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Immune Boosters for the Cold and Flu Season

During the fall season patients often ask me what boosts their immune system. However, the answer isn’t to simply boost the immune system but rather to have it signal properly. We don’t want mature cell mediated immune cells to continually be active, as that can lead towards an autoimmune response.  We can, however, try to boost the INNATE or nonspecific immune response, which is the first line of defense.  Be cautious with marketing techniques that claim their products boost your immune system. 

The innate immune cells include the phagocytes (the garbage collectors: think pac-man), the natural killer cells (NK cells), and other dendritic cells. 

According to research, agents that increase phagocytosis include (1-8):
Beta glucans
Larch arabinogalactan
Inulin
L-arginine
Glutamine
Polyphenols, such as pycnogenol
Echinacea species
Probiotics

NK cell activity is enhanced by (9):
Vitamin D, C
NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine)
Medicinal mushrooms (Shiitake, Reishi, Maitake, Coriolus)
Beta glucans
Larch arabinogalactans
Eleuthrococcus senticosus (also called Siberian Ginseng)
Probiotics
Lactoferrin
Chlorella

I also like Chinese herbs for boosting innate immunity. The ones with the most research include: Astragalus membranaceous, Codonopsis pilosula (which increases macrophage activity), Panax ginseng, white Atractylodes, as well as the medicinal mushrooms (Reishi, Maitake) (10). 

Cortisol, a stress hormone put out by the adrenals impairs phagocytosis, as does sugar, aging, diabetes, fasting and opoids (11).

For cold and flu season this winter I am using Vitamin D as prevention at high dose. One study found 4000 IU reduced the odds of taking antibiotics by 60% in patients with frequent respiratory infections (12). At the first sign of any run down feeling, I am using a nice formula by St. Francis Herb Farm called Deep Immune that has many of the Chinese herbs discussed, along with a throat spray by Wise Woman Herbals called Throat Mist, which contains echinacea, propolis and ligusticum as well as other supportive herbs.

If you have a product favorite backed by research for cold and flu season, leave a comment below.

Nari Pidutti, ND


References:

1. Immunol Rev. 2009 Jul;230(1):38-50
2. J Med Food. 2005 Winter;8(4):446-53
3. Biofactors. 2011 Nov-Dec;37(6):447-54
4. J Cell Physiol. 1996 July;168(1):26-33
5. Cell Biochem Funct. 2005 Mar-Apr;23(2):101-7
6. J Agric Food Chem, 2007 Nov 28;55(24):9784-91
7. Res Vet Sci. 2011 Aug;91(1):82-5
8. Int J Food Microbiol. 2010 Jun 15;140(2-3):154-63
9. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2004 June; 1(1):17-27
10. Chen JK, Chen TT, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of medicine Press, Inc.
11. Microsc Res Tech. 2002 Jun 15;57 (6):421-31
12. BMJ Open 2012;2: e001663