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Life Extension Magazine

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May 1996


Hormones That Boost Immune Function

Based upon recent studies showing an undeniable connection between the neuroendocrine and immune systems, a new field of medicine is emerging called psychoneuroimmunology. Foundation members have been reading about how hormones interact with immune components to optimize overall immune function for many years.

Hormones synchronize immune function. An immune system that is not precisely synchronized will not function at optimal levels. An immune system that is in a state of regulatory chaos cannot keep the host alive and healthy.

The Foundation's HIV Treatment Protocol is designed to enhance immune function in people who are aging, are receiving cancer chemotherapy, and who have been infected by the HIV virus. This protocol works best in HIV positive individuals with 500+ T-helper cells.

HIV, cancer chemotherapy, and aging all cause immune system destruction and desychronization. Here are the five best documented immune protecting and immune restoring hormonal therapies:


 Preliminary evidence suggests that HIV infection may be slowed by the nightly intake of melatonin.

Researchers now believe that the AIDS virus replicates at a furious pace from the time of infection, creating as many as 2 billion new viral particles a day. The reason there appears to be such a long incubation period between the time of infection and the development of AIDS symptoms is because the immune system is creating new T-cell lymphocytes and other immune cells as quickly as the AIDS virus replicates. At some point however, the AIDS virus overwhelms the ability of the immune system to produce new T-cells and the patient succumbs to immune suppression, eventual immune destruction, and death.

Enhancing Immune Cell Proliferation

The knowledge that the immune system responds aggressively to the AIDS virus means that therapies that enhance immune cell proliferation should be effective anti AIDS therapies.

Melatonin enhances the production of T-helper cells, the very cells lost to HIV infection. Melatonin also enhances the production of natural killer cells (NAK), which are crucial in both cancer and AIDS patients and other virus fighting blood cells. In addition, melatonin has an effect on cytokines---such as interleukin-2, the chemical messengers of the immune system that are crucial for T-cell growth.

In addition to enhancing the production of cells being killed by the AIDS virus, melatonin may also help to prevent HIV cellular destruction via its action as an antioxidant. The latest evidence suggests that melatonin is even more effective than nutrient antioxidants in suppressing immune-cell-killing free radicals generated by the HIV virus. In fact, it looks as if melatonin may be the most potent antioxidant yet discovered at fighting cellular free radicals.

A Direct Anti-Viral Effect

One study conducted by Dr. Russel Reiter of the University Of Texas in Austin indicates that melatonin may have a direct effect on HIV replication. For HIV to replicate, it needs a substance called nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kB). Since the amount of NF-kB is reduced by 23% at night, Dr. Reiter sought to determine whether melatonin is responsible for the nightly decline in NF-kB. When Dr. Reiter injected rats with melatonin during the day, he observed a reduction of NF-kB binding activity of 43%. This finding suggests that melatonin may be able to interfere with the division of HIV viruses by cutting off their supply of NF-kB.

Dr. George Maestroni, a pioneer in the field of melatonin immunotherapy, conducted a pilot AIDS study in Italy in which eleven HIV infected people were given 20 mg. of melatonin every night. After a month of treatment, the patients had an overall increase of T-helper cells of 35%, an increase of natural killer cells of 57%, and a 76% increase in lymphocyte production! In spite of these remarkable findings, this line of research has not been pursued because melatonin is not a patentable drug that can generate billions of dollars of profits for any of the pharmaceutical giants.

Other Benefits From Melatonin

Melatonin appears to benefit AIDS patients as well. It protects against AZT toxicity and wasting syndrome. We suggest that HIV patients obtain the book MELATONIN by Dr. Russel Reiter and Jo Robinson. This recently published 290-page book contains newly discovered findings about AIDS and melatonin.

The suggested dose of melatonin for HIV patients ranges from 20 mg. to 30 mg. nightly. Individuals who are HIV positive, but haven't yet progressed to AIDS should consider taking 10-20 mg of melatonin every night. Healthy people can benefit from melatonin at doses ranging from 500 mcg. to 10 mg. nightly. Many people find that for optimal sleep they take a sublingual tablet (or open the capsule and hold the melatonin under their tongue for about 60 seconds), which induces rapid drowsiness.


Studies published in 1992 demonstrated that DHEA has a direct inhibitory effect on HIV replication and even inhibits AZT-resistant strains of HIV. Additional studies showed that HIV infection progressed only when serum DHEA levels began to decline. The speculation from these studies was that maintaining healthy blood levels of DHEA would prevent HIV infection from progressing to fullblown AIDS.

DHEA is now widely used by HIV patients. While it has a well documented direct anti-viral effect, the primary benefit of DHEA may be it's ability to protect immune function against a wide array of insults.

DHEA Maintains Healthy Immune Function

Studies have documented that DHEA has a beneficial role in maintaining healthy immune function. The Life Extension Foundation recommends that all HIV infected patients and most people over 40 have their blood levels of DHEA tested, and then take supplementary DHEA accordingly to restore their serum DHEA level to that of a healthy 21-year-old.

For optimal benefits, DHEA capsules should be opened and held under your tongue for 60 seconds and then washed down. As much as 90% of DHEA that is orally ingested can be metabolized by the liver before it reaches other parts of your body. By opening the DHEA capsule and allowing it to be absorbed under your tongue, you can increase the amount of bioavailable DHEA substantially. Considering the relatively high cost of DHEA, you could save considerable money by putting DHEA under your tongue in order to bypass the liver.

The suggested daily dose of DHEA ranges from 50 mg. to 500 mg. Regular blood tests are crucial to determine the exact amount of DHEA an HIV positive person or AIDS patient should take. Too much DHEA in the blood could have a counterproductive effect. Suggested blood tests include DHEA serum levels and the standard immune cell subset test that all HIV/AIDS persons should take every three months to assess the efficacy of whatever therapy they are using.

Thymic Hormones

T-cells are produced and develop to maturation in response to hormones secreted by the thymus gland. Aging causes a shrinkage of the thymus gland and the resulting reduction in the production of thymic hormones is a major cause of the progressive decline in immune function that occurs with normal aging. HIV infection also affects thymus gland hormone secretion adversely.

In the next section (Immune Boosting European Therapies), a suggested protocol for the use of the thymus stimulating therapies isoprinosine and Thymex is given.

There is an experimental thymus therapy available from Canada that is a pharmaceutical extract from the thymus glands of disease-free calves. This extract contains the full range of immune modulating thymosins and thymostimulin.


Aging, cancer, HIV infection, and AIDS often lead to suboptimal levels of thyroxine (one of the thyroid hormones). Proper levels of thyroxine are crucial for optimal immune function. Blood tests do not always accurately detect a thyroid hormone deficiency.

One method of determining if you are thyroid deficient is to take your temperature as soon as you awaken in the morning. If your temperature is consistently below normal, then you may want to start a thyroid hormone supplement.

Popular prescription thyroid replacement drugs are:

  • Synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormone)
  • Armour (natural thyroid hormone)
  • Cytomel (T3 thyroid fraction)

You must be careful not to overdose on thyroid hormone, so the advice of a knowledgeable physician is important when considering thyroid hormone replacement.


Aging, cancer, HIV infection, and AIDS are associated with excessive cortisol production from the adrenal glands that can decimate immune function. It is thus crucial to suppress excessive cortisol production.

There are 17 European studies showing that HIV causes some of its destruction of the immune system by stimulating excessive cortisol production.

DHEA appears to suppress cortisol levels. Melatonin appears to block the receptor sites in immune cells that cortisol binds to. Excessive cortisol binding causes injury and death to these cortisol "infected" immune cells.

High doses of the European procaine drug K.H.3 (taken at least twice a day) is suggested as the best way of suppressing elevated cortisol levels in cancer and AIDS patients. One to two tablets of K.H.3 should be taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and then again an hour before dinner on an empty stomach.

It is difficult to test cortisol levels in the blood because adrenal surges of cortisol can occur erratically throughout the day. That's one reason why this important link to immune system destruction has been largely ignored by American doctors.