Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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November 28, 2006

Sunshine, Vitamin D May Prevent Influenza

Vitamin D, or rather a lack of it, may have something to do with the regular flaring up of influenza in the winter months. A team of Harvard based researchers is "focusing on a provocative new hypothesis that blames annual flu epidemics on something most people don't get enough of this time of year: sunshine", reports the Baltimore Sun.

In a paper scheduled for publication next month in the journal Epidemiology and Infection, a Harvard University-led team proposes that a vitamin D deficiency caused by inadequate winter sun exposure may predispose people to infection.

Vitamin D is also called the sunshine vitamin, because it is manufactured in the human body whenever we catch some of the sun's rays.


We know all about the need to supply the vitamin - either by exposure to sunshine or by supplements - to avoid rickets and brittle bones. D takes available calcium from softer tissues, shunts it to the bones and helps to fix the mineral there. The flip side of that important function is a sun stroke, where too much vitamin D - too much exposure to the sun in that case - results in too little calcium left in the soft tissues, compromising muscle function in a dangerous way.

But the theory that vitamin D could determine whether we catch the flu or not is throwing the medical world into a slight commotion. The various pros and cons are masterfully put together in the Baltimore Sun article by reporter Michael Stroh.

Certainly the flu vaccine is no great protection, according to some experts. Also, don't give too much weight to the CDC's propaganda of 36,000 people killed by influenza in an average year, which has found its way into the Sun article. That figure is a hopeless exaggeration, bandied about to make you be good and get your flu shots. The real figures have been found by Jon Rappoport and can be found this article posted two years ago.

Anyway, here's a copy of the Baltimore Sun article...

- - -

Less sun, more sneezing

Theory suggests that a shortage of vitamin D triggers outbreaks of flu
By Michael Stroh
Sun Reporter
Originally published November 26, 2006
in the Baltimore Sun

As the annual flu season looms, some scientists have this question on their minds: Why now?

For more than a century, physicians have recognized that influenza sweeps the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months, typically peaking here between late December and March.

Over the years they've floated numerous theories to explain the seasonal flu spike - blaming everything from the flood of frigid air to the wintertime tendency of people to huddle indoors.

Yet these explanations "remain astonishingly superficial and full of inconsistencies," says Dr. Scott Dowell, director of the Global Disease Protection Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Now Dowell and other researchers are focusing on a provocative new hypothesis that blames annual flu epidemics on something most people don't get enough of this time of year: sunshine.

In a paper scheduled for publication next month in the journal Epidemiology and Infection, a Harvard University-led team proposes that a vitamin D deficiency caused by inadequate winter sun exposure may predispose people to infection.

If this theory proves correct, it would not only solve a long-standing mystery, but could also have major public health consequences.

Influenza kills an average 36,000 people in the U.S. each winter, mostly the very old and very young. If scientists could pinpoint the secret behind its seasonal recurrence and somehow alter it, "the potential impact would be far greater than the current influenza vaccine," says Dowell.

Hippocrates, the Greek physician widely regarded as the father of medicine, was the first to recognize that certain diseases ebb and flow with the calendar.

"Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly," he wrote around 400 B.C., "should ... consider the seasons of the year."

Epidemiologists, however, have found that this is easier said than done.

"You look at the environment around you and say, 'What's the difference between winter and summer?'" says Dr. David Fisman of the Ontario Provincial Public Health Laboratory in Canada. "There are so many things that are seasonal, it's really hard to tease them apart."

One obvious answer is that it's colder in winter. And for as long as parents have bundled up their babies, there's been an unshakable belief that catching a chill makes a person more susceptible to cold or flu.

Cold flunks tests

Since World War II, scientists have devised numerous teeth-chattering tests of this stubborn wives' tale, dunking volunteers in cold baths or confining them to refrigerated meat lockers while squirting virus-spiked mucus up their noses.

"All attempts at demonstrating some relationship between cold exposure and susceptibility to infection have proved negative," Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales, concluded in a recent published review of such studies.

Experiments on the influenza virus have hinted that the flu bug is more stable in the cool, dry air of winter. But that doesn't solve the mystery, says Fisman, whose summary of efforts to understand seasonal influenza is scheduled for publication next year in the Annual Review of Public Health.

One reason: Influenza surveillance efforts in Southeast Asia and other steamy tropical locales reveal that flu is not only common there but also exhibits seasonal patterns akin to those in colder climates.

"If you go back to the hypothesis about cold temperature and flu, it doesn't hold for the tropics," says epidemiologist Cecile Viboud of the National Institutes of Health's Fogarty International Center in Bethesda.

Then there's the crowding theory.

Because scientists think that the flu spreads only from person to person, most have assumed that the disease ravages in winter because people are cooped up in close quarters.

But even Sir Christopher Andrewes, the British virologist who co-discovered the influenza virus in 1933, once observed, "I have always had my doubts about this."

Andrewes, who died in 1988, argued that the winter crowding explanation defies common sense, since office and factory workers are stuck indoors year-round. And summertime flu epidemics remain rare despite the prevalence of cruise ships, airplanes, and subways packed with international travelers, other skeptics of the theory note.

"There are plenty of things that don't fit," says the CDC's Dowell.

The latest theory to generate a buzz centers on sunlight.

In 1981, a British general practitioner named R. Edgar Hope-Simpson published the first paper documenting a link between influenza epidemics in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice.

The solstice - which arrives on Dec. 21 this year - is commonly identified with the start of winter and is the shortest day of the year.

Hope-Simpson, who had no formal training in epidemiology, realized that influenza infections tended to jump just before and after the solstice. Solar radiation, he surmised, triggered some sort of "seasonal stimulus" that affected the flu virus, its human host or both.

Although he had no idea what that seasonal stimulus was, Hope-Simpson believed that solving the mystery "would provide the key to understanding most of the influenza problems confronting us."

"His work was basically ignored," says Dr. John Cannell, a psychiatrist at the Atascadero State Hospital in California.

In their forthcoming paper in Epidemiology and Infection, Cannell and colleagues from Harvard University, the National Institutes of Health and Boston University propose that Hope-Simpson's seasonal stimulus could be vitamin D.

The tip-off, says Cannell, came in April 2005, when an outbreak of influenza swept through Atascadero, a maximum-security facility for the criminally insane 200 miles south of San Francisco.

"The ward below me got it, then the ward to my right, to my left and the one across the hall," he recalls.

Cannell's 32 patients, however, were spared.

As far as he could tell, there was only one glaring difference between his patients and those who came down with flu: Cannell's patients were taking high daily doses of vitamin D.

Manufactured by the skin in response to solar ultraviolet B radiation (UVB), vitamin D is the only vitamin made naturally in the body.

On sunny days, a fair-skinned person can crank out the equivalent of 20,000 international units (IU) of the vitamin in 15 minutes, says Cannell. One cup of fortified milk, by contrast, contains fewer than 100 IU.

But vitamin D production plummets during winter because people spend less time outdoors and because UVB radiation has a harder time penetrating the atmosphere in that season, especially at middle to high latitudes.

As a result, health experts in recent years have warned that many Americans may not be getting as much vitamin D as they need. One ominous sign: a recent resurgence in cases of rickets, a bone disorder caused by a lack of the vitamin.

In their new paper, which draws together strands from more than seven decades of vitamin and flu research, Cannell and his colleagues argue that vitamin D stimulates production of a natural infection-fighting substance in the body called cathelicidin.

Although cathelicidin has yet to be studied directly on influenza, recent research has shown that it attacks a variety of fungi, viruses, and bacteria - including the bug that causes tuberculosis, researchers reported last March in Science.

There's also indirect evidence of the sun's role in seasonal flu, Cannell and his colleagues argue.

In the late 1970s, Soviet scientists inoculated nearly 835 young men in St. Petersburg with a weakened form of the influenza virus during different seasons of the year.

The men, they discovered, were eight times more likely to develop fever and other signs of flu infection in winter than in summer. Repeating the experiment in another city yielded similar results.

And what of the sun-drenched tropics?

Cannell and his colleagues point to a scattering of studies showing vitamin D deficiencies even in Hong Kong and other equatorial spots.

Another important clue: A 2003 review of tropical influenza infections found the virus strikes mainly during the rainy season, presumably a time of reduced sun exposure.

Maybe yes, maybe no

Some researchers find the Vitamin D theory tantalizing. "It's a wonderful story, and I think there's considerable substance behind it," says immunologist Dr. Michael A. Zasloff, a professor at Georgetown University.

Others, however, wonder whether this is just another vitamin fad - just as vitamin C was once promoted by double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling as a cure for the common cold.

"They have manipulated the literature (some of it very bad literature) to prove their points," Dr. James Cherry, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, wrote in an e-mail.

However, "The hypothesis should be easy to prove or disprove with a controlled, blinded study," he added.

Vitamin D isn't the only substance being kicked around as a seasonal stimulus candidate.

The CDC's Scott Dowell favors melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone whose production is tied to the daily light-dark cycle. Preliminary research suggests that the hormone might help regulate the body's immune response.

"I don't know where it's going to lead," he concedes.

Cannell, meanwhile, says he takes 5,000 IU of vitamin D during the winter months, more than twice the maximum daily recommended dose.

He says he rarely gets sick anymore.

See also:

VITAMIN D: Deficiency, Diversity and Dosage

Wikipedia: Vitamin D

Just One Pill Away
Humanity is on the verge of a gigantic leap forward in health promotion with rapid-fire discoveries that a single vitamin pill may vanquish cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of mortality in the U.S., as well as quell autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus), diminish the occurrence of diabetes, reduce obesity, and effectively treat multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and high blood pressure, plus conquer the common cold and even defeat tuberculosis, an infectious lung disease that affects one-third of the people of the world.

Sweeping cancer edict: take vitamin D daily
The cause of the cancer epidemic sweeping the world has long eluded researchers, but the U.S. study being released today found that the 60-per-cent risk reduction is the strongest evidence to date that many cases of the disease are linked to a vitamin deficiency. Over the past few decades, vitamin D levels in the public have likely fallen because of lifestyle changes, such as the use of sunscreen in summer and people spending more time indoors. "It's an important component of cancer prevention," said Joan Lappe, lead author of the study and professor of medicine and nursing at Creighton University in Omaha, who added that there is "overwhelming evidence supporting the need for higher vitamin D intakes in populations throughout the world."


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Tuesday November 28 2006
updated on Thursday November 18 2010

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

I couldnt get rid of the flu--I tried every vitamin going...then vitamin d---wow---it knock the flu right out. Really really fast within an hour of say 2000IUs. I am 55 and have my whole life been plagued with this flu stuff. Funny thing is bone malformation kind of runs in my family--I wonder if my family strain in some way has a problem manufacturing vitamin d more than other families?

Posted by: Peter Krauss on December 19, 2006 08:21 PM


Here is an interesting article by Dr Rowen:

Flu and Colds Hit In Winter And How To Stop It Naturally

Dr. Robert J. Rowen, MD Second Opinion Health Alert

For decades we've heard the myth that flu strikes in winter because of the colder weather. But numerous studies have all debunked that theory. Studies have shown that flu hits the tropics in their "winter" when it's still quite warm (usually during the rainy season).

No, there's another reason flu hits in winter. And it gives you an easy way to stop the flu before it hits. And it doesn't involve getting a flu shot.

We already know that our bodies produce a lot less vitamin D during the winter. But is it possible the reduced vitamin D levels in winter contribute to the flu?

The evidence is there. Years ago, an observant British general practitioner, R. Edgar Hope-Simpson, connected influenza epidemics in the northern hemisphere with winter solstice. So, flu hits right when vitamin D levels begin to plummet. Conventional medicine has largely ignored his work, until now.

Just this year, two major medical journals released a report written by Dr. John Cannell, a California psychiatrist at the Atascadero State Hospital in California. This is a maximum security facility for the criminally insane.

In his report, Dr. Cannell noted that wards all around his got hit hard with a severe flu-like outbreak in April 2005. None of his 32 patients caught the Flu - even after they mingled with infected inmates from other wards.

Dr. Cannell wondered why his ward avoided the flu when it hit all the others. He soon realized it was the high doses of vitamin D he prescribed to all the men on his ward. He had found that his patients, like most other people in the industrial world, had a deficiency. (He must be one of the very few psychiatrists that pays attention to nutrition!) His efforts to correct the deficiency boosted their immune system and completely protected them from the flu.

Why does it work? Science recently discovered that vitamin D stimulates your white blood cells to make a substance called cathelicidin. Researchers haven't studied this chemical on the flu virus yet, but they have previously reported that it attacks a wide variety of pathogens. These include fungi, viruses, bacteria, and even tuberculosis.

So, it turns out that my suggestions for you to have your vitamin D levels checked this time of year were right on target. But now, armed with this new information, I don't even think it's necessary to spend the money on a test. Vitamin D is cheap. And it stimulates your body to make what might be the ultimate antibiotic! One with no toxicity at all and only kills those organisms invading you (not your own cells).

Arm yourself with the incredible protection of vitamin D. Get sunlight when you can. Just be sure not to burn. If you are mostly indoors, I strongly suggest that you add vitamin D to your daily regimen. I recommend 5,000 IU per day. I see no downside to this dose, especially in the winter months!

Yours for better health and medical freedom, Robert Jay Rowen, MD Ref: FASEB Journal July 2006; Epidemiology and Infection, online, December
2006. Second Opinion Health Alerts are a complimentary e-mail service from the Second Opinion health newsletter written by Robert J. Rowen, MD.

Posted by: Sepp on January 25, 2007 06:08 AM


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