Meth kills brain cells, fuels tooth decay, loads the body with toxins and weakens the heart, muscles and immune system. But the otherwise body-wrecking drug may also have flu-fighting properties, new research suggests.
A group of scientists from the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan set out to study how methamphetamine interacts with influenza A virus in lung cells. Previous research has suggested that chronic meth abuse makes individuals more susceptible to pathogens such as HIV. The team wanted to investigate how the drug might reduce users' resistance to flu viruses.
They took cultures of human lung epithelial cells, exposed them to different concentrations of meth and then infected them with an H1N1 strain of human influenza A. By 30 to 48 hours after infection, the meth-treated cells had a much lower concentration of the virus than the control group, the researchers reported. What's more, this reduction occurred in a dose-dependent manner, meaning the more meth, the less the virus reproduced.
"We report the first evidence that meth significantly reduces, rather than increases, virus propagation and the susceptibility to influenza infection in the human lung epithelial cell line," wrote the researchers, led by Yun-Hsiang Chen.
No doctor would recommend that you take up a meth habit to fight the flu this winter, but the researchers said their study could help find other, safer compounds that have the same effect.
"This finding strongly encourages future work to investigate whether other compounds, structurally similar to meth, can inhibit influenza A virus production and be used to prevent or alleviate influenza A virus infection," they wrote.
Their study was published online Nov. 6 in the journal PLoS ONE.