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Preparing the Immune System for Fall and Winter

Maintaining a state of wellness throughout the year can be challenging, requiring a multifaceted approach to health, which includes good nutrition. These challenges can be even more significant during the colder months of fall and winter, since immune response has been shown to be more effective in warmer months.1 Poor diet may also compromise immune response, and chronic stress can cause almost all measures of immune system function to drop across the board.2 Likewise, during the normal course of aging there is a known decline in immune function, commonly referred to as immunosenesence.3 All of this makes a good case for providing the body with additional immune support during the fall and winter. This article will review how the immune system works, and then provide specific nutraceutical recommendations for supporting a healthy immune response and supporting seasonal wellness—especially respiratory wellness.

The Immune System

The immune system involves a number of anatomical structures within the body, including the thymus gland, bone, the spleen, lymph nodes and the lymphatic system in general, as well as the intestines.3-4 One means by which the intestines play a role in immune health is through the presence of friendly flora species, which normally colonize in the human intestines.5-6 The flora appear to be important organisms in helping to create an immune barrier, which constitutes the first line of defense.

The body’s natural defenses may be grouped into two broad areas: innate and adaptive. These defenses function to provide the beneficial effects of the immune system, including the ability to counter the effects posed by daily immune challenges. Innate defenses are non-specific, eliciting a general protective response without conferring long-lasting immunity.7 Adaptive defenses provide a stronger immune response and support immunological memory. After initial contact, each foreign invader can be subsequently identified by a signature antigen, allowing immune responses that are tailored to specific invading foreign bodies.8 Both innate and adaptive responses contain humoral and cellular components. Humoral immunity is so named because it involves substances found in the humours, or body fluids.

Innate defenses include: 1) the normal inflammatory response 2) the complement system and 3) leukocytes (white blood cells). Adaptive defenses include: 1) B lymphocytes and antibodies 2) gamma delta T cells 3) helper T cells 4) killer T cells and 5) other T cells.

Inflammatory Response

One of the first responses of the immune system,9 an inflammatory response is produced by eicosanoids and cytokines, which are released by injured or invaded cells. This can result in fever, dilation of blood vessels, the attraction of leukocytes (white blood cells),10-11 communication between white blood cells, chemotaxis and interferons that provide immune resistance.12 Essentially, inflammation causes a recruitment of immune cells to the site of invasion and promotes healthy tissue following the removal of those invaders.13

Complement System

A biochemical cascade that attacks the surfaces of foreign cells is referred to as the complement system. Named for its ability to complement the killing of invaders by antibodies, it contains over 20 different proteins and is the primary humoral component of the innate defense response.14-15

Leukocytes

The secondary component of the innate defense response is the leukocyte category of cells,16 comprised of phagocytes (e.g., macrophages, neutrophils and dendritic cells), mast cells, eosinophils, basophils and natural killer cells. The function of these leukocytes is to deal with more significant immune challenges through contact or by engulfing and killing invaders.17 Leukocytes also help to mediate the activation of the adaptive defenses.18

Lymphocytes

Lymphocytes are a category of adaptive immune system cells, comprised of B cells and T cells originating from stem cells in the bone marrow or from the thymus, respectively.19 B cells are involved in the humoral immune response, whereas T cells are involved in cell-mediated immune response. B cells and T cells both have receptor molecules that recognize specific targets. T cells only recognize a foreign cell after antigens have been processed and presented. B cells have an antibody molecule on their surface, which recognizes native molecules on foreign particles without the need for antigen processing.

Cytotoxic T Cells

Cytotoxic T cells are a specific type of T cell that kills invaded cells, or cells with other damage or dysfunction.20Cytotoxic T cells directly attack cells carrying foreign or non-self antigens on their surfaces.21

T Helper Cells

T helper cells do not kill invaded host cells or foreign cells, but rather recognize antigen-presenting cells and regulate both the innate and adaptive immune responses and help determine which types of immune responses the body will make to a particular foreign invader.22-23 They also provide signals that stimulate the activity of macrophages, cytotoxic T cells and B cells.

Gamma Delta T Cells

Gamma delta T cells (gd T cells) share the characteristics of T helper cells, and have functions in both innate and adaptive immunity.24 For example, large numbers of human gd T cells respond to common molecules produced by foreign invaders (an innate function), while at the same time they rearrange certain genes to produce receptor diversity and can also develop a memory phenotype (an adaptive function).25

B Lymphocytes and Antibodies

When antibodies on the surface of a B-cell bind to specific antigens on a foreign invader’s surface, a B cell identifies the antigen as non-self,26 takes it up and processes it by digestion into smaller molecules. With the assistance of T helper cells, the B cell begins to divide and produce millions of copies of the antibody that recognizes this antigen and bind to matching invaders, marking them for destruction. By binding to molecular patterns produced by these invaders or by interfering with the receptors that are used to invade cells, the antibodies can also neutralize challenges directly.27

Nutraceutical Support for Healthy Immune Response

There are various nutraceuticals that may have benefit for supporting and promoting healthy immune function. These include mushrooms, green tea, fermented yeast and probiotics.

Mushrooms

Many mushroom extracts have a history of use in promoting a healthy immune response. Such extracts includeAgaricus blazei, Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), Maitake (Grifola frondosa), Coriolus versicolor, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). Many are a rich source of naturally occurring polysaccharides, especially beta-glucans. These polysaccharides support immune reactions, primarily through modulation of immune responsive cytokines such as IL-1, IL-2, IL-6 and IFN-gamma.28-35 A good example is Maitake, which has been successfully used as an adjunctive approach for supporting optimal immune function.36-37 ImmunoMax 24/7™ contains extracts from mushrooms that are specially cultivated to increase the levels of immune modulating polysaccharides. Furthermore, ImmunoMax 24/7 tablets are produced with a special, high quality, natural coating, which is made from organic silica and organic tapioca starch.

Green Tea

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) extract, also found in ImmunoMax 24/7, is well known for its antioxidant compounds such as EGCG,38 and may help to support chromosomal health and strengthen DNA.39 In addition, green tea also helps to support healthy, normal cell division.40-42 A purified form of EGCG is used to make ImmunoMax 24/7. The EGCG is suspended in a time-released matrix so that it doesn’t break down in stomach acid, allowing much more of this immune-enhancing compound into the blood stream than can be obtained by drinking green tea.

Fermented Yeast

EpiCor is a product that provides metabolites and nutrients from a special fermented form of nutritional yeast. In a study evaluating EpiCor, this product was found to promote innate immune response.43 This was further documented in a 12-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial,44 where 116 healthy subjects receiving daily supplementation with 500 mg of EpiCor for 12 weeks had significantly enhanced respiratory wellness. In addition, fermented yeast has been found to support the healthy function of macrophages, granulocytes and natural killer cells.45

Probiotics

As previously discussed, friendly intestinal flora play an important role in helping to maintain a healthy bacterial balance in the digestive tract. Recent research has also demonstrated that friendly flora is critically involved in regulating the generation of specific T cells and antibody responses towards invaders that have a tendency to impact respiratory mucosa.46 Probiotics are supplements that provide specific strains of friendly flora. Some of these friendly strains include Lactobacillus acidophilus (DDS-1), Bifidobacterium bifidumBifidobacterium longumBifidobacterium infantis and Bacillus coagulans. A practical demonstration of beneficial effects of probiotic supplementation was seen in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study,47 in which 326 children (3-5 years of age) received either Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria probiotics, which significantly supported respiratory wellness. BioPRO™ is a probiotic formulation that provides each of the aforementioned probiotic strains.

Conclusion

Supporting immune health and respiratory wellness all year round should include a complete program that features a varied, healthy diet. In addition, the use of key dietary supplements, especially ImmunoMax 24/7, EpiCor and BioPRO can provide specific, targeted support for such a program

This article was published on Thursday December 08, 2011.
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