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What is Meningitis?

Meningitis, typically caused by an infection, is a disease characterized by inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (the meninges). Swelling of the meninges blocks blood flow to the brain. Viral meningitis is most common form of the disease, and is usually not life-threatening; bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, is degenerative and rapidly progressing. If bacterial meningitis is not treated immediately, permanent disability or death may result.

As mentioned, meningitis is usually caused by a viral (often coxsackieviruses and echoviruses) or bacterial (often S. pneumonia or N. meningitidis) infection, but may also be caused by certain drugs, previous infections, or fungus.

Natural interventions such as genistein and melatonin may help reduce the inflammation associated with meningitis.

What are the Risk Factors for Meningitis?

  • Exposure to someone with meningitis (this is enough to warrant prophylactic antibiotic therapy)
  • Living in close quarters (eg, dorms or military barracks)
  • Being immunocompromised (eg, elderly, infants, patients with HIV/AIDS, etc.)

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis?

Note: If meningitis is suspected, seek immediate medical assistance. See a doctor or visit a hospital emergency department for appropriate testing and prompt intravenous antibiotics.

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck with neck pain
  • Change in mental state (eg, lethargy, or in some cases, agitation or combativeness)
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and/or weakness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Rashes
  • Babies with meningitis may have a shrill cry and be difficult to soothe; conversely, they may display extreme fatigue and sleepiness.

What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Meningitis?

  • Intravenous antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Analgesics to relieve fever and pain
  • Corticosteroids to decrease inflammation
  • Fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Antivirals (eg, acyclovir) for viral infections caused by herpes
  • Vaccines for prevention

What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Meningitis?

Note: None of the interventions listed below have been clinically tested for efficacy against meningitis; however, they have been studied in the context of inflammation and immune response, which are closely tied with meningitis.

  • Genistein. Genistein is an isoflavone that inhibits the activity of tyrosine kinases, which are directly involved in both the inflammation associated with meningitis and the ability of bacteria to cross the blood-brain barrier. This suggests that genistein may help reduce the severity of the disease and have a preventative effect.
  • Essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids have been shown to be powerful anti-inflammatory agents in many studies. Supplementation may therefore have some benefit for meningitis.
  • Rosmarinic acid. Rosmarinic acid is found in many plants and herbs, including perilla leaf extract. Studies have shown it to have anti-inflammatory action in human asthma subjects.
  • Superoxide dismutase (SOD). In a mouse model of bacterial meningitis, the antioxidant SOD limited oxidative stress that caused damage to the ears.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C may be involved in the body’s defense against bacterial meningitis. Some studies indicate vitamin C levels may become depleted during infection, so supplementation could potentially be helpful.
  • Melatonin. Melatonin may play a role in the immune response against viral meningitis. Animal studies show administering melatonin in models of meningitis has some protective effects.
  • Other interventions that may boost the body’s immune system to avoid initial infection include cimetidine (an over-the-counter heartburn drug), zinc, lactoferrin, garlic, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).