Swine flu, suppressed immunity and vitamin D

With the school year about to begin, one of the biggest news items here in Italy concerns what is commonly referred to as “swine flu” (or, more appropriately, the “novel H1N1 virus,” since this flu virus  is actually a mishmash of a few different flu strains—human, bird AND pig). How do we protect ourselves, especially those of us who are at a greater risk than the general population?

To be honest, I am not really concerned for myself, since my exposure will probably (?) be minimal compared to others…I am much more concerned for my friend Sherlock who, because of her job, has to commute by train to northern Italy at least once a week…and that is the main reason why I decided to do a bit of research and write this post.

I do believe that we can take a few extra precautions, aside from the usual, obvious ones, such as: washing our hands frequently and thoroughly, carrying a hand sterilizer around with us at all times, never touching our eyes/nose/mouth when out in public (supermarkets, etc.), avoiding folks who are coughing and sneezing, eating and sleeping well, having a healthy diet, eating lots of garlic and onions so we can keep sick people at bay, etc.

In addition to all of that, Sherlock and I are currently taking a lyophilized bacterial extract designed to stimulate our immune systems to fight against respiratory tract infections. It increases the production of our T cells and also of our IgA, IgG and IgM, so I suspect that my total IgG may be on the high side when I go in for my next set of blood tests. This is the second year I have taken these capsules, with good results, by the way.

I also believe that our daily intake of curcumin, with its antibacterial and antiviral properties, will help stave off the flu for both of us…or make it less virulent if we happen to become ill. Oh, and let’s not forget the flu vaccine that, according to today’s news report, will be available at the end of October (in Italy).

Last but not least, Sherlock and I are also taking extra vitamin D, which leads me to the main point of today’s post.

Based on epidemiological evidence and on the 1940s (!) finding that mice that receive diets low in vitamin D are more susceptible to experimental swine flu infection than those that receive adequate vitamin D (see: http://tinyurl.com/n7ytwy), the Public Health Agency of Canada is currently investigating whether or not vitamin D supplementation could help prevent the H1N1 flu. I should note that Health Canada already has an ongoing study on vitamin D and the prevention of seasonal influenza.

Another excerpt (from the above link): new research suggests that vitamin D induces the production of antimicrobial substances in the body that possess neutralizing activity against a variety of infectious agents including influenza virus.

Well, I am not going to wait for the results of the Health Canada study. It makes a lot of sense to me to take enough vitamin D to help my body fight off this and other viruses, so I have decided to increase my vitamin D supplementation a notch or two…making sure, of course, that I don’t go too near the upper tolerated limit. Too much of a good thing…as the saying goes…!

A good source of all-you-wanted-to-know-and-more information on vitamin D is the Vitamin D Council, see here: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/ And here is the specific link to the Vitamin D Council’s Executive Director (an MD)’s responses to public questions about the H1N1 virus: http://tinyurl.com/mrssnk

Quite a bit of information on this novel virus, including symptoms and at-risk groups (people with asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy), can be found here: http://www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/qa.htm


  1. Actually, I will almost certainly have the flu shot, unless for some odd reason my GP advises against it when I see him later this month. I have had the flu vaccine for the past few years…the one without thimerosal (mercury), of course. But the vaccine is only part of the overall picture: I will protect myself in other ways, too.

  2. Hi Margaret,
    I’m a firm believer in Vitamin D3. I developed pneumonia in March 2008. I read an article on Vitamin D in your blog sent by one of your readers shortly thereafter. I began taking 2,000 IU 3 times a day and haven’t had a sniffle since. Not very scientific but it works for me! I so appreciate all the health tips I’ve learned by reading your blog. Donna

  3. Munjid, you are right to stress the importance of Vit D but I’ve recently discovered that magnesium has a key function too.

    “High levels of vitamin D and calcium can lead to the calcification and damage to organs particularly the kidneys and blood vessels.
    If magnesium levels are low, they can cause a low calcium level that is resistant to vitamin D and parathyroid hormone regulation. It may be necessary to supplement both magnesium and calcium to regain normal function.”


  4. For what it’s worth, my homeopathic MD told me to take 2000 IU/day, even though I am in early renal failure due to MM. When I questioned its effect on my kidneys he told me not to worry, as Vitamin D is metabolized in the liver, and would not harm the kidneys. Still, I am probably going to stick to 1000 IU and try to get some vitamin D from sunlight…can’t be too careful!

  5. Margaret,
    What is your source of ‘lyophilized bacterial extract’? Do you need a prescription to get it and where do you buy it? I use L-lysine, echinacea, Vit C, etc. for my husband when he gets a virus but his immune system could certainly use another boost. Thank you so much for all the time you spend researching and sharing your helpful healthful information.

  6. Hi Dawn, I don’t know if this particular product is available only in Italy (and yes, here you need a doctor’s prescription to get it), but, for what it’s worth, it’s called Broncho Munal. It has certainly helped Sherlock and me stave off our usual bouts of autumn/winter bronchitis. By the way, I consulted with my GP before taking it last year (he agreed it might help), and I would certainly advise anyone else to do the same.

  7. I have also upped my vitamin D intake to 1600 to 2000 IU per day. I have become more of a believer when I was in the hospital, and the television only got one station, UCSD-TV. I am of the opinion that events happen for a reason, and I’m glad my TV was otherwise on the fritz. I watched this program and found it very fascinating.


    This man has looked at a number of studies and concluded that cutting the cancer rate in half is very easy to do.

  8. I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason too. I see it so often.
    This link of yours could be invaluable – especially to Margaret who had low vit D levels and higher paraprotein in her recent results if I remember correctly.
    I’m going to follow it up too. Thanks very much for sharing it.

  9. Hi Margaret: Instead of just using the bottle of hand sanitizer, I have bought Baby Wipes, which I put in a small Ziplock to which I add some rubbing alcohol. I keep this little bag in my purse to use after going to the grocery store or …. I feel a lot cleaner when using those.
    Heard today on Dr. Oz that Ginseng is a good supplement to boost the immune system in preparation of H1N1. I have taken it in the past and I think I will start taking it again – about 1000 mgs a day for a couple of weeks at a time. It’s the main ingredient in Cold FX, the cold fighthing remedy sold here in Canada.

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