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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.