In the ongoing battle to keep the immune system strong, practitioners offer ways to greatly improve the body’s defenses.
Warding off the plethora of germs, bacteria and viruses that one encounters on a daily basis is a constant battle. The immune system helps make this happen, so as many practitioners would agree on, properly being able to support this part of the body is essential.
Although there may be a multitude of ways to maintain a healthy immune system, according to Heather Moday, MD in her mbghealth article “All-Natural Ways To Boost Your Immune System,” she provides her take on doing so, including:
• Taking a probiotic with a broad array of species: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium can impact immune health; Dr. Moday recommends that the probiotic contains at least to 30-50 billion colonies and at least 8 strains of bacteria.
• Taking zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C powder: 15-30 mg, 2,000 IU and 1,500 mg respectively is recommended daily.
• Trying colostrum: Dr. Moday refers to it as the “first milk” from nursing mammals. It is a source of antibodies, and contains the anti-inflammatory lactoferrin. It can even help strengthen the immune system and fight inflammation.
Of course, these only represent a few methods that can be followed. There are plenty of other natural remedies and lifestyle approaches that practitioners can pass along to their patients, which further help to keep their immune systems in tip-top shape.
Immune health problems can encompass various causes given its broadness. However, one focal point could be “over cleanliness.”
“Immune conditions are vast; therefore many different health issues could impact these conditions,” noted Claire Barnes, technical advisor, ADM Protexin (based in the U.K. and Florida), manufacturer of the Bio-Kult brand of probiotics. “Ultimately when the immune system is out of balance, systemic issues such as allergies and auto-immune conditions could arise. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that many immune conditions have arisen from humans becoming too clean and our immune systems are no longer interacting with so many microbes from infancy.”
Barnes also referred to the impact that stress can have on people’s immune systems, mentioning that “Many of us are living in stressful environments with many external pressures that can lead individuals to experience anxiety, stress and depression, all of which can impact negatively on our immune systems and our gut microbiome.”
One could also make the argument that the immune system itself is an intricate component, so much so that pinpointing the cause of some its issues could be difficult. As Peter Huang, LAc, research and development manager with California-based Bio Essence Herbal Essentials described, the immune system can be altered by a source that one would least expect.
“[The] immune system is complex,” he expressed. “We often try to fix or support a complex system with an over simplified solution—the result is often minimal at best.
“Immune support can be a difficult problem since a truly immune-boosting herb, for example, may, at least in theory, exacerbate an autoimmune disease,” Huang continued. “The immune system is a complex one with many different cells having many different requirements. The cells of the immune system are in a constant state of balance and communication and boosting one set of cells—T suppressor cells, for example, may actually suppress some aspects of an immune response rather than boost the response towards a single pathogen. Boosting the ability of B cells for example, to produce antibodies, may, in theory, result in the deposition of immune complexes that may be difficult to clear, especially as we age or if one has silent or subclinical kidney disorders.”
In fact, the frequency of immune illnesses in this area has increased, especially as of late.
“The prevalence of immune system disorders among Americans has risen significantly over the past 10 years. In particular, there has been a rising incidence of atopic, autoimmune diseases and allergies,” said Hank Cheatham, vice president of marketing and sales, Daiwa Health Development, Inc. in California.
“In 1998, about one in five children in industrialized countries suffered from allergic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis. This proportion has tended to increase over the last 10 years, asthma becoming an ‘epidemic’ phenomenon. The increasing prevalence of asthma is important in developed countries (more than 15 percent in United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia) but also in developing countries, as illustrated by a prevalence greater than 10 percent in Peru, Costa Rica and Brazil. The incidence of atopic dermatitis has doubled or tripled in industrialized countries during the past three decades, affecting 15 to 30 percent of children and 2 to 10 percent of adults. In parallel, there is also an increase in the prevalence of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes (T1D), which now occurs earlier in life than in the past, becoming a serious public health problem in some European countries, especially Finland, where an increasing number of cases in children of 0 to 4 years of age has been reported. The incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and primary biliary cirrhosis is also rising. Part of the increased incidence of these diseases may be attributed to increased awareness because of better diagnosis or improved access to medical facilities in economically developed countries. However, this trend cannot explain the marked elevation in immunological disorder prevalence that has occurred over such a short period of time in those countries, particularly for diseases which can be diagnosed easily, such as T1D or MS (multiple sclerosis).”
Currently, one could say that immune systems are working overtime, as cold and flu season is underway. Caution needs to be taken, as results may prove dire.
“During this fall season, we see a heavy increase in cold and flu incidence,” noted Shailinder Sodhi, ND, president of Washington-based Ayush Herbs Inc. and a member of Natural Practitioner’s Editorial Advisory Board. “It’s not just the infectious stages that we worry about, but also the aftermath happening in the body as it heals from the virus’ assault. The body is left depleted and many people return to work or school too soon. Because of these behaviors, the immune system does not fully recover, making the person susceptible to inflammation around the organs as well as other microbial attacks.”
Further, patients’ diets can also have an impact on various health issues, creating a chain reaction effect.
“The general diet of people can cause health issues such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and digestive issues,” Dr. Sodhi added. “Chronic disease has been shown to increase general inflammation in the body, reducing the efficacy of many body systems. Because different organs are stressed, the immune system overworks and also becomes stressed. We then see fluctuations in hormone balance as the immune system is signally for more help. This loop does not seem to end unless diet and lifestyle is addressed.”
Remedies & Natural Solutions
When it comes to remedies that can help benefit the immune system, the proper option is personal.
“In integrative medicine,” explained Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, who also sits on Natural Practitioner’s Editorial Advisory Board, “the goal is to address the root causes of illness. Immune support for one patient may mean using direct antimicrobial agents, or it may mean using compounds that support a more robust immune response, or both. Medicinal mushrooms, modified citrus pectin and probiotics are excellent examples of immune modulators with multiple health-supportive mechanisms. On the other hand, specific botanicals can be used to target pathogens. For example, artemisinin from sweet wormwood blended with the whole herb and herb concentrate can be used to target the bacterium that causes Lyme disease as well as other co-infections; the compound honokiol derived from the bark of magnolia trees is effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and numerous other pathogens. The specific antimicrobial indications of targeted botanicals and extracts are extensive and continue to evolve with new research.”
According to Huang, whose company offers ImmunityCE, a probiotic that helps strengthen the immune system, some of the more popular ingredients associated with immune support include, vitamins A, C and E, echinacea and zinc. However, he also referenced other ingredients, such as selenium and ashwagandha:
• Selenium: “Epidemiological studies show a high positive correlation between levels of selenium, an antioxidant trace mineral nutrient, and overall good health. ‘Selenium modulates the immune system by increasing killer cell activity and is believed to have a stimulatory effect on antibody production,’ according to Sabinsa’s Dr. Majeed.”
• Ashwagandha: “Also known as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng, this plant is native to India and parts of Africa. For more than 4,000 years, it has been used as an immune-system stimulant and remedy for nervous disorders.”
Several important factors to keep in mind with products are flavor and delivery method. A successful combination can allow not only for its popularity to increase, but a simpler ease of use for patients.
“One of the simplest immune support supplements this season is elderberry syrup,” Dr. Sodhi described. “It is an anti-agglutination agent preventing the ability for viruses to bind to cells. This is an easy thing to make or purchase. It tastes great and can be easily incorporated into drinking liquids. Next comes something called chyawanprash, an ayurvedic jelly made with amla fruit. Amla provides bioavailable vitamin C and flavonoids known to support the immune system. This jelly can be eaten by the spoonful, be added to smoothies, or spread on toast. Both these examples can be as effective as conventional treatments, especially when taken as soon as symptoms of immune depletion occur.”
As for probiotics, conducted studies have demonstrated effectiveness in the field of immunity—they are even useful as a preventative measure.
“Studies have shown great improvements in immunity when using probiotics,” noted Barnes. “In-vitro studies have shown the capability of probiotic strains to enhance immune cell activity and increase anti-inflammatory markers.1 Clinical trials have further shown benefits of probiotics in preventing common infectious diseases in children, likely through stimulation of innate and acquired immunity.2
“Many of the clinical trials studying probiotics in immune conditions, such as infections appear to focus on prevention of these conditions; therefore it is likely that probiotics will be more beneficial when taken daily in advance, such as before the winter season begins,” she continued. “If a client requires antibiotics, it is advisable for them to take probiotics at the same time and continue to take them for at least two weeks after finishing the course. By taking the probiotics at the same time, albeit at least two hours apart, the beneficial bacteria could competitively inhibited any harmful bacteria and yeasts that the antibiotics have not affected. This should help reduce the opportunity for harmful bacteria and yeasts to overgrow. Probiotics have shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of developing antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD).”3
Living in society inevitably means dealing with a variety of stress, which can negatively impact the immune system. Combine that with other factors such as germs, and it could be a recipe for disaster.
“We live in an increasingly polluted world where it’s harder to avoid toxins, hard-to-kill microbes and the next pandemic lurking in the distance,” Huang explained. “We’re suffering from more stress—work stress, family stress, economic stress. There is less time to relax, less time to sleep. We eat more processed food and faster food. All of these things compromise the immune system and increase the risks for the onset of illness and disease. Scientific advances have provided great insights and understanding about how the immune system functions. The term immunity today describes not only resistance to infection and disease, but also preventive mechanisms that help to maintain and support the immune system.
“According to the Natural Marketing Institute’s Health and Wellness Trends Report, consumers continue to believe that maintaining good immune health is the number one way to prevent illness—an encouraging trend. Many consumers became more proactive in maintaining immune health through proper diet and supplementation with nutraceuticals.”
Not only are patients becoming more cognizant of immune-related issues, the advantages to natural solutions are coming to light.
“More and more people are wanting to avoid immune issues, but want to do so more naturally,” observed Dr. Sodhi. “In the last few years, many people have started to ask how to increase resistance to colds and flu. A large percentage of these inquiries come from concern for children in school and childcare and how to prevent illness. People are not as comfortable giving their children over-the-counter and prescription medication for these reasons. Furthermore, people are turning to natural remedies because they prevent extra trips to see doctors and they can tailor what they want supported with many different choices.”
A functioning gut is dependent on the immune system being in good standing—natural products can also help in this regard.
“Generally, natural medication to support immune health focuses on improving the overall health of the body, in contrast to trying to eradicate a particular infection. Natural medication often concentrates on improving the functioning of the gut, which is central for improving the immune system,” Barnes explained. “In fact, approximately 70 percent of our immune system resides in the gut, and is our first line of defense against pathogens, germs, viruses and toxins entering into the body.4 By improving our gut health, we can help to greatly improve our body’s defenses.
“Due to the decline in antibiotic use,” she continued, “more focus has been placed on probiotics to replenish the beneficial bacteria in the gut and in turn competitively inhibit the potentially pathogenic bacteria. Research is studying the use of probiotics in inhibiting specific pathogens and for many immune system conditions, such as respiratory tract infections and allergies.”
Cheatham referenced several clinical trials that Daiwa has kept a close eye on surrounding Rice Bran Arabinoxylan Compound (RBAC), the active ingredient in the company’s BRM4 product. One of which was conducted over three years in Vietnam, and involved 68 liver cancer patients.
“ … Half of the patients were treated with the standard chemotherapy protocol and the other half received chemotherapy plus RBAC at a low dose of only 1 gram per day,” Cheatham described. “Even at this reduced dosage, over three years, the quality of life markers were significantly better in the RBAC group and most significantly, the survival rate was much higher among the RBAC patients than those who were treated with chemotherapy alone. There were no survivors among those who did not receive RBAC.”
As for ADM Protexin, the company is specifically interested in how its branded Bio-Kult probiotics react in a variety of different environments. “As well as strain specific in-vitro studies showing the inhibition effects of the 14 strains within Bio-Kult against several pathogenic bacteria, such as E.coli and Clostridium difficile,”5 explained Barnes, “Bio-Kult is also committed to undertaking more clinical trials showing the effectiveness of Bio-Kult in various conditions. Seven of the probiotic strains within Bio-Kult have shown to be effective in a number of clinical trials including eczema,6 inflammation in the gut,7 and antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD).”8
When it comes to its perspective on research, Ayush Herbs, a company that offers an Ayush Multi for ayurvedic immune support, takes a more holistic approach, in the sense that it considers all that immune support entails—this includes not only prevention of these types of illnesses, but the ways to treat and properly respond to them as well.
“Immune support can have many aspects,” Dr. Sodhi said. “One such aspect is the prevention of antimicrobial infections as well as treatments of them. The other side is controlling the immune system within the body’s confines, such as excess or diminished inflammation. Ayush Herbs is interested in both main parts of immune support. As responsive immune support and maintenance immune support are intimately intertwined, we look into research that shows how herbs and lifestyle prevent illness and stress.”
Further, Barnes expounded upon the fact that studies in the field have evolved by being conducted with the help of germ-free subjects, as “much of the understanding of the immune system has developed through the introduction of germ-free mice in clinical trials. Germ-free animals have altered immune systems through impaired development of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) and an imbalance of Th2 cells.9 A Th2 dominant immune response is associated with allergy and atopic disease and systemic autoimmune disease. The approach to immune support has evolved so that rather than trying to eradicate pathogens, science is now focusing on improving the immune system of the host. A more balanced gut microbiome has shown to improve the functioning of the immune system and this is where probiotics are showing to be an effective way of rebalancing the immune system.”
When considering advice to provide patients however, it is important to consider the optimism that surrounds immunity products in the natural sphere.
“Research continues to identify new immune mechanisms and therapeutic targets, as well as new botanicals and other natural agents that can support various aspects of a healthy immune system,” Dr. Eliaz noted. “More practitioners, researchers, and consumers are recognizing the value of such compounds in providing safe, targeted and effective immune and overall health support.”
1 Dong H, Rowland I, Yaqoob P. Comparative effects of six probiotic strains on immune function in vitro. Br J Nutr 2012; 108: 459–70.
2 Nocerino R, Paparo L, Terrin G, et al. Cow’s milk and fermented rice with Lactobacillus paracasei CBA L74 prevent infectious diseases in children: A randomized controlled trial. Clin Nutr 2015; published online Dec 17. DOI:10.1016/j.clnu.2015.12.004.
3 Kale-Pradhan PB, Jassal HK, Wilhelm SM. Role of Lactobacillus in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea: a meta-analysis. Pharmacotherapy 2010; 30: 119–26.
4 Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol 2008; 153: 3–6.
5 Tejero-Sariñena S, Barlow J, Costabile A, Gibson GR, Rowland I. In vitro evaluation of the antimicrobial activity of a range of probiotics against pathogens: evidence for the effects of organic acids. Anaerobe 2012; 18: 530–8.
6 Farid R, Ahanchian H, Jabbari F, Moghiman T. Effect of a new synbiotic mixture on atopic dermatitis in children: a randomized-controlled trial. Iran J Pediatr 2011; 21: 225–30.
7 Fallahi G, Motamed F, Yousefi A, et al. The effect of probiotics on fecal calprotectin in patients with cystic fibrosis. Turk J Pediatr; 55: 475–8.
8 Ahmad K, Fatemeh F, Mehri N, Maryam S. Probiotics for the treatment of pediatric helicobacter pylori infection: a randomized double blind clinical trial. Iran J Pediatr 2013; 23: 79–84.
9 Kamada N, Núñez G. Regulation of the immune system by the resident intestinal bacteria. Gastroenterology 2014; 146: 1477–88.
Healthy Take Aways:
• The increasing prevalence of asthma is important in developed countries (more than 15 percent in United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia) but also in developing countries, as illustrated by a prevalence greater than 10 percent in Peru, Costa Rica and Brazil.
• Chronic disease has been shown to increase general inflammation in the body, reducing the efficacy of many body systems.
• In-vitro studies have shown the capability of probiotic strains to enhance immune cell activity and increase anti-inflammatory markers.
For More Information:
ADM Protexin, www.bio-kult.com
Bio Essence Herbal Essentials, www.bioessence.com
Daiwa Health Development, Inc., www.dhdmed.com
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, www.amitabhaclinic.com
Shailinder Sodhi, ND, www.ayush.com