Nutrition's Role in Meningitis
Although much of the research is still preliminary, exciting discoveries are being made on the role of nutrients in meningitis, especially anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Evidence suggests that much of the damage caused by bacterial meningitis is due to overactivation of the immune system (Pathan 2003). This immune response is thought to be caused primarily by bacterial endotoxin, a poison (present in the bacteria) released when the bacterial cell disintegrates. Studies have clearly shown that degree of severity of bacterial meningitis is linked to the level of endotoxin (Brandtzaeg 1989).
Once in the bloodstream, an endotoxin binds to a protein, appropriately called endotoxin-binding protein. This alters the endotoxin, enabling it to activate macrophages and other inflammatory cells. Once activated, these cells secrete pro-inflammatory chemicals including TNF-α, interleukin 1(b), and interferon. At the same time, immune system cells called neutrophils are activated, releasing yet more inflammatory chemicals and enzymes, which damage blood vessels and the inner lining of body cavities (Klein 1996). The result is widespread inflammation and damage.
By looking at the disease as an inappropriate immune response that touches off an inflammatory cascade, researchers are studying exciting new therapies to reduce the damaging consequences of meningitis. While these studies are ongoing, the Life Extension Foundation believes that nutrients that fight inflammation can safely be considered in helping reduce the inflammation associated with meningitis. Some of these nutrients include:
- Genistein — Genistein is an isoflavone and phytoestrogen. It inhibits the activity of tyrosine kinases, which are directly involved in both the inflammation associated with meningitis and the ability of bacteria to cross the blood-brain barrier. This suggests that genistein may help reduce the severity of the disease and have a preventative effect (Sokolova 2004).
- Essential fatty acids — Essential fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. A proper ratio of omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), to omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) is vital to good health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in hundreds of published studies to reduce inflammation through the reduction of prostaglandin E2, a hormone-like chemical that promotes inflammation. Although there have been no studies that examined the use of essential fatty acids in meningitis, if recent research implicating widespread inflammatory damage in meningitis withstands scientific scrutiny, supplementing with EPA and DHA may have some benefit.
- Perilla leaf extract — Perilla leaf extract contains luteolin and rosmarinic acid, both of which have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in animal studies (Ueda 2002). Again, although no studies have been performed testing Perilla leaf extract's effect on meningitis, the extract's anti-inflammatory effects may have some benefit.
- Rosmarinic acid — Rosmarinic acid is contained in large amounts in Perilla leaf extract. Studies have shown it to have anti-inflammatory action through the inhibition of cytokines and other inflammatory mediators in human asthma subjects (Sanbongi 2004).
Antioxidants have also attracted attention among meningitis researchers. Studies have found that meningitis patients have oxidative stress caused by reactive nitrogen species in bacterial meningitis (Kastenbauer 2002).
Superoxide dismutase — In a mouse model of bacterial meningitis, the internal antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD) was studied for its ability to limit oxidative stress that caused damage to the ears. SOD, given by injection, was found to significantly reduce damage to the cochlea (Ge 2004).
Vitamin C — Two studies have explored the relationship between the antioxidant vitamin C and bacterial meningitis. In some cases, CSF of children with meningitis showed elevated levels of vitamin C, while other studies showed a marked deficiency in vitamin C, suggesting that vitamin C is involved in the body's defense against free-radical associated damage (Caksen 2004; Heinz-Erian 1985). Vitamin C's decrease in CSF of patients with bacterial meningitis seems to be correlated with the increase in reactive molecules in the brain (Kastenbauer 2002; Koedel 1999). Together, these results suggest that vitamin C supplementation may be helpful in treating patients with bacterial meningitis.
Melatonin — Melatonin is another nutrient studied in association with meningitis. The CSF of patients with viral meningitis tends to have higher concentrations of melatonin. This suggests that melatonin may play an immunomodulatory role in viral meningitis (Silva 2005). In an exciting new animal study, rabbits received melatonin at 20 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight. Researchers found that rabbits, given melatonin simultaneously with infection, had higher levels of SOD and lower levels of dangerous reactive nitrogen species. This suggests that melatonin had protective effects against infection (Gerber 2005).
A Word From Life Extension Foundation
The Life Extension Foundation and its founders have devoted themselves to pushing the knowledge of health beyond rigid, conventional boundaries. Although individual components of the information given here have been published in studies, there have been no clinical trials to support these recommendations in their entirety. In some cases, we are basing our recommendations on observations gleaned from decades of experience.
However, these supplements may help ward off an infection in the first place, which would naturally reduce the chances of developing meningitis.
The following supplements have been used at the first sign of a viral or bacterial infection:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet) — An over-the-counter heartburn drug that also boosts immune function by reducing T-suppressor cells (Mitsuishi 2003); 800 milligrams (mg) each day is the recommended dose.
- Zinc — A number of studies have shown that if zinc lozenges are taken within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms, the severity and duration of the cold are reduced (Hulisz 2004). Take two lozenges (24 mg each) every 2 hours when awake. This is a very high dose of zinc and should be continued for only a few days to avoid toxic side effects.
- Lactoferrin — A daily dose of 1200 mg may boost natural killer cell activity and can kill certain viruses (Swart 1998; Waarts 2005).
- High-allicin garlic — In the dose of 9000 mg once or twice a day. This potent form of garlic will cause painful stomach-esophageal burning if you do not eat food right afterward. An intake of 9000 mg of this kind of garlic will cause you to reek of a strong sulfur odor, but saturating the body with this pungent garlic is the objective. Garlic has shown direct virus-killing effects in a number of published studies (Harris 2001; Guo 1993).
- Aged garlic extract — This type of garlic, at a dose of 3600 mg daily, has unique immune-boosting properties (independent of high allicin garlic) (Kyo 2001).
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) — A dose of 200 to 400 mg early in the day may boost the immune system. DHEA has shown powerful immune-enhancing and antiviral properties (Danenberg 1995; Padgett 2000).
- Melatonin — At a high dose, 10 to 50 mg at bedtime, melatonin may help boost the immune system (Maestroni 1999) and facilitate deep, restorative sleep, which is needed to fend off infection.