People have a new mindset—immune support as a health priority. Here’s how to help them navigate the complexity of good health.
New COVID-19 variant BA.5 plus Monkeypox equals increased traffic to your practice for immune safety—especially with the annual cold season about to begin.
Integrative medicine physician Jeff Gladd, MD, chief medical officer at Fullscript (Arizona), related that the continued morphing of the pandemic “has definitely increased the number of patients expressing an interest in their immune health and looking for strategies or supplements they can use to strengthen their immune system.”
When anything takes over public consciousness, myths are seeded and spread into the wind. Beyond your in-depth questioning of the client/patient, when it comes to the fear of “getting COVID” the person may likely be questioning you, peppering you with things they have heard or read on the internet.
Myth Busting Immunity
Edward Griffen, ND, senior education manager, Natural Immunogenics/Argentyn 23 (Sarasota, FL), said that many people believe that all fruits and vegetables support immune health. While this is true, greater emphasis should be placed on consuming vegetables over fruits. “Although fruits contain natural sugars, the organisms that cause illness still prefer easy sugar sources and studies have shown that 75 grams of sugar can lower immune response for up to five hours.”
Although not a practitioner, dietary supplement industry veteran Hank Cheatham, vice president, Daiwa Health Development, Gardena, CA, has heard several myths frequently expressed about immunity, such as, “If I catch a virus or get vaccinated, I’ll be immunized from other forms of that virus,” “Having the flu or a cold will protect me against coronavirus,” and “If I develop COVID-19 and recover, I’m immune forever.”
It is quite common for Daina Parent, ND, naturopathic liaison for Standard Process (Palmyra, WI) to hear patients/clients talk about their immune system as a static structure but she teaches them that the immune system is dynamic and ever changing.
In the viewpoint of Kim Plaza, technical advisor for ADM Protexin (Miami, FL), in the sizable immune supplement category, there are many misconceptions about probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics. For example, a common myth that consumers may have concerning probiotics is that a product should contain high numbers of colony forming units (CFUs) to be effective. There is no evidence to suggest that probiotics need to contain a certain strength to be effective overall.
Another misconception Plaza pointed to is that a probiotic needs to include a prebiotic to work. As prebiotics are naturally contained within a healthy balanced diet, they do not necessarily need to be included within a probiotic product. There are many common foods that naturally contain prebiotic fiber, therefore, supplementing with prebiotics may not be necessary.
Additionally, terminology can be confusing. “‘Boosting’ the immune system is not often a good thing,” Plaza asserted. “When clients talk about ‘boosting’ the immune system, they may not realize that this doesn’t consist of a singular pill or food, but rather lifestyle and dietary changes over time to ‘support’ rather than boost or upregulate the immune system. Having an immune system that is too reactive or sensitive may lead to problems such as over-reactivity.”
Similarly, the concept of immune stimulation may be widely misunderstood, according to Christophe Merville, D Pharm, director of education and pharmacy development, Boiron USA (Newtown Square, PA). He explained that in developed countries, the problem is immune overstimulation, such as allergies or autoimmune conditions. These are often linked to excessive hygiene and the goal of removing all germs, even useful or harmless ones.
You may have clients/patients who proudly detail the high number of supplements they take, believing this shields them from encountering bad microbes. Jonathan Group, RD, DC, wholesale account manager, Global Healing (Houston, TX) thinks the biggest myth is that taking a few supplements will provide immune health and thus there is no need to change or improve an extremely poor diet and lifestyle habits. He related, “We all get excited about new research or established research on products that can provide immediate benefit but sometimes overlook the fact that a patient is still eating poorly, lacks significant exercise, drinks alcohol, and is under way too much stress. All of these will not be overcome by a few supplements.”
Dr. Gladd agreed, noting that while supplements play an important role in his practice for the promotion and maintenance of his patients’ health and well-being, it’s necessary for patients to understand that they can’t “out supplement” poor dietary and lifestyle habits. Supporting immune function takes more effort than simply supplementing with a few key ingredients–it also involves getting adequate sleep, managing stress levels, consuming a nutrient-dense diet, staying active and limiting exposure to environmental pollutants.
“Too many people erroneously believe that foods and supplements are the only ways to boost immunity,” emphasized Shawn Manske, ND, assistant director of clinical education, Biocidin Botanicals (Aptos, CA). However, people also believe that using a hand sanitizer is better than and can substitute for thorough handwashing, he added. “While hand sanitizer is good at eliminating some microorganisms, it generally doesn’t remove all of them. Hand washing is always considered the optimal way to eliminate germs from your hands and reduce immune burden,” he commented.
Pamela Wirth, founder and CEO, of HelloHealth (Arizona), believes many people do not think about immune health until there is a problem or a symptom. She stated that clients/patients need to understand that achieving sustained immune resistance requires daily optimum nutrition including supplementation.
They should be warned that once the immune system is compromised, it can take weeks and in extreme circumstances, years, to regain equilibrium. “This can be increasingly important for children and aging adults as symptoms from a poor immune system mimic some motor, vocal and mood symptoms,” she said.
Colloidal silver is a supplement that not many consumers quite understand, although brands are working hard to clarify its role in health. Still, said Andreas Koch, marketing Natural Path Silver Wings (Nashville, TN), there are some misconceptions your clients/patients may have. For example, he pointed out, one myth is that colloidal silver in 10 ppm is stronger than 250 ppm or 500 ppm. “Some makers of 10 ppm strength will say that any higher PPM is unsafe or not as effective, which is misleading. Products with 10 ppm are limited in strength because ionic silver cannot be made at a higher strength due to the silver particles become too large, unstable and unsafe. Clients would need to take 10 ppm colloidal silver supplements up to seven times per day, which is inconvenient and costly.”
Another myth, according to Koch, is that colloidal silver should be clear in color like water, otherwise the silver particles are too large. But the clear liquid is water. The fact is, he asserted, natural colloidal silver products between 50-500 ppm have an amber color, which means higher amounts (strength) of silver ppm. The higher the parts per million, the darker the amber color which helps provide stronger immune support.
An older myth that still resonates and people still believe is the admonition, “Don’t forget your jacket/coat or you’re gonna catch a cold!” related Tony Shields, CEO and founder, FreshCap (Canada). Many clients/patients may ask about this or state they were outdoors with no coat. “Chilly weather itself does not negatively affect immune health,” he commented. “The bottom line is that people should know that there is no one solution to building a strong immune system.”
Individual lifestyles, even if considered “healthy,” vary and should be reviewed with the client/patient to see where improvements can be made. Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education, Wisconsin-based EuroMedica, Inc., observed, “One of the myths is that lifestyle measures don’t have any impact on immune health. It’s not that a person won’t catch a virus or bacterial infection if they eat healthy meals, but I’m willing to bet their symptoms won’t typically be as severe, and their bout of illness won’t last as long.”
Supplements to Consider Recommending
Patient One ViraCare from New York-based Patient One/MediNutritionals supplies a botanical blend to stimulate immune system response. Combined with a foundation of standardized andrographis are standardized extracts of echinacea, eluthero and holy basil that supply additional immune-supportive polysaccharides, flavonoids and alkaloids. The immune boosting agents in ViraCare are recommended for short-term natural support when the body is challenged by stress and respiratory issues. It is non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and gluten free.
Standard Process has three targeted immune-support products, said Dr. Parent. Immuplex contains Protomorphogen and Cytosol extracts blended essential micronutrients and minerals to support the immune system, by helping maintain normal white blood cell activity and acting as an antioxidant.
It is an excellent source of iron, zinc, copper, chromium, folate and vitamins A, B6 and B12, and antioxidant vitamins C and E, and good source of selenium, according to the company. Standard Process’ Epimune Complex, featuring EpiCor, maitake and turkey tail mushrooms, is a vegan immune system support supplement that Dr. Parent noted supports healthy respiratory function and healthy white blood cells. It is an excellent source of vitamin C and zinc, both of which provide antioxidant and immune support, the company stated.
Echinacea Premium, also from Standard Process, combines the roots of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea to enhance healthy immune system function. According to Dr. Parent, echinacea may support normal interferon production for healthy immune system response and helps to relieve temporary mild throat discomfort associated with hoarseness, dry throat and irritants.
Global Healing’s plant-based quercetin, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D contain all the necessary enzymes, and cofactors needed for the body to fully absorb and utilize the active ingredients, according to Dr. Group. For example, he explained, its liquid plant-based zinc is derived from guava leaves which are extracted in large glass vessels of triple-distilled, bio-photonically charged water and glycerin from organic mustard seed, which produces a concentrated source of zinc that exists in three natural forms, ionic, mineral chelated and protein matrix chelated. “It is much cheaper to produce synthetically derived forms of zinc but they don’t have the same effect as whole food nutrition and can even disrupt the delicate balance of nutrients and hormones in the body,” he commented.
Hello Health’s ImmunoStrong is formulated to support the gut-brain-axis and the immune system, according to Wirth. She explained, “While it is important to take the right prebiotics (preventing overgrowth of bad bacteria) and the right probiotic combination that is additive to the gut and good for the gut-brain axis; it is also important to add herbs that are natural predators to viral, bacterial and fungal infections. Therefore, ImmunoStrong acts to keep the gut in check while supporting the immune system.”
“Functional mushrooms have a long history of use as immunomodulating agents,” asserted Shields. This is due to compounds in the mushrooms, specifically fungal beta-d glucans.
Immune cells, he explained, “are hard wired” to respond to these fungal beta-glucans.
The binding of fungal polysaccharides to the key immune cells leads to an increase in cyto-toxic activity. Further, fungal polysaccharides initiate a widespread activation of the immune system. As “biological response modifiers,” mushrooms have shown the ability to both calm an overactive immune system and kick an under-active immune system into gear.
Natural Path Silver Wings’ Colloidal Silver Liquid immune support supplements contain a mixture of pharmaceutical-grade ultra-fine elemental silver mineral particles suspended in pharmaceutical-grade ultra-pure water. It’s safe for adults, children and even pets,” said Koch.
Another colloidal silver is Argentyn 23 Professional Bio-Active Silver Hydrosol is the ultimate refinement of colloidal silver. According to Dr. Griffen, the silver is positively charged, and the size of the particles are as small as 0.8 nanometers. If silver is not positively charged, it is not bio-active. Particle size greatly impacts the efficacy of silver products because smaller silver particles supply more surface area and, therefore, have greater potential for releasing beneficial bio-active silver ions into the system.”
He added, “With the smallest particles and the highest ratio of positively charged silver ions and nanoclusters, Argentyn 23 Professional Bio-Active Silver Hydrosol is easily absorbed into, and excreted from the body. Taken three times a day for 70 years, the dosage still falls below the EPA daily Oral Silver Reference Dose.”
Boiron’s homeopathic medicine, Oscillococcinum, is supported by clinical studies showing that it reduces the duration and severity of flu-like symptoms such as body aches, headache, fever, chills and fatigue, according to Merville. “It helps the body to overcome flu-like symptoms, even if they are caused by viruses other than influenza,” he commented. “Oscillococcinum also has a very low risk of side effects, no drug interactions and no contraindications, even with people who have conditions such as allergies, autoimmune diseases, or who cannot be vaccinated.”
BRM4 is a proprietary immune-enhancing complex from Daiwa Health Development, shown in clinical studies to enhance the immune system by increasing the activity of the white blood cells, according to Cheatham. BRM4 has been shown to enhance natural killer (NK) cell function, and increase the count of T and B lymphocytes, as well as to strengthen and increase macrophages and cytokines.
The active ingredient in BRM4, Rice Bran Arabinoxylan Compound (RBAC), is derived from rice bran, and modified by shiitake mushroom enzyme. RBAC has been tested in more than 70 studies and clinical trials, result of which show it can modulate immune response without overstimulation, increase the number of T cells and B cells by as much as 200 percent if needed, activate the immune cells involved in surveillance—NK cells, LAK cells and macrophages, increase NK cells by more than 300 percent if needed, stimulate cytokine production, inhibit immunosuppressive cytokines like TGF – β, and improve Th1/Th2 helper cell balance (cellular vs humoral immunity).
No discussion of immune support supplementation is complete without discussion of probiotics. Gnosis by Lesaffre (France) offers probiotic LifeinU BSCU1 which supports immunity by increasing significantly and durable sIgA levels, according to Stacey Smith, DC, marketing and communications manager NORAM with Gnosis by Lesaffre. She explained that one of the most critical antibodies of the immune system is the secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA). This antibody is located at the most vulnerable interface with the environment: the mucosa. The mucosal surfaces, such as the linings of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, represent an enormous area of potential exposure to pathogens. The sIgA as an antibody can catch toxins and infectious agents and inhibit the interaction with the respiratory and intestinal epithelium.
Gnosis by LeSaffre’s Lynside PRO SCB (Saccharomyces boulardii), “is the unique probiotic yeast that restores gut microbiota balance. We also recently launched the first yeast-based prebiotic in the market, Lynside Immunity Prebiotic,” said Dr. Smith. “It plays on the microbiome diversity and promotes the production of immune-supportive short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).”
Among the numerous probiotic blends offered by ADM Protexin, its Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation is for digestive and immune support in older children and adults. Plaza noted that all its 14 strains 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.
Bio-Kult Boosted contains the same 14 strains of probiotics but at four times the strength, plus vitamin B12, which contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system. Bio-Kult Boosted may be the choice for clients/patients who are taking antibiotics. Research has shown a reduction in the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) when a probiotic is taken during and after antibiotic use, Plaza pointed out.
She explained, “Evidence suggests the most protective doses of probiotics with antibiotic therapy are those above 5 billion CFUs a day. Research also suggests that it could take some time to rebalance the gut microflora and to restore normal gastrointestinal function.”
EuroMedica provides an array of supplements that enhance immune defense and can reduce symptom severity and duration, including Andrographis Immune, BosPro, Elderberry Immune Complex and Quercetin plus Vitamin C, according to Myers.
In his practice, Dr. Gladd likes to recommend vitamin D because “they help modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Vitamin D is often a bit more involved as I feel strongly [that] blood levels during different seasons are needed to dose properly. Other supplements that I commonly use in my practice for general immune support as they have been shown to help prevent or improve symptoms of cold and flu include colostrum, elderberry, garlic, probiotics, medicinal mushrooms and astragalus.”
And above all else, especially for healthy clients/patients who are a little too worried and stress, Dr. Griffen recommended “a positive attitude can help support a healthy immune system.” A study of law students found that those who had a more positive outlook had a lesser likelihood of getting sick and even the more they worried, the more their immune system slowed.
This winter season will likely see a swell in visits, so discussing immune-support strategies now will likely help your clients/patients feel more empowered to enjoy the season.
Healthy Take Aways
• The organisms that cause illness still prefer easy sugar sources and studies have shown that 75 grams of sugar can lower immune response for up to five hours.
• Once the immune system is compromised, it can take weeks and in extreme circumstances, years, to regain equilibrium.
• One of the most critical antibodies of the immune system is the secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA).
For More Information:
ADM Protexin, www.bio-kult.com
Biocidin Botanicals, www.biocidin.com
Boiron USA, www.boironusa.com/HCP
Daiwa Health Development, www.dhdmed.com
EuroMedica, Inc., www.euromedicausa.com
Global Healing, www.globalhealing.com
Gnosis by Lesaffre, www.gnosisbylesaffre.com
Hello Health, www.hello.health.com
Natural Immunogenics/Argentyn 23, www.argentyn23.com
Natural Path Silver Wings, www.npswwilver.com
Patient One MediNutritionals, www.patientoneformulas.com
Standard Process, www.standardprocess.com