Nutrition: Supporting the immune system naturally

Research continues to uncover the complexities of the immune system and the vital role it plays in preventing disease. Despite the scientific advances in immunological studies, however, infectious and allergic diseases account for 100,000 deaths annually, making them the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. This does not take into account deaths from immune-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and AIDS.

Rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative diseases have been identified as being caused by a faulty immune system. To say that the efficient operation of the immune system is critical in the prevention of disease is an understatement. The proper functioning of the immune system is essential to life.

When the immune system functions properly, it protects the body from disease by recognizing anything foreign to the body. The intricate workings of the immune system involve trillions of cells that seek out and destroy antigens. Each cell (lymphocyte, T-cell, B-cell, phagocyte, macrophage and monocyte) has a specific function in the immune process.

The production of immune cells and the immune response mechanism are controlled by the bone marrow, thymus, lymph nodes, liver and spleen. Most of these cells chemically destroy the invading substance by producing antibodies. The immune system produces a different antibody to destroy each specific antigen. It eliminates the foreign substance from the body and, when the danger has passed, the T-cells suppress the continued production of antibodies.

While research continues to uncover the mysteries of this highly complex, delicately balanced and essential defense system, scientists have been able to establish a strong link between certain immunosuppressant factors and immune imbalances.

When the body is overloaded by immunosuppressant factors or in a weakened state, cellular energy is suppressed, immune imbalances occur and the result is illness. Two very common immunosuppressant factors are poor eating habits (causing malnutrition) and stress (emotional, physical and environmental).

While nutrients are absolutely essential to fuel the body and maintain the cellular immune system, in 90% of Americans the nutrient intake level is inadequate.

Malnutrition does not result from the quantity of the food eaten, but the quality of food provided. Food growing and processing methods often add pollutants and destroy essential nutrients. Unless individuals organically grow and carefully process all their own food, chances are they do not receive the nutrients vital to the health maintenance and illness prevention.

Research is beginning to investigate the relationship of stress and immune response. During periods of physical or emotional stress, the sympathetic nervous system reacts and prepares the body for activity. When stress occurs over an extended time, this reaction can have several detrimental effects on the body including a chronically weak immune system.

The stress hormones, triggered by the sympathetic activity, lower the lymphocytes' ability to produce antibodies. This, in turn, lowers the body's resistance to the invasion of antigens and again, susceptibility to disease increases.

Under ideal circumstances, the immune system can maintain itself and resist disease. However, the body's daily attacks by foreign substances (antigens) are intensified by the presence of immunosuppressant factors. It becomes necessary to fortify the body and support the immune system to preserve health and deter illness.

An immune-enhancing program should not only include changes in lifestyle (diet, exercise and stress reduction), but should also support the immune system through the use of nutritional supplements. A strong nutritional supplement immune support program includes:

1. Immune-enhancing nutrients and herbs including coenzyme Q10, organic germanium sesquioxide, garlic and echinacea. CoQ10 is an essential nutrient necessary in the cellular production of energy. It does not stimulate the production of new cells in the immune system nor does it attack microorganisms. However, research strongly indicates it increases the immunocompetence of existing cells.

Interferon, like antibodies, is produced by immune cells. Organic germanium sesquioxide has been found to boost interferon production, stimulate T-cell production and generally increase resistance to disease.

Studies verify that echinacea enhances the body's immunostimulating activity by binding directly to the surface of white blood cells, increasing both interferon and T-cell reproduction.

Garlic has been used for over 5,000 years for its healing properties as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-hypertensive.

2. Adaptogens are substances that help normalize the debilitating effects of physical and emotional stress. One of the most well-known adaptogens is eleuthrococcus (Siberian ginseng). Eleuthrococcus has been shown to help combat the cumulative effects of stress by regulating energy, nucleic acid and protein metabolism.
3. Antioxidants are used as free radical scavengers. Free radicals accumulate at an amazing rate and it is in our best interest to neutralize them as soon as possible. Antioxidant nutrients and herbs (CoQ10, organic germanium, eleuthrococcus) reduce the energy of free radicals and make them less chemically reactive. Antioxidant formulas are also available to support free radical neutralization and inhibit cellular damage caused by toxins and pollutants.
Obviously, the best defense against disease is the optimal maintenance of health. Nutritional and herbal supplements can provide the natural resources to enhance and support a strong maintenance program.

(Neil Hockstad is general manager of PhysioLogics, a nutritional supplement manufacturer committed to providing standardized herbal preparations with proven efficacy and safety. For information, or to receive a free catalog of PhysioLogics products, call 1-800-765-6775.)

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By Neil Hockstad

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