the same time as in big cities.

Therefore, Hope-Simpson believed that flu epidemics are not cause by infection, but by a weakened state caused by the absence of sunlight. Canning now adds that vitamin D has a meaningful effect on the immune system and that the Japanese, as far back as 1945, found that it can protect rats against the flu. The well known vitamin D deficiency during the winter could be the reason for the weakened state that Hope-Simpson postulated.

Canning proposes that we should stock up on capsules of 50,000 units vitamin D in the event of a bird flu pandemic. He does not know if this will do any good, but says that it might save your life.

In any event, as Minerva also believes, his blog (as Minerva also believes) gives us something to think about.

By: Vitality Council

2. Minerva. British Medical Journal 2005;331:1152.

Vitamin Pills Prevent Infection

January 24, 2005

The increased predisposition to infections in diabetics can be reduced with a daily multivitamin-mineral pill.

Skeptics have doubted that ordinary vitamin pills can strengthen the immune defence. In 1992, the Canadian nutritionist R.K. Chandra did establish that a daily vitamin pill reduced the number of infections in a small group of healthy elderly people by 50%. However, critics questionned his independence and the succeeding year, French scientists could not find any similar effect in an – albeit short-term – study.

The situation is now completely different. An American study has shown that an ordinary vitamin pill almost halves the incidence of infections. The study that lasted nearly a year included 130 trial subjects who were predominantly middle-aged, overweight women; of these women, approximately 1/3 had type II diabetes – also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes. Their lifestyle, however, was not necessarily unhealthy; more than every other woman exercised moderately or intensely.

During the study, half the trial subjects were given placebo (a non-effective tablet) and the other half were given a daily vitamin-mineral tablet. In the placebo group, 73% suffered infection while this was the case for only 43% in the vitamin group.

The diabetics were apparently the ones who benefited most from the vitamin pill as most of the difference between the two groups could be ascribed to them. Indeed, it is well-known that diabetics are more susceptible to infections than other people; 93% of the diabetics in the placebo group suffered infection while this was the case for only 17% of the diabetics in the vitamin group.

The obvious explanation could
be that the diabetics were vitamin-deficient; this would weaken their immune defence, but when given a vitamin pill, their health would be restored. However, the figures do not confirm this theory. It was estimated that approximately 1/3 of all the trial subjects – i.e. both diabetics and non-diabetics – were deficient in the vitamins A, -E, and -C. Therefore, the conclusion must be that not all diabetics had eaten unhealthily.

There is also the question of diabetics perhaps having a particularly large need for vitamins in order to maintain a healthy immune defence. During the trial, they were given a substantial supplement. The vitamin pill used in the trial contains fairly large amounts of the vitamins A, -B, -C, and -D, and it also contains folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin K, chromium, and iodine which are not always present in standard vitamin pills.

Six months ago, the French 7-year SU.VI.MAX study showed that small amounts of antioxidants dramatically reduce mortality and the incidence of cancer in men. The men were given vitamin C and -E plus beta-carotene and selenium in the same dosage as in the American study; however, the Americans were given all the other vitamins and minerals as well.

Around the same time, a study in Tanzania showed that multivitamins significally strengthen the immune

There is reason to believe that, on a long view, a multivitamin pill – preferably a strong one of the kind – will be of benefit to most people. On a short view it is quite certainly a significant advantage to diabetics, men, and HIV positive people in particular.

By: Vitality Council

1) Chandra RK. Effect of vitamin and trace-element supplementation on immune responses and infection in elderly subjects. Lancet 1992;340:1124-7.
2) Chavance M et al. Does multivitamin supplementation prevent infections in healthy elderly subjects ? A controlled trial. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1993;63:11-16.
3) Barringer TA et al. Effect of a multivitamin and mineral supplement on infection and quality of life. Ann Int Med 2003;138:365-71.
4) Hercberg S et al. The SU.VI.Max study. Arch Int Med 2004;164:2335- 2342.

Vitamin E Against Alzheimer’s Disease and Colds

October 11, 2004

The World’s leading experts in vitamin E participated in a congress in New York in the spring which was sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences. The last time such a congress was held was in 1989 and some of the news have now been described in the October issue of the Academy’s scientific magazine.

It is astounding that we are still discussing nature’s purpose of Vitamin E. It can actually be difficult to find obvious deficiency symptoms in humans. However, it is certain that the vitamin is highly important. All higher animals – including fish – produce the protein TTT with the single task of transporting vitamin E in the blood. Natures probably would not have gone to such trouble of making a transport protein for a substance that the body could easily do without.

“When nature has chosen exactly alpha-tocopherol from the thousands of antioxidants in our surroundings, there must be a reason”, declared Angelo Azzi of the University of Bern. Vitamin E slows down the blood platelets when they are about to clog and form blood clots.

This is significant to the tendency of other cells to stick to each other, divide, and to send signals to each other. Furthermore, it increases the production of nitric oxide (NO) which is an important signalling molecule that relaxes the blood vessels and thereby lowers the blood pressure. How can we translate these fundamental abilities into something we can see and feel, though?

The participants at the congress presented results showing that Vitamin E delays Alzheimer’s disease. According to a French study, the combination of vitamin C and vitamin E can prevent the disease from occuring in the first place. The same combination of vitamins also prevents pre-eclampsia. Finally, a randomized trial has shown that vitamin E reduces the frequency of colds in elderly people by 25%.

A constant controversial question is why only a single randomized trial have been able to show that vitamin E prevents coronary thrombosis when there are so many other indications of this effect. The explanation could be that synthetic Vitamin E has often been used instead of natural vitamin E. Synthetic Vitamin E consists of eight different substances of which only a single one is present in nature.

Another reason might be that the Vitamin E has not been supplemented with vitamin C; automatic supplementation with Vitamin C happens in animals because of their ability to produce Vitamin C themselves.

However, the reason might also be that the participants of almost all the studies had been severely atherosclerotic from the start. “Once calcification has damaged an artery, the damage will heal very poorly”, professor Meydani of Tufts University, USA. Vitamin E is probably better at preventing than curing diseases!

Professor Maret Traber from Oregon estimates that 70 – 80% of all adults get less than the recommended 30 mg. of Vitamin E weekly. Her advice is to live healthily and that there is no harm in taking an extra Vitamin E supplement.
The exact reason for its beneficial effect will perhaps not be elucidated for another 15 years.

By: Vitality Council

Hopkin K. New York Academy of Sciences Magazine 2004; October: 4-6.

Vitamin E Prevents Colds

September 13, 2004

By taking a modest vitamin E supplement, the elderly can be spared every fifth cold they would normally get. This is the result of the best randomized trial in this field so far. It was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA.

The study was carried out by a university-based team of researchers in Boston belonging under the American Ministry of Agriculture. In charge of this group was Simin Meydani, a professor and specialist in nutrition and ageing. She has previously established that it is not belief but reality that Vitamin E stimulates the T cells of the immune system.

The study included 617 people in 33 nursing homes and they were all above 65 years old. Half of them were given a supplement of 200 I.U. of Vitamin E every day for a year. The other half were given placebo and during the study, it was calculated which group suffered the fewest respiratory infections.

It turned out that the ones who were given vitamin E had fewer infections than the others and particularly the number of colds were reduced by a statistical significance of 20%. There was no effect, however, on the frequency of pneumonia.

Meydani emphasized that even though only every fifth cold was prevented, the result is still important. Vitamin E is completely harmless and colds are the cause of 30% of all absence due to illness in the US.

Another perspective is the possibility that Vitamin E perhaps has a particular effect on viral infections like colds but not on diseases like pneumonia which are mostly caused by bacteria. Based on this, other researchers wanted to know if vitamin E can have an importance in the fight against AIDS, where it is exactly the T cells that are being targeted, but Meydani herself did not want to speak on this subject.

The results were originally displayed in May of this year at a closed scientific symposium on vitamin E arranged by the New York Academy of Science. Almost all of the world’s élite in vitamin E research participated.

Among other things, also the highly sensational findings were displayed that a combination of Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplements reduces the aggravation of Alzheimer’s disease by 50% and that the same combination prevents eclampsia in every other pregnant woman who are at risk of developing this serious disease.

By: Vitality Council

Vitamin E and Respiratory Tract Infections in Elderly Nursing Home Residents A Randomized Controlled Trial Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD; Lynette S. Leka, BS; Basil C. Fine, MD; Gerard E. Dallal, PhD; Gerald T. Keusch, MD; Maria Fiatarone Singh, MD; Davidson H. Hamer, MD JAMA. 2004;292:828-836.

Multivitamins May Reduce HIV Death Rate

December 12, 2003

A placebo controlled study made by scientists at the The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that a daily supplement of vitamins and minerals can reduce the HIV death rate. According to the scientists this may have great relevance for the treatment of HIV patients in countries which do not have access to optimal medical therapy.

The number of HIV infected persons continues to rise at a lightning speed. Worldwide, there are almost 5 million that are infected with HIV every year. In Denmark, 250-300 people are diagnosed with HIV every year, and the number is increasing. According to the AIDS Fund, there are approximately 4,500 HIV infected in Denmark, of which only 1,500 are in medical treatment.

By: Vitality Council

AIDS (17 (17):2461-2469).