Will NutriFeron save you from the bird flu?


Recently I cited a report about the current shortage of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu that may help lessen the severity of the bird flu.

A Shaklee distributor made this comment to that post:

Another option, is to boost your own immune system naturally. Shaklee has a relatively new product called NutriFeron (exclusive to Shaklee) that boosts the body’s own immune protection – interferon. Shaklee has 4 clinical trials thus far that are proving NutriFeron’s effectiveness. NutriFeron boosts your body’s own production of interferon. I for one am taking preventive measures to protect my family by strengthening our own immune system. We take NutriFeron everyday. If you want to learn more, click on [link removed] educate yourself, protect your family. have a great day.

This is what we in the website biz call “spam.” And the spamish claim is pretty spectactular: “NutriFeron boosts your body’s own production of interferon.”

Since interferon is produced by the immune system when faced with threats like viruses and tumors, it’s natural to assume a supplement that helps you make more interferon might protect you against the bird flu, especially if a Shaklee distributor says she’ll be using it to protect her family from the bird flu.

I hoped Shaklee wasn’t encouraging their distributors to prey on public fears in order to make a killing on NutriFeron’s supposed bird flu protection properties, but the more I thought about it, the more I doubted any multi-level marketing company would ignore such an opportunity. So I looked into NutriFeron.

It’s pricey: according to the Shaklee website, one month’s supply of 60 caplets will set you back $45 “for non-members” and $38.25 for “members.” Shipping and handling is $6.50 and in California, tax is $3.99. (Membership in Shaklee costs exactly $19.95 a year plus the annoyance of being considered a prospect for distributorship in Shaklee’s own flavor of multi-level marketing.)

And what does that $50-plus get you? Read the label.

NutriFeron ingredients

One dose (2 caplets) gives you 500 mg of: “MACH® Patented blend of Interferon-boosting Plant Extracts.” This includes:

    Pumpkin seed extract (Cucurbita moschata)
    Safflower flower extract (Carthamus tinctorius)
    Asian Plantain seed extract (Plantago asiatica)
    Japanese Honeysuckle flower extract (Lonicera japonica)

Nothing strange like eye of newt or human colostrum or anything — just seed and flower extracts. But what do these seed and flower extracts do for us? How do we know this “patented blend” actually boosts interferon as claimed?

The label says NutriFeron is a “POWERFUL BREAKTHROUGH IN IMMUNE SYSTEM SCIENCE” and that it is a “clinically tested, natural interferon booster.*”

Before you run out and buy a dozen bottles, look at that asterisk. It references a message found elsewhere on the label: “THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN EVALUATED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION. THESE PRODUCTS ARE NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE.

NutriFeron label

This statement is pretty much the boilerplate disclaimer you’ll find on most dietary supplements. All it means is that it hasn’t gone through intensive FDA testing and can’t be considered a drug like Tamiflu. Tamiflu has proven itself as an antiviral, unlike NutriFeron.

So let’s focus on the “clinical studies” claim, because that seems to be Shaklee’s big selling point, and really, I want to see what these studies proved.

Shaklee cites four clinical studies:

    Ushiroyama T., Yoshida S., Tadaki K., Ikeda A., Ueki M. “Clinical efficacy of EH0202, a Kampo formula, on the health of middle-aged women.” Am J Chin Med. 2004;32(5):755-70.
    Ushiroyama T,Yoshida S,Tadaki K, Ikeda A, Ueki M.A pilot study of a Kampo formula, EH0202, with intriguing results for menopausal symptoms. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Apr;10 (2):397-9.
    Kaji K,Yoshida S, Nagata N,Yamashita T, Mizukoshi E, Honda M, Kojima Y, Kaneko S. An open-label study of administration of EH0202, a health-food additive, to patients with chronic hepatitis C. J Gastroenterol. 2004 Sep;39(9):873-8.
    Kubo M, Hashimoto Y,Yoshida S.The effect of health food containing EH0202 on physical and mental symptoms accompanying menstruation in women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).Clin Pharm Ther. 2004;14(2):129-142.

I found abstracts for three studies (the fourth study only appears on Shaklee websites) and only one of the abstracts mentions interferon. (The formula “EH0202” presumably was later named NutriFeron.)

The first two studies cited examined the effects of EH0202 on middle-aged women with menopausal symptoms. The fourth study (the one I couldn’t find) apparently dealt with womens’ pre-menstrual symptoms.

NutriFeron does appear to have been “clinically tested,” but not as a flu preventative.

The third study did deal with a virus, hepatitis c, but was hardly conclusive. Out of the 35 patients who completed the third study, 4 out of 6 saw an improvement in “malaise,” 2 out of 2 lost a “bloating sensation in the abdomen,” and 1 out of 2 lost symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

UPDATE 11/20/2005: As I reread the previous paragraph, I realize I may have made the results of this study appear better than they are, for example, the reader might think that out of 35 people, 2 out of every 2 patients lost a bloating sensation, or 4 out of every six lost nausea. Forgive me, but this is incorrect.

Here is the text of the study’s abstract — you read it and decide for yourself:

Among the 35 patients who successfully completed the study, there were improvements in malaise (seen in 6 patients before and in 2 after EH0202 treatment), bloating sensation in the abdomen (seen in 2 before and in none after treatment), and nausea and vomiting (seen in 2 before and in 1 after treatment). There were no changes in hematology or biochemical examination parameters. There was a statistically significant decrease in HCV-RNA levels in patients with high viral titers after 3 months of EH0202 administration.

(Emphasis is mine. Now I’ll let you get back to my original post.)

The number of people who showed improvement is awfully small. Even the abstract states, “Further studies are, however, needed to obtain a definitive conclusion.”

The two other studies were also statistically insignificant and if they “prove” anything, it might be that NutriFeron may help relieve pre-menstrual and menopausal symptoms. I certainly don’t see any proof that NutriFeron boosts the body’s interferon-producing ability.

Of course, that’s just my untrained, unscientific opinion, but there it is. Perhaps a real scientist will tell me I’ve read these wrong, but until that moment I’ll stick with my conclusion, which is…

If you have the money to burn and you believe NutriFeron will help you fend off the bird flu, go ahead and buy it. The placebo effect might kick in and help you imagine your way to effective flu prevention.

And I say that as a woman who takes a lot of vitamins. If there was more proof that NutriFeron actually helped prevent the flu, I’d probably look for less expensive sources of the seed and flower extracts mentioned above, but I need a little more evidence before my placebo effect kicks in.

I think I’ll have better luck washing my hands frequently, living a healthy lifestyle, getting plenty of rest and exercise, and avoiding people who don’t know enough to cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing. And vitamin C. I’ll take lots of vitamin C.

All of that is FREE (the vitamin C is CHEAP) and won’t involve giving your name, address and telephone number to a multi-level marketing company doomed to produce more failures than successes. [Broken link fixed 12/10/07. Thanks, Mindy.]

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104 Replies to “Will NutriFeron save you from the bird flu?”

  1. WOW !!!…..okay, I just have to say I have been taking Shaklee vitamins for years and I NEVER get sick. My husband started taking the B-complex and he is like a new person with tons of energy. But….he had to double the dosage.I have heard that Shaklee spends more money on research than all the other vitamin companies put together. By the way, I am a Christian and I really felt the Lords leading to take Shaklee vitamins. Oh and I am not a distributor, just a firm believer. They are quality ingrediants, unlike cheap vitamins. Please people, you get what you pay for.

  2. Thank you bonnie.
    I’ve searched for clinical studies on nutriferon but i can’t find any. Then i bumped to your site and found the link about the clinical studies on nutriferon. Thank you very much. 🙂

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