Alternative approaches are becoming more popular for patients as they look to strengthen their first line of defense—the immune system.
Maintaining a strong immune system is at the base of preventative health care. Immune system health is a fickle thing; not only are essential nutrients critical for the production and maintenance of key germ-fighting cells in the immune system, but a balanced diet also has a strong effect on vascular function, and the immune system is dependent on blood flow.
Excess sugar, poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, immune deficiency diseases, allergens and inactivity are all common causes that can lead to a weakened immune system. Unfortunately, many of these factors are difficult to avoid, as they are an inherent part of our modern lifestyles.
According to a National Sleep Foundation study done in 2010, nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a nightly basis. As such, in a study recently completed by Carnegie Mellon University and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that those who do not get more than seven hours of sleep a night are three times more likely to get the common cold as those who do.
Undoubtedly, improving the immune system will help improve quality of life, but it is not the easiest of tasks.
“Finding time to maintain a healthy body that effectively wards off illness is challenging, but we are seeing a rise of people who want to have an active role in their own well-being,” said Shui Yin Lo, PhD, chairman of the board for D&Y Laboratories, a Missouri-based licenser of stable-water-clusters technologies for a number of products, including Double Helix Water. “They are looking toward natural products that act as a supplement to balance the body and help strengthen its own immunity.”
The immune system is a person’s defense mechanism, helping to protect against foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc., as well as from internal attacks, such as mutated cancer cells, added Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, Lac at EcoNugenics, a California-based dietary supplement formulator. “Since immunity consists of a complex physiological network, which is regulated and affected by multiple systems, problems with other related areas of the body can negatively impact immune function,” said Dr. Eliaz, “including a weak digestive system, poor circulation, toxic build up and stress.”
An Evolving Market
Within the industry, there is a growing desire from consumers to look for alternative remedies, and this is reflected through the dramatic increase in alternative and complementary medicine trade shows and conferences with a big focus on bio energetic medicine, said Dr. Lo.
According to Natalie McCulloch, ND, a naturopath based in Ontario, Canada, medications can negatively impact immune function. “The use of antibiotics alters bacterial enzymatic processes, which ultimately help to kill off the bacteria; however, antibiotics are not selective to the pathogenic bacteria killing off the body’s natural flora. Altering the body’s natural flora can negatively impact immune function, leading to the important role of probiotic supplementation following antibiotic treatments,” said Dr. McCulloch, adding that in her clinical practice, she has found that by eliminating patient’s food sensitivities; focusing on a whole foods diet; and supplementing with probiotics, nutrients and botanicals, can help to naturally support the immune system and ward off infection.
The rising incidence of immunehealth diseases and increasing consumer demand for products to prevent illness and maintain wellness are driving growth in this market, added Melanie Bush, director of berry science at Berries for Life, an Indiana-based berry supplement maker. “Health care reform is further emphasizing the benefit of preventative care. Additionally, as consumers are required to pay for greater health care costs themselves, they recognize that maintaining a healthy immune system is a tangible value.Moms will always seek ways to prevent their children from becoming ill, just as the growing Baby Boomer population seeks to stay healthy and live active lifestyles. Consumers believe that maintaining a strong immune health system is the best way to prevent illness. [Thus], the future of the practitioner market for immune health products will remain strong.”
When the body is at the optimum state to heal itself, the immune system is less likely to suffer the effects of a busy lifestyle, including lack of sleep, poor diet and the like. There are several different natural remedies and supplements that natural practitioners can offer patients that can help strengthen immune function.
The best natural approach to keeping a healthy immune system is to reverse the factors that lead to a weak immune system, said Keri Marshall, MS, ND, chief medical officer for Californiabased Nordic Naturals. “This means you want to maintain a healthy gut, get enough sleep and increase fruits and vegetables in the diet. It is also helpful to integrate calming principles, such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises, that can help reduce stress levels.”
Dr.Marshall suggested Nordic Naturals’ fish oils, which are omega- 3 fatty acids, as regular supplementation to help better the immune system. This promotes an anti-inflammatory response by triggering prostaglandin pathways that in turn promote healthy immune function, she said.
Ultimate Omega from Nordic Naturals provides a concentrated dose of fish oils and Ultimate Omega with CoQ10 provides added protection with CoQ10, which is a powerful antioxidant that benefits heart health and energy. Omega 3-D provides an excellent source of omega- 3 fatty acids and 1,000 IU of vitamin D per serving, according to Dr. Marshall. “Vitamin D has been found to boost immune response by activating our immune defenses. Without sufficient intake of vitamin D, the primary killer cells of the immune system— T cells—will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.”
Botanic Oil Innovations, a dietary supplement maker based in Wisconsin, also touts omega-3s for immune support, as seen in its Immuno-Viva line of products. Its practitioner brand includes Immuno-Viva Core and Immuno-Viva Ease, supplements that provide a wide variety of substances for allencompassing immune support, said Mark Mueller, the company’s founder and chief technical officer.
Core contains concentrated black raspberry and black cumin seed oils extracted through the company’s exclusive cold press process, which requires eight pounds of berries to make just one half teaspoon of oil, while Ease Liquid contains all natural red raspberry and black cumin seed oils, explained Mueller.
Dr. Eliaz said he advises patients to take modified citrus pectin (MCP), which is derived from the pith and peel of the citrus fruit. “MCP is known for its anti-cancer properties, but it was also found to be a potent chelator of heavy metals and a dramatic enhancer of the immune system,” he said, explaining that it works by activating different components of both the innate (NK-cells) and adaptive (Tcytotoxic) arms of the immune system, which proves useful for a variety of immune-compromised health situations. “MCP is also the only proven natural blocker of a molecule called Galectin-3. The inhibition of Galectin- 3 is an important strategy in controlling inflammation, fibrosis and abnormal cellular growth and metastasis throughout the body,” he said.
Additionally, Berries for Life’s Bush offered that during cold and flu season, elderberry is one of the most soughtafter products, with countless people who swear by its efficacy. Scientific studies have authenticated elderberry’s role in boosting the immune response and helping to fight off viruses like influenza and even certain bacterial strains, said Bush, explaining that cranberry has earned the reputation as being a natural way to ward off bacterial infections, specifically those of the urinary tract.
“Good quality supplements that focus on these berries and their actives should be part of any immune health regimen. Berries truly are ‘superfruits’ for overall wellness and immune support.
In addition to being nutrient-rich, their studied antioxidant benefits help to modulate imbalances with free radicals, and certain berries like elderberry and cranberry have been shown in scientific studies to have specific antiviral and antibacterial qualities.”
Further, medical practitioners now have a new protocol in Double Helix Water that helps the body play a more active role in maintaining a healthy immune system, said Dr. Lo. “By taking Double Helix Water daily, over time it can help break up blockages along Meridian lines to allow energy to flow more freely, which can help the immune system function better.” New insights into Meridians hypothesize that Qi flows throughout the body on a thin layer of water with nanometer-sized particles of stable water clusters within the current.When these stable water clusters are misaligned or blocked, the energy cannot flow and maladies occur, according to Dr. Lo.
“As Double Helix Water is comprised of stable water clusters, it may help build bridges over these blockages and realign the energy flow, letting the body restore its natural balance and facilitate cell-to-cell communication pathways,” Dr. Lo explained.
When it comes to immune system health, many think that supplements are only needed during the winter, or cold and flu season. Supporting a healthy immune system should not be viewed as a seasonal approach, advised Nordic Naturals’ Dr. Marshall. “Promoting a healthy immune system every day should be as second nature to individuals as brushing their teeth,” she said. “A regular routine that includes eating right and taking the right supplements when there may be a deficiency is a key step to better health and can help reduce inflammation, improve digestion and improve gut health.”
Dr.McCulloch added that she encourages her patients to do bi-annual detoxifications or cleanses, typically around the change of seasons. “This helps the body to deal with environmental toxicities, which negatively impact immune function, while giving the body a bit of a rest from the toxicities,” she said.
To that end, products such as SmartMune from MunaCare, a Minnesota-based innovator in immune system health nutraceuticals, is designed to be taken daily for year-round immune support, said Don Cox, PhD, senior vice president of health care R&D for Biothera, a company that produces Wellmune WGP, a natural immune health ingredient used in SmartMune. “This unique ingredient helps increase [the supplement’s] effectiveness without over stimulating the immune system, making SmartMune an ideal product for delivering year-round, not merely seasonal, immune health benefits,” said Dr. Cox.
Help for Patients
As is the case with many conditions, patients rely heavily on natural practitioners to give them advice on their path to better immunity.Within this lies the need for education—something that is improving among consumers. According to a 2010 study by the Natural Marketing Institute, 80 percent of adults have some understanding of the body’s immune system and its importance in keeping disease at bay. Further, 51 percent of shoppers said they look for products that “support immune health,” while immunity support was the third highest benefit sought in food and beverage products by primary grocery shoppers last year, the report stated.
Certainly, practitioners can better serve their patients by offering multiple treatment options so that they can meet a variety of preferences and help their patients achieve greater results. “The doctor-patient relationship needs to be based on a foundation of trust and good communication,” said Dr. Marshall. “Doctors need to educate their patients about the link between immune health and gut health. That education, in turn, can help the patient find the proper nutritional supplements that best benefits their condition.”
“Practitioners who stay abreast of the latest research with immune health products will be best able to help their patients,” added Dr. Cox. “It is critical that practitioners evaluate the clinical research supporting the product. Equally important is that immune health products contain an efficacious serving of the active ingredient that is equal to the amount given in clinical studies.”
Of course, practitioners can better serve their patients by truly understanding the complexity of the immune system and its intricate relationship with other systems, including the hormonal, neuroendocrine, circulatory and metabolic systems, added Dr. Eliaz. “Practitioners should identify the connection between the mind and body, and how it affects the immune system on all levels. It’s important to look at both the short-term role for the immune system and the long-term role, in order to identify and implement the most effective immune strengthening strategies.”
Healthy Take Aways
Excess sugar, poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, immune deficiency diseases, allergens and inactivity are all common causes that can lead to a weakened immune system.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that those who do not get more than seven hours of sleep a night are three times more likely to get the common cold as those who do.
Eighty percent of adults have some understanding of the body’s immune system and its importance in keeping disease at bay.
Supporting a healthy immune system should not be viewed as a seasonal approach.
The more natural practitioners understand about the complexity of the immune system, the better they can educate their patients.
Alternative approaches are becoming more popular for patients as they look to strengthen their first line of defense—the immune system.