Immune support is a year-round concern, but the winter remains the pinnacle for protecting and supporting the immune system.
Every year, it appears, warnings of the upcoming flu season seem to be more dire than the previous year. Pharmacies gear up their flu vaccine campaigns in the early autumn, and the public is reminded to do something for themselves to protect against the flu, which can knock a person out. And nobody has time for that.
Even colds are disruptive. While some people shrug their shoulders and say, “Eh, I needed a day or two in bed to block out the world for a bit” when a cold hits, most people don’t have or want that luxury.
People tend to be more susceptible to colds in the winter than any other time of year due to a variety of factors that coalesce to depress immune function: reduced vitamin A intake, reduced antioxidant intake (from eating fewer fruits and vegetables, post-harvest), higher carb intake, the SAD (standard American diet) and altered sleep patterns from less sunlight.
“Research also found that this seasonal change in our immune system is genetically expressed; we have less expression for immune-fighting genes in the winter, and we also have more pro-inflammatory genes during that time too, so the winter months are more crummy because we have less defense mechanisms to fight off infectious exposures,” commented Rosia Parrish, ND, Boulder Natural Health in Boulder, CO.
Another population particularly vulnerable this time of year is the elderly, due to immunosenesence, pointed out Hank Cheatham, vice president of marketing and sales, Daiwa Health Development Inc., California. Immunosenescence defines the progression of a declining immune system through aging, and therefore, makes the elderly more susceptible to contracting colds and flu, including pneumonia.
For example, he elaborated, the 2012-2013 flu vaccination was reported to have only 9 percent effectiveness against influenza A in seniors older than 65, versus 52 percent in adults under 65. “Numerous reasons account for this weakened immune response, including a decline in hematopoietic stem cell activity and ability to produce B cells; a shrinking thymus, which results in lower T cell production; and telomere shortening.”
Of course, your patients and clients probably follow a healthy diet and lifestyle and know to keep immune support in mind as part of daily self-care. But when those first symptoms burst into being, there are practices you can recommend.
Practitioners Serena Goldstein, ND of New York and Jaquel Patterson, ND and MBA of Connecticut, both said they will recommend the basics of care for colds, notably hydration and sleep. “Drink enough water to create clear-light yellow urine, and consume whole, easily digestible foods, such as broths and steamed vegetables to avoid too much energy on digestion where it could be diverted to healing. Recommend saltwater gargles too for scratchy throats,” said Dr. Goldstein.
Dr. Patterson noted that sleep is critical in helping to beat a cold because it enables more expedient healing. “We often get sick after a lot of stress and not getting enough rest for consecutive days,” she said. It’s why you see people get sick after a large work project, final exams, or when you go on vacation, your body reached the tipping point of its’ ability to fully fight against infections.”
But what about that fabled chicken soup? Well, turns out that there is some benefit to be had by consuming it when the chill-ills set in. In 2007, the New York Times published an article called “The Science of Chicken Soup,” essentially describing that it does indeed help when someone has a cold. The article reported that chicken soup inhibits neutrophils, a white blood cell that fights infection. However, researchers could not isolate the compound or compounds responsible due to the multiple ingredients in common chicken soup—carrots, chicken, broth, celery, onions, pepper and more.
“Chicken soup can work in the way that it contains many minerals and protein needed for healing,” opined Dr. Goldstein. “It’s warm so it’s soothing, and the general nature of potential happy thoughts/feeling cared for, all emotions that can also bolster the immune system.”
Dr. Parrish has tweaked the recipe. “At my clinic, we encourage people to follow our immune supportive recipe that also adds in five to 10 cloves of garlic, two or more cups of mushrooms (shiitake and reishi are best), two thumb-sized ginger chunks, two cups of cabbage, and 1 to 3 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes, along with dried astragalus root. I also like to encourage folks to use a bone broth base and make the soup entirely gluten free without noodles, since gluten sensitivity, even if it is mild, can be a challenge for an already compromised immune system.”
She added that she also likes to recommend people take probiotics to support their immunity. Hannah Braye, RN, senior technical advisor, ADM Protexin/Bio-Kult explained that there has been an increasing focus on probiotics to support immunity in recent years; health science now knows that more than 70 percent of immune cells are located in the gut and are known to interact with both the innate and acquired immune systems.
A 2014 systematic review found evidence from previous studies that the average duration of respiratory illness episodes, the number of days of illness per person and the number of days absent from day care/work/school are significantly reduced with probiotic treatment compared with placebo. “In fact, a recent economic analysis of the use of probiotics in respiratory tract infections estimated that generalized probiotic intake by the U.S. population in 2017-2018 would have saved the health care payer up to $373 million by avoiding over 54 million sick days, compared to no probiotic!” she emphasized.
The More the Better?
Another widely known concept is “mega dosing” with certain supplements. As you know, there are two schools of thought with extreme doses of vitamin C (one is that it works to bolster immunity and overall health; the other is that too much gets wasted).
“Sometimes,” related Dr. Goldstein, “I recommend 2-3 grams vitamin C per day (still somewhat conservative), as I am also counseling people about the other measures they can take to both boost their immune systems and listen to their bodies. High doses for long periods of time with anything aren’t usually favorable, yet fortunately there’s so much we can advise our patients to do without potential risks.”
Zinc, she added, is a great supplement to be taken in higher doses to support the immune system in winter, but it is best for short periods of time such as feeling an onset and shortly after, as it could upset the copper:zinc ratio.
In high doses for the winter, Dr. Patterson and Dr. Parrish both generally suggest vitamin D3. Dr. Patterson said she sees two benefits D3 production is lowered in winter from less UV exposure, and supplemental D3 increases adaptive immune response. According to Dr. Parrish, taking vitamin D3 with vitamin K is very important, because vitamin K2 is known to facilitate absorption.
Both naturopaths also like to suggest elderberry syrup. Dr. Patterson does so particularly in the months of October through February as it is helpful for cold and flu prevention and is very high in antioxidants.
Dr. Parrish likes to recommend elderberry in the glycerite form. “The fruit of Sambucus nigra (elderberry) has the antiviral constituents (proanthyocyanidins) in it while the elderflower is diaphoretic, so they can be used separately or together depending on if you are trying to nurse a fever to help fight an infection,” she explained.
Products to Recommend
Texas-based LifeSeasons’ Immuni-T Immune Support “combines the powers of all-natural potent ingredients” such as echinacea, andrographis, arabinogalactans, olive leaf and shilajit (containing high amounts of fulvic acid) to help support communication and over-all health of the immune system, said Robin Rogosin, vice president of product development.
“Immuni-T should start helping the body fight the symptoms within 24 to 48 hours,” she explained. “It works best when taken preventatively. Individuals should start taking the supplement one to two days before exposure to situations that might exacerbate vulnerability to onset of a cold, such as when traveling, or at the first signs of the body getting run down.”
Daiwa Health Development’s BRM4 is a proprietary immune enhancing complex that Cheatham said is shown in clinical studies to enhance the immune system by increasing the activity of the white blood cells. BRM4 can enhance natural killer (NK) cell function, increase the count of T and B lymphocytes, strengthen and increase the macrophages and cytokines. Its active ingredient, rice bran arabinoxylan compound (RBAC), is derived from rice bran, modified by shiitake enzyme; an immune modulator.
In one published clinical trial, Cheatham reported, the enzymatically treated rice bran was shown to increase NK cell activity in a dose-dependent manner. In the study, 24 participants took the supplement at three different concentrations: 15, 30, 45 mg/kg/day. The activity of NK cells was measured after taking the extract for one week, one month and two months. The results of the study showed that all doses increased the activity of NK cells, but the larger the dose, the quicker the NK activity increased. After two months of supplementation, NK activity peaked to the same level regardless of the dosage. One month after discontinuing the supplement, NK activity levels declined to baseline levels. “This study proved valuable in making dosage recommendations,” he shared. “Immune compromised persons should take a high initial dose of the supplement to boost NK activity quickly. After a few weeks, a high level of NK activity could be maintained long term on a lower maintenance dose level.”
A more recent study at the University of Miami (Florida) included 20 healthy individuals and determined that immune activity starts to increase within as little as two days and becomes significant after one week of taking RBAC. “This study also demonstrated the bi-directional immune marker effects that are expected with a proper immune modulator,” he commented.
According to the company, health care practitioners should have their patients taking 500 mg or 1 g BRM4 daily during the winter months to enhance the immune response to protect against cold and flu viruses. If there are symptoms or outbreak of cold and flu, the BRM4 dosage should be increased to 3 grams each day. The virus will still have to run its course, but the recovery time should be faster by taking a 3-gram daily dose of BRM4.
Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation is for digestive and immune support in older children and adults, and according to Braye, all the 14 strains it contains have been shown to have inhibitory effects against common intestinal pathogens, and the combination of the strains together has been shown to have greater effect than the same strains administered singularly. The Bacillus Subtilis PXN 21 strain has been shown to be particularly effective at stimulating the innate immune system.
“The latest addition to the Bio-Kult range is Bio-Kult Migréa, a 14-strain probiotic blend plus magnesium and vitamin B6, which contributes to the normal function of the immune system, and has been linked to protection against inflammation,” she commented.
PRO Colostrum-LD from Arizona-based Sovereign Laboratories is a powdered immune support supplement made from first-milking bovine colostrum, according to Mei Wei Wong, marketing director. She explained, “it provides critical bioactive and biocompatible components to support the human immune system. Colostrum’s immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme and polypeptides are uniquely created by Mother Nature to improve the functioning of the immune system. Colostrum is also an abundant source of a full complement of growth factors (hormones), which induces cellular repair and regeneration.”
Sovereign Laboratories utilizes proprietary LD Liposomal delivery to ensure that these bioactives survive the transit through the digestive tract and are well-absorbed into the bloodstream.
The company’s PRO Colostrum-IC is an oral spray containing concentrated bovine colostrum polypeptides, which Wong noted are signaling molecules that support healthy cytokine function. Its PRO Vital C-LD blends ascorbic acid with citrus bioflavonoids and lipid metabolites from natural vegetable sources.
Washington-based American Nutriceuticals offers Vitality C, described by company Vice President Sarah Keck as a unique fast-absorbing bio-active high dose of vitamin C. “Vitamin C might seem like an old- fashioned solution, but Dr. Linus Pauling’s work, and with Vitality C’s over 20 years of proven results, it is the go-to answer in so many practitioner’s offices,” she stated. Vitality C gives patients 4 g (4,000 mg) of vitamin C in a single serving. It is, she added, “highly bio-assimilatable through four unique cellular uptake pathways—all without stomach upset. And since dosage is easy, compliance is high. The powder has almost no taste and just one scoop added to water or juice affords you exceptional immune support, detoxification and acts as a powerful antioxidant. If your patient has a more therapeutic need, one scoop up to three times might be just what the doctor ordered.”
American Nutriceuticals’ Ecomer is an alkylglycerol formula shown to stimulate the immune system, protect against bacteria and regulate the production of white blood cells, red blood cells, antibodies and platelets, according to Keck.
California-based EcoNugenics’ Mycoceutics Immune Max combines the mycelium of six medicinal mushrooms that are organically grown in the U.S. CJ Hartmann, vice president of sales and marketing for Clinical Synergy Professional Formulas of EcoNugenics explained that these mushrooms “are grown on a bed of immune-enhancing botanicals which has been proven to improve the immune supporting aspects of the mushrooms. Research shows that these six mushrooms can modulate immune cell responses such as NK cell activity and cytokine production, which promotes optimal immune system activity and maintains healthy cellular function.”
The beta-glucans found in the six mushrooms in the formula, Hartmann added, are among the most active compounds reported to stimulate the immune system via actions on NK cells and other immune system cells. Other naturally occurring compounds in medicinal mushrooms—polysaccharide-protein complexes, proteins, terpenes and furans—have also been reported to exert immune-modulating activity in preclinical studies.
There are many ingredients formulated in products for immune support. For example, EpiCor, from Iowa-based Embria Health Sciences is described by Justin Green, director of scientific affairs to be a whole food fermentate, made through a proprietary fermentation process. It starts with natural baker’s yeast which is deprived of oxygen and under these high-stress conditions, the yeast produces a host of immune-supporting metabolites and nutrients. “The resulting EpiCor product includes those unique compounds, along with the beneficial yeast cell components—resulting in a whole food yeast fermentate that supports a properly functioning, strong and balanced immune system,” he said.
Green added that eight published studies show EpiCor’s capability to help support a strong immune system. In two randomized double-blinded, placebo controlled human clinical trials, EpiCor supported immune strength during the winter. To show balance, the same product was shown in a subsequent randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trial to provide immune support during the spring.
But spring is a long journey through winter, which now lies full ahead of us. Help your clients and patients sail through winter with nary a sick day by showing them how to be proactive and what to do when that first non-tickle-induced sneeze occurs.
Winter “Magic” Socks
By Rosia Parrish, ND, Boulder Natural Health
People often ask me what they can do to nip a cold in the bud before it becomes full blown. In addition to drinking lots of water, plenty of rest and a good attitude, you can use a naturopathic hydrotherapy treatment called “warming socks.”
• 1 pair of clean cotton socks
• 1 pair of clean dry thick wool socks,
• 1) Thoroughly wet a pair of cotton workout socks with cold water.
• 2) Wring out well so no water is dripping from the socks (for the heroic, put wet socks in the freezer for a minute or two)
• 3) Put on the clammy, cold, cotton socks.
• 4) Put the thick wool socks over the top of the wet cotton socks so that the wet cotton socks are completely covered.
• 5) Go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.
• 6) In the morning, the cotton socks should be dry.
• 7) Use for a night or two when you start feeling the onset of a cold or flu.
These wet (AKA “warming magic socks”) work in response to the cold clammy socks because the body increases blood circulation to “warm” the socks, bringing them to the same temperature as your body. This mimics a fever that stimulates blood and lymph flow. Increased blood and lymph flow assist in killing bacteria and viruses trying to catch hold and cause illness. Anyone and everyone can do wet warming socks. It is safe and effective for all ages and grades of illness.
Healthy Take Aways:
• Immunosenescence defines the progression of a declining immune system through aging, and therefore, makes the elderly more susceptible to contracting colds and flu, including pneumonia.
• Chicken soup inhibits neutrophils, a white blood cell that fights infection.
• Health science now knows that more than 70 percent of immune cells are located in the gut and are known to interact with both the innate and acquired immune systems.
• Taking vitamin D3 with vitamin K is very important, because vitamin K2 is known to facilitate absorption.
For More Information:
ADM Protexin, www.bio-kult.com
American Nutriceuticals, www.888vitality.com
Daiwa Health Development, Inc., www.dhdmed.com
Embria Health Sciences, www.embriahealth.com
Sovereign Laboratories, www.colostrumtherapy.com