MIDDLE EAST RESPIRATORY SYNDROME CORONAVIRUS—OR JUST “CORONAVIRUS” AS IT HAS BEEN DUBBED IN THE MEDIA—IS AN EMERGING VIRAL PATHOGEN THAT CAUSES SEVERE MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY. ACCORDING TO THE CDC, “THERE IS CURRENTLY NO VACCINE TO PREVENT CORONAVIRUS DISEASE.”1 TO PREVENT ITS TRANSMISSION, THE CDC RECOMMENDS EVERYDAY PREVENTIVE ACTIONS TO HELP PREVENT THE SPREAD OF ANY RESPIRATORY DISEASE:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Naturally these are good recommendations, but shouldn’t there be something else we can do to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus? In my opinion, there is. Let’s start with resveratrol.
Resveratrol and the coronavirus
In 2006 an in-vitro study2 was undertaken in China to examine the effects of “stilbene derivatives” to inhibit coronavirus replication. What are stilbene derivatives? They are an important family of bioactive molecules that are normally associated with plants. Stilbenes are produced in response to injury or attack by pathogens.3,4 The most extensively studied stilbene is resveratrol. In any case, the 2006 study found that various stilbene compounds were able to inhibit coronavirus replication. This may have included resveratrol, but the study details made it somewhat difficult to determine.
Then, in 2017, another in-vitro study5 was conducted to specifically examine the antiviral effect of resveratrol against coronavirus. In this study, cells from coronavirus infected patients were given resveratrol. The results were that resveratrol significantly inhibited coronavirus infection and prolonged cellular survival after virus infection. In addition, resveratrol decreased the replication of nucleocapsid, a protein essential for coronavirus replication. Furthermore, resveratrol down-regulated apoptosis (i.e. cellular death) induced by coronavirus.
This study clearly demonstrated that resveratrol is a potent anticoronavirus agent in-vitro. The study’s authors suggested that resveratrol can be a potential antiviral agent against coronavirus in the near future.
Resveratrol and the immune system
So why was resveratrol effective against coronavirus? Although we can’t say for certain, we do know that resveratrol can increase certain circulating immune cells known as gamma delta T cells. Human research6 was conducted to assess the effects of repeated doses of resveratrol (1000 mg/day for 28 days) on circulating immune cells in healthy individuals. The results were that resveratrol was safe and well tolerated and was associated with significant increases in the numbers of circulating gamma delta T cells (functioning as a first line of defense and a bridge between innate and adaptive responses) and regulatory T cells.
Now consider that analyses of T cell repertoires in health care workers who survived coronavirus infection during the 2003 outbreak revealed that their gamma delta T cell populations were selectively expanded about 3 months after the onset of disease. The expansion of the gamma delta T cell population was associated with higher production of anti-coronavirus immunoglobulin G titers. In addition, in-vitro experiments demonstrated that stimulated gamma delta T cells display an interferon- gamma -dependent anti-coronavirus activity and are able to directly kill coronavirus-infected target cells. These findings suggest that gamma delta T cells play a protective role during coronavirus7—and resveratrol increases the numbers of circulating gamma delta T cells.
So, pending human clinical trials on the effects of resveratrol against coronavirus, what is a good dose of resveratrol to be used for protective effects? My suggestion is to use 1,000 mg of resveratrol daily, which is consistent with the amount used in human clinical research in which delta T cells were effectively increased.
Black elderberry protection
In addition to resveratrol, black elderberry may also offer a degree of protection against coronavirus—although it has yet to be tested for this purpose. My rationale for this is based upon black elderberry’s success in treating influenza.
The flu virus invades cells by puncturing their walls with tiny spikes called hemagglutinin that cover its surface. In-vitro research found that natural components of black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) actually disarm the spikes. It binds to them, thus preventing them from piercing the cell membrane. The viral spikes are covered with an enzyme called neuraminidase. This enzyme acts to break down the cell wall.
To test how black elderberry would work in actual people with the flu, a team of Israeli scientists and physicians conducted placebo-controlled, double blind study on patients infected with the flu virus during an epidemic in Southern Israel. The results were that within twenty-four hours the symptoms— fever, cough, and muscle pain had significantly improved in twenty percent of the patients. After the second day, another seventy five percent were clearly much improved, and in three days a complete cure was achieved in over ninety percent of the patients studied. Among the control group only eight percent of patients showed an improvement after 24 hours, and for the remaining 92 percent, improvement was observed within six days or more. Tests were also conducted on patients to determine the presence of influenza antibodies. It was found that the level of antibodies was higher in patients receiving the black elderberry extract versus those receiving the placebo, indicating an enhanced defense response in those patients.8
Other research9 has also shown that a black elderberry extract effectively treated and helped relieve symptoms of influenza when taken in doses of 175 mg four times daily.
So, what’s the relationship to coronavirus? Just this: hemagglutinin is also found on the surface of coronavirus. In fact, coronavirus may have actually evolved from a certain type of influenza.10 Consequently, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that black elderberry may also have application against coronavirus. Pending human clinical trials on the effects of black elderberry against coronavirus, my suggestion is to use 175 mg of black elderberry extract daily, as a prophylactic dose rather than a treatment for actual coronavirus.
Currently there are no vaccines to prevent coronavirus. However, research suggests that 1000 mg of resveratrol daily, and 175 mg of black elderberry extract may have a protective effect against the coronavirus. Until such time as other proven prevention methods come to fruition, it seems prudent to consider the regular use of these nutraceuticals.
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Gene Bruno, MS, MHS
Gene Bruno is the Dean of Academics and Professor of Dietary Supplement Science for Huntington College of Health Sciences (a nationally accredited distance learning college offering diplomas and degrees in nutrition and other health science related subjects. Gene has two undergraduate Diplomas in Nutrition, a Bachelor’s in Nutrition, a Master’s in Nutrition, a Graduate Diploma in Herbal Medicine, and a Master’s in Herbal Medicine. As a 32 year veteran of the Dietary Supplement industry, Gene has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines, and peer-reviewed publications. Gene's latest book, A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes, is available on Amazon.com, and other fine retailers.