Cochrane Crash in Influenza: New Chance for Phytotherapy?


Prof. Dr. James B. Hudson
© University of British Columbia

Nearly 25 years ago, Prof. Dr. James B. Hudson, Vancouver/Canada, one of the world-renowned virologists and well-known promoter of phytotherapy, wrote: In view of the worldwide distribution of influenza viruses among many species of mammals and birds, and their potential for recombination and persistence, there does not appear to be much prospect for their eradication or control. ... It would seem worthwhile reconsidering the use of antiviral chemical for emergencies [1]. Several pandemias later, it is inevitable, that influenza continues to be a major threat for global health. Moreover, with the last publication of Tom Jefferson and his Cochrane Group colleagues it became clear, that antiviral chemicals as the neuraminidase inhibitors are of no meaningful use in any kind of human influenza [2].

Professor Dr. Jim Hudson is considered to be one of the foremost virologists in Western Canada and is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia. He has published over 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals and written a number of books, including „Antiviral Compounds from Plants” [1]. His research interests include elucidating the molecular mechanisms of action of herbal medicines and several collaborative projects with Institutes in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Other key activities include naturally occurring phytomedicines as anti-viral and anti-microbial substances and how the appropriate use of herbal medicines can benefit human and animal health.

? Prof. Hudson, would you agree that the billions of dollars that have been spent for the worldwide stockpiling of Oseltamivir and other antiviral drugs could have been utilised for more reasonable anti-influenza projects? E. g. – corresponding to the WHO claim in their public health research agenda for influenza – for the inclusion of natural products, both in terms of prophylaxis and therapy [3].

Prof. Hudson: Yes, I agree that stockpiling these inhibitors has been a futile waste of money and time. The main problem with these antivirals is that they are designed to work against a specific viral gene or protein, and consequently resistant mutants of the virus are bound to emerge – that's basic virology.
   The advantages of certain natural products is that they usually contain more than one antiviral ingredient, and they generally target more than one type of virus, e.g. viruses with membranes, thus reducing the risk of selected mutants. In addition many antiviral herbal preparations also possess anti-inflammatory properties, and this can be beneficial to infected individuals in which the virus has over-stimulated the immune response. Most of the preparations advocated are also safe to use in humans.

? Your review article about the use of herbal extracts in the control of influenza [4] comprises plants from many countries in the world. What about traditionally used plants originating in Europe, e.g. the Red Rockrose (Cistus incanus L.). Could extracts from Cistus, Geranium or other solve our sustained medical problems during seasonal or even upcoming pandemic influenza? What is the mechanism of actions of this herb according to the actual knowledge?

Prof. Hudson: Yes, I believe that some of these herbal medicines, many of which have been used in humans for hundreds of years, have potential applications in 'flu infected individuals.
   They are also economical to use; but of course they do not appeal to pharmaceutical companies because they are not so profitable and cannot be patented.

   Personally I think this represents a shortsighted attitude on their part, because companies could gain a large market opportunity  if they made certain brands that were properly standardized in terms of botanical source, standardization of contents and preparation, and demonstrable bio-activities.

? Echinacea or Cistus in topical application have – beside their potential systemic actions direct antiviral activities in terms of blocking the primary infection. Is this also true regarding to an inhibition of a secondary infection spread (internally and externally)?

Prof. Hudson: Yes, their direct antiviral activities would operate in any situation where the virus is accessible.

The use of herbal extracts in the control of influenza

(...) certain herbal extracts rich in polyphenols could play an important role in controlling influenza virus outbreaks and alleviating symptoms of the disease. One of the attractions of herbal treatment is the broad spectrum of potential viral targets, since components of these herbs can interact with different viral proteins and are not constrained by viral strain differences and drug-resistant mutations; consequently any influenza virus is susceptible. In addition these extracts often have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties, all of which would be beneficial during influenza infection. (...) [4]
(This review covers these herbal alternatives in influenza: Geranium (Geranium sanguineum), Green Tea (Camellia sinensis), Pink rockrose (Cistus incanus), Pomegranate (Punica granatum), Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and other species)).

? Should the future national pandemic plans include stock-piling of herbal extracts as means of influenza control? And if yes, which herbs would you primarily recommend?

Prof. Hudson:  I am not sure about stock-piling”, because I would have to learn more about their stability during storage. More research on this topic is needed. Which herbs? My first choice would be Echinacea (not surprisingly!), because of its multifunctional properties. However, other well known herbs would probably also be useful, although pandemics would require very large amounts of the herbs, which could be a drawback for some of them if availability is limited.
   It would also be important to ensure proper standardization of selected herbs.

   Perhaps an avenue of research worthwhile investigating is the possibility of establishing plantations” of selected herbs, as has been accomplished for other natural pharmaceuticals such as Tea-tree oil.

Revolutions in microbiology

? Since 2007, the US-NIH funded Human Microbiome Project (HMP) provides a plethora of new, in parts revolutionary insights in the understanding of the superorganism” formed by the cells of man and microorganism. Do you think – as microbiologist – that these new views at the invisible reality” could replace fundamentals of microbiology? E.g., the everlasting fight against microbes” by “a commensal or symbiotic life together”.

Prof. Hudson: Absolutely!! There is currently, or at least I hope there is, a paradigm shift in our understanding of the microbial world and its interrelatedness to us. I elaborated on this theme in my recent book [5]. I point out that viruses and microbes are common constituents of our bodies, and some of them are essential to our lives. Consequently we should not be obsessed about destroying them all. Similarly, viral genes are found in our own genomes, and they could have important roles to play in chronic diseases.

? In terms of influenza – how would our basic understandings of influenza change resulting from such a change of paradigms?

Prof. Hudson:  We have to stop thinking that all the viruses we encounter, such as influenza virus, are out to destroy us. I believe that the global threat of 'flu pandemics, such as avian flu strains and the next successful human strain, are encouraged by human activities, such as intensive farming of animals, unrestricted global trade in animals. Furthermore, our lifestyles ensure that we are subjected to more intensive stressors, which in turn suppress our immune defences and allow more viruses to multiply and spread. This results in more frequent virus mutants with increased pathogenic properties. My current book elaborates on this topic [6].

? The late Sir Edgar Hope-Simpson criticized 1992 the missing scientific discussion regarding many influenza related phenomena like the “persistence of non-infectious virus after the influenzal illness, seasonal reactivation to infectiousness, and latency of the genome of the first infection with an influenza A virus” [7]. Especially the “rhythmic” epidemic swinging of influenza from the northern hemisphere to the tropic regions and back, as Hope-Simpson mentioned, is not described for any other infectious disease. Could his observations widen horizons regarding the real nature of influenza, perhaps as an inherent phenomenon of global human life?

Prof. Hudson:  They could, but most virologists ignore such possibilities because they cannot at present envisage an appropriate condition for a latent/persistent 'flu virus. Its RNA genome makes it harder to speculate on this. Most latent viruses we are familiar with, such as herpes viruses, have DNA genomes, and these are easier to envisage in a latent state.

? The eclectic phytopharmaceuticals in the USA as produced by the Lloyd brothers and others were used in rather high doses, as the noted Southwestern herbalist Michael Moore often reported in his lectures, not least in treatment of influenza. How would this translate in existent herbal drugs on the market?

Prof. Hudson:  The interesting aspect of their preparations was that everything was based on empirical observations. If something worked then it could be tried on other people, sometimes I believe successfully. Regarding their dosages, it is difficult to compare with modern medicines because current pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics are used in very large concentrations that are very effective and generally safe over a short time. The actual concentrations of active ingredients“ in herbal preparations may be very low, but still effective.

! Prof. Dr. Hudson, many thanks for your time and your extensive answers!

Autor/In: © Rainer H. Bubenzer, Berlin, (11. November 2014)

[1] Hudson JA: Antiviral compounds from Plants. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1990.
[2] Jefferson T, Jones MA, Doshi P, Del Mar CB, Hama R, Thompson MJ, Spencer EA, Onakpoya I, Mahtani KR, Nunan D, Howick J, Heneghan CJ: Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Apr 10;4:CD008965.
[3] Global Influenza Programme (WHO): WHO public health research agenda for influenza. WHO Press, Genf, 2010.

[4] Hudson JA: The use of herbal extracts in the control of influenza. J Med Plants Res. 2009;3(13):1189-95.
[5] Hudson JB: The Viruses and Microbes within our Bodies: why we need them and how they control our lives. Outskirts Press, Parker, 2013 (ISBN 9781478706823, also available on Kindle)

[6] Hudson JB: Viruses in Our Farms: how industrial farming and the global animal trade create pathogenic viruses. In publication (summer 2014).

[7] Hope-Simpson RE: The Transmission of Epidemic Influenza. Plenum Press, New York, 1992.

[8] Abascal K: Herbs & Influenza - How Herbs Used in the 1918 Flu Pandemic Can Be Effective Today. Tigana Press, Vashon, 2006.

Prof. Dr. James Hudson
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of British Columbia
2733 Heather Street
Vancouver V5Z 1M5 – Canada.
e-mail: jbhudson(at)

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