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Natural Ways to Healthy Immune Function

By Stephen Holt, MD, MRCP (UK), FRCP (C), FACP, FACG, FACN, FACAM



The BodyÂ’s Biodefenses

The immune system is the bodyÂ’s biodefense. Immune function involves a complex cascade of events involving intelligent communications between all tissues of the body. Alterations of the balance of the immune function are responsible for the cause or progression of many common diseases including: cancer, chronic inflammatory disorders, arthritis and specific auto-immune disease. People talk about boosting immune function but most often they really mean balancing immune function.

A Simple Overview of Immune Function

White cells in the body of various types aggregate to form lymphatic tissues which are the pivotal structures of the immune system. A complex series of chemical messengers are shared among cells involved in immune defense and normal cells. Antibody production by specific types of white cells is responsible for clearing the tissue fluids of harmful intruders, e.g. antigens or microorganisms.

The biodefenses within the immune system are not simple in their structure or function. Elaborate mechanisms of biodefense are present in entry sites into the body including the nasal passages, throat and entire gastrointestinal tract.

Understanding the complexity of the body structure and functions involved in immunity is a difficult task for even the most knowledgeable health caregiver. The complexity of the cascade of events that occur during immune functions makes it highly unlikely that any single agent be it food or a drug or a dietary supplement will have an efficient effect on balancing or promoting immune function.

Recommendations for single dietary supplements to “boost” immunity are somewhat misguided. “Boosting” certain aspects of the complex events in immune-related diseases may, on occasion, be more harmful than good. The additive benefits and versatile nature of many different natural agents that can work on different aspects of immune events are quite desirable in dietary supplement formulations.

Self-Reliance for Self-Management of Immune Function

Many people are seeking natural substances that will help to deliver optimal immune function in the body and control unwanted inflammatory responses. Modern research on remedies of natural origin has pointed to a number of remedies of natural origin that have complex actions on immune function and actions at many different sites in the overall cascade of immune events. Again, I stress that using more than one natural agent that works on different aspects of immune function is the optimal approach. This has led to the use of synergistic formulations of dietary supplements where many different dietary supplements are combined to get a more global and complete overall effect on immunity. The word “synergy” means that each natural component in a dietary supplement may have an added benefit when mixed together.

Advanced Supplement Formulations for Immune Support

Single-agent approaches with one herb or nutrient possess disadvantages and limitations. For example, sterolins or mushroom extracts are valuable immune stimulators but they have focused and limited effects on only certain aspects of immune function. There is a way of producing a dietary supplement that combines nutrients, herbals and botanicals for a greater effect and potential benefit on immunity. Table 1 is a list of dietary supplements that can be used in combination to stimulate immune function in a reasonably global manner. Such combinations do not rely upon an isolated component of the immune cascade.

Table 1: A list of nutrients, herbs and botanicals with good scientific agreement of nutritional benefits for immune function.

Andrographis paniculata Echinacea purpurea
Acanthopanax Senticosa Goldenseal
Green tea Goldenthread
Turmeric Aloe vera
Grapeseed extract Garlic
Zinc Astragalus
Vitamin C Korean ginseng
Ashwagandha Coriolus versicolor
Oregon grape Active Hexose Correlate Compound (AHCC)
Shiitake mushroom Beta glucan

Any natural agent that exerts an antioxidant function can be potentially valuable in promoting healthy immune function, because oxidative stress (free-radical damage) to components of the immune system is a common reason for disordered immunity. In particular, the following antioxidants are of great value for immune well-being, including: Vitamin C, zinc, green tea, turmeric, grapeseed extract and antioxidants found in a variety of herbs and botanicals (Table 1).

Botanical agents with specific immune-enhancing power include several species of mushrooms, plant sources of beta glucan, various types of Echinacea and the potent and versatile herb Andrographis paniculata (AP). Recent research implies that AP may be a very powerful stimulator of immune function by its specific actions on chemical signals in certain cells, and it has anti-cancer and anti-viral properties.

A Very Important Message

Recent research links excessive intake of simple sugars in the diet with depressed immunity in both the short and long term. Who would have thought that AmericaÂ’s love affair with sweet foods would open the door for chronic disease in a manner that has been unsurpassed in medical history? Seventy million Americans have the metabolic syndrome or Syndrome X, which is the combination of obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol as a consequence of insulin resistance.

Simple sugar intake in the diet is promoting the development of Syndrome X. Syndrome X is the most important public health initiative facing Western society, and the dietary supplement industry has still not waken up to the importance of Syndrome X as a death and disability risk from all causes of disease. The risk of Syndrome X is humungous.

While Syndrome X has components that people can identify with cardiovascular disease, Syndrome X also causes liver disease, cancer and diminished immune function. Syndrome X is a forerunner to the development of maturity onset diabetes mellitus. People with diabetes or Syndrome X may present themselves with the consequences of diminished immune function. Early signs of diabetes in many people include recurrent infections, e.g. yeast, Candida. The reduction of refined sugar in the diet may be a simple intervention to help restore balance to the immune system. The far-reaching health consequences of Syndrome X have resulted in a redefinition of Syndrome X as “Syndrome X, Y and Z….”

Conclusion

I believe that nutritional support for immune function must be multifaceted and formulations of dietary supplements that contain several different natural ingredients are the optimal way to provide nutritional support for immune function.

Resources:

Holt S, Miracle Herbs, Carol Publishing, Secaucus, NJ, 1998
Holt S, Combat Syndrome X, Y and ZÂ…, Wellness Publishing, Newark, NJ, 2002
Reavley N, Vitamins etc., Bookman Press, Australia 1998

By Stephen Holt, MD, MRCP (UK), FRCP (C), FACP, FACG, FACN, FACAM

 

        

 

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