immune

Mother Nature’s Allergy Relief!

People sometimes seem surprised to learn that botanical and nutritional products can be very effective for allergy relief, when in truth many compounds (one source claims fully one half!) used in the pharmaceutical industry are based off the activity of naturally occurring molecules. The structures of compounds found in nature are altered so that they are easily and consistently produced in a lab, and are patentable. In regards to allergy conditions, we use medications which inhibit histamine, either by opposing it’s activity (e.g. Benadryl), or keeping mast cells from releasing it (e.g. Nasalcrom). Several natural compounds found in plants are known to do these very same things – quercetin, hesperidin, and rutin are all bioflavonoids known to stabilize mast cells and keep them from releasing inflammatory compounds (the ones responsible for the symptoms of an allergy). Natural ingredients used for allergies don’t block receptors like the classic anti-histamine medications, as that action creates side effects such as drowsiness and dry mouth. Instead, other ingredients work by normalizing our immune response in nasal passages and in the blood stream through actions such as enhancing T-cell and B-cell function, breaking down the histamine and other compounds more efficiently so they are less problematic, making mucus less viscous, and strengthening the lining of nasal passages.

We have two products which have both garnered terrific feedback in their ability to stop allergy symptoms.  Both are taken somewhat intensely (three times daily) for the first few days, but then are tapered down, often to only one capsule daily for maintenance during the inflammatory season.  Please feel free to stop by for more information or a sample to help make your spring more comfortable!

Winter Wellness – Coconut

It’s not just for Pina Coladas anymore!  Coconut belongs right up there with all the other health foods, for several reasons.  First, and the one most fitting to our theme this week, is the immune boost it gives.  Coconut contains a substance called lauric acid, which has been shown to have anti-infective activity.

Mary Enig, PhD, is a scientist regarded as a leading expert in the field of nutritional fats.  Her thoughts on coconut oil: “Approximately 50 percent of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid.  Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body.  Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia.  Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.”

Add to these immune effects the fact that as a MCFA (medium chain fatty acid), coconut is metabolized differently from other fats and used preferentially as an energy source rather than to form fat.  In addition, coconut oil has been found to increase basal body temperature and metabolism in people suffering from low thyroid function.

For all these reasons, coconut is a terrific addition to one’s diet.  But don’t buy the sweetened versions commonly found in the supermarket baking supply aisles!  Unsweetened shredded or grated coconut can be found in bulk food sections and health food stores.  It makes a flavorful and healthful addition to breakfast foods and snacks.  Coconut oil makes a terrific substitute for butter or other vegetable oils.  Coconut milk is readily available in cans for cooking or cartons for drinking – think stir-frys and smoothies!

More concentrated immune support can be found in a supplement called Monolaurin, which is the substance credited with the anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects.  It is commonly used in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, where low-grade infections of viruses such as Epstein Barr are suspected.  For general immune boosting, it can be used in a dosage of 1-2/ daily.

Given its wonderful taste and considerable health benefits, be sure to consider adding some coconut to your diet this winter!

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2010 Jul;87(3):1101-8. Epub 2010 May 1. Anti-yeast activity of a food-grade dilution-stable microemulsion. Zhang H, Xu Y, Wu L, Zheng X, Zhu S, Feng F, Shen L.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Oct;6(10):991-8. Novel antibacterial activity of monolaurin compared with conventional antibiotics against organisms from skin infections: an in vitro study. Carpo BG, Verallo-Rowell VM, Kabara J.

J Immunol. 2005 May 1;174(9):5390-7. Saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids reciprocally modulate dendritic cell functions mediated through TLR4.  Weatherill AR, Lee JY, Zhao L, Lemay DG, Youn HS, Hwang DH.

Winter Wellness – Vitamin C

Ask just about anyone to name one vitamin that is helpful for colds and Vitamin C is bound to be the one named.  Dr. Linus Pauling is credited with sparking interest in Vitamin C, not only for immune function but beneficial effects on heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  He personally used high doses of Vitamin C and felt it greatly reduced the number of colds he experienced.  His claims received much attention beginning in the 1970’s, so that numerous studies were conducted in the next 3 decades.  Analysis of these studies by Dr. Harri Hemila found an overall benefit in regards to prevention and duration.  Results were more favorable in groups of participants more prone to stress, whether through sports or jobs (e.g. soldiers).

These findings are well supported by work done by Dr. James Wilson, who has analyzed the role of Vitamin C in our stress response, including the proper production and use of cortisol, the stress hormone.  Perhaps the need for Vitamin C to prevent colds is even greater now than in the previous decades, owing to the fact that our lifestyles as a whole have become much more stressful?

Would taking Vitamin C be helpful for you?  To answer this you might look at benefit versus risk.  What are the risks of vitamin C supplementation?  It is a water-soluble vitamin and has shown remarkably low toxicity.  Because it enhances iron absorption, it is possible that it could lead to high levels of iron, so intake of iron should be assessed before taking mega-doses on a consistent basis.  The only other side effect which occurs regularly is diarrhea, which is actually used by many practitioners to serve as a guide to knowing what the correct dosage is for a patient.  It is commonly recommended that patients take 500 mg every hour until their stools are loose and watery, at which point they should stop and maintain a dosage 500 mg less than that which induced the effect.

Because it is water soluble and readily excreted, taking Vitamin C in smaller quantities throughout the day, and/or using a supplement which is sustained-release will increase its effects.

On a final note, Vitamin C absorption and usage has been shown to be enhanced in the presence of bioflavonoids, a large group of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables.  Using a Vitamin C supplement which contains a 2:1 ratio of Vitamin C: Bioflavonoids is the optimal  form for immune and stress-response support.  Since the basis for such a supplement is to mimic how Vitamin C is found in nature, it makes sense that incorporating plenty of raw vegetables and fruits which are high in Vitamin C would be the ideal form for overall health.  Produce with highest amounts of Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, sweet red pepper, broccoli, potatoes, and strawberries.  A daily diet including 2.5 cups of a variety of fruits and vegetables is estimated to contain roughly 200 mg of Vitamin C, which may be adequate for some, but may well create a need to supplement for individuals under various forms of stress.

Vitamin C may seem like an “old housewife” remedy, but its safety and usage are well documented and its availability is widespread and economical, making it a perfect tool in helping to fight the viruses to which we are continually exposed.

References
Linus Pauling Institute Newsletter, January 2006; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.Updated in November 2009 by: Victoria J. Drake, Ph.D.
Reviewed in November 2009 by: Balz Frei, Ph.D.
Director and Endowed Chair, Linus Pauling Institute
Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry and Biophysics
Oregon State University; Copyright 2000-2010  Linus Pauling Institute

Winter Wellness – Zinc

This mineral is more important than you “zink”!

No, that’s not my German Opa talking… science has proven that ZINC truly is a crucial nutrient for several body systems.  It’s role in the immune response became clear in the 1960’s when studies revealed that those suffering from widespread infections in endemic areas of the world were overwhelmingly found to be zinc deficient.    More common in the Western world are mild deficiencies, which are still linked with increased susceptibility to various infections.

Although we know zinc is so important in keeping our resistance to infections high, it is not yet clear whether taking lozenges at the first sign of a cold is helpful.  Some studies say yes, some show no difference.  The nasal spray, Zicam, was removed from the market because of a predisposition to cause a loss of sense of smell.

While the issue of whether benefits are produced acutely is still under question, how can you take advantage of zinc’s protection during the winter months?  By making sure you are topped off as a preventative measure.  A listing of the foods highest in zinc content is listed below.  It is also available in supplement form, in a variety of salt forms.  Zinc picolinate is well absorbed, as are the sulfate and chelates.  It is best to take zinc separated from foods as they may hinder absorption.  A maintenance dose of 15 mg is usually sufficient, although using 30 mg daily for a short period of time may help to bring up levels which are low.

Is there a way to know whether your zinc levels are low?  Yes, in the form of a taste test called the Zinc Challenge.  We can give you a small amount of liquid to hold in your mouth for 30 seconds.  If you get a strong taste of something like hydrogen peroxide right away, it is a good sign and means your body has adequate stores of zinc.  Tasting nothing, or deriving only a mild flavor indicates additional amounts are needed to keep your immune system ready for exposures.  Stop by the pharmacy at any time to take the challenge!

Below are food sources as mentioned…..

Shellfish, beef, and other red meats are rich sources of zinc. Nuts and legumes are relatively good plant sources of zinc. Zinc bioavailability (the fraction of zinc retained and used by the body) is relatively high in meat, eggs, and seafood because of the relative absence of compounds that inhibit zinc absorption and the presence of certain amino acids (cysteine and methionine) that improve zinc absorption. The zinc in whole grain products and plant proteins is less bioavailable due to their relatively high content of phytic acid, a compound that inhibits zinc absorption (5). The enzymatic action of yeast reduces the level of phytic acid in foods. Therefore, leavened whole grain breads have more bioavailable zinc than unleavened whole grain breads. Recently, national dietary surveys in the U.S. estimated that the average dietary zinc intake was 9 mg/day for adult women and 13 mg/day for adult men (4). The zinc content of some relatively zinc-rich foods is listed in milligrams (mg) in the table below. For more information on the nutrient content of specific foods, search the USDA food composition database.

Food Serving

Zinc (mg)

Oysters 6 medium (cooked)

76.3

Crab, Dungeness 3 ounces (cooked)

4.7

Beef 3 ounces* (cooked)

6.0

Pork 3 ounces (cooked)

2.2

Chicken (dark meat) 3 ounces (cooked)

1.8

Turkey (dark meat) 3 ounces (cooked)

3.8

Yogurt, fruit 1 cup (8 ounces)

1.8

Cheese, cheddar 1 ounce

0.9

Milk 1 cup (8 ounces)

1.8

Cashews 1 ounce

1.6

Almonds 1 ounce

1.0

Peanuts 1 ounce

0.9

Beans, baked 1/2 cup

1.8

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) 1/2 cup

1.3

*A three-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

References
Mol Med. 2008 May-Jun;14(5-6):353-7.  Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells.  Prasad AS.

Shankar, A.H. & Prasad, A.S. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998; volume 68: pages 447S-463S.  (PubMed)

Winter Wellness – NAC

NAC is a supplement you may not hear about all too often but it has potent activity, as shown by many studies which demonstrate its protective effect. NAC is an acronym for N-acetylcysteine – a form of one of our amino acids (which are the building blocks of proteins). Linked together with two other amino acids, glutamine and glycine, it forms something called glutathione. It is actually the glutathione which is thought to be responsible for improving several different parameters of immune function.

Although it is the glutathione which does the work, supplementing with glutathione directly is not as beneficial since it is not absorbed very well from the intestinal tract. Since glutamine and glycine are usually plentiful in the diet, boosting cysteine levels with NAC will increase glutathione and create the beneficial effects. Supplementing with a dosage of 600 mg once daily can be a safe and effective addition to efforts to optimize immune system strength.

NAC also has mucolytic activity and thins mucus by breaking bonds. It has been used in conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and COPD.

As an antioxidant, NAC, helps to support respiratory and detoxification systems to help us fight off infections. This becomes a harder job for our bodies in the winter, as we are more impacted by exposure to inside pollutants during the winter months, when many of us don’t have as much access to fresh air throughout the day.

References
Respiration. 2000;67(5):552-8. Inhibitory effect of N-acetylcysteine on adherence of Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae to human oropharyngeal epithelial cells in vitro. Riise GC, Qvarfordt I, Larsson S, Eliasson V, Andersson BA.

Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Nov 1;45(9):1252-62. Epub 2008 Jul 27. The glutathione precursor N-acetylcysteine improves immune function in postmenopausal women. Arranz L, Fernández C, Rodríguez A, Ribera JM, De la Fuente M.

Winter Wellness – ‘Shroom Power

Welcome to the Winter Wellness series! In the next series of posts we will highlight a different immune-boosting nutrient each day, to help you navigate the large maze of supplements and get through the cold and flu season with as few sniffles as possible. Keep in mind that we all get exposed to and feel the beginnings of colds, but the stronger we keep our immune systems the shorter and less severe the infection course will be, hopefully with no down time to suffer through. To kick off the week, we’ll take a look at something that should be in everyone’s Sunday dinner salad….

As winter draws near and farmer’s markets disappear, it becomes harder to create those beautiful, colorful salads. Overlooked by many because of their lack of color, mushrooms are seriously underrated. They are actually packed with immune-supporting substances. Maitake mushrooms in particular have been studied extensively, but even the common white button mushroom has shown considerable evidence of benefits.

Substances called polysaccharides (specific carbohydrate structures) in mushrooms show ability to activate macrophages (the large cells responsible for “swallowing” infectious material) and natural killer cells. They also seem to exert stimulatory effects on T-Cells, and B-Cells (thereby both the immediate and learned immune response). One might find them in supplements listed at 1,3 Beta Glucan, or in a proprietary blend from Japan by the name of AHCC.

Mushrooms also contain high levels of a form of Omega 3 fatty acid called CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), which has been studied for its anti-tumor activity. It is not yet certain how this activity occurs, but several immune effects are being considered.

Finally, high levels of antioxidants in mushrooms help protect your body’s organs and tissues from free radical damage. In one study comparing vegetable ORAC values (a system designed to test antioxidant potency), mushrooms proved just as valuable as green beans, broccoli, and red peppers.

Be sure to add mushrooms to your weekly diet this winter to boost your body’s ability to ward off infections. If you do feel something trying to take hold at some point, consider using a supplement containing a mushroom extract to help fight it quickly.

 

References
Stimulation of humoral and cell mediated immunity by polysaccharide from mushroom phellinus linteus International Journal of Immunopharmacology Volume 18, Issue 5, May 1996, Pages 295-303. Kim HM, Han SB, Oh GT, Kim YH, Hong DH, Hong ND, Yoo ID.

Immunological effect of active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(5):643-51. Terakawa N, Matsui Y, Satoi S, Yanagimoto H, Takahashi K, Yamamoto T, Yamao J, Takai S, Kwon AH, Kamiyama Y