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Study Finds Tamiflu Not As Effective As Believed

Tamiflu Dosage

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new review on the anti-viral flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza found the drugs shorten the duration of flu symptoms by less than a day (specifically, by just 16.8 hours)
  • Tamiflu did not affect the number of hospitalizations. Relenza trials did not record this data
  • The effects of the drugs on pneumonia and other flu complications were unreliably reported and included limitations in diagnostic criteria, problems with missing follow-up on participants
  • Tamiflu was associated with nausea, vomiting, headaches, kidney problems, and psychiatric events and may induce serious heart rhythm problems
  • The researchers have questioned why Tamiflu is being stockpiled by the US government, why it is classified as an “essential drug” by WHO, and even its use by doctors as an anti-influenza drug

By Dr. Mercola

Anti-viral flu drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) are conventional medicine's go-to option for treating the flu, despite their risk of serious side effects and unproven benefits.

In fact, these drugs are stockpiled in many countries, including the US, for treating and preventing seasonal and pandemic influenza.

The World Health Organization (WHO) even classifies Tamiflu as an "essential" medicine, which they say are "selected with due regard to public health relevance, evidence on efficacy and safety, and comparative cost-effectiveness."1

Writing in BMJ, however, researchers are now questioning Tamiflu's status as an essential medicine, as well as its merit for stockpiling, in light of new findings showing it to be only minimally effective and ridden with side effects.

Findings Provide 'Reason to Question' Stockpiling of Tamiflu

In a first-of-its-kind review, researchers used complete clinical study reports to resolve data discrepancies and reporting bias that had previously been uncovered in regard to Tamiflu research. Clinical study reports are "unpublished, extensive documents with great detail on the trials that formed the basis for market approval."

Until recently, these documents were only available to manufacturers and regulators, but, after a four-year effort, the researchers were able to assess these regulatory documents (all 160,000+ pages of them).

What they found was that the evidence does not support claims that these drugs lower the risk of complications from the flu (such as pneumonia) or that the benefits outweigh the risks.

There is also no evidence to support claims that the drugs help to reduce viral transmission, which undoubtedly is a key reason why they would be stockpiled by the government or labeled as "essential" by WHO. The review revealed:

  • Both drugs shorten the duration of flu symptoms by less than a day (specifically, by just 16.8 hours)
  • Tamiflu did not affect the number of hospitalizations. Relenza trials did not record this data
  • The effects of the drugs on pneumonia and other flu complications were unreliably reported and included limitations in diagnostic criteria, problems with missing follow-up on participants
  • Tamiflu was associated with nausea, vomiting, headaches, kidney problems, and psychiatric events and may induce serious heart rhythm problems

According to the researchers:2

"Based on our assessments of the regulatory documents (in excess of 160,000 pages), we came to the conclusion that there were substantial problems with the design, conduct, reporting and availability of information from many of the trials... We identified problems in the design of many of the studies that we included, which affects our confidence in their results."

Tamiflu's Mechanism of Action in Question

It has been stated that Tamiflu helps to interrupt viral transmission and reduce complications, but the review found that this is not supported by the data. The meager reduction in symptoms, they suggested, may be "unrelated to an inhibition of influenza virus replication" and instead could be due to Tamiflu's role as a central nervous system depressant.

Tamiflu and Relenza are part of a group of anti-influenza drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors, which work by blocking a viral enzyme that helps the influenza virus to invade cells in your respiratory tract.

The problem is that your nervous system also contains neuraminidase enzymes essential for proper brain functioning, and when blocked with these dangerous drugs, severe neurotoxicity may ensue (especially in the infants and children whose blood-brain barrier has not yet developed sufficiently). 

Serious side effects include convulsions, delirium or delusions, suicidal behavior, and at least 14 deaths in children and teens3 have been reported as a result of neuropsychiatric problems and brain infections. Japan actually banned Tamiflu for children in 2007 because of the steep risks.

It was also around this time that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began reviewing reports of abnormal behavior and other brain effects in more than 1,800 children who had taken Tamiflu.4 Further, the drug commonly causes a myriad of side effects that, ironically, resemble the flu symptoms the drug claims to treat.5 The researchers concluded:

"Given that oseltamivir is now recommended as an essential medicine for the treatment of seriously ill patients or those in higher risk groups with pandemic influenza, the issues of mode of action, lack of sizeable benefits, and toxicity are of concern.

This is made worse by the record and stated intentions of governments to distribute oseltamivir to healthy people to prevent complications and interrupt transmission on the basis of a published evidence base that has been affected by reporting bias, ghost authorship, and poor methods.

We believe these findings provide reason to question the stockpiling of oseltamivir, its inclusion on the WHO list of essential drugs, and its use in clinical practice as an anti-influenza drug."

You can decide for yourself whether these risks are worth a measly 16.8-hour reduction in your flu symptoms:

Nausea Vomiting
Diarrhea Headache
Dizziness Fatigue
Cough Neuropsychiatric disorders, including suicidal behavior, hallucinations, seizures, delirium, and other behavioral side effects (such as reports of children jumping off roofs shortly after taking the drug)
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Donald Rumsfeld Was Chairman of the Company That Developed Tamiflu

While increasing numbers of researchers are demanding answers about why a potentially harmful, barely effective drug like Tamiflu is being stockpiled by the US government, it bears repeating that former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was made the chairman of a company called Gilead in 1997. You may have heard that drug company Roche manufactures Tamiflu, but it was actually developed by Gilead decades ago, and they gave Roche the exclusive rights to market and sell Tamiflu in 1996 (an agreement they attempted to terminate in 2005).6

Rumsfeld held major portions of stock in Gilead, and was reported to have made more than $5 million from selling shares of the company around the time of the bird flu hoax in 2005 (when the US placed an order for 20 million doses of Tamiflu at a price of $100 per dose... in case you weren't counting, that comes to a staggering $2 billion). Mr. Rumsfeld was on the board of Gilead between 1988 and 2001, and when he left to join the Bush administration he reportedly retained a large shareholding (worth $25 million or more). In short, he handsomely profited from the government's stockpiling of Tamiflu... and likely still is.

If Drugs Don't Work for the Flu Then What Does?

Flu season is mostly behind us in the US, but it's not too soon to start bolstering your immune system for next year. A healthy immune system is the key to avoiding illnesses like the flu; as long as your immune system can stay one step ahead of the virus, you'll feel better again quickly... and in some cases may not even know you were "sick."

Toward that end, if your diet contains a lot of refined sugars, grains, and processed foods, you're not doing your body any favors. Instead of giving your body the fuel it needs to function optimally, which means being healthy enough to fight off infectious viruses, you're giving it more toxic elements that it must overcome.

For instance, eating too many carbohydrates in the form of sugar and grains is very unbalancing for your gut flora. Sugar is "fertilizer" for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that can set your immune system up for an easy assault by a respiratory virus. Most people don't realize that 80 percent of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract. That's why controlling your sugar intake is crucial for optimizing your immune system.

Additionally, making sure you're ingesting plenty of beneficial bacteria in the foods you eat (specifically fermented foods) is also crucial, as is optimizing and having your vitamin D level monitored to confirm your levels are at a therapeutic 50-70 ng/ml year-round. I believe optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the most potent preventive strategies available, followed by diet (including fermented foods to optimize your gut flora), stress relief, exercise, and sleep. There are other factors that can come into play too, of course. The following guidelines will also act in concert to support your immune system and help you avoid getting sick. You can also read my complete guide to fight the flu naturally here.

  • Take a High-Quality Source of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats. Increase your intake of healthy and essential fats like the omega-3 found in krill oil, which is crucial for maintaining health. It is also vitally important to avoid damaged omega-6 oils (think vegetable oils), as it will seriously damage your immune response.
  • Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth, or other people. Be sure you don't use antibacterial soap using synthetic chemicals for this – conventional antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, and they cause far more harm than good. Instead, identify a simple non-toxic soap that you can switch your family to.
  • Tried and True Hygiene Measures. In addition to washing your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, ideally with the crook of your elbow (to avoid contaminating your hands). If possible, avoid close contact with those who are sick and, if you are sick, avoid close contact with those who are well.
  • Use Natural Immune-Boosters. Examples include oil of oregano and garlic, both of which offer effective protection against a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa in your body. And unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, they do not appear to lead to resistance and the development of "super germs."
  • Avoid Hospitals. I'd recommend you stay away from hospitals unless you're having an emergency and need expert medical care, as hospitals are prime breeding grounds for infections of all kinds. The best place to recover from illness that is not life threatening is usually in the comfort of your own home.