Echinacea & Bird Flu
As if one flawed study "proving" that Echinacea didn't work was not enough, they're back with another study released just a few days ago. In this version, now all over the news, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine dosed students with Echinacea and then sprayed cold viruses up their noses. Their conclusion was that Echinacea did nothing to prevent or alleviate colds. So what was wrong with the study?
- Well first, the researchers prepared their own Echinacea extract. Please!! What expertise do University researchers have in making herbal extracts or in determining which batch of Echinacea to use in the first place? The arrogance is mind boggling. Just imagine their outrage if someone from the alternative health community decided to manufacture their own version of prescription drugs for testing.
- The dosage they used was one third normal. Why one third? Because that's the dosage set by the German government -- the government, incidentally (with the encouragement of the German corporations Hoechst, Bayer and BASF, the largest exporters of pharmaceutical products in the world), at the forefront of the movement to have Codex Alimentarius throttle down dosage levels for all vitamins, minerals, and herbals used throughout the world. Geez! That makes total sense…to use their recommended standard for testing Echinacea!
- Their subjects, college students, tend to be at an age where they have highly competent immune systems to begin with, so the effects of immune system boosting would be less noticeable than in many other groups.
Look, here's a simple test if you truly want to test the ability of Echinacea to boost the immune system. Find a test group that has below normal white cell counts. Supplement with high quality Echinacea extract. (Heck, I'll supply the extract for free for any qualified research group.) Test to see if the white cell counts go up.
There are over 30,000 published studies that demonstrate Echinacea's ability to boost the immune system. I have personally seen a number of cases where patients with already compromised immune systems took a high-quality Echinacea formula even as they commenced chemotherapy. Instead of going down, and to their doctor's utter amazement, their white cell counts doubled to near normal levels in a matter of days. That's pure demonstrable, repeatable science. For seven years now I've been trying to get researchers to run that simple objective white cell count test. Instead, they opt for creating their own Echinacea extracts and blowing rhino viruses up student's noses. What's wrong with this picture?
So, does Echinacea work for everyone? No, of course not. Are some people allergic to Echinacea? Yes, as with any plant based food or supplement. But does properly-dosed, high-quality Echinacea dramatically help boost most people's immune systems? Absolutely! And shame on the New England Journal of Medicine for once again publishing yet another blatantly flawed study -- just because it's anti-alternative health.
Asian Bird Flu, Initial Report
I wasn't planning to visit this issue until sometime in the fall -- if needed then. However, thanks to the press, the buzz has already begun, and we have received at least a dozen questions concerning H5N1 bird flu over the last two weeks. So, to save Cathy Gaines and rest of the staff at the Foundation from having to address each request individually (they already handle 2-3 thousand emails a month), let's talk about it now.
Back in April of 2003, I wrote a newsletter on SARS. At that time, I stated that because of the nature of SARS, the panic associated with it was grossly exaggerated -- far beyond the ability of the virus to spread and inflict harm. That assessment turned out to be correct. In the end, less than 8,000 people contracted SARS worldwide, and only around 560 died from it -- not a small thing for them or their families, but not a big deal in terms of world epidemics.
And now, shades of SARS, we are starting to hear about Avian (Bird) Flu as the next big health crisis. Unfortunately, based on the failure of the SARS epidemic to live up to its hype, many people are likely to now be dismissive of the threat posed by bird flu. That would be a mistake. The threat from H5N1 bird flu is very real. It may not happen now. It may not happen this year. And it may not even be a strain of the current bird flu at all, but at some point, according to experts, we will experience a major flu epidemic the likes of which the world has never seen before. Not to be a scaremonger, but it will change life as we know it -- throughout the world.
Flu Pandemics in General
Forget bird flu for the moment; your regular garden variety flu is already one of the world's great killers. Every year, it's responsible for some 1.5 million deaths worldwide. In fact, of the some 1,700 bacteria and viruses known to cause disease, historically, the flu virus has been the leading cause of death -- only recently being surpassed by the AIDS virus. As it turns out, movies like Outbreak missed the mark. They were so busy trying to convince you that the threat was coming from some new exotic military virus, they totally missed the fact that it's actually coming from a variation of the virus next door, and with far more devastating consequences. How devastating? Devastating enough to make AIDS look almost benign by comparison.
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 killed some 50-100 million people worldwide. Based on current population densities, however, that would translate into some 2.5 billion people being infected and some 300-350 million people dying if the same circumstances were repeated today -- with close to 2 million of those deaths, incidentally, in the US alone. But as astonishing as that is, it's not the worst part. The worldwide disruption would be unimaginable. Just look at the disruption SARS caused to worldwide travel, border restrictions, food supplies, etc. with less than 8,000 cases. In Canada alone, which recorded just 440 total cases of SARS (and just 43 deaths), the costs were estimated at over $700 million dollars in Ontario province alone. Total costs were estimated at well over $1 billion dollars. That's over $2.25 million dollars per incidence of SARS. Multiply that times 2.5 billion (the number of people likely to be affected in the next pandemic), and the financial consequences are beyond imagining. And don't think that we're just talking money. We're talking about total disruption to world food supplies, water, emergency services, and employment -- virtually every aspect of your life.
And thanks to medical cost cutting, the number of available hospital beds has been drastically reduced over the past 10 years. Health care systems would be unimaginably overwhelmed in a large scale pandemic. The simple fact is that the odds are probably close to 10:1 that you and everyone you love are likely to be on your own in a major pandemic; this is virtually guaranteed if you live in one of the world's poorer economies.
Why Is H5N1 Bird Flu Different?
- Of the three strains of flu virus, Type A, which originates in birds, kills the most people and is the only one capable of causing a pandemic. The pandemic of 1918-19 was caused by a Type A virus. (As a side note, SARS is not a flu virus, but a coronavirus -- related to the common cold.)
- Because of their relatively simple genetic structure, flu viruses have a remarkable ability to mutate rapidly, allowing them to move up and down in terms of virulence and cross-species communicability.
- Most flus have a mortality rate of about .008%. H5N1 avian flu, on the other hand, currently has a mortality rate of 20-36% -- briefly hitting 68% in 2003. (But look for that to drop some as it continues to mutate.) Incidentally, a dropping mortality rate is not necessarily a good thing. If mortality rates are too high (like the 80% seen with the Ebola virus), it actually "helps" prevent the spread of the disease since so many of the victims die before they can transmit it to others.
- In most years, large percentages of the world's population have at least some immunity to the current circulating flu strains (or more precisely their variants) because they have encountered similar strains before. With H5N1, that's not the case. This is an entirely new strain -- at least within the current experience of every living human's immune system. That means that virtually every single person on the planet would be susceptible.
- In 2004, H5N1 became super-virulent, capable of killing a wide range of species beyond birds -- including humans. In other words, due to mutation, it finally crossed species.
- H5N1 has mutated in ways never before seen in flu viruses making it incredibly difficult to contain.
- Most strains of flu are not deadly by themselves. Death occurs primarily as a result of secondary bacterial infections in those with weakened immune systems: the very young, the very old, and those already suffering from immune system compromising diseases such as AIDS. The use of widely available antibiotics can dramatically lower mortality rates for these strains of flu. But as with the Spanish Flu, avian flu shows evidence of killing directly, and it kills those in the prime of health. Antibiotics will not be of much help in an H5N1 pandemic.
- Having a good immune system alone will not protect you. Again, as with the 1918-1919 pandemic, H5N1 seems to claim almost half its victims by using their own immune systems against them through a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome in which the victims own immune system unleashes a cytokine storm that literally chews up their lung tissue, ultimately causing the victim to suffocate.
- In a cytokine storm, the immune system sees a virus that it has never seen before (which in this case will be true for every single person living on the planet), and it goes nuts, whipping itself into a frenzy in response to the invading virus. A biochemical cascade of immune cells and immune system bio-chemicals such as interferon, interleuken, monokines and cytokines literally pours into the lungs. The subsequent damage to the lung tissue caused by these cells and bio-chemicals leads to the condition mentioned above called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The net result is that the victim suffocates as a result of their own disease-fighting chemistry.
- You can't rely on the flu vaccine to protect you. First, because no one knows what mutated form the virus will actually take when it reaches its ultimate "person to person" mutation. That means that no one knows, at this point in time, what to inoculate for. Also, flu vaccine production is limited. The world only produces about 300 million doses a year, which would hardly make a dent in the world's population of 6.4 billion. And based on past performance, in a pandemic, governments would direct the limited doses they have to key government personnel, the military, and health workers. Anything left, would go to the very old and young. The bottom line is that there won't be much left for the average person. And unfortunately, with H5N1, it is the average person who appears to be the most vulnerable. (People living in the USA might be at particular risk since most flu vaccines are currently manufactured outside of the United States. In a major pandemic, governments are likely to insist that manufacturers provide protection for people in their own country before exporting to the US.)
- Theoretically, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu could help. But, so far in real life application, it has not shown much benefit in helping those infected with avian flu. Also, even if ultimately proven effective, supplies will most likely be limited.
Before You Panic
- At the moment, H5N1 is merely a potential threat. Although it has mutated to the point where it can infect animals other than birds (including humans), there is one final step that it has not yet taken.
- Every person infected by H5N1 has required direct contact with infected animals. There is no conclusive evidence yet that H5N1 can be transmitted from person to person. (Yes, there are 3 cases in one family in Indonesia that initially raised some concern, but evidence of bird flu in chicken droppings around the home has subsequently allayed much of that concern.) This is the big one. Unless and until H5N1 mutates to the point where it can easily transmit from person to person, it will never be a concern for the vast majority of the world's citizens, let alone present the potential for a pandemic of Biblical proportions.
- The moment you see evidence that H5N1 has done this, then you should worry. When will that happen? It may already have happened (but waiting for conclusive evidence). It may happen later this year. It may happen next year. It may not happen with H5N1 at all. But make no mistake; for all the reasons mentioned above in this newsletter, it will eventually happen with some form of the Type A flu virus. It doesn't happen often. It's been almost 90 years since the last pandemic, but it definitely will happen, and despite all the advances seen in medicine in the last century, the world is no better prepared to handle a pandemic today than it was in 1918.
What Can You Do For Your Immune System
If and when avian flu definitively demonstrates that it has mutated to the point where it can pass from person to person, we have a problem. You will want to take steps to protect yourself and your family.
- Although I am not a fan of flu vaccines in general, if they do announce that they have a vaccine that specifically protects against the particular strain of avian flu in question (the variant that is being transmitted from person to person), it would be worth getting a vaccination -- assuming you can get one. As I said, normally, I question the value of flu vaccines because the risk reward ratio is not favorable. If H5N1 breaks free, however, that ratio could flip dramatically. Quite simply, just having a good immune system will not protect you.
- In fact, as discussed above, having a good immune system could be a major contributing factor in mortality rates. Does that mean I'm saying that you are better off weakening your immune system? Absolutely not!! It just means you can't rely on a healthy immune system alone. You still want the best immune system you can get, but you must take some of the burden off of your immune system so that it doesn't overreact and trigger a cytokine storm. You need to find a way to kill off most of the flu virus directly so that your immune system is only required to clean up a weakened virus, rather than take it on entirely by itself. In other words, you will want to stock up on and use natural pathogen destroyers.
- For more information on how to optimize your immune system and what pathogen destroyers to use check out the 10/25/04 newsletter, Your Immune System and the Flu, Part II. Briefly, however, some of these include:
- Immune boosters
- Echinacea (Despite the latest study)
- Pau d'arco
- Medicinal mushrooms
- Beta glucans
- Aloe vera
- Bovine colostrums
- Pathogen destroyers
- Olive leaf extract
- Oil of wild mountain oregano
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Immune boosters
- Stock up on life's essentials. Think earthquakes, major snow storms, floods. Think of major disruption to many of life's essentials. In other words, stock up on basics such as food and water. You may need them.
- Are we there yet? No.
- Do you need to panic yet? No.
- Do you need to be concerned and watchful? Yes, absolutely. But understand, just because a buzz has started doesn't mean we're having a pandemic this year, or next -- or even in your lifetime. Store up on some immune boosters and pathogen destroyers. They're useful additions to your medicine kit independent of bird flu. As a side note, and purely by coincidence (bird flu was not even the planned topic of discussion until late fall), as Kristen mentioned at the top of the newsletter, Baseline Nutritionals® is running a special on an immune boosting/pathogen destroying combo. (They were targeting summer colds.)
- And finally, you can be sure we'll notify you at whatever point the risk from avian flu becomes imminent.