Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) seems to have joined several of the other common winter infections floating around this year. It’s most concerning for little ones, and basic hygiene such as hand washing, and immune support can often help with transmission.
Once someone is infected, though, here’s what we know about the physiology—and some ideas of what can be done naturally for support.
RSV Shifts the Immune Balance
I wrote here on the balance between two sides of the T-cells in the specific immune system: Th1 and Th2, which act kind of like a seesaw. Briefly, Th1 directs fights against intracellular threats. These threats are viruses, and bacteria that act like viruses by hiding inside the cell (such as chlamydia and mycoplasma). Th2 focuses on extracellular threats, such as most other types of bacteria not covered by Th1, parasites, and toxins (like mold biotoxins and solvents).
Since RSV is a virus, the Th1 side should take up the charge against it. But RSV evades this fate by increasing cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Cortisol is a steroid, which has the effect of dampening the Th1 response and shifting the body in the direction of Th2 dominance.
Excessive or inappropriate Th2 activity can have the effect of producing allergic type responses, which is why leukotriene inhibitor medications (often used for asthma and even MCAS) are often prescribed for RSV for symptomatic relief. And for symptom management, petasites/butterbur is an herb that shares leukotriene inhibiting properties.
But there’s another potential approach.
Balancing out the Th1/Th2 Response
Excessive Th2 can lead to an asthma-like presentation, but suppressed Th1 also means that it’s harder for the body to clear the virus. Another approach would be to help the body shift back to balance.
Sunlight actually helps to balance Th1/Th2, regardless of which side happens to be dominant. This isn’t too surprising, since it’s one of the major building blocks for health generally.
These are some additional approaches to help shift a Th2 dominant system back to Th1:
- Lactobacillus. Many of the species in this probiotic family tend to either lower Th2 or raise Th1, including reuteri, salivarius, lactis, plantarum, acidophilus, casei, and rhamnosus. (I’d venture to guess most lactobacillus species would have a similar effect.)
- Sulforaphane, found in the superfood broccoli (and also in supplements)
- Ganoderma/reishi mushrooms
- Quercetin—which can of course be found in supplement form, or in foods too.
Considering higher cortisol kicked all of this off in the first place, adaptogenic herbs can be helpful for balancing, too—particularly licorice/glycyrrhiza, which also helps tip the balance toward Th1.
And of course, immune support generally is always a great idea!