Natural remedies and healthy lifestyle changes are the keys to keeping immune systems strong.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect the body against infection-causing invaders such as bacteria and viruses. While our immune systems do a pretty good job of keeping these invaders out, sometimes germs do break in and our immune systems must then fight them off.
According to Dr. Todd Rowe, chief medical officer at California-based Genexa Health, nearly 3 percent of adults in the United States have weakened immunity and immune system disorders affect even greater numbers. He likened these rising numbers to a population dealing with increased stress and environmental toxicity. “In modern society, where most people lead very busy lives, our heightened stress often leads to weakened immunity, Rowe stated. “In addition, environmental factors, including pollution, can erode immune system function over time.”
Katharine Wales, medical division sales manager at American BioSciences in New York provided what she believes are the four common causes of a weakened immune system. In agreement with Rowe, she cited stress as a major factor. “Headaches, pounding chest pains, uneasiness and an overall tense feeling are hallmarks of stress,” Wales said. “These factors all combine to cause the immune system to have to work harder to defend the body against threats to health, at times suppressing the immune system to such a point that it is severely compromised.” Wales listed the other common causes of a compromised immune system as a lack of exercise (important for proper functioning of the neutrophils), a lack of sleep that the body needs to fight infections and improper nutrition.
Hank Cheatham, vice president of marketing and sales at California-based Daiwa Health Development, added that medication use, genetics, aging and surgical/medical procedures are other dynamics that can compromise normal immune function.
Keys to a Strong Immune System
Once the causes of weakened immunity have been identified, practitioners can determine the best approach to treatment.
Good nutrition is a key component to a fine-tuned immune system. “The immune system needs a range of nutrients to function optimally,” explained Natalie Lamb, a nutritional therapist and technical advisor for Protexin, Inc. headquartered in Florida. “Nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium are well known for supporting the immune system,” she continued. “Eating a range of colorful, seasonal, organic local vegetables should provide a mix of these and other essential nutrients. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut could help to balance the gut flora to support the gut immune system.”
Dr. Shailinder Sodhi, BAMS, ND, president of Washington-based Ayush Herbs and a member of the Natural Practitioner advisory board provided insight from ayurvedic medicine. “In ayurveda, all immune system dysfunction—whether the seasonal flu or something more chronic and serious—is rooted in a weakened digestion and stress-response process. Genetics also play a role in how well your body functions to fully digest what it takes in and then get those resources where they are needed. So if your agni (digestive fire) isn’t strong enough, you won’t fully break down the food you eat.” He explained that impaired digestion could result in a build-up of toxins in the body. If these toxins are not flushed out properly, our bodies will not be able to function optimally.
Wales added that knowing what foods to avoid is just as important as knowing what to eat. “Polyunsaturated fats tend to suppress the immune system,” she advised. “Also, be on the lookout for the consumption of too much sugar which can inhibit phagocytosis, the process by which white blood cells work to destroy viruses and bacteria.”
“Meditation and other mind-body practices such as yoga, qi gong and tai chi have been shown in studies to have powerful benefits, improving immune function at the level of genetic expression,” said Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, Lac, founder of Clinical Synergy Professional Formulas in California. “Adequate sleep, exercise and other healthy stress reduction methods can also help.”
Dr. Sodhi stated that staying home and resting is still the best way to boost a weakened immune system. “It is the best way to not only recover but avoid spreading whatever illness you’ve contracted (if viral or bacterial),” he said, “but in our modern life, people don’t want the inconvenience of being stuck at home, so they turn to supplements to boost their system and get on with their busy lives.”
“As over 70 percent of immune cells are located in the gut, a balanced gut flora is paramount to healthy immune function all year round,” said Lamb. More and more research has shown that a healthy gut equals a strong immune system. Multi-strain probiotics have been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold and reduce the severity of symptoms. Studies have also found probiotics successful at reducing excessive inflammation and improving symptoms in patients who suffer from arthritis, seasonal allergies and skin conditions, such as eczema.
Dr. Sodhi agreed, stating that taking a high-quality probiotic, eating foods with inulin (a prebiotic), and using high-quality oils like ghee help with gut-barrier functions by giving the gut microflora a food source.
Protexin offers Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-strain formula, their original, unique, multi-strain probiotic with 14 strains of live, beneficial bacteria that can be stored at room temperature. Another formulation, Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan, contains two probiotic strains with cranberry extract and vitamin A—a vitamin essential to normal immune system functioning.
“Medicinal mushrooms and their extracts have been reported in the scientific literature to have a variety of biological effects including immunomodulation, antitumor properties and beneficial influences on blood sugar regulation, serum lipids and blood pressure,” reported Wales.
Dr. Eliaz concurred, explaining that medicinal mushrooms can help boost immune cell activity if they are underactive and balance them if they are overactive, as is the case with some autoimmune diseases.
Wales explained that a hybridized mushroom extract known as active hexose correlated compound or AHCC has proven effective for activating vital parts of the immune system. “Because of their effect on the immune system, treatments such as these can offer improved quality of life, help slow or reverse the progression of cancer, hepatitis, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases.”
Mushroom Immune Max from Clinical Synergy is a blend of six medicinal mushroom species with a unique cultivation method that provides increased immune benefits to the mushrooms. Additional beta glucans are added to fortify the blend. Mushroom Immune Max provides fast-acting immune support to help ward off germs that cause colds and flus as well as supporting cellular health for long-term immunity. One published study showed that the formula offered significant support for breast cellular health.
American BioSciences offers ImmPowerER, an exclusive professional formula with extended-release AHCC. The formula is made with a proprietary blend of shiitake and other medicinal mushrooms grown with rice bran and then fermented to yield a unique extract commonly used in Japanese medicine as an immune-boosting supplement.
BRM4 from Daiwa Health Development is made with rice bran arabinoxylan compound (RBAC), a compound made by modifying rice bran with a shiitake mushroom enzyme.
Research has shown this supplement able to provide a powerful enhancement to the immune system. In a recent study out of the University of Miami, the active ingredient in BRM4 was shown to be a true immune modulator—seeking the optimal level of immune activity for the body without overstimulation.
“One of the best approaches to treat weakened immunity is through homeopathic medicine,” Dr. Rowe stated. “Homeopathic medicines have long been shown to promote a healthy immune system and to help the body more effectively self-regulate the immune response.” He added that homeopathic medicines in general are known to be safe and effective.
Christophe Merville, D Pharm, director of education and pharmacy development at Boiron USA in Pennsylvania added that Baby Boomers in particular like homeopathic medicines because they don’t have to worry about interactions with other medications. Merville also sees homeopathy appealing to new mothers who are concerned about what they and their families are ingesting.
Genexa offers several products to treat symptoms associated with cold and flu viruses, as well as for hayfever relief. These include Cold Crush for Adults, Cold Crush for Kids, Allergy-D for Adults and Allergy-D for Kids. Both Cold Crush formulations contain the following ingredients that may relieve symptoms of colds and flus: Allium cepa, Bryonia alba, Gelsemium sempervirens and Pulsatilla. Both Allergy-D products contain Euphrasia officials, Nux vomica, Pulsatilla, Sabadilla, Sinapis nigra, Wyethia helenoides—all known to help allergy and hayfever symptoms.
For flu-like symptoms, Boiron USA offers Oscillococcinum. Clinical studies have shown that Oscillococcinum shortens both the severity and duration of flu symptoms.
Stress has been noted as a common cause of a weakened immune system. Ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb widely used in ayurvedic medicine, helps to balance the body’s stress response. Some studies have found the herb to have immunomodulatory properties. Amla, also known as Emblica officinalis, contains high amounts of vitamin C. According to Dr. Sodhi, vitamin C builds immunity by giving phagocytes and T-cells a required nutrient. Food-based vitamin C, he added, is easier on kidneys than other forms.
FluComune from Ayush Herbs is a proprietary blend of seven herbs combined for their immune-supporting properties. The blend contains Emblica officinalis, a natural source of bioflavonoids and ascorbinogen, Adhatoda vasica (vasaka) to support respiratory health support, as well as Ocimum sanctum (holy basil) and other herbs known to boost immunity.
“The natural products industry continues to grow each year in spite of the fluctuations of the economy,” said Cheatham. He believes that with the practitioners’ market share at only 3 percent of total industry sales, there is a big opportunity for health care professionals to improve the health of their patients while increasing revenue.
Experts agree that while consumers are more educated today than ever before, they still need guidance from their practitioners. “The aging population is looking for ways to boost their health after a lifetime of being treated with antibiotics,” Dr. Sodhi reported. “Millennials are eager to maintain their health and overall, have a good commitment to regular exercise and eating well.” He explained that while the Gen X population is finding ways to manage stress, the impact of obesity can’t be ignored. “There is still a lot of work do to in getting the message out about the impact of digestion on health.”
“Natural treatments for immune dysfunction can be very effective, especially if used as part of a comprehensive health program including a healthy diet, adequate sleep and proper stress relief,” explained Dr. Eliaz. “Because they are generally multi-targeted and more modulatory in nature, they gently promote more balance and healthy cell and multisystem communication.”
Manufacturers offer a wealth of information to practitioners looking for merchandising support to better serve their patients. Protexin offers a variety of literature including research booklets, practitioner guides, factsheets, and leaflets designed to be passed on to clients. They also offer training sessions and online or telephone support for any practitioners who want to learn more about their products.
Daiwa Health Development provides brochures, sell sheets, and research material as well as other product-specific merchandising material, while Clinical Synergy has created product and ingredient-specific educational materials including full-text published studies to help with practitioner training, as well as guides for both the practitioner and the patient.
American BioSciences provides free research, product sell sheets, and samples to practitioners interested in their products. Customized merchandising support is also available to any practitioner who is interested in carrying their products.
Boiron USA offers patient pamphlets, coupon tear pads, information booklets, one-sheet overviews of their most popular medicines and product displays. The company also helps recruit health care professionals to attend courses through The Center for Education and Clinical Development of Homeopathy. The eight-month course designed for MDs, DO, PA, NPs and midwives who would like to expand their practice teaches attendees new ways to treat both acute and chronic diseases, while earning CE credits.
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For More Information:
American BioSciences, www.americanbiosciences.com
Ayush Herbs, Inc., www.ayush.com
Boiron USA, www.boironusa.com
Clinical Synergy Professional Formulas, www.clinicalsynergyformulas.com
Daiwa Health Development Inc., www.dhdusa.net
Protexin, Inc., www.protexin.com