Virginia Tech researchers have discovered a botanical compound that has potent anti-inflammatory effects in the lungs and the gut and could well be used to boost influenza recovery and survival.
The compound – abscisic acida – was found to be effective at boosting the immune response to the flu virus in infected mice, about seven to 10 days into the infection. Because the botanical acts on natural defense mechanisms, and not the virus itself, researchers said it is a safer way to reduce flu-associated fatalities.
"We've shown definitively that not only does abscisic acid ameliorate disease activity and lung inflammatory pathology, it also aids recovery and survival in influenza-infected mice," said Raquel Hontecillas, an immunologist who helped lead the study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
Influenza accounts for up to 49,000 deaths per year in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is difficult to treat if not caught immediately; antiviral drugs are often ineffective and resistance to such medications is common.
The Virginia Tech researchers noted most drugs for respiratory infections target the virus itself, rather than the inflammatory responses caused by the virus. But abscisic acid aids in reducing inflammation, without the side effects of antiviral drugs.
“The development of complementary and alternative medicine approaches…has great promise in decreasing respiratory damage caused by influenza or other respiratory pathogens," the researchers said.
This study was funded, in part, by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health.