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Supplements to Fight Retroviruses such as XMRV
Beth Ley Knotts, Ph.D. (Nutritionist)
New evidence supports a possible link between Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and prostate cancer but not other links involving chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV infection, or hepatitis C virus infection.

Because XMRV may infect many types of human cells, including blood cells, and can possibly be transmitted via blood products. XMRV was first identified in 2006 in patients with prostate cancer

During the Q & A period following her recent XMRV presentation sponsored by the HHV-6 Foundation and ProHealth, Whittemore Peterson Institute Research Director Judy Mikovits, PhD, was asked what kind of therapies those who tested positive for the XMRV retrovirus could try until specific drug or other treatments are developed.

Although Dr. Mikovits was quick to note that she is not a physician, she mentioned five areas of concern for people with XMRV and suggested that nutritional supplementation to strengthen those areas could be helpful.

Based on her insights, I suggests a number of options known to be helpful for these concerns, as outlined below. Please note, however, that Dr. Mikovits has made no specific product recommendations, nor does she endorse these products in any way.

1. Decrease Inflammation
In her presentation, Dr. Mikovits said, “…we know that CFS is a multi system disorder but there’s lots of inflammation going on – you have allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities. There’s a lot of inflammation and increased numbers of activated T cells and the production of these inflammatory molecules I mentioned known as cytokines and kinokines.”

When it comes to decreasing inflammation, there are two options: drugs and supplements. The drugs that help reduce inflammation are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, both over-the-counter and prescription. In terms of supplements, below are five good anti-inflammatory options to consider:

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is known to play an important role in supporting the body’s defenses against inflammatory diseases. In a 2008 study, increased concentrations of the inflammatory marker serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha were linked to a vitamin D deficiency in healthy women.(1) The findings from this study indicate that low vitamin D has a negative impact on inflammation and immune response.
  • Curcumin – The use of curcumin to help the body fight inflammation dates back to ancient India where it was commonly used in Ayurvedic holistic medicine. In more recent times, researchers around the world have documented what one research team described as curcumin’s “remarkable anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.”(2)
  • Ingredients that promote a healthy inflammation response: MSM, Boswellia BOSPRO, and Curcumin – as well as additional nutrients that can help with other common symptoms of fibromyalgia and ME/CFS.

2. Reduce Oxidative Stress
According to Dr. Mikovits, “Supplements [i.e., antioxidants] can help a lot because retroviruses cause a lot of oxidative stress…. "

We hear a lot about antioxidants these days because they are the body’s natural defense system against harmful free radicals and are essential for overall good health. There are dozens of antioxidant products, like resveratrol, grape seed and green tea extracts, on the market to choose from. Some particularly good antioxidant options to consider include:
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid – Alpha Lipoic Acid, an antioxidant in its own right, enhances glutathione levels as well as supporting the action of other antioxidants. In his review of research on alpha lipoic acid in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine, Lester Packer, MD, PhD, writes that alpha lipoic acid acts as an antioxidant “not only directly, through radical quenching and metal chelation, but indirectly as well, through recycling of other antioxidants and through the induction of increased intracellular levels of glutathione.”(3)
  • Resveratrol Synergy - Contains resveratrol, green tea extract, quercetin, grape skin extract and grape seed extract.

3. Upregulate Natural Killer Cell Function

Natural Killer cells are an important part of the immune system. They are lymphocytes circulating in the blood whose purpose is to kill certain types of target cells – particularly cancer cells and cells that have been infected with a virus. New research has revealed that Natural Killer cells also play a role in keeping T cells – another major player in the immune system – from over-responding and causing harm.(5)

Dr. Mikovits explained the part Natural Killer cells play in the pathogenesis of ME/CFS, “A key dysfunction in the immune system of CFS patients is this low Natural Killer cell activity and sometimes numbers. The Natural Killer cell has two jobs in the body – kill tumor cells and kill virus-infected cells. In CFS it’s long been recognized (I think first identified by Nancy Klimas and her colleagues more than 20 years ago) that Natural Killer cells in CFS patients don’t function normally although the dysfunction is not known, but that again gives us a clue to the pathogenesis. So this suggested to us that this chronic infection with a retrovirus (retroviruses are associated with immune deficiencies) might lead to the creation of actual immune deficiency that has patients susceptible to opportunistic infections and more likely to develop cancer.”

A number of different studies have confirmed irregularities of the immune systems of ME/CFS patients – sometimes it is over-reactive and other times it is under-reactive. Since we now know that Natural Killer cells can actually help control both, it appears that upregulating the function of natural killer cells should have a positive effect on helping to improve the immune system for people with ME/CFS.

Three supplements that can be beneficial in upregulating Natural Killer cell function are:
  • Prime Colostrum – Tiny protein molecules produced by the T-cells of the immune system can be extracted from bovine colostrum [first milk] and may help support the activity of Natural Killer cells within the innate/adaptive immune response.
  • Beta Glucan – Beta Glucan boosts immune system cells including Natural Killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils – which provide the immune system’s first line of defense, help remove cellular debris, and support recovery of damaged tissue.
  • Mushroom Immune Defense - A potent proprietary blend of mushrooms high in beta glucans that helps increase immune-regulating cells and enhances phagocytosis.

4. Monitor and Possibly Reduce Hormone Levels

Thus far, only three things have been found that turn on the XMRV virus. Dr. Mikovits explained, “Two are called glucocorticoid response elements… When a protein actually recognizes that exact sequence and sits down, it tells the virus to turn on replication. And so, interestingly enough, what turns on the virus? Hormones – progesterone, androgen receptor and testosterone, and we don’t know all the other hormones. There are a lot of estrogens and estrogen like compounds even in our environment these days, which might tell us maybe there’s an estrogen compound that’s not a naturally occurring estrogen in a plastic in the environment that is actually turning on the virus.”

As for what to do regarding hormones, she said, “I don’t know much about hormone therapies and how lowering hormone levels might help, but I do know anecdotally that a lot of women in a particular time in their cycle get much, much sicker and can’t get over it. I do know in the laboratory, progesterone really upregulates the virus, so if you have a birth control pill… and again I don’t really know anything about this… I’m not a physician… you might think about just keeping the levels balanced and avoiding the fluctuation.”

The implication is that you might want to avoid anything containing progesterone or other hormone-related products, rethink the birth control pill, and maybe avoid pregnenolone, which is a precursor to progesterone & other hormones.

5. Balance Cortisol and Reduce Stress

The third thing known to turn the virus on is cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can turn on replication of the virus – like an on/off switch. Therefore, Dr. Mikovits recommends staying out of stressful situations, which of course is easier said than done. Since stress can’t be avoided entirely, adding a supplement that aids in stress reduction may be helpful.

  • Magnesium – The primary supplement that helps the body to deal with stress and thereby balance cortisol is magnesium. In fact, magnesium is often called “the anti-stress mineral” because of its calming effect. Since cortisol and other stress hormones can cause serious magnesium loss, it is important to replace the magnesium in order to support a healthy balance. Magnesium is needed by every cell in the body for more than 300 biochemical reactions, but the body does not store it, so it’s important to replenish the body’s supply of magnesium daily.
  • Adrenal Optimizer contains adrenal supporting herbs and nutrients including Licorice Root Extract, Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract. Eleuthero Root Extract, Sensoril Ashwagandha Extract (renowned herbal adaptogen), DMAE and Vitamins C & B5 - Useful in adrenal hormone synthesis/release. Adrenal Optimizer aids the adrenal glands which produce hormones that underlie the bodys mechanisms for coping with physical and mental stress.

In Summary
Much research still needs to be done before the possible impact of XMRV on ME/CFS and other neuro-immune illnesses is known and anti-retroviral or other treatments can be developed.

1. Peterson CA, et al. “Serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha concentrations are negatively correlated with serum 25(OH)D concentrations in healthy women.” J Inflamm (Lond). 2008 Jul 24;5:10. view source

2. Phan TT, et al. “Protective effects of curcumin against oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing.” J Trauma. 2001 Nov;51(5):927-31. view source

3. Packer, L., et al. “Neuroprotection by the metabolic antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid.” Free Radic Biol Med. 1997;22(1-2):359-78. view source

4. Fidelus RK, et al. “Glutathione and lymphocyte activation: a function of ageing and auto-immune disease.” Immunology. 1987 August; 61(4): 503–508. view source

5. Lee SH, et al. “Activating receptors promote NK cell expansion for maintenance, IL-10 production, and CD8 T cell regulation during viral infection.” J Exp Med. 2009 Sep 28;206(10):2235-51. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19720840

6. Jensen GS, Hart AN, Schauss AG. “An antiinflammatory immunogen from yeast culture induces activation and alters chemokine receptor expression on human natural killer cells and B lymphocytes in vitro.” Nutrition Research. 2007 Jun;27(6):327-335.

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.