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The immune system is very complex and plays the very important role of protecting us from foreign invasions of all sorts. These include opportunistic microbial infections as well as the development of cancer. At the same time, the immune system has to carefully discriminate between the good and the bad. For example, it needs on one hand to prevent and resolve infections. On the other hand, it must allow for the colonization of our intestines with friendly bacteria to allow the vital nutrients from the foods we consume to be assimilated.
A properly functioning immune system is of paramount importance to overall health. While cutting down on sugar, getting more sleep, exercising, reducing stress, and maintaining a healthy diet can make a dramatic difference by supporting a healthy immune system, there are a number of natural product solutions that can give the immune system an extra boost. Below are a few good examples.
Embria Health Sciences (Ankeny, IA) produces a novel and propriety dried yeast fermentate that supports a healthy immune system. EpiCor is a natural nutrient-rich ingredient consisting of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.
EpiCor works with both the innate immune system (immediate response) and the adaptive immune system (learned response) to help balance the overall immune response. Research has shown that EpiCor can increase the level of IgA, an immunoglobulin that supports the intestinal mucosal barrier, and activate natural killer (NK) cells and B-cells, which are important immune surveillance cells. In addition, EpiCor has been shown to have antiinflammatory properties.
Wellmune WGP is a 1,3/1,6-beta-glucan product derived from yeast and is produced by Biothera (Eagan, MN). It has been shown to enhance immune function when consumed. In clinical studies, it demonstrated an increase in phagocytic activity-a process that involves certain white blood cells engulfing intruders and presenting them to the immune system for elimination.
Wellmune has also been found to cause a rise in NK cell activity, which may help with the elimination of viruses and cancer cells. Consumption of this product has resulted in an increased rate of migration of important cells in response to signals generated by the immune surveillance system, potentially leading to a more rapid immune system response to infection.
ResistAid is a product from Lonza (Allendale, NJ). It is an extract made from the bark and wood of larch trees. ResistAid consists of larch arabinogalactan, an immunoactive polysaccharide, and other bioactive flavonoids that provide antioxidant benefits.
Research on larch arabinogalactan has shown that it stimulates immune function in humans and can specifically support the action of immune components such as NK cells, cytokines, and macrophages.
Studies on human cells have shown that larch arabinogalactan enhances the cytotoxic activity of NK cells, which are an essential part of the innate immune system. Additional research found that larch arabinogalactan promotes the production and release of several cytokines, including IFN gamma, TNF alpha, IL-1 beta, and IL-6, increasing the aggressiveness of the immune response. Since ResistAid has the ability to enhance the function of several immune system components and provide antioxidant benefits, it provides well-rounded support for an enhanced immune response.
Research is showing a greater role of gut health in the proper development and function of the immune system. It turns out that roughly 70% of the cells of the immune system reside in the gastrointestinal tract. The gut flora is comprised of a number of microorganisms including bacteria and yeasts. However, a subset of the flora is probiotic or friendly bacteria, most of which are lactic-acid producing. The probiotic bacteria interact in a complex manner with the cells of the immune system to develop tolerance for the desirable substances we consume. At the same time, they prevent infection and subsequent inflammation from undesirable gut inhabitants.
Ganeden Biotech (Mayfield Heights, OH) has developed a probiotic from a special proprietary strain of Bacillus coagulans (GBI-30, 6086) that has a major benefit of greater survivability and viability than many other probiotics. Most probiotics face the challenge of survivability through the acidic condition of the stomach, exposure to bile acids in the gut, as well as manufacturing processes and shelf life.
GanedenBC30 overcomes these challenges and supports gastrointestinal tract health by being delivered in large numbers when consumed and also by the production of lactic acid and other compounds that help it to limit the growth of pathogenic organisms. Recently published clinical studies have demonstrated benefits in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as increasing immune response to viral challenge. Also, a thorough safety assessment was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.
Phytosterols have been found to benefit the health of diverse systems throughout the body. They have beneficial effects on prostate health and cholesterol-lowering properties. Moducare from Essential Phytosterolins Inc. (Acton, ON, Canada) is a proprietary combination of beta-sitosterol and beta-sitosterol glucoside from pine that has shown immune modulating effects both in vitro and in vivo.
Some of these effects include increased cytotoxic capacity of NK cells; antiinflammatory benefits as a consequence of modulating cytokine production; and an increase in the DHEA-cortisol ratio. This ratio ultimately leads to an adrenal supportive effect and a potential decrease in the overall effects of stress on the body. This mixture of sterols and sterolins has been tested in several human studies and has been shown to counteract the effects of immune suppression in athletes and in HIV-infected individuals.
The specific ratio of sterols to sterolins contained in Moducare also demonstrated antiinflammatory effects in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and benefits for sinusitis and allergic rhinitis sufferers. The benefits observed in these groups have been attributed to the ability of Moducare to balance the T-cell response of the immune system, shifting it from a humoral response (i.e., antibodies) to a more-friendly cell-mediated response.
Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) from AHCC Nutrients USA (Aromas, CA) is an immune-enhancing mushroom extract that is rich in polysaccharides and fiber. The product has been used extensively in Japan since the 1980s, when its immune-stimulating properties were first discovered at Tokyo University.
Polysaccharides from various natural sources are known to have potent immunostimulant effects. The polysaccharides in AHCC are extracted from the mycelia of select mushrooms and have shown an amazing ability to stimulate immune defenses by upregulating the production and activity of NK cells, killer T-cells, and the cytokines IFN gamma, IL-12, and TNF alpha.
AHCC was originally studied as an immune stimulator in cancer patients and has subsequently been shown to be an effective nutritional product for immune support in several diverse health situations.
A paper published earlier this year found that supplementation with AHCC in mice improved their immune response to acute influenza infection. Earlier research in mice found that AHCC increased survival rates following challenges with several yeast, viral, and bacterial infectious agents. In healthy humans, AHCC supplementation in the amount of 3 g per day resulted in significant increases in dendritic cell activity. Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting cells and function as initiators of the immune response. Given these findings, it seems clear that AHCC supplementation may yield several significant benefits for immune health and wellness.
Irfan Qureshi, ND, is vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for AIBMR Life Sciences (Puyallup, WA). John R. Endres, ND, is the chief scientific officer. The company offers full-service natural products and nutraceutical consulting services.