“Swine flu” is a cytokine storm…

by on 16/01/2013

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How to treat swine ‘flu is far from an easy question. The expected alternative medicine response would be to say: “boost the immune system” – by taking echinacea, garlic, and so on.

The complicating factor with swine ‘flu – and some other ‘flu epidemics before it is the possibility of a cytokine storm in the bodies of people with a strong immune system.

Other ‘flu epidemics have been able to create cytokine storms. For example, it is thought to have occurred in the 1918 ‘flu pandemic, as this ‘flu killed a disproportionately large number of young adults.

The SARS epidemic in 2003 was similarly thought to provoke cytokine storms.

Bird ‘flu, or Avian ‘flu H5N1, which has passed to humans only rarely (so far!) typically kills human by provoking a cytokine storm in the body.

What is a cytokine storm?

So: what on earth is a cytokine storm? And does swine ‘flu cause it?

To answer the second question first, some people are saying that swine ‘flu may be causing cytokine storms. The evidence for this is that otherwise healthy people are dying of it disproportionately.

Others say the case is not proven: the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in April 09 that symptoms are similar to normal ‘flu and there was not enough evidence at that time yet to say this type causes a cytokine storm.

Certainly, the number of ‘usually healthy’ people dying is higher than would normally be expected. But is not extremely high; it is estimated that about 15% of the total deaths fall into this group.

Nevertheless, no-one denies that this pandemic might be creating a cytokine storm in some healthy individuals.

What are the signs of a cytokine storm?

A cytokine storm occurs during certain flu epidemics. What happens is that as well as the body producing the cytokines (inflammatory agents) it normally does in response to infection, additional cytokines are produced. These additional, non-inflammatory cytokines confuse the body and disrupt the usual progress from inflammation to non-inflammation. This can lead to a dangerous accumulation of fluid in the lungs, which is fatal in susceptible individuals.

This is the reason that a relatively high proportion of those dying in this epidemic have healthy immune systems – around 15% of the total. Young teenagers and young adults are being hit hard just because their immune systems are responding so strongly, producing the cytokine storm.

What to do?

The drug Tamiflu is a neuraminidase inhibitor. Neuraminidase is an enzyme present in ‘flu viruses which enables it to spread.

Among children (of 1 or over) and younger adults there is a case for taking Tamiflu for swine ‘flu. Among those with weaker immune systems there is, contradictorily a lesser case for taking Tamiflu – because they are less likely to prompt a cytokine storm (see above).


There is a major problem with many people taking Tamiflu – or any other neuraminidase inhibitor. Those with swine flu and taking Tamiflu will start to infect other people. The rapidly mutating virus – and this one mutates particularly rapidly – will mutate to become immune to Tamiflu. The Tamiflu-immune virus will then quickly predominate, making Tamiflu useless.

This is why it is of high importance for anyone taking Tamiflu to be isolated until their ‘flu has disappeared. Then we will have the longest period possible before swine ‘flu develops immunity to Tamiflu.

Of course, isolating patients can be very difficult – not least if parents are nursing children.

Other medical experts have warned of the danger of the current government’s ‘precautionary approach’ of having Tamiflu ready for everyone suffering from swine flu.

Aspirin, Omega 3, and Turmeric

A possibly better idea than taking Tamiflu, which avoids the resistance issue (above) and has promise for dealing with the cytokine storm, is put forward by Professor Art Ayers.

Prof. Ayers is a molecular biologist and biochemist for thirty years, who has specialized in understanding the relationship between diet, inflammation and disease.

Professor Ayers says that a combination of aspirin, omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric – all well known anti-inflammatory agents – have been used to treat cytokine storm effectively. Read more here.

Not for children

There is a concern that children should not take aspirin if they have a viral infection because of the possible link to the dangerous disease Reye’s syndrome. Thus, the American FDA recommend no aspirin to children under 19 with an infection. The UK recommends that, generally, aspirin should not be used by children under 16.

However, omega 3 fatty acids and turmeric can be taken by all, with lesser doses for children, of course. Proportioning the dosage according to body weight compared to an adult is a good guide.


For those who are healthy apart from having swine ‘flu:

Omega 3 – I would take a total of 2 grammes of DHA and EPA a day. Eg if the label says 120mg of DHA and 180 mg of EPA per capsule, I would take 2g/300mg = 7 capsules a day.

Turmeric – I would take 3 grammes of raw turmeric (the type used in Indian cooking) a day. (If using an extract, follow the label instructions.)

For those with diseases or illnesses in addition to swine ‘flu, consult with a nutritionist/herbalist before using.

Main advice

Whether or not you take Tamiflu, it is vital you stay out of contact with others as much as you possibly can. If you do take it, you will speed up the mutation of the virus if you infect others: if you do not take it, you will just spread the virus to more people.

Medical advice is to stay home and out of contact with others if you have any flu symptoms, and wash your hands frequently.

The best non-Tamiflu route I have seen is Prof. Ayers’ advice, borne out of long experience with body inflammations; isolate yourself and take aspirin (as recommended on the label), fish oil and turmeric (as above).

Stay at home and avoid contact with others. Use tissues to sneeze or cough into. Wash your hands frequently; certainly every time you cough or sneeze into a hand.

If you think or feel that swine flu is not provoking a cytokine storm, take herbs or other alternative medications to strengthen the immune system – starting now.


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