A OK – Vitamin A and the Flu

Dr. Weeks Comment:   I wrote this essay almost 2 decades ago (1994) and the scientific research supporting this safe, effective and cheap  remedy gets stronger and stronger every day. I am not talkign about  beta-carotene or just any vitamin A, but specifically  the palmitate form is key.  Our patients keep in their First Aid kits  2 bottles of A-OK (to order call 360-341-2303)   In addition,  our patients also use nebulized hydrogen peroxide. (See also this post on nebulized hydrogen peroxide as a complementary remedy)  But above all, since we are concerned with the origin of this years flu strain (see this post)  be safe and seek appropriate medical care if you get sick.


We don’t catch the flu.The flu catches us.If you’ve ever body-surfed and been caught by a monster wave that flung you out beyond the crest, then slammed you down on the not-so-soft beach, then you know what the flu feels like.It wrings you out and hangs you up to dry””aching in every movable part.

Want to avoid the flu this season?Those post-nasal-drip sore throats and sniffles, sinus congestions that erupt into unbelievable headaches, body aches typical of the flu that reveal a smoldering viral infection?Upset that every time you get a flu shot, you seem to come down with the flu?Wondering how to brace yourself against the damp and howling winter winds:If so, I have a cheap, easy and highly-effective remedy for you and those you love to consider.My recommendation, in general, is to take A (sic) vitamin.That’s right:Vitamin A.To be specific, the palmitate form available at your health food store or as “A-OK” at our clinic (360-341-2303).

“Zat so?” you ask?“Zat simple?”Well, actually, not quite so simple; the key is the dosage.Paracelsus, the world’s greatest doctor (he practiced in the 1500’s) said, “All poison is a matter of dosage,” and thus it is with vitamin A.If you take a lot for only a short time, you get tremendous benefits without significant risk of side-effects.My recommendation is VERY high dosages of vitamin A palmitate””but only for a VERY short time period.How high a dosage?High enough to make your doctor squirm.Try 100,000 IU/day (unless you’re pregnant)””more than 8 times the normally suggested dosage.

Now, you and your doc should be anxious at this high dosage because vitaminA, being fat soluble (unlike vitamin C), can store up in the liver and cause problems.But, remember, toxic levels are determined not only by amount but by duration of exposure.Therefore, 100,000IU for a day or two is not only safe, it’s highly effective.But, don’t come back to me a month later saying you’ve stayed on that dosage.If you stay on vitamin A athigh dosages for too long, the side-effects can include headaches, diarrhea, dry skin, and hair loss.This can occur with routine use of even 50,000 IU/day.

Note:If you are either pregnant or a woman of childbearing age, be advised that too much vitamin A can be teratognic (very problematic) early in pregnancy if a fetus is growing in your womb.

The Many Uses of Vitamin A

The most common medical usage for vitamin A is treating night blindness.That’s where you have trouble making out signs at night, whereas they used to show up clearly.If your visual acuity is diminished in the dark beyond what is expected, try vitamin A as well as selenium and zinc.Another medically-accepted use of vitamin A is hyper-keratosis (those bumps on the back of your arms) you thought was “just something youhave to live with”.Not so. You can live without it if you avoid saturated fats and sugar and take adequate amounts of vitamin A and flax-seed oil.A further important use of vitamin A is the synthesis of steroids ( an important type of protein), which in turn allow for a smooth transition into menopause.How about those bleeding gums?Yes!Yes!Yes!You do need to floss your teeth daily, but if you do and they still bleed, take your vitamin A.Tooth and gum disorders are very responsive to vitamin A and zinc (also, avoid sugar.)Diabetics often are vitamin A-deficient.Glaucoma sufferers, too.The list goes on.

Acne is another terror of teens that yields to this vitamin (again, with flax-seed oil and zinc), but frequently in much higher dosages, so the liver functions need to be monitored.

Another illness that rears its hacking head this time of year is bronchitis.This, too, is humbled before the immune-enhancing and anti-viral power of vitamin A.Lastly, any mucus vulnerability including (from top to bottom) nasal allergies, sore throat, gastritis, ulcers (including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), and cervical dysplasia all signal a deficiency of vitamin A””and all benefit from a simple nutrient which third-world doctors have long called “the anti-infective vitamin” because it helps prevent a variety of infectious diseases which ravage poor countries, including fatal diarrhea, many respiratory ailments, tuberculosis, ear infections, and malaria.

Before we are formally introduced to vitamin A itself, let’s pause and consider what a vitamin is, anyway.Well, a vitamin is a molecule found both in us and in nature which helps fulfill a biochemical need.Most vitamins come to us through the food we eat, some we produce, and some are made for us by friendly organisms which colonize in our gastro-intestinal tract.Vitamins, along with minerals, serve as co-factors for enzymes which drive all biochemical reactions.What does that mean?That means that every thought, every action, every thing we do and are requires fluent biochemistry, and that, in turn, requires protein enzymes being helped by vitamins and minerals.

So what is vitamin A anyway? Well, it is half a beta carotene molecule (for youbiochemists out there), and (for the rest of you) it is a fat-soluble molecule that we make from a beta carotene molecule.Eating green leafy veggies offers unto our biochemical factory large molecules of the powerful anti-oxidant called beta carotene.These we can cleave in half leaving two vitamin A molecules.The vitamin A is stored in the liver.It is not excreted and that is why too much of it can overwhelm our body, resulting in the side-effects noted above.

What are the natural sources of this vitamin?Fish oils (cod liver, mackerel, sardines), organ meats (especially chicken and beef livers), seeds, nuts and dairy, as well as essential fatty acids.In addition, we get the beta carotene (from which we make our own vitamin A) from green leafy vegetables, and yellow or orange squash.Most anything that soils or goes rancid has some vitamin A.Things that inhibit absorption of vitamin A include high protein diets, antacids (especially those containing aluminum) and most rampantly in the elderly population, laxatives which inhibit absorption of all fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E).

Powerful Intercession

How does vitamin A serve us?Conceptually speaking, you can understand vitamin A as the protector and nurturer of mucus membranes.That included the entire gastro-intestinal tract from sniffles to diarrhea:In addition, vitamin A protects the ureto-genital tract, most specifically the female cervix and vagina, which can be successfully treated with vitamin A if ulcers or dysplasia occur.How does vitamin A help protect these mucus membranes?Through a number of mechanisms including immune stimulation (to be specific, it increases IgA antibodies), and it allows for proper functioning of T and B cells as well as cellular immune modulators called cytokines.This means, if your vitamin A level is low, you are not immunologically “buffed”.

Anti-viral!That is a big deal as the viral flu season approaches.Well, it gets better.Let me assume for a moment that you missed the recent American Society for Microbiology meeting where Professor Richard Semba, MD of the prestigious John Hopkins University Hospital presented his research demonstrating thatpregnant women infected with the HIV (AIDS virus) who also were vitamin A-deficient were much more likely to transmit the virus to their newborn infants than were HIV-infected mothers who had adequate amounts of this important vitamin.Specifically, with low vitamin A, the transmission rate between mother and infant was 32%, whereas with adequate levels the rate was only 7%.Just to “bottom line” you further: 93%of the infants born to the vitamin A-deficient women died in the first year of life compared to only 14% of those born to women with adequate levels of vitamin A.

So, if you were pregnant and tragically infected with the HIV(AIDS) virus, you , the mom, are in a dangerous situation.Granted.But more vulnerable still is your unborn child.If you are not careful, the blissful moment of delivery will be dashed by the infection of the newborn with the HIV>Doctors and scientists have long-sought a way to interrupt the viral replication of sexually-transmitted diseases so that a baby can be born while escaping infection from its mother.The humble vitamin A is our best bet so far according to recent research.

This scenario reminds me of the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, where all have gathered to bestow blessings upon the infant princess, but the evil aunt, wrathful at not-having been invited to the christening, swoops in to cast her lethal spell.Like the fear cast by AIDS, her power appears supreme.None of the assembled can dispel her deed entirely.Grief settles upon the mute throng.Then, quietly, the last good fairy, who had patiently awaited her turn to bless the infant, humbly comes forward to ameliorate the death sentence by decreeing thatSleeping Beauty shall not die.Rather, at the appointed time, she will prick her finger and fall into a deathlike sleep to be awakened after 100 years by true love.

Thus it is with the humble vitamin A.Dr Semba research on its use to interrupt this transmission of HIV virus between mother and child seems to be the stuff of fairy tales.By the way, the cost of the vitamin A in Dr. Semba’s study was a whopping 2 cents a day.Have you priced AZT recently?Hmmmmm……

Self-Treating with the Big A

AIDS and pregnancy aside, let’s come back to the omnipresent drama of the flu or the common cold.I teach my patients to use vitamin A the way I do, which is as follows: At the first hint of a viral illness, when I feel the ominous sense that I will awaken sick and tired the following morning, or if I feel worn out with a scratchy throat or with muscle aches or a shallow cough – in short, at any sign of the flu or viral problems coming on, I take 100,000 IU immediately before I go to bed.

“Doesn’t he mean Vitamin C?” many of you may be wondering.“ I thought we are supposed to take Vitamin C, not vitamin A, when we catch a cold.”Well, vitamin C indeed is a powerful antioxidant and has proven very helpful against the cold, as Dr. Linus Pauling so thoroughly taught us inhis gem of a book Vitamin C and the Common Cold.(Hint: This is must reading for all humans).Or some of you have discovered the wonder herbs Echinacea and goldenseal, which are also powerful immune-enhancing phytochemicals.All these can be very helpful but, inmy clinical experience, vitamin A palmitate is cheaper and more powerful than the lot of them when it comes to nipping an illness in the bud.If you want to prevent that cough from developing into a cold or to arrest that cold from slamming you into the flu, try vitamin A palmitate.

Think of it this way: “A is for Acute, C is for Chronic.”That means , take vitamin A acutely to nip a cold in the bud.However, you should have been taking vitamin C all along to prevent the cold coming to roost in your weary, overworked body in the first place.Adequate vitamin C tells the virus: “ No Vacancy”, but adequate vitamin A is your6’5”, 268-lb. Bouncer that can kick any troublesome virus out into the street before things get out of hand.Another way to remember is that A is for “As Needed” but C is for “Continuous “ usage.So, take your vitamin C daily, but keep the vitamin A palmitate in your home first aid kit (and you travel kit) for use “As Needed”.

Another important use of vitamin A is prophylactic – I.e., before you step onto that airplane heading home for the holidays.Think of what awaits you within that sealed capsule when you settle into your cramped seat for that ten-hour cross-country flight with no elbow room between you and that frantic mother bringing her screaming twins home to grandmother for Christmas.Not only are you stressed (remember, stress weakens your immune system), but the air you breathe is dehydrated (bring your own bottled water) and, in my opinion, irresponsibly recycled.That means that guy hacking in the back row will cough out germs which will leisurely be recycled for ten hours so that everyone on that plane will have the “equal opportunity” to be adequately infected.What if he has the antibiotic-resistant strain of tuberculosis (TB)?Care for some “anti-infective” vitamin A at 33,000 feet, or better still, before the flight?

Now vitamin A isn’t a cure all. Stay close to a preventative medicine doc this winter.Don’t let a cough deteriorate into a life-threatening pneumonia.But whatever else you and your doc do for your health, remember your vitamin A, which, like other aspects of this Holy Day season, if taken in moderation, can be simply miraculous.

Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. © 1994

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