Immune Topic
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Immunity Nutrients

Nowadays, most people have an idea of what the "immune system" is, but it's important to remember that our knowledge of immunity is continually correcting and expanding. What we "know" today may well be considered a very partial view tomorrow.

Long before the advent of the germ theory people observed the fact of host resistance to infection. This could be considered the discovery of immunology, preceding the sciences of microbiology and bacteriology. Even the modern delineation of the immune system into cell-mediated immunity and humoral immunity presents only part of the picture, for we now know that the mind can play a big part in the ability of our immune system to respond, as studied in the field of psychoneuroimmunology.

The "immune system" that we refer to nowadays is not a discrete set of physical structures but a network of complex interactions at many different levels, involving the white blood cells, bone marrow, lymph tissues and vessels, the nervous system, and many different chemical components as well. Since the fundamental tasks of the immune system are founded on its ability to distinguish between "self" and "not-self", it's not surprising that the mind is so important. In addition to psychoneuroimmunology, the fields of genetics, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, pathology, allergies, infectious disease, organ transplantation, rheumatology, oncology, nutrition, exercise, and others now contribute to our understanding of immunity.

Environmental factors can adversely affect the immune system, such as industrial pollutants, chemicals in household products, the overuse of antibiotics and drugs, electromagnetic and other modern stresses, and the pesticides, antibiotics and other additives present in food. As we all know, the immune response can also get misdirected or out-of-proportion, as is found in the "auto-immune" diseases. In fact, if we look at our knowledge of immunity carefully, we may begin to suspect that there is quite a bit more to know. We may even go so far as to question whether our present knowledge is not only limited and incomplete but fundamentally wrong to some degree. Although to do so seems to take away some degree of "certainty" - which even if an illusion can be comforting - it also allows us to begin to comprehend new discoveries and new ideas!

Because the immune response involves virtually all other systems in the body, it makes sense that if we can do things like improve the digestion and excretion, and circulation, and improve how we utilize oxygen, and support the body's ability to handle stress, and so forth, we will improve our ability to respond to the thousand insults everyday that are the province of the immune system. In addition, there are nutritional substances that facilitate and promote specific immune responses, as well as ones like garlic, which helps so many systems that it could be called an "all-body tonic". With that in mind, let's look at some of these exciting nutritional ideas and substances that can strengthen the immune system!

Vitamin A is very important for the health of the mucus lining of the nose, mouth, sinuses, and stomach. Carleton Fredericks discovered many years ago that some people who did not get much help in fighting colds with vitamin C often would recover quickly when given large doses of fish-liver oil vitamin A for 3-5 days. Although it's possible to get too much vitamin A in this form, it's nearly impossible to do so in the short-term; just be sure to lower the dose once the cold has been eliminated.

Acetyl L-Carnitine, usually thought of as a brain nutrient, also facilitates metabolism in general, in its role as an oxygen carrier. It helps protect cell membranes, a key component of the immune system.

L-Arginine increases the size and activity of the thymus gland. It benefits the liver by helping to detoxify ammonia and prevents cirrhosis of the liver by helping liver lipid metabolism. Large doses are usually not needed to derive these benefits; and people with viral infections should avoid both supplemental arginine and foods high in arginine.

Astragalus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, as a "deep" immune booster. Echinacea, in contrast, is considered an promoter of "superficial" immune response, having to do with the mucous membrane. Astragalus aids adrenal function, digestion, and energizes the body, combating fatigue. It also protects the liver.

B-Vitamins function in many enzyme transactions, supporting the bodies ability to handle stress. Being sick is a stress too!

Beta-1,3-glucan, after years of study, is finally available. Marketed as NSC-24™, it is the most powerful non-specific immune activator we've ever heard of. See our Beta Glucan Topic for more information.

Bovine Colostrum helps restore the reservoir of immunoglobulins, a primary level of immune system chemistry.

Bulgaricus, a friendly transient intestinal bacteria, produces antibodies on it's way through the body. Some researchers have concluded that the apparent longevity effects of cultured milk drinks may well be due more to the action of bulgaricus than to the more reknowned acidophilus.

Vitamin C - hmmm..., despite the amazingly persistent denigration and scorn heaped by the medical and academic establishment on Linus Pauling's dedicated work researching the powers of vitamin C, millions of people have tried the simple experiment of taking extra vitamin C during the winter months and discovered that, by golly!, it does seem to reduce the frequency and intensity of winter colds. It's now known that vitamin C is involved with several hundred different important enzyme transactions in the body. If you're unfamiliar with Pauling's work, his book How to Live Longer and Feel Better is a good place to start.

CoQ-10 helps the body to utilize oxygen. Produced in every cell of the body, it is especially important for the heart. Much research has gone into this nutrient, especially in Japan, which of course also manufactures it for the world-wide market. Researchers estimate that about 30% of the adult population of Japan take Co-Q10 on a regular basis. Especially as we age, this nutrient can make a big difference in our energy levels.
The energy from Co-Q10 is not at all stimulatory. As oxygen utilization is increased, people simply find they can climb those four flights of stairs without getting winded, or they can keep going after a long day without a hitch; things of this nature. Co-Q10 is also being researched for its possible role in helping to heal cancer, chronic fatigue, and other illnesses, and has been shown to prevent recurrence of heart attack, because of its oxygenating effect on the heart.

DHEA: See our DHEA Topic.

Vitamin E is an important lipid antioxidant. It helps protect the cell membranes and to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the arteries.

Echinacea sales have sky-rocketed in the last 10 years, as more and more people have discovered how helpful it can be for fighting everything from a cold or flu to a long-term illness like chronic fatigue. Native to North America, it is found mainly in the prairies west of the Mississippi River. Long a favored medicinal herb of the Native American Indian, echinacea was widely used by early medical doctors, but by the beginning of the 20th century it had fallen into dis-use. It was a European doctor, Dr. Vogel, who re-discovered it on a trip to the US in the 1950's. He began cultivating it in Europe, conducted many studies of it, and then marketed it through his company, Bioforce. Now, over 40 pharmaceutical echinacea preparations are registered for use by European physicians, who use them to treat various health problems. Echinacea is the single best-selling health-herb in the world, and every herb company, as well as many vitamin companies, market some version of it.

Enzymes of course help the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. This indirect support of the immune system can be very important. In Germany, proteolytic enzymes taken between meals have been used as part of the treatment for many disease conditions, including arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, and cancer.

Essential Fatty Acids are precursors to important prostaglandins, which have a hormone-like regulatory effect on the body's response to injury and illness. They are a very important component of a health-promoting diet.

Garlic remedies were first recorded 5000 years ago. The Egyptians prescribed it for high blood pressure, lice, skin troubles, worms, intestinal disorders, ulcers, and respiratory diseases. It is a nutrient rich plant that can be high in selenium, germanium, sulfur containing amino acids and compounds.
The distinctive odor and taste of garlic are attributed to allicin. It's antibacterial action is equivalent to 1% of penicillin. It has been used for all forms of infections, eye, ear, nose, throat, intestinal, skin, etc. It is effective against 20 varieties of fungi, including Athlete's Foot. It has been used effectively in the treatment of candidiasis and for thrush lesions. It has also been demonstrated to be effective in increasing HDL-cholesterol (the beneficial type) and lowering LDL-cholesterol. It contains anti-coagulant substances that can thin out the blood and help prevent heart disease and strokes, and lower blood pressure.

Germanium: See our Germanium Topic.

Golden Seal, or Hydrastis canadensis, has a history of medicinal use that spans several hundred years, beginning with the various tribes of original Americans. "American Indians used goldenseal for eye ailments, skin diseases, gonorrhea, cancers and as a dye and skin stain," reports Steven Foster in his book Herbal Renaissance. "The Cherokee made a root wash to treat local inflammations and drank a decoction for general debility (weakness), dyspepsia and to stimulate appetite". Miles away, the Iroquois used a decoction of the root for whooping cough, diarrhea, liver trouble, fever, sour stomach, flatulence and pneumonia. As you can see, goldenseal was relied upon to treat numerous discomforts of several physiological systems--from respiratory to digestive.

Earl Mindel, in his book, Earl Mindell's Herb Bible (lest you forget who wrote it), lists the possible benefits of goldenseal as follows:

  • Relieve cold and flu symptoms

  • Aid in cases of constipation and indigestion

  • Reduce skin inflammations such as eczema

  • Used as a mouthwash, goldenseal can help prevent gum disease

  • Used as a douche, goldenseal can combat vaginal infections

The Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas published by Herbal Research Publications, Inc., succinctly describes the role of goldenseal as a medicinal herb: "Effective in all digestive problems from peptic ulcers to colitis due to its tonic effects on the body's mucous membranes. Goldenseal is a powerful antimicrobial improving all catarrhal conditions, especially those of the sinuses."

The major biologically-active compounds in goldenseal are the two alkaloids hydrastine (2 to 4%) and berberine (2 to 3%), along with lesser amounts of canadine and hydrastinine. Berberine, which gives a strong antibacterial effect and increases bile secretion, is also an anticonvulsant and it stimulates the uterus. Canadine is known to stimulate the uterine muscles, while hydrastine acts similarly to berberine.

Mindell cautions, "This herb can raise blood pressure and should not be used by anyone with a history of high blood pressure. Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use for more than two weeks at a time." And Anne Marie Wishard, in her compilation, Herb Talk, advises that the long-term use of goldenseal should be avoided "because it can weaken the bacterial flora of the colon. (But it is) so useful that it is a must for your herbal medicine chest."

Glutathione is a compound the body makes from three amino acids. Glutathione levels in the body have recently been correlated with immune strength: people with severely compromised immune systems have greatly reduced levels of glutathione. It inhibits the formation of free radicals and protects the immune cells.

Lecithin emulsifies and promotes the transportation of fats in the body. It is the major component of all cell membranes, and is found in the protective sheath surrounding the brain, the muscles and the nerve cells. Lecithin is an inexpensive substance with major protective effects for the liver, the cardiovascular system, and the brain.

Liver has been used by athletes for strength and endurance for a long time. It's also very good for keeping oneself nourished during illness, or for rebuilding after illness. Bodybuilder Vince Cironda became famous for his advocacy of liver supplements for bodybuilding, citing a study where rats whose diet was supplemented with liver for two weeks survived a swimming test in ice-cold water far longer than the control group. This indicates an increase in stamina, heat, and just plain 'ol strength. Many customers report similar results from taking liver (though nobody we know has timed their survival rate swimming in the S.F. Bay!) Liver is a good source of B-vitamins and of protein.

Manganese is a necessary mineral for the functioning of the immune system. It is especially important in injuries or inflamed conditions.

Multi-Vitamins and Multi-Minerals are just common sense when trying to increase immunity. They are a good way to "cover the bases" and also get sufficient amounts of some of the single nutrients mentioned here, such as manganese, zinc, vitamins A and E.

Mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi, are reputed to fight viral infections and in general to build immunity. They have a long history of use in Japan and China.

NAC, or N-Acetyl-Cysteine, is a component of glutathione, and it has been discovered that taking NAC is a less-expensive and more effective way to raise blood levels of glutathione than taking glutathione itself. NAC helps detoxify the toxic metabolite acetylaldehyde, protecting the liver.

NSC-24: See our Beta-1,3-glucans HotTopic.

Picrorrhiza has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. It supports immune function in general and has a specific healing and protective effect on the liver.

Probiotics are usually recommended specifically as part of healing programs for gut infections, like Candida albicans overgrowth. Having good healthy intestinal bacteria is the first line of defense against bacteria and other bugs in food and water, and as such can be considered a primary way to strengthen the immune system.

Propolis is a truly remarkable substance. It is the sticky substance that covers the young buds on trees, combined with bee secretions. It has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungicidal activity, and even enhances the immune response. It has very powerful anesthetic properties which are superior to cocaine, without side effects. The human body does not develop tolerance to its effectiveness! Bees gather the substance and use it to maintain a sterile environment in the hive. Propolis is being used in scientific studies throughout the world with excellent results for tonsillitis, ulcers, acne, pain (especially dentistry), sore throats, dry coughs, bronchial asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, urinary system inflammations, warts, abscesses, eczema and even neuropsychiatric problems. We have an excellent book on PROPOLIS from Paris by Doctor Ives Donadieu. Propolis is available in tablets, capsules, extracts, creams, and raw - straight from the bee hive.

Pycnogenol is the trade name of a patented extract from pine bark. Pycnogenol is also commonly used to refer to an extract from grape seeds, which contain the same active ingredients, a type of bioflavonoid called proanthocyanidins. Proanthocyanidins, also called Oligo-Pro-Anthocyanidins (OPC's), are water-soluble, non-toxic, highly bioavailable, and highly-effective vitamin C potentiators. Pycnogenol is a powerful free radical scavenger, even more powerful than well-established antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Because proanthocyanidins reduce inflammation by inhibiting specific protein-destroying enzymes released during the inflammatory response, they could help relieve inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and sports-related injuries. Pycnogenol also repairs damaged collagen and protects it against further attack by free radicals and collagen-degrading enzymes, the elastases and collagenases, by binding to collagen fibers and realigning them in a less damaged form. This protective action helps to prevent the early facial wrinkles caused by skin inelasticity, keeping the skin smooth and elastic.

Pycnogenol improves peripheral circulation, strengthens weak blood vessels, and restores lost capillary activity. It improves peripheral circulation by reducing venous insufficiency and diminishing water retention in the lower leg. By strengthening weak blood vessels, including fragile capillaries, pycnogenol helps prevent bruising and lessens varicose veins. By increasing vitamin C activity in capillary walls and strengthening collagen (intracellular "cement"), pycnogenol restores lost capillary activity. It protects the collagen-rich, connective tissue in artery walls and joints, and stimulates repair. Pycnogenol may be also be shown to be protective against atherosclerosis.

Pycnogenol was licensed in France many years ago as a nutrient for treating diabetic retinopathy. It acts as an antioxidant in the retina by neutralizing free radicals capable of damaging cells in the retina and strengthens capillaries. Pycnogenol prevents excessive histamine release and has been shown to protect against ulcers in the stomach and intestine. Studies show pycnogenol to be non-toxic, non-teratogenic, non-mutagenic, non-carcinogenic and hypo-allergenic. Pycnogenol acts synergistically with other antioxidant nutrients, so it often gives better results when taken with such nutrients as vitamins A, C, E and the trace mineral selenium.

Quercetin offers relief for hay fever and other allergic reactions. It is now being used in some programs that deal with irritable bowel syndrome, to help the intestinal lining from reacting to foods, allowing healing to proceed more smoothly.

Selenium, like vitamin E, is an important anti-oxidant nutrient. In fact, when these two are taken together, the synergism increases the effectiveness of each in quenching free radicals.

Taurine has been studied for its benefits on neurological function. It's also necessary for white blood cell activation. It has a protective effect on the heart and the brain.

Thymus, a small gland in the center of the chest, is an important component of the immune system. Here the baby T-lymphocytes go to school, each T-cell learning to identify one particular type of foreign cell. There is compelling evidence that ingesting the purified thymus in the form of certain polypeptide fractions can greatly help the body rid itself of viruses such as hepatitis C (for instance, Dr. Burgstiner in Atlanta has published an account of his work with many hepatitis patients.)

Zinc is another important mineral for the immune system. It is involved with the action of many different enzymes, including the important anti-oxidant compound superoxide dismutase.

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