The immune system is the body's protection against damage from invading bacteria, viruses, and cancers. In order for it to function properly, it must have the support of proper nutrition. Nutritional immunology is the field of study dealing with this support. We need to understand how specific nutrients or foods directly or indirectly effect immunity. At present, there are notable gaps in our knowledge of the connections between in vitro responses and clinical realities. The consequences of changes in many in vitro measures made in healthy humans or animals still require testing to understand their relation to health.
The task at present is to define biomarkers (immunologic indices) that can predict resistance to infection and other illnesses associated with poor immune function with reasonable accuracy. We do know that the older we get, and the poorer our diet, the more susceptible we are to infection, tumor, and immune dysfunction. Free radicals have been linked to the immune system damage that accompanies normal aging. Vitamins play a critical role along with trace elements in maintaining the human immune system. Several herbs have demonstrated the ability to enhance and strengthen the immune system. These include echinacea and grape seed-skin extract. Other nutrients that have shown a positive effect on immune function are lactoferrin, whey extract, L-carnitine, and CoQ10. Useful hormones and extracts are melatonin, DHEA, and KH3. Proper thyroid function is essential. Biostim, a European biological response modifier, enhances the immune system as shown by carefully conducted trials and may be very worthwhile for older patients with tendency to chronic infections such as influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
Nature has provided us with the raw materials to keep our immune systems functioning at an optimal level. These raw materials are organic fruits, vegetables, and grains with cold-water fish and lean meats. They are the mainstay of any immune enhancement program and should be the first priority. The supplements discussed above are adjuncts to a basic healthy nutritional intake and positive emotional outlook. In our culture, we tend to look for magic bullets; there is no immune magic bullet. Rather, there is a series of links in a complex chain of optimal immune function. We are beginning to understand some of those links: some we have yet to discover; and some we don't know anything about. Thus, it is up to us as persons wanting to optimize our health to make the basic changes toward health as a foundation for increasing the strength of that chain.
Here is a review of the most important supplements that have been shown to protect and enhance immune function:
- Life Extension Mix provides the vitamins, trace minerals, amino acids, and herb extracts that have documented benefits to the immune system. The recommended dose of Life Extension Mix is 9 tablets daily (3 with each meal).
- ORAC-Energy Greens - Many of us donít eat the recommended 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That is why ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) Energy Greens is the perfect supplement to provide the antioxidant protection we all need. Just one super concentrated tablespoon (6 grams) contains over 12,000 ORAC, the equivalent of 24 servings of fruits and vegetables in antioxidant capacity.
- Life Extension Booster contains grape seed-skin extract, three forms of selenium, vitamin E (gamma- and alpha-tocopherol), and other important nutrients. The suggested dose is 1 capsule daily with any meal.
Whey protein isolate dramatically raises glutathione levels. (Glutathione protects immune cells and detoxifies harmful compounds in the body.) Immune-suppressed patients should consider taking 30 grams daily of specially designed whey protein concentrate.
- Thymic Immune Factors contain healthy, animal-derived freeze-dried thymus. Goldenseal, echinacea, lymph, and spleen are also included for a full complement of immune enhancement. Two capsules daily are recommended.
- L-carnitine will help boost low energy levels and improve immune dysfunction. Immuno-compromised individuals may consider up to 6 grams daily whereas healthy people take 1 to 2 grams a day.
- Along with its cardiovascular enhancement, CoQ10 is an immuno-stimulant that plays an important role in cell-produced energy. For those over the age of 40, 60-200 mg daily is recommended.
- DHEA is a steroid hormone that has demonstrated numerous immune-enhancing effects in both animal and human studies. DHEA has been shown to suppress the harmful effects of interleuken-6, which contributes to autoimmune disease, immune dysfunction, poor healing, and a host of other age-related illnesses. For the effects of DHEA to be most beneficial, youthful levels should be attained. A typical dosage for an individual over age 35 is 15-75 mg daily of DHEA. DHEA is contraindicated in both men and women with hormone-related cancers (see the DHEA Replacement Therapy protocol for detailed information).
- Melatonin, the pineal hormone, improves immune function by enhancing the production of T-cells. It is also a potent antioxidant. Melatonin and DHEA work synergistically to suppress the production of excess cortisol, which can compromise the immune system. The recommended dose for healthy people is 500 mcg daily. Up to 10 mg daily may be taken for adjuvant disease treatment under physician supervision.
- Probiotics such as Life Flora add beneficial intestinal flora to the digestive system to enhance immunity and aid in the absorption of vital nutrients. One 300-mg capsule daily of Life Flora is recommended.
- Lactoferrin is a subfraction of whey protein. Lactoferrin has a wide range of immune-boosting properties including helping beneficial intestinal flora to flourish while controlling the harmful effects of bacteria such as streptococcus and Escherichia coli. Lactoferrin has the ability to bind serum iron, which is needed for many pathogenic bacteria to grow. One 300-mg capsule daily is recommended. Immuno-compromised individuals may want to increase this dosage to 3 capsules daily.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are lacking in many diets and are vital to the health of cell membranes. They are helpful in preventing the inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and preventing abnormal blood clots that may lead to stroke. Food sources that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil, perilla oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil. Super Omega EPA/DHA softgels provide a balanced formula of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Zinc and selenium are two examples of micronutrients that are very important in immune function. The trace mineral zinc plays an essential role in the development and function of immune cells, as well as a role in immunity and thymic function. Low levels of selenium have been linked with a higher incidence of cancer. One 30-mg capsule of zinc and 200 mcg of selenium daily are recommended.
- Biostim is a European medication widely prescribed on the continent and proven effective in protecting elderly people against respiratory infections. Three-month dosing schedule: Take 2 tablets daily for 8 days, then stop for 3 weeks; 1 tablet daily for 8 days, then stop for 9 months. Repeat Biostim therapy once a year. It is contraindicated in people with autoimmune disorders.