- Arcadia Farber, MTOM, L.Ac
Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever? Antioxidants to the Rescue.
Is there any truth to this age old saying, especially while fighting off a cold or flu? While I am a fan of periodic or intermittent fasting, research shows that when it comes to colds and the flu, its what you eat, not how much, that matters most to your health. And its a big shout out to Antioxidants that have shown to have the most significant impact on your health and ability to fight off a virus or bacterial infection.
Back in 2009 when the H1N1 virus was rampant and Tamiflu was in short demand, teams of researchers started looking into alternative ways to combat the virus. In one study* researchers found that the flu virus damages the lungs through a protein called M2, which attacks the cells that line the inner surface of your lungs (epithelial cells). They discovered that the M2 protein disrupts your epithelial cells' ability to remove liquid from inside of your lungs which can lead to pneumonia and other lung problems. However, they discovered that antioxidants were able to prevent the M2 protein from damaging the epithelial cells. Now, in this study they actually used antioxidant-like drugs to stop the destruction of epithelial cells, however, it offers an intriguing glimpse into how dietary antioxidants probably work naturally. According to research done by the Department of Clinical Molecular Genetics, at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, the combination of antioxidants with antiviral drugs synergistically reduces the lethal effects of influenza virus infections, and may be the future direction for flu prevention and vaccines.*
In 2011, a team of researchers at Duke University* were looking into the question: why do some people get the flu, and others seem to just skim past the major symptoms, or don't "catch" it. Turns out, "catching" the flu all comes down to our genes. Our genes play a vital role in whether or not we even come down with the symptoms of a virus to begin with, and interestingly, our genes are affected by antioxidants.
Antioxidants have the ability to turn off the genes that express inflammation in the body, which essentially means that when those genes are turned off, there are less symptoms- and there is less damage done to the body. Less damage also equals less complications from the flu, like the development of pneumonia in high risk groups.
The team of researchers at Duke University actually incoculated 17 people with the H3N2/Wisconsin strain of flu virus, and drew blood samples from these volunteers every six to eight hours. The researchers then used those blood samples to look at their genes to see if any of those associated with immunity were active. After about five-and-a-half days, nine of the people came down with symptoms of the flu, however, the blood tests revealed that all 17 people were actually infected with the flu and that their bodies were making flu antibodies, according to the PLoS Genetics study. The symptom-free volunteers showed activity in genes performing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions, but their bodies’ acute inflammatory responses were not active. Meanwhile, blood samples from the sick volunteers showed different, or even opposite, gene activity. What they found was that everyone actually "caught" the virus, whether or not they had symptoms, and everyone was also contagious. However, the symptoms, duration and severity all came down to the genetic capability present in the body, And this genetic capability is affected by the presence of antioxidants.
Okay, so what does all this mean, and what can you do to boost your genetic ability to fight off the symptoms of the Flu? The answer is actually surprisingly simple: increase your antioxidant consumption.
Antioxidants help keep your immune system strong. Antioxidants -- which include beta carotene and vitamins C and E -- are essential nutrients and can help keep your immune system strong. They help protect your body on the inside. One way they do that is to target “free radicals,” which are molecules that can harm things including cell membranes. By taking away their destructive power, antioxidants may help you stay healthy or bounce back faster if you do get sick.
The best way to include them in your diet is to eat more fruits and vegetables. If you cook them, use as little liquid as possible to keep the nutrients in the food. Ideally, you'll want to get your antioxidants from your food. Your next best bet is from whole food supplements.
High Ranking Antioxidant Food Sources:
Fruits: Cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, lemon and limes are at the top of the list. Oranges, apples, papaya, cantaloupe, cherries, grapes, pears, plums, raspberries, and strawberries are also full of antioxidants.
Vegetables: Beans, sweet potato, artichokes, cilantro, broccoli, kale, cabbage, celery, onions, and parsley.
Nuts: Pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
Spices: Ground cloves, ground cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and oregano.
Other sources include: green tea, olive oil, bee pollen, many whole grains, and even dark chocolate and red wine!
Arcadia's list of Recommended Antioxidant Supplements:
XenproteX by Xymogen- 2 tablets, twice daily.
Innate C Complete powder with Phenolic Rich Foods- 1 scoop, 1-2x daily.
Cod Liver Oil by Standard process- 1-2 capsules daily.
Pneumocarotene by Metagenics- 1 tablet daily.
This could be the clue to not getting sick from the Flu
Antioxidant therapy as a potential approach to severe influenza-associated complications
Scientists Discover Influenza's Achilles Heel: Antioxidants