Cytokine Storm

What Is A Cytokine Storm?

Cytokines are compounds produced by the body’s immune system that attack and remove foreign bodies.  Cytokines, produced by a number of different types of cells in response to infection that act as signals to other cells in the body, telling them to divide, or to produce certain proteins, or to cease their production. They assist, basically, in orchestrating portions of the immune response.
Simply put, a "cytokine storm" occurs when this regulation goes on overdrive and the molecules which are supposed to be protecting the body end up causing it harm by responding too strongly to the infection.

When our body detects foreign microorganisms indicating an infection, it can sometimes respond by over-protecting the site of infection. The body may race so many antibodies to the infection site that they collect in a cytokine storm. When the infection is in the lungs, for example, a cytokine storm can potentially block airways and result in suffocation.

Children have immune responses that are still developing, while the elderly tend to lose some immune function with the aging process. However, those who are roughly age 18 to 50, tend to have an active, vigorous immune response to pathogens. 
Most of the time, this keeps us relatively free of disease from microbes, but certain invading organisms,  due to the virulence and enthusiasm with which they enter human tissues, tend to trigger this type of hyper-response that can actually end up causing harm to the system.  Whether or not H1N1 (swine flu) and this newest swine version causes this kind of cytokine mess is still not known.

During the 1918 Spanish Flu many healthy young people died from cytokine storms due to their immune systems overreacting.
Scientists theorize that young, healthy people may have a more robust cytokine response and less H1N1 immunity from previous exposure compared with older populations.

Certain herbs and substances actually stimulate the production of these specific cytokines and would want to be avoided if one suspects they may have the virus.

 In truth, we don't have enough evidence to make any definitive conclusions about how to avoid a cytokine storm. Scientists have identified the causes and stages of the cytokine storm and are working on treatments to weaken an overactive immune response.  

It would seem wise to consume foods and herbs which suppress the production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6 and enhance the production of the ones that actually are effective against the virus.

Below are some foods and herbs that are said to contain substances that are natural antivirals, immune boosters or they decrease cytokines TNF-a and IL-6.
Also, you will find some  that may be best to avoid during an H1N1 pandemic.
For the sake of clarity I have divided them into "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys," but please note that we are speaking specifically of cytokine reactions - not boosting basic immunity.  Herbs that may increase risk of cytokine storm in certain flu pandemics are often quite useful and effective in other situations.
The Good Guys:
Garlic (allicin) - Very effective antiviral. Best if fresh (raw) and crushed. Must be consumed within 1 hour of crushing. Dosage is initially 2 to 3 cloves per day but later reduce until no body odour occurs. No toxic effects noted. (Pubmed PMID 9049657)
Vitamin C - Boosts the immune system and is an antiviral by blocking the enzyme neuraminadase. Viruses need neuraminadase to reproduce. There are anecdotal stories of people taking large amounts of Vitamin C (children ½) surviving the Spanish Flu. Research shows that it may reduce the production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6. A study on 470 people involved giving the test group 1000 mg hourly for 6 hours and then 1000 mg 3 times daily after reporting flu symptoms. Symptoms decreased by 85%. (Pubmed PMID 10543583, 634178, 16169205, 12876306)
Vitamin D  -  The crucial role of vitamin D in the innate immune system was
discovered only very recently. Both epithelial cells and macrophages increase expression of the antimicrobial  cathelicidin upon exposure to microbes, an expression that is dependent upon the presence of vitamin D. Pathogenic microbes stimulate the production of an enzyme that converts 25(OH)D to
1,25(OH)2D, a seco-steroid hormone. This in turn rapidly activates a suite of genes involved in pulmonary defense. In the macrophage, the presence of vitamin D also appears to suppress the pro-inflammatory cytokines. Thus, vitamin D appears to both enhance the local capacity of the epithelium to
produce endogenous antibiotics and at the same time dampen certain destructive arms of the immune response, especially those responsible for the signs and symptoms of acute inflammation, such as the cytokine storms operative when influenza kills quickly.
Green Tea (possible Tamiflu/Relenza alternative)- Very effective antiviral. Also decreases the production of the cytokine (catechins) TNF-a. Inhibits neuraminidase. May have antiviral activity that is equal to other antivirals such as Tamiflu. (Pubmed PMID 16137775)

St Johns Wort (Hypericum) - Very effective antiviral. Also decreases the production of the cytokine IL-6. Hypericum is an extract from St John’s Wort. There have been some very successful field trials in commercial flocks infected with H5N1 in Vietnam. (Pubmed PMID 7857513, 11518071, 11362353, 7857513, 11518071)

Vitamin E - Immune booster. Also decreases the production of the cytokine TNF-a. (Pubmed PMID 155882360, 10929076) Experiments involved using mice. Very suitable for immune compromised people, especially the elderly. Effects enhanced when taken with Vitamin C.

Resveratrol - Antiviral. In addition to inhibiting neuraminidase, Resveratrol also sends a message to cells to stop manufacturing viruses. This is a proven antiviral found naturally in red wine, peanuts, mulberries, Japanese Knotwood root (richest source), raisins and red grapes. Resveratrol supplements are relatively inexpensive, are more stable than wine and is available in liquid form for absorption in the mouth. No toxic effects noted. (Pubmed PMID 1583880, 12817628, 15985724)

Scuttellaria (Skullcap) - Antiviral. A herb used as a tea. It has no side effects and is also a mild tranquilliser. Research suggests neuraminidase, which is a substance needed by the H5N1 virus to reproduce, may be inhibited.

Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) - Decreases the production of the cytokine TNF-a. Also boosts immune system. The number of white blood cells was significantly increased during treatment. No toxicity was noted. Active constituents can be found in the leaves, bark, vine, and roots. Water extraction from bark used. Children and pregnant women are to avoid. Has a potentially damaging effect on the DNA of proliferating cells. (cancers, foetuses, growing children)

Curcumin (Tumeric Spice) - Decreases the production of the cytokine TNF-a. This is the yellow compound in turmeric spice. Research shows that this may be very good for preventing a cytokine storm although this is not proven.  Traditional dosage is 500mg to 4000mg daily.

Astragalus Root (Astragali Radix) - Boosts immune system. (Pubmed PMID15588652)

Tea Tree - Steam Inhalation - Reduces the cytokine TNF-a. Add 2 drops of tea tree oil in a bowl of steaming water. Cover head with a towel and inhale for 5 to 10 minutes. Relieves congestion and fights infection. Its effectiveness is unknown. (Pubmed PMID 11131302)
Tulsi - has been known and worshipped in India for more than five millennia for its remarkable healing properties. Considered as an 'Elixir of Life', this wonder herb has now been claimed to keep the deadly swine flu at bay and help fast recovery in afflicted persons.
The Following May Be Best to Avoid During an H1N1 Pandemic
The Bad Guys (Remember, we're just talking about cytokine storms here - these herbs are generally very good for immune systems!)

Elderberry Juice (Sambucal) - AVOID - Increases production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6. This substance is very effective against the common flu but may not be desirable for the H1N1 virus. Increases in these cytokines may trigger a lethal cytokine storm. (Isr Med Journal2002 Nov;4:944-6)

Micro Algae (Chlorella and Spirulina) - AVOID - Increases production of cytokine TNF-a. (Pubmed PMID 11731916)

Honey - AVOID - Increases production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6. (Pubmed PMID12824009)

Chocolate - AVOID - Increases production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6. (Pubmed PMID 12885154, PMID 10917928)

Echinacea - AVOID - Increases production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6. Although it is often used for normal flu, research shows that it may increase the chance of cytokine storms for H1N1. (Pubmed PMID 15556647, 9568541)

Kimchee - AVOID - Increases production of cytokines TNF-a and IL-6. (Pubmed PMID15630182)

Coiloidal Silver - AVOID - While silver will likely work to kill the swine flu virus, in many healthy individuals it is likely to elicit a severe cytokine storm reaction.