Herpes viruses cause some of the most common of human diseases: herpes type 1 (cold sores) and herpes type 2 (genital herpes). Genital herpes is now an epidemic and is probably the most prevalent form of venereal disease. Unfortunately, herpes viruses have also been implicated as causative factors in several types of human cancers, including Burkitt's Lymphoma, nasopharyngeal cancer, cervical carcinoma, and possibly some forms of breast and liver cancer.
Herpes is a slow virus; once a person is infected, he remains infected for life although he may be symptomless most of the time. The herpes virus inserts a few copies of its own genetic information into the DNA of many of the victim's cells. Once this information is inserted, there is no way available as yet to remove it. The herpes information seems to remain inactive until the cell's genetic material is damaged—through ultraviolet light exposure, emotional stress, or illness—when the herpes nucleic acid may become activated.
Available approved treatments for herpes virus infections have been highly toxic. The most frequently used is 2′-deoxy-5-iodouridine (Idoxuridine), which interferes with normal incorporation of thymidine during DNA synthesis, in normal as well as in infected cells. Idoxuridine is a mutagen (causes mutations) and a carcinogen (can cause cancer). It is used in the treatment of herpes because of the absence of FDA-approved safer systemic treatments and because, left untreated, herpes infections can have serious consequences, such as blindness or death by brain infection or, possibly, cancer. A new, less-hazardous nucleic acid analog, Acyclovir, has just been approved by the FDA, but only for topical treatment of type 1 or initial type 2 herpes. (It is ineffective against recurrent genital herpes.) While safer than Idoxuridine, Acylovir also works by interfering with DNA synthesis in both normal and infected cells.
Herpes viruses belong to a class of viruses that have a lipid (fatty) coat surrounding its nucleic acid core. This coat makes it difficult for immune-system antibodies and white blood cells to recognize the virus as foreign, because the coat is made up of fats normally found in our tissues.
A new and effective treatment for herpes viruses has recently been discovered. BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene, is a very low toxicity food preservative (antioxidant) that has been found to kill all small nucleic acid core diameter, lipid coated viruses tested, including herpes. Dr. George Rouser at the City of Hope Hospital, a world-renowned expert in fatty acid structures, explained to us that BHT probably works by destabilizing hydrogen bonds in the lipid coat, so that the coat is stripped off. Once it is gone, the white blood cells and antibodies recognize the foreign viral nucleic acid core and accompanying foreign proteins and destroy it.
BHT has undergone very extensive tests of toxicity, many conducted by companies selling it as a food preservative. Monkeys have been fed up to 30 grams a day, an immense dose. The only adverse results at these doses was an enlarged liver (BHT induces the synthesis of certain liver detoxification enzymes) that returned to normal after the animals were taken off the BHT.
We started taking BHT (two to six grams per day) in 1968 for its free-radical-controlling, life-extension effects, discovered several years earlier by Dr. Denham Harman, the creator of the free-radical theory of aging. When we saw a paper by Snipes on in vitro studies of BHT and herpes in 1975, we calculated that our experimental life-extension dose would be highly effective in treating herpes in man and other animals. Snipes had performed no animal experiments and expressed some doubt that enough BHT would be absorbed orally to be effective. We knew from the mild psychotropic (mind-altering) effects of a large dose of BHT taken on an empty stomach that substantial amounts were absorbed from the gut and that it could penetrate the blood-brain barrier as well. We also knew that, according to our clinical test results, two grams of BHT per day was reasonably safe, at least for us.
When, in 1975, a medical cytologist friend with severe, persistent genital herpes was told by her gynecologist to be celibate for six months and hope for improvement, we conducted the first (to our knowledge) human experiment on the effect of BHT on herpes. We supplied copies of the Snipes paper, toxicological data, our own clinical test results, BHT, and instructions. It worked perfectly—the herpes was completely suppressed, and her clinical tests remained normal.
BHT has also been used in a doctor's uncontrolled clinical trial involving over 150 patients with herpes (with either or both type 1 and type 2), all of which achieved remission with BHT. The herpes patients used two grams per day in divided doses to control their herpes, BHT use should be maintained (although the dose may be reduced to as little as 1/4 gram per day after about 10 days to two weeks in some cases), because the BHT kills only the free viral particles, not the viral information inserted into otherwise normal cells. So far, we do not have any way to destroy the inserted viral information.
Few doctors know about BHT as a treatment for herpes because this is not an FDA-approved therapy. BHT's patents have long ago expired, so there is no incentive for any company to spend the $56 million (on the average) and 8 to 12 years to get it approved for this purpose. In the meantime, any doctor who uses BHT has to consider possible malpractice suits, which are much more likely when an FDA-unapproved treatment is used.
Remember that this FDA-unapproved treatment is experimental, and predrug baseline and postdrug follow-up clinical tests for liver function, serum lipids, and a complete blood count would be prudent. Caution: BHT should not be used with barbiturates, other downers, or alcohol, since it will increase their effects. BHT combined with these substances will not cause respiratory collapse, however, as alcohol and barbiturates and other combinations of downers can. When first using BHT, hypotension may occur, resulting in light-headedness upon standing or arising in the morning. This is not a toxic side effect; but when experiencing this, one should not operate an automobile or other hazardous equipment. This effect tends to go away after a few days.
A list of scientific literature on this topic is available through Reason. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope and ask for H&W references, August.
Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw are consulting scientists and authors. Their book, Life Extension, was recently published by Warner Books.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Health & Welfare: Hope for Herpes".