25 Years Ago, BHT Shown to Inactivate Herpes Virus


BHT is an antioxidant and common food preservative, approved by the FDA for food, oils and fats. Over 25 years ago, a paper was published in the journal Science showing that BHT could inactivate herpes simplex and other lipid coated viruses in vitro (In lab dishes).(1) This was followed by another paper published in Science showing that BHT could prevent chickens from dying of Newcastle disease.(2) The herpes virus and the virus that causes Newcastles disease have a lipid envelope. That is, the nucleic acid core of these viruses is coated with a fatty membrane. Viruses of this type require an intact lipid membrane in order to penetrate cell walls and infect living cells.

       A few of the viruses that have a lipid envelope and may be affected by BHT include herpes simplex I, herpes simplex II, herpes zoster, ckytomegalovirus, west nile virus, HIV virus, influenza virus, hepatitis B and C viruses, avian flu influenza virus and the SARS virus. Remember that BHT has not been clinically tested and approved to treat these infections.

     BHT appears to work against such viruses by disrupting their lipid membranes making them vulnerable to the immune system and imparing their ability to penetrate human cells. BHT also removes binding proteins that the virus uses to penetrate cell membranes. In addition, BHT acts as an antioxidant neutralizing free radicals that damage cell membranes and cause inflammation. It is believed that the destructive action of many pathogenic viruses involves the destructive action of free radicals on cellular membranes. More recent studies have confirmed the anti-viral activity of BHT against many different human and animal viruses including CMV (cytomegalovirus), (3) pseudorabies (4), genital herpes (5), HIV (6) and some strains of influenza.(7)

Based on these early scientific results, some individuals afflicted with herpes virus infections began experimenting on themselves with BHT. They used dosages in the 250 to 3000 mg. per day range with the result that they experienced a reduction in herpes outbreaks. For some, their eruptions remained suppressed for as long as they continued to take BHT daily. For others, they were able to eventually discontinue taking BHT with no recurrences. BHT is discussed in Mann and Fowke’s book “Wipe Out Herpes with BHT” and Pearson and Shaw’s book “Life Extension”.(8)(9)

      At issue is that none of the controlled studies on the antiviral properties of BHT have been performed on humans. Rather, most of the experiments have been conducted in the laboratory or on animals. In addition, BHT is a common, inexpensive substance that is unpatentable. No pharmaceutical company will invest money in researching and certifying its value as a medication. Furthermore, it may be difficult to perform human trials because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved BHT for use only as a food preservative, not as a medicine.

      Therefore, it is not approved for the treatment of herpes infections or any other disease. While doctors have the authority to prescribe BHT, they could face peer pressure and malpractice insurance issues for using unapproved treatments. You are, therefore, unlikely to get a doctor to recommend or prescribe BHT. If you decide to make an independent decision to take BHT, at least tell your doctor what you are doing so that he can give you advice regarding your diagnosis, your other treatment options, potential consequences, possible drug interactions, etc.

      The lack of approval hasn’t stopped some people from using BHT on their own to treat herpes or other viral conditions. While there is no accounting of how many people have used BHT to treat herpes and other viral infections, the estimates run from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

BHT Safety Concerns and Side Effects

      Studies performed on rats demonstrated liver and kidney damage at doses of 0.5 to 1.0 grams per kilogram.(10) This is the equivalent of a 160 pound adult taking 73 grams per day. Compare this to a typical suppressing dose of 0.25 to 0.50 grams per day and a typical dosage for an acute outbreak of 1.0 to 2.0 grams per day. No evidence was noted for BHT causing cancer and conflicting results were obtained regarding effects on the immune system, tumor formation and other effects. Again all of these tests were done on rats and usually using high doses far in excess of therapeutic dosages.

      BHT is metabolized by the liver and some of the rat experiments showed a suppression of liver enzymes and enlargement of the liver. This implies a degree of liver toxicity if the dose is high enough. At what dose a human might experience some degree of liver toxicity is unclear. Liver toxicity is a common side effect of a great many medications including some common over the counter pain relievers. If you are taking BHT or choose to take BHT, consider asking your doctor to do a blood test to measure your liver enzymes.

      A large number of individuals have taken BHT in therapeutic doses for extended periods of time with no reported adverse effects. (8)(9) A case was reported in The New England Journal of Medicine of a patient who took 4 grams of BHT as a single dose on an empty stomach and experienced severe gastric pain, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.(11) To be fair, a number of substances including aspirin, vitamin and mineral supplements some foods and many common medications can produce similar effects when taken on an empty stomach.

      Additional anecdotal reports indicated that BHT may cause hives in a few individuals who are sensitive to BHT. BHT was also observed to temporarily cause a decrease in blood clotting when individuals first begin taking it in substantial doses. One individual reported dizziness and disorientation when taking 3 grams per day. His symptoms disappeared when he dropped his dose down to 250 mg. per day. (8)(9)

      There are a few physicians who regularly prescribe BHT for herpes treatment and outbreak prevention and consider it safe. There have been no formal clinical trials on humans to definitively determine the safety status of BHT.

BHT Dosage

      Based on anecdotal information, it appears that a dosage of 250 mg. to 1000 mg. per day may be effective for many people. Dr. Ward Dean, M.D. recommends a dosage of 250 to 500 mg. per day as an anti-oxidant and 2000 mg. per day in divided doses for acute herpes outbreaks.(12) Anecdotal evidence also suggests that therapy at this dosage may be insufficient to suppress herpes outbreaks in some individuals. It is hypothesized that combining BHT with other measures, either alternative or orthodox, may be more effective than using BHT alone.

BHT Precautions

  • No one knows if there are any yet unrecognized health risks of large doses of BHT.
  • Patients with diseases that compromise liver function should have their liver enzymes monitored by a physician.
  • BHT is fat-soluble, so thin people may need less and may be more susceptible to side effects.
  • BHT can interfere with blood clotting. It may pose a risk to persons with clotting problems or persons using anti-coagulant medications.
  • Doses of BHT should start small and gradually increase.
  • A few people are chemically sensitive to BHT.
  • Alcohol should be avoided for at least several hours before and after taking BHT. Alcohol may have a stronger effect than usual.
  • BHT can interact with some drugs.
  • BHT is best taken with food, both to minimize any possible GI distress and to facilitate absorption.
  • Anyone who choses to take BHT with or against medical advice should consult a physician regarding their actions to obtain a diagnosis, advice on alternative treatments and advice on possible drug interactions.

Where to get BHT

      BHT in powder and capsules is available from: Vitamin Research Products

BHT Blog

      A new blog has just been initiated (October 28, 2007) on the use of BHT with cold sores. This promises some well documented and objective personal experience with BHT and cold sores. Do check this out.

BHT and coldsores blog

BHT References

[1] Snipes W, Person S, Keith A, Cupp J. Butylated hydroxytoluene inactivates lipid-containing viruses. Science. 1975;188(4183):64-6.

[2] Brugh M Jr. Butylated hydroxytoluene protects chickens exposed to Newcastle disease virus. Science. 1977;197(4310):1291-2.

[3] Kim KS, Moon HM, Sapienza V, Carp RI, Pullarkat R. Inactivation of cytomegalovirus and Semliki Forest virus by butylated hydroxytoluene. J Infect Dis 1978;138(1):91-4.

[4] Pirtle EC, Sacks JM, Nachman RJ. Antiviral effectiveness of butylated hydroxytoluene against pseudorabies (Aujeszky’s disease) virus in cell culture, mice, and swine. Am J Vet Res. 1986;47(9):1892-5.

[5] Richards JT, Katz ME, Kern ER. Topical butylated hydroxytoluene treatment of genital herpes simplex virus infections of guinea pigs. Antiviral Res 1985;5(5):281-90.

[6] Aloia RC, Jensen FC, Curtain CC, Mobley PW, Gordon LM. Lipid composition and fluidity of the human immunodeficiency virus. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1988;85(3):900-4.

[7] Chetverikova LK, Ki’ldivatov II, Inozemtseva LI, Kramskaia TA, Filippov VK, Frolov BA. Factors of antiviral resistance in the pathogenesis of influenza in mice [in Russian]. Vestn Akad Med Nauk SSSR 1989;(11):63-8.

[8] Pearson D, Shaw S. Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach. New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc.; 1982:206-207.

[9] Mann JA, Fowkes SW. Wipe Out Herpes with BHT. Manhattan Beach, Calif: MegaHealth Society; 1983.

[10] Lanigan RS, Yamarik TA, Final report on the safety assessment of BHT, Int. J. Toxicol., 2002:21 Suppl 2:19-94

[11] Shlian DM, Goldstone J, Toxicity of butylated hydroxytoluene, N Engl J Med, 1986; 34; 648-649

[12] http://www.vrp.com/showdoc.asp?c=1161225336828&k=/vrpsearch.asp&m=/includes/vrp.css&p=no&s=0

[13 Williams GM, Iatropoulos MJ. Inhibition of the hepatocarcinogenicity of aflatoxin B1 in rats by low levels of the phenolic antioxidants butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene. Cancer Lett 1996;104(1):49-53.

[14] McKee RH, Tometsko AM. Inhibition of promutagen activation by the antioxidants butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene. J Natl Cancer Inst 1979;63(2):473-7.

[15] Franklin RA. Butylated hydroxytoluene in sarcoma-prone dogs. Lancet 1976;1(7972):1296.

[16] Schwarz KB. Oxidative stress during viral infection: a review. Free Radic Biol Med 1996;21(5):641-9.

[17] Hannuksela M, Lahti A. Peroral challenge tests with food additives in urticaria and atopic dermatitis. Int J Dermatol 1986;25(3):178-80.