Honeybee venom and vitamin C may protect you against swine flu, suggest Indian researchers.
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Have no access to the H1N1 flu vaccine because of its being produced by a handful of global pharmaceutical biggies? Not to worry. Try honeybee venom or a good amount of vitamin C.
That’s the word from some Indian scientists. A caveat here. These ideas put forward by independent research groups are “hypotheses” rather than findings that have emerged from rigorous scientific experiments. But they stem from the basic premise that a nudge prepares the immune system better in the eventuality of a fatal viral attack.
A team of pharmacologists at Manipal University in Karnataka proposed the idea of using honeybee venom to shore up the human immune system in its fight against the swine flu virus. Their paper, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, suggests honeybee venom therapy as a first-line strategy to quickly vaccinate the population in the event of a widespread H1N1 flu outbreak. It can provide passive as well as active immunisation against the infection, they argue.
“Many tribal communities use the sting of a honeybee as an antidote to colds and coughs,” says Rajeev Singla, lead author of the study. Singla, who teaches at the Shri Gopichand College of Pharmacy in Baghpet, Uttar Pradesh, says that bee venom’s anti inflammatory and immune-boosting properties are already well documented in modern science.
Even if the substance offers limited protection against swine flu, it is worth investigating as it is effective against several symptoms associated with the infection such as pneumonia and oedema, they say.
The second study, by researchers at the department of experimental medicine and biotechnology at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI), Chandigarh, suggests that vitamin C can serve as a vaccine to control a H1N1 flu pandemic.
The study, scheduled to appear in the January 2010 issue of the journal Nutrition, builds upon past research to establish the efficacy of vitamin C in preventing common flu, an idea first proposed in the 1970s by Nobel Prize-winning American scientist Linus Pauling. Swine flu may be caused by a different influenza virus, but most of the symptoms associated with it are similar to those of the common cold.
The scientists explain that the viruses — there are nearly 100 of them — that cause flu enter the human body through the nasal route and attach themselves to a protein to get entry to the respiratory tract cells. Once there, the virus pushes its genetic material into the genome of the host cell. The virus thus takes over the host cell’s multiplication mechanism for its own proliferation.
But the PGI scientists think that it is possible to jeopardise the virus’s plan for replication, if adequate quantities of vitamin C are delivered to the cells in the respiratory tract.
The mixing of the flu viral genome with that of the human host cell will happen only when the latter is at a particular phase of the cell division cycle. But, Dibyajyoti Banerjee, lead author of the PGI study, says it possible to stop the infected cell from proceeding to that phase, if a high amount of vitamin C is present in the cell.“This restricts the viral genome integration in the human body,” Banerjee told KnowHow.
Delivering a high dose of vitamin C to the respiratory tract, however, is a challenge. It’s tough because no matter how big the dosage, very little of it reaches the respiratory tract, if delivered orally. That’s because of the digestion of the vitamin by the human digestive system.
To overcome this difficulty, the Chandigarh scientists propose a strategy of administering vitamin C through a combination of nasal and oral routes. “The combination of oral and inhalational delivery of vitamin C is important for attainment of high concentrations of it in the respiratory tract,” says Banerjee. The group is planning further studies to prove that this strategy will actually work, he adds.
Shahid Jameel, head of virology research at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, says it is possible to ward off many viral infections, including swine flu, by boosting general immunity. That’s because viruses depend entirely on the host for their multiplication.
As a result of co-evolution of the host and the virus, both have developed mechanisms to protect themselves.
“Just like we have immunity, viruses have ways to evade immunity. Eventually, this evolutionary tug of war leads to a virus that can infect, but not cause disease,” says Jameel.
That would be an ideal situation as the infection then cannot spread to others, he concludes.
Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)