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Healthy Immune System

by Dr. Bob Martin


[Today's Immune Issues | The Human Immune System
[Nutritional Supplementation for Enhanced Immune Function]
[Dr. Bob Martin | References]

Also See Sinus and Allergy

The body’s natural immune defenses are more important today than ever. We live in a world where new challenges to good health appear regularly worldwide. News of new infectious disease outbreaks (i.e.: West Nile Virus, Ebola, Hepatitis, HIV, Influenza, Mad Cow Disease, etc.) occur regularly worldwide; where non-communicable diseases like asthma, allergy, and diabetes are increasing dramatically; where genetically modified foods are on our store shelves; where the threat of bioterrrorism on American soil doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore; where there’s concern that the use of cell phones can cause brain tumors or other cancers in humans; and where the absence of “micronutrients” (miniscule amounts of important nutrients that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development) are potentially a threat to our daily good health.  Clearly, a person’s intact immune response and physical condition are important to overall health.

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Consumer Guide to a Healthy Immune System
by Dr. Bob Martin

Today’s Immune Issues
Clearly, the body’s natural immune defenses are more important today than ever.  We live in a world where news of new challenges appear regularly. Genetically modified foods are on our store shelves, and the threat of terrorism on American soil doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore. The levels of micro-nutrients in our daily diet (miniscule amounts of important nutrients that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development) are alarming to anyone interested in maintaining good health.

The human body is constantly being exposed to all kinds of stressful things…physical, mental and biological. To stay healthy, the body has developed a complex protective network, the immune system, which fights to stay healthy. An intact immune system establishes a delicate balance between the body and the army of stressors.  Nutrition, environment, and stress affect the immune system and can upset this balance. Therefore, a person’s intact immune response and physical condition are important to overall health.

The more we learn about how the immune system works and key nutritional ingredients that support our natural immune defenses, the more we can help keep it functioning optimally.

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The Human Immune System
Although our immune system is vital, it's not a single vital organ like our heart or liver. Instead, our immune system is a whole complex of different biological processes throughout our body, constantly identifying and eliminating potentially hazardous invaders. It’s an intricate network of specialized tissues, organs, cells, and chemicals that defends the body against attacks by "foreign" invaders. The lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus gland, and tonsils all play a role, as do lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells), antibodies, and interferon. The immune system does not rely on one single mechanism to maintain its effectiveness, but instead uses many strategies.

Two types of immunity protect the body: innate and acquired. Innate immunity is present at birth and provides the first barrier. The skin, mucus secretions, and the acidity of the stomach are examples of innate immunity that act as barriers to maintain the health of more vulnerable tissues. Acquired immunity is the second barrier of defense. It is acquired later in life. The acquired immune system retains a memory of all the foes it has conquered.

A healthy diet and lifestyle may be the cornerstones of a strong immune system, but what specific measures can be taken when a person is faced with a challenge such as the annual cold weather season?

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Nutritional Supplementation for Enhanced Immune Function

The health of special immune cells and thus their ability to protect the body can be greatly enhanced with proper nutrition, rest, exercise and supplements. Immune-enhancing supplements such as Andrographis, Beta Glucan, vitamin C and E, and minerals such as zinc and selenium can act to either stimulate the immune system or modulate it or keep it in balance. Specifically here is what each of the ingredients are expected to do.

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Andrographis: An Important Herb for Immune Function

Andrographis has been used for centuries in traditional Indian and Chinese herbal medicine as a safe, natural folk remedy for assorted health concerns. Today, we view it as a promising new herb with the weight of clinical evidence showing that the real value of this ancient herb may be as a stimulant for a healthy immune function.* 1 2 It may be even more effective when combined with other immune function stimulators, such as Beta Glucan, Echinacea, Mushrooms, Zinc, vitamin C, etc. The major constituents in Andrographis are di-terpene lactones known as andrographolides. It strongly stimulates phagocytosis and the production of specific antibodies.* Andrographis has shown in studies to be a potent stimulator of the immune system function by causing an antigen-specific response, and a non-specific immune response without toxicity.* 3 Andrographis activates both responses - making it an effective natural herb to promote good health. In another study, researchers indicated that the protective action of Andrographis may be due to reactivation of superoxide dismutase (SOD), a key antioxidant enzyme that protects against free-radical damage.* 4

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Beta-glucan: A Key Factor for Better Health

Beta-glucan is a polysaccharide derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast, many mushrooms (such as Maitake), and oat and barley fiber. Two primary uses of beta-glucan are to support the body’s natural immune function and to help maintain blood cholesterol levels that are already within the normal range.* Numerous studies have shown beta-glucan to activate white blood cells.* 5 6 7 8 9 In fact, there have been hundreds of research papers on beta-glucan since the 1960s.10 The research indicates that beta-1,3-glucan, in particular, is very effective at activating white blood cells known as macrophages and neutrophils. These cells provide one of the immune system’s first lines of defense. A beta-glucan-activated macrophage or neutrophil can remove cellular debris resulting from oxidative damage, and activate other components of the immune system function.* 11 12 Beta-glucan is the key factor for the healthy effect of oat bran.* 13 14 As with other soluble-fiber components, the binding of cholesterol by beta-glucan is very helpful for maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels.* 15 16 17

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Olive Leaf extract: An Old Remedy with Modern Health Benefits

The olive is a small evergreen tree native to Mediterranean regions, and it has been held in high esteem throughout history. Moses reportedly decreed that men who cultivated the leaf be exempt from serving in the army. The oil is symbolic of purity and goodness, while the olive branch represents peace and prosperity. Both the oil and the dried green-grayish colored leaves are used medicinally.* 18 Olive leaf has a wide number of constituents, including oleuropein and several types of flavonoids (rutin, apigenin, luteolin). One study revealed that oleuropein inhibits the oxidation of cholesterol.* 19

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Echinacea: Huge Support for Strong Defenses

Echinacea was used by Native Americans for a variety of health purposes. Seventy-five years ago, it was a rare medicine chest that did not contain this health-promoting herb. But as drugs became widely available by the 1930s, Echinacea fell from everyday use. It was largely forgotten in the United States until the herb revival of the 1970s. Fortunately, many European studies since the 1950s have shown Echinacea to have significant health-promoting properties, thus lending credence to its traditional uses for healthy immune function.* Echinacea is thought to support the by activating white blood cells.* 22 Echinacea may also increase production of interferon, an important part of the body’s natural defenses.* 23 Echinacea's well-researched active constituents strongly stimulate various immune functions.* 28 It also stimulates the production of gamma globulins.* Echinacea's immune-enhancing principles also stimulate the body's cell eaters (phagocytes.* 29 Echinacea's action is due in part to the presence of chemicals called echinacosides, and by strengthening cell membranes against assault.* 30 It further exerts an immune-stimulating effect which boosts the body's white blood cells, called macrophages, and their defensive ability.* 31

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Turmeric: A Potent Spice for Immune Function

Turmeric is an ancient spice whose use dates back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. It is a traditional remedy in Ayurvedic health care, an ancient Indian health system that dates back over 5,000 years. Highly prized by Indo-Europeans for its antioxidant qualities, it is generating a lot of attention in the scientific community today because of its many health- benefits. New research shows this zesty staple of Indian fare, which puts the zing in curry sauces, may provide powerful support for healthy immune function.* The key appears to lie in a compound called curcumin, which is found in turmeric. Curcumin provides broad-spectrum effects throughout the body. In addition to being a potent antioxidant, curcumin may help support and maintain a healthy immune response by the body which may be attributed to its ability to reduce arachidonic acid.* 36 Another recent clinical study suggests that curcumin may help maintain blood cholesterol levels already in the normal range, 37 and neutralize free radical activity which is believed responsible for many health concerns prevalent today.* 38

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Astragalus: Invigorates Vital Energy

According to traditional Chinese herb nutrition, Astragalus has been used to support immune function, invigorate vital energy (Qi), and strengthen body defenses. Astragalus is an energizing, tonic herb that is known for the body's "defensive" energy which protects against environmental forces such as heat, cold, humidity, wind, and pollution. Astragalus contains numerous components, including flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides, amino acids, and trace minerals. Most research on Astragalus has focused on its immunostimulatory activity and its seemingly remarkable ability to support a healthy immune system function.* 39 40 41 Studies exploring this protective effect found that oral administration of Astragalus enhanced subjects induction of interferon by peripheral white blood cells. 42 43

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Reishi & Shiitake Mushrooms: Ancient Folk Remedies Are Modern Hope

Relatively undiscovered in the West, Reishi and Shiitake mushrooms have been revered as folk remedies for thousands of years in Japan and China. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a higher order fungus organism, much like an apple is the fruit of an apple tree. Emperors of the great Chinese dynasties and Japanese royalty drank teas and concoctions of mushrooms for vitality and long life. In modern times, Reishi and Shiitake mushrooms have been well-researched for their many health benefits, especially for supporting the body’s natural immune defenses, and acting as an adaptogen in helping the body fight the effects of stress.*

Reishi grows wild in the coastal provinces of China, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years. The Chinese name ling zhi translates as the “herb of spiritual potency” and was highly prized as an elixir of immortality. Reishi supports a healthy immune function, supports nerve function, and scavenges free radicals.* According to various studies, some of the most important reishi constituents are believed to stimulate the immune system function.* 44 45 The mycelium of Reishi contains high levels of polysaccharides, which have been shown in research to induce the production of interferon.* Interferon is a protein produced inside cells to boost defenses. Polysaccharides may help stimulate a healthy immune system function.* 46

The Shiitake mushroom is considered to be the finest edible mushroom in Asia, where it has been used for over 2,000 years. One ancient physician called it “The Elixir of Life”. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 ) the Shiitake was believed to keep people vigorous and young. Because of the special power of the Shiitake, it was decreed in ancient Oriental history that only the Emperor and his family could eat them. It was widely known as the “Emperor’s Food”. During times of war, only the most trusted of the guards were assigned to guard the Shiitake supply. Shiitake is Asia’s most popular mushroom and is widely valued for its culinary and health uses. It is not only delectable, but Shiitakes are bursting with nutrition. They are higher in amino acids than peanuts, soybeans, corn and kidney beans, and also an important source of vegetable proteins, iron, fiber, minerals and vitamins.* They contain naturally occurring vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6, and B12 along with high amounts of niacin.* A growing body of scientific research has suggested that Shiitake supports the body’s natural immune defenses.* 47 48 They contain a powerful polysaccharide called lentinan which helps stimulate various parts of the body's defense function* 49

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Garlic: Supports Immune Defenses

Garlic has been used since time immemorial as a culinary spice and medicinal herb. It has been cultivated in the Middle East for more than 5,000 years and has been an important part of traditional Chinese medicine. Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for its many health benefits. Its use in China was first mentioned in A.D. 510. Garlic Extract has been shown to support a healthy immune function.* It has been found to enhance various immune functions such as the phagocytic activity of macrophages, T-lymphocyte activity, natural killer cell activity.* 50 It has also been shown to modify, both directly and indirectly, the function of immune cells, which play a leading role promoting good health.* 51

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Alpha Lipoic Acid: Protects Against Free-Radical Damage

Another ingredient that has experienced a great deal of attention is the potent antioxidant, Alpha Lipoic Acid. It is both water-soluble and fat-soluble, which allows it to penetrate into nearly all body tissues. Dr. Packer, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, believes alpha lipoic acid may be very helpful in promoting good health. "Because it's the only antioxidant that can easily get into the brain, it could be useful in promoting good health...," he says. It is involved in the recycling of Vitamins E and C, Glutathione and CoQ10. It also plays a vital role in energy production in the cell, particularly the conversion of glucose to energy.* Because of its broad range of activity and uses, alpha lipoic acid is likely to continue to be acknowledged as a vital component of any supplemental antioxidant program. Lester Packer, a leading scientist who has researched free radicals, said, Alpha lipoic acid could have far-reaching consequences in the search for better health.

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Green Tea extract: A Major Health-Promoter

This ceremonial drink from the Orient has found a heart-warming spot in Western homes for its soothing and enjoyable properties, but it’s much more than that. Green tea's active ingredients offer numerous health-promoting benefits, and antioxidant protection.* The active constituents in green tea are the catechin polyphenols. Catechins are potent antioxidants that provide health benefits beyond their ability to neutralize free radicals.* Some studies show that the polyphenols in green tea are far more potent in suppressing free radicals than vitamins C or E.* Green tea promotes the growth of friendly microorganism in the intestine and maintains a healthy microorganic environment.* 52 It also protects against free-radical DNA damage that causes some potential health challenges.* 53 It works with enzymes and other antioxidants in the intestine, liver and lungs to fight free radicals before they damage DNA.* 54

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N-Acetylcysteine (NAC): Boosts Glutathione

N-acetyl-cysteine is the acetylated form of L-cysteine which is more efficiently absorbed. It is also an antioxidant that helps support the immune function. N-acetyl-cysteine has also been used as a liver protectant and to break down mucilaginous substances.* N-acetyl-cysteine can boost glutathione levels in cells. Glutathione is one of the body’s most important and powerful antioxidants.* It may promote healthy immune function, and is crucial in possibly protecting against free radical damage.*

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Quercetin: A Powerful AntiOxidant

Quercetin is a plant bio-flavonoid. Bioflavonoids are water-soluble compounds present in citrus fruits, rosehips and other plants. A variety of evidence indicates that quercetin possesses potent antioxidant properties and immune function support.* 55 Bioflavonoids maintain resistance of capillary walls to permeation and change of pressure, and have synergistic antioxidant effects with vitamin C.* Quercetin is the active flavonol part of rutin. It also is used as a capillary protectant and is a more powerful antioxidant than rutin.*

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Glutamine: Essential for Every Cell

Glutamine is a very important amino acid that is needed by every cell in the body. It is the primary source of energy for the various cells of the immune system.* Strenuous exercise, stress and exertion in general cause glutamine reduction that may deny adequate quantities to the immune cells. Sufficient glutamine may be essential for optimal immune function.* 56 57 And this is not the end of the story. Glutamine protects the body, and the brain in particular.* Glutamine is also an important source of energy for the nervous system. If the brain is not receiving enough glucose, it compensates by increasing glutamine metabolism for energy-hence the popular perception of glutamine as "brain food" and its use as a pick-me-up. Glutamine users often report more energy, less fatigue and better mood. Glutamine also plays a part in maintaining already normal blood glucose levels and the right pH range in the body.* 58 And due to its dependence on sodium transport, glutamine is one of the amino acids that control the volume of water in the cells, and the osmotic pressure in various tissues.* Glutamine also plays a vital part in the maintenance of blood sugar levels that are already within the normal range. Thus, to say that glutamine is important for our health is an understatement.

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Vitamin E: Protects Cells from Damage

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects immune cell membranes and other fat-soluble parts of the body from damage.* Vitamin E is an important antioxidant protector of cholesterol and cell membranes.* Studies have reported 59 60 that 400 to 800 IU of natural vitamin E per day reduces free-radical damage and supports the cardiovascular system.* Numerous studies have show that vitamin E modulates the cellular immunoresponse through its antioxidant capacity.* 61 62 Vitamin E is present in higher concentrations in immune cells than in any other cells of the body. In the last ten years, the functions of vitamin E in the cell have been further clarified. In addition to its antioxidant functions, vitamin E is now known to act through other mechanisms, including direct effects on various functions of the body to promote good health.*

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Carotenoids / Vitamin A: Health Promoting Antioxidants

These important antioxidant vitamins have been hailed as lifesavers by providing support for a healthy body.* They neutralize free radicals (the oxygen molecules that damage our body's cells). Carotenoids play an important role in immune system function and help protect the microorganic environment of mucous membranes.* 63 A combination of antioxidants: vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E significantly improved immune cell defenses in a group of hospitalized elderly people. 64 In other studies, beta-carotene and other carotenoids boosted immune defenses in healthy people, an effect that appears to be separate from their role as precursors to vitamin A. 65 66 67

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Vitamin C: Still an All-Around Antioxidant Champ

Vitamin C is one of the best-known antioxidants, first made famous by the work of Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel laureate who pioneered much of the research on its benefits. More research has been done on vitamin C than any other nutrient which is a water-soluble vitamin that has a number of biological functions. In addition to its wide-ranging antioxidant talents, vitamin C promotes immune, heart, bone and joint health.* 68 It also supports the production of glutathione, another potent antioxidant. A little known but important function of vitamin C is to protect cholesterol from oxidative damage.* Vitamin C may be one of the most important antioxidant protectors of LDL.* 69 Vitamin C is needed to make collagen, the “glue” that strengthens many parts of the body, such as muscles and blood vessels.* It also plays important roles in tissue development and aids in the formation of liver bile*

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Key Minerals: Zinc and Selenium for Health

Zinc is a trace mineral present in and indispensable to all forms of life. It is essential for normal growth, pregnancies, and transmission of our genetic material.* Zinc is required as an enzyme component in the eyes, liver, kidneys, muscles, skin, testes, and other organs. The highest concentrations of zinc are in bones, the prostate gland, and the eyes. Zinc is a component of more than 300 enzymes needed to boost immune defenses, regenerate tissues, synthesize protein, help cells reproduce, support good vision, and protect against free radicals, among other functions.* 73

Selenium is a trace mineral that activates an antioxidant enzyme that protects glutathionine, which serves as part of the body's internal defenses against free radical damage. Selenium works hand in hand with Vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene as an antioxidant defense. Selenium is essential for healthy immune functioning.* Even in a non-deficient population of elderly people, selenium supplementation has been found to stimulate the activity of white blood cells—primary components of the immune system. 75 Selenium is also needed to activate thyroid hormones.*

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Dr. Bob Martin

Dr. Martin is an internationally recognized authority on human health. He is a diplomate of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and a board certified Clinical Nutritionist, Chiropractic Physician and Physio Therapist. His popular national radio talk show Health Talk is heard by millions each week.

Reprinted with the exclusive permission of Dr. Bob Martin and NaturalCare. 

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