The headline is not exaggerating at all; in a minute I will tell you about a supplement that I have added to my program and am recommending that everybody do so immediately! Let me explain why…
When we discuss the flu, we are really talking about a series of symptoms that follow the infection with a virus called influenza. In addition to the standard influenza virus, we now have to worry about another batch of viruses that are called H1N1, or swine flu. Both can be very uncomfortable and both viruses can lead to potentially mortal complications.
Many people believe that the virus is directly responsible for the symptoms we feel; however, in fact, it is the body’s response to the virus that makes us so miserable. When an unwanted organism finds its way into our body, our immune system sends signals to all tissues that prepare the defenses to deal with the infection. The nose begins to produce mucous which helps to trap offending organisms before they can enter the body while also delivering important antibodies and immune cells to ground zero. Simultaneously the sinus cavity swells to limit the number of offending organisms that can drain into the lungs. The body then turns up the thermostat in order to make the internal environment inhospitable to the offending organism; this fever is a vital part of the body’s defense against offending bacteria and viruses. Many people are too quick to treat this fever with medications, doing so has been shown to prolong the time it takes to clear the virus and thus the symptoms. Fatigue settles in as the body attempts to dedicate precious resources to the defense of the body. We call these symptoms “systemic symptoms” and they usually occur for the first 1-3 days.
Have you ever noticed how many viral infections start out as systemic symptoms and then as these symptoms are subsiding, you start to notice that you are developing a cough and difficulty breathing? At this point most people say “it has moved from my sinuses into my chest.” This respiratory involvement can become quite severe and ultimately turn into pneumonia. It is the pneumonia that ultimately is responsible for the majority of deaths during the flu season, not the influenza virus itself. So why does this happen and what can we do about it?
Inflammation in the lungs is a normal process after infection. Inflammation is designed to sequester the bugs that cause disease and bring immune cells to the area of infection to gobble them up. Unfortunately, this process gets a little out of hand and the immune system spills too many chemicals that cause inflammation in the lungs. After a few days of this inflammation, the lungs have accumulated enough damage to lead to cough and difficulty breathing. This uncontrolled inflammation also appears to achieve the opposite of its purpose by making the lung environment hospitable to the growth of the very organisms it was trying to protect us from. This can ultimately lead to severe respiratory symptoms and ultimately pneumonia.
One supplement has proven itself to be an indispensable tool in the defense against excessive lung inflammation. The supplement is called N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) . Studies have been impressive showing a number of benefits to the lungs and immune system:
1. NAC has been shown to decrease the risk of influenza infection in the elderly.
2. Decreased death rates in mice which had been infected with influenza. (Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2000 Sep-Dec; 13(3):123-8)
3. Decreased the formation of free-radicals that may damage the delicate lung tissues.
4. Increases the production of immune cells which protect us from these infections. (J Immunol. 2005 Dec 15;175(12):7965-72)
5. Enhances the production of glutathione which has been shown to be antiviral.
6. Helps to thin out and clear mucous from the lungs. This can improve the clearance of the organisms that cause the inflammation in the first place.
NAC is widely available and easy to take. As a preventative, take 500 mg daily. If you feel a cold or flu coming on, you can increase the dose to 500 mg three times daily. Although not the topic of this article, NAC offers other benefits to the body such as liver support and protection for unwanted toxins.