New Immune Factors May Determine Susceptibility to AIDS & Cancer

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is perhaps the most devastating disease known to medical science. The degenerative effects of this disease are characterized by a high incidence of Kaposi’s sarcoma and a wide spectrum of opportunistic infections that overwhelm a weakened immune system(1). The progression of the disease is relentless and the prospects for survival are bleak.

AIDS-Related Complex, or ARC, is a less severe form of AIDS(2). Estimates indicates that for every confirmed AIDS patient, there are ten who suffer from ARC. The symptoms associated with ARC patients tend to be similar, although less virulent than those diagnosed with AIDS. While AIDS is usually a fatal condition, ARC mortality is far less, but is characterized by recurring symptomatic illness such as fever, lethargy, diarrhea, malaise, lymphadenopathy, respiratory problems and abnormal responses to the immune system. The same virus, HTLV-III, causes both AIDS and ARC yet the severity of the disease in exposed individuals is vastly different. Furthermore, while millions of people have been exposed to the AIDS virus, to date the vast majority of exposed individuals have not exhibited the symptoms of AIDS or ARC(3). Why?

An important key to this puzzling dilemma comes from recent advances in understanding the role of new immune factors and their control of immune response. However, to better understand how those factors control the function of the immune system, one must first understand the basic molecular biology of AIDS.

The first indication that an individual has been exposed to the HTLV-III virus is the detection of antibodies to HTLV-III in the bloodstream. The presence of antibodies does not indicate that an individual will contract AIDS, but their presence indicates exposure to the HTLV-III virus. Unlike many viruses, the HTLV-III virus can “hide” like a ticking bomb during a latency period lasting for years within various body sites like the brain, bone marrow and macrophages. One of the primary sites where the HTLV-III virus flourishes is within a subclass of T-lymphocytes called T-helper (TH) cells(4). Once the HTLV-III virus becomes active; it multiplies rapidly and makes thousands of new copies of itself in the TH cells. Eventually, the infected TH cells are broken apart and destroyed in a process called cell lysis. As the infected TH cells are destroyed, new HTLV-III virus particles are released to infect other TH cells, and are also carried to other parts of the body, such as the semen, blood, tears and saliva, where it can be transmitted to others.

As a result of cell lysis, the clinical manifestation of AIDS is initially characterized by depression of TH cell activity in the body(5). Furthermore, infected TH cells lack the “helper” ability by which they normally aid other components of the immune system, primarily macrophages, which seek out and destroy invading opportunistic organisms(6). In the final analysis, the AIDS patient does not die from AIDS, but from the body’s inability to fight off the opportunistic infections that constantly invade the body, but which are no longer aggressively attacked by the immune system.

The difference in severity after exposure to the HTLV-III virus ranges from AIDS, to less severe ARC, or to individuals who are potential carriers of the virus with no symptoms whatsoever. It is quite clear these differences are totally dependent on the quality of the exposed individual’s immune system. This is where we feel a new preventative and treatment strategy should be focused - the stimulation and enhancement of the immune system, using a non-toxic intervention.

This goal has become more likely with the increased scientific knowledge that one of the primary factors controlling the immune system is a class of hormones called prostaglandins. In the thirties, U.S. von Euler, a Swedish scientist, made the discovery of prostaglandin, but their critical importance for the molecular control of virtually all body systems and especially the immune system, went unrecognized until the late 1970’s. This is because prostaglandins are made, act and self-destruct within seconds and work at incredibly low concentrations in the body. During the late 1970’s, medical instrumentations were developed that could study these powerful, yet naturally occurring compounds and their impact on body function.

Now that prostaglandins can be studied, for the first time a realistic strategy for enhancing the immune system emerges. This approach may be the only viable alternative to treating AIDS, for it appears that the HTLV-III virus mutates far too rapidly to allow the production of a suitable vaccine(7) and all drug treatments to date offer little real hope. Even the newest drug breakthrough AZT, acts more to prevent further virus replication than to repair an already damaged immune system. What is needed is a method for enhancing and restoring immune function via prostaglandin modulation.

To maximize the production of the specific prostaglandin classes that can enhance the immune system one must understand that the critical “building blocks” required for prostaglandin synthesis cannot be made by the body and must enter into the body via diet.

What are these building blocks? They are the essential fatty acids and although there are eight essential fatty acids, the two that have the greatest potential for modulating and stimulating the immune system are the metabolically activated essential fatty acids, gamma linoleic acid or GLA (omega-6) and eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA (omega-3).

We classify EPA and GLA as metabolically activated in that the body must convert the less active forms of essential fatty acids (linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid) into GLA and EPA. GLA is only found in rare plant seeds such as evening primrose and borage and EPA is found in specific fish oils. Although the body should be able to manufacture GLA and EPA, just as it should be able to manufacture sufficient interlukin-2 and other lymphokines, there are a number of reasons why the normal production of GLA and EPA is disrupted. One primary reason is that key enzymes are under the profound control of external factors such as alcohol, saturated fats, sugar and low levels of essential nutrients, which can dramatically reduce their activity. If the activity of those enzymes, critical for the synthesis of GLA and EPA is sufficiently decreased, then the body’s production of prostaglandins, which act as immune factors also decrease.

Therefore, the only way to ensure the dietary intake of these critical prostaglandin “building blocks” is by direct dietary supplementation with GLA and EPA. Without adequate levels of GLA and EPA, prostaglandins cannot be made. The body requires both GLA and EPA to make the unique classes of prostaglandins that complement each other and maximize immune response. 

Let’s look at the scientific evidence on the positive effects of GLA and EPA on the immune system. Cancer can be considered an immune-deficiency disease of the highest order. Clinical trials have shown that high doses of GLA have a dramatic effect for increasing survival rates of individuals with inoperable tumors, such as primary liver tumors and various brain tumors(9). The primary cause of this effect appears related to the formation of PGE 1, a prostaglandin derived from GLA and its stimulation and regulation of T-lymphocytes(10). On the other hand, EPA has a different physiological effect by decreasing the formation of prostaglandins, such as PGE2, that are strong immunosuppressive agents(11). As an example, EPA supplementation protects test animals from implanted tumors, probably by decreasing the formation of immune-suppressing prostaglandins(11-13). 

In specially bred animals, a form of human lupus erythematosus occurs. These animals are characterized by depressed T-cell activity and die of a variety of immune disorders. Supplementation with EPA in these animals leads to virtually complete survival of the EPA treated animals compared to complete fatality of those animals that had no EPA supplementation(14). In similar animals it was found that PGE 1, produced from GLA, produced equally impressive survival rates(15-16). 

The obvious implication is that any immune disorder may respond more dramatically to the combination of EPA and GLA, than to either essential fatty acid alone. This is because the prostaglandins synthesized from GLA are immune stimulating, primarily through the activation of T-lymphocytes and the prostaglandins derived from EPA tend to reduce the production of immune - suppressing prostaglandins.

It should be noted that male semen contains concentrated amounts of PGE2, a very powerful immune- suppressing agent. New data indicates that the presence of PGE2 helps the replication of the HTLV-III virus under ‘in vitro’ conditions(17). The importance of this observation is that the dietary intake of both GLA and EPA decrease the production of PGE2. By understanding the critical function of prostaglandins as key immune factors and their effect on the immune system, one can begin to understand why exposure to the HTLV-III virus produces a wide clinical response. The predisposing factor that determines the severity of exposure to the virus may ultimately be determined by the amount of GLA and EPA in one’s diet(18) and their ability to be synthesized into prostaglandins that stimulate and enhance the immune system(19). Therefore, the ultimate insurance policy against AIDS for any individual exposed to the HTLV-III virus and to reduce the risk of developing cancer, may be GLA and EPA/DHA supplementation on a daily basis. Since GLA and EPA/DHA are natural materials and have never demonstrated any toxicity, even under exceptionally high daily dosages, this dietary strategy is one that makes excellent scientific sense.

The Balance Between the Omega-6 and Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids(20)

In our dietary goal to provide these essential fatty acids during growth, pregnancy, lactation or for therapeutic approach to the management of specific disease conditions, a correct balance of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids should be ensured to maintain cellular and other functions.

The ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in all cellular lipids is approximately 4:1, except in the central nervous system, where the ratio is nearer 1:1. Human milk samples from nine different countries showed a remarkable uniformity in the ratio of 5:1 in favor of the omega-6 fatty acids in the milk lipids in spite of the wide variations in the mother’s diet in the different countries. Human red blood cells membranes also show much the same ratio.

While there is yet no clear-cut answer to what the correct balance should be, we can look at Nature to obtain guidelines on this important question. All the comparative data from various studies show a predominance of the omega-6 fatty acids over the omega-3. Since the omega-3 fatty acids are preferentially metabolized in the body, a ratio of 4:1, in favor of the omega 6 fatty acids will ensure a balanced composition at the cellular level. Such a ratio would be applicable when the parent acids, linoleic and alpha-linoleic, are the predominant constituents in the diet. 

On the other hand, the longer chain derivatives such as gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), dihomogamma­linolenic acid (DGLA), arachidonic acid (AA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are biologically more active and are incorporated into cell structures more efficiently. Also, the omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, is preferentially incorporated into cell membrane at the expense of arachidonic acid. In situations where these longer chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are provided in the diet in larger amounts, a ratio of 1:1 between GLA and EPA/DHA would be desirable to ensure a correct balance at the cellular level.

Obtaining these balanced levels of GLA and EPA/DHA from supplementation can be accomplished as follows:

The majority of the research carried out world-wide shows that the ideal level to be 240 mg of GLA and 240 mg of EPA/DHA daily to maintain optimum prostaglandin production in the average healthy person. This can be supplied by: 3 -1000 mg evening primrose oil capsules containing 10% GLA, plus one 1000 mg salmon oil capsule containing 18% EPA and 12% DHA or: 3 - Omega 3-6-9 capsules (Enerex) containing evening primrose oil, borage oil and salmon oil providing GLA and EPA/DHA in the ideal 1:1 ratio in one 750 mg capsule. However, therapeutic doses several times the normal levels may be necessary to effect positive changes in cases of weakened immune function. Daily dosages of eight Omega 3-6 capsules (two capsules, four times a day) have been used with some success in cases of AIDS(21).



1.      Centers for Disease Control Task Force of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections. Epidemiological aspects of the current outbreak of Kaposi’s sarcoma and opportunistic infections”. New Engl. J. of Med. 306, 248-252 (1982)
2.      Fauci, A.S., H. Masur, E.P. Gelmann, et al., “The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: an update”. Ann. Int. Med. 103, 1333 (1985)
3.      Editorial, “AIDS”. Science 229, 1333 (1985)
4.      Hoxie, J.A., B.S. Haggarty, J.L. Rackowski, et al. “Persistent noncytopathic infection of normal human 1. T-lymphocytes with AIDS-associated retrovirus”. Science 229, 1400-1402 (1985)
5.      Cooper, D.A., P. Maclean, R. Finlyson, et al. “Acute AIDS retrovirus infection. Definition of a clinical illness associated with seroconversion”. Lancet 1537-540 (1985)
6.      Washburn, R.G., C.U. Tuazon and J.E. Bennett. “Phagocytic and fungicidal activity of monocytes from patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”. J. Infect. Diseases 151, 565-566 (1985)
7.      Wong-Stall, F., G.M. Shaw, B.H. Hahn, et al. “Genomic diversity of human T- lymphotrophic virus type III (HTLV-III)”. Science 229, 759-762 (1985)
8.      Van der Merwe, C.F. “The reversibility of cancer”. S. African Med. J. 65, 113-114 (1984)
9.      Van der Merwe, C.F. “In vivo confirmation of the in vivo cytostatic effects of essential fatty acids and their metabolic intermediates. The effects in patients with untreatable malignancies”. 6th International Conference on Prostaglandins. Abstract 233 (1986)
10.   Quaglista, F., V.J.W. Lawrence and P.J.M. Quaglista. “Prostaglandin E1 as a regulator of lymphocyte function”. Cell Immunol. 6, 457-465 (1973)
11.   Karmali, R.A., J. Marsch and C. Fuchs. “Effect of n-3 fatty acids on growth of a rat mammary tumor”. J. Nat. Cancer Inst. 75, 457-460 (1985)
12.   Tashijian, A.H., E.F.Voclkel, D.R. Robinson and L. Levine. “Dietary menhaden oil lower plasma prostaglandins and calcium in mice bearing fibrosarcoma”. J. Clin. Invest. 74, 2042-2045 (1984)
13.   Turkowski, J.J. and W.T.Cave. “Dietary effects on menhaden oil on rat mammary tumors”. J. Nat. Cancer Inst. 74, 1145-1149 (1985)
14.   Prickett, J.D., D.R. Robinson and A.D. Steinberg. “Dietary enrichment with the polyunsaturated fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, prevents proteinuria and prolongs survival of NZF/NZW mice”. J. Clin. Invest. 68, 556-559 (1981)
15.   Zurier, R.B., D.M. Dayadoff, S.B. Jorrey and N.F. Rothfield. “Prostaglandin E1 treatment of NBZ/NBW mice: Prolonged survival of female mice”. Arthritis Rheum. 20, 723-728 (1977)
16.   Zurier, R.B., J. Damjanov, P.L. Miller and B.F. Biever. “Prostaglandin E1 treatment prevents progression of nephritis in murine lupus erythematosus”. J. Clin. Lab. Immunol. 2, 95-98 (1979)
17.   Kuno, S., R. Ueno, O. Hayaishi, et al. “Prostaglandin E2, a seminal constituent, facilitates the replication of acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus in vitro”. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., USA 83, 3487-3490 (1986)
18.   Begin, M.E., and U.N. Das. “A Deficiency in dietary Gamma Linoleic Acid and/or Eicosapentaenoic Acids may determine individual susceptibility to AIDS”. Medical Hypothesis 20, 1-8 (1986)
19.   Marcus, S. “Breakdown of prostaglandin E1 synthesis is responsible for the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”. Medical Hypothesis 15, 39-46 (1984)
20.   Hassam, A. “The Role of Dietary Fats in Nutrition, Health & Disease”. American Academy of Medical Preventics Convention. (1986)
21.  T.L. Pulse, M.D. and Elizabeth Uhlig, RRA. “A Significant Improvement in a Clinical Pilot Study Utilizing Nutritional Supplements, Essential Fatty Acids and Stabilized Aloe Vera Juice in 29 HIV Seropositive, ARC and AIDS Patients”. Journal of Advancement in Medicine, Volume 3. Number 4, Winter 1990.