There are some important principles regarding the body’s immune system and how to protect it and enhance its ability to work properly. Innate immunity refers to nonspecific defense mechanisms that come into play immediately or within hours of an infection antigen’s appearance in the body. It is the inborn resistance we have to fight infections since birth.
These mechanisms include physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body. Acquired immunity is the resistance we have to fight infections and invading foreign substances that each individual acquires or adapts during the course of their life.
Examples of acquired immunity is a vaccine; we acquire this from a childhood vaccine, say against the polio virus which then protects us from getting this disease and what can follow (sequelae) which can paralyze certain muscle groups. Another example of acquired immunity is having come down with childhood chickenpox; once infected even if mild we should have lifelong immunity against further infections.
The adaptive immunity (also referred to as acquired) relies on the coordination of specific adaptive immune cells. There are five main parts of the immune system: white blood cells; antibodies; the complement system; the lymphatic system; the spleen; the thymus; and the bone marrow. Within the adaptive immune system there are cells called lymphocytes that have characteristics of specificity, immunological memory and self/non-self-recognition. They respond to antigens on infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses.
The subset of these lymphocytes are T-cells and B-cells. These two types of cells comprise the majority of the adaptive immune system. When working properly they will work together to attack and remove foreign invaders. When they are not working correctly due to a number of factors in an unhealthy body, they shirk their responsibilities and can even attack the host (this is referred to as autoimmunity). Autoimmunity leads to one or more of the near 100 autoimmune diseases. The breakdown of the adaptive immune system can have several root causes, anything from poor nutrition either macro or micronutrients, to smoldering chronic infections from viruses or other elusive agents, to environmental toxins. When the innate and adaptive immune systems are not fully functional an individual becomes more susceptible to infections and even cancers. It is worth mentioning here that our immune system is our first line defense against abnormal human cells we refer to as cancer cells.
With this basic understanding of our immune system and how its function is so important to us for health and wellness in a disease free state, we can now discuss what key interventions we can make to support them.
The basics to keeping our innate immune system strong would be support of our physical barriers such as skin and mucous membranes and our gut (our gut traverses through our ‘’insides’’ but is still considered ‘’outside’’). Keeping these barriers healthy will keep out infectious agents. Much like a fort’s external wall and moat, if working correctly can protect against a frontal attack by an enemy. Keeping the barriers healthy it is paramount for us to have a healthy diet rich in nutrients; protect our skin and mucosal membranes from breakdown; maintain good hygiene, exercise and rest.
To support this, we should consider the addition of vitamin D3 if our serum levels fall below 50 ng/mL. Vitamin D plays an integral role in our immune function. There are other nutrients such as Vitamin C and Zinc that are also helpful and when we see deficiencies, we can witness issues with our skin and other tissues. The same can be said for some of our B-complex vitamins. Our modern-day farming practices tend to deplete our foods of some of these nutrients, so oftentimes we depend on dietary supplementation to restore health levels we are missing in our daily meals.
For those suffering from frequent infections, who are immunocompromised due to a viral burden (HIV, EBV, CMV, HHV6 and other) and for those immunocompromised by some conventional medical treatments (chemotherapy, biologics, corticosteroids and other drugs) have to take additional measures.
A person is much more at risk for infections and poor outcomes should they become infected if they are immunocompromised. This can take shape if they have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), one or more autoimmune disorders, cancer, and exposure to radiation & chemotherapeutic agents. This also applies to those taking a newer class of therapy called biologics. Biologics are lab manipulated monoclonal antibodies (mAB) and these agents are engineered to attack certain parts of our immune system to prevent or treat autoimmune diseases such as MS or psoriasis for example. They may be successful and reducing some symptoms of the autoimmune disease they target, but do have the undesirable effects of opening up our bodies to infections and cancers. Biologics (mAB) agents interfere with some critical immune function cells and thus lower our protective system. FDA requires these warnings be made know by the manufacturer to doctors and their patients. That is why on the package insert of almost all mAB agents you will see warnings about potential infections and cancer risk.
There are several herbals that can aid our bodies in fighting infections and cancers. Echinacea and Goldenseal are the ones that commonly come to mine. However, others such as curcumin and Andrographis are others less commonly known. There are also anti-infectives such as oregano oil, clove oil, and berberine that may be helpful in treatment (much like synthetic antibiotics and antiviral medications). However, these natural and/or synthetic antimicrobials are only the second line in our defense. They can make the difference between life and death if our first-line defense is damaged or compromised.
For the purpose of this discussion we will focus on primary defense and support of our innate and adaptive immune systems.
Foremost is to avoid anything that will reduce effectiveness and damper response of our primary defenses. Avoidance of high dose steroids; mABs, and other agents/drugs that can diminish the effectiveness of our immune system. Support comes next with proper nutrition, exercise and rest (sleep). Third would be behavioral modifications in our life to avoid contact with invaders: good personal hygiene, handwashing, avoiding close personal contact with others that may be ill (especially with communicable diseases – today we refer to this as social distancing), proper, careful and smart immunization programs and schedules and lastly addressing an infection at the onset, not waiting too long before an infection takes hold.
Support for the immune system starts with adequate and bioavailable vitamin D3; bioactive active forms of B-vitamins (B-complex); and minerals. Omega-3 fatty acids can also play an important role in the health of our immune system and act as anti-inflammatories. Cytokine storms and run-away inflammation can damage our immune system and lead to protracted and severe illness as seen in SARS for example. Adaptogenic herbs of which there are many may also be helpful. In particular, agents that provide ginsenosides, curcuminoides and andrographolides are helpful. For example P. ginseng; curcumin and Andrographis.
Lastly, I will discuss a particular drug that has features of enhancement of immune system across many planes and covers a wide spectrum to include healing of the gut and mucosal lining; putting into balance and thus an optimal function of T-cells and B-cells; reducing current and future autoimmune disorders and allowing our immune system to fight cancer cells without the use of chemotherapeutic agents per se. This drug is naltrexone and when prescribed in much lower doses than the FDA approved dose of treating addictive disorders, it is a big instrument in our toolbox as far as prescriptions go. We refer to this as LDN (low-dose-naltrexone) and there is a plethora of evidence over the past 20-years having been published for the safe and effective use of this agent.
Well, researches combinations of easily available agents make up our basic recommendations for immune support at the Priority Health Academy and Carolina Holistic Medicine centers. Briefly, I will outline them here:
- Medicinal Mushrooms (select agents such as the d-fraction of maitake and other mushrooms)
- Specially prepared extracts of Curcumin longa (curcuminoids)
- High potency preparations of vitamin D and vitamin C (ascorbate)
- The amino acid N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine
- Specially prepared Andrographis paniculate
- Low Dose Naltrexone (Rx)
These are commonly prescribed by the providers at CHM to keep our patients at peek performance with regard to innate and adaptive immune function in our well and our exposed or ill patients. Written by Dr Saleeby, a holistic medical practitioner helping patients in South Carolina with their health.
- LDN Research Trust (Feb 2020 LDN Conference, Bahamas)
- LDNScience.org (EBM content)
- Andrographis “King of Bitters” presentation by EuroMedica March 2020
- www.impactjournals.com/oncotarget/ Oncotarget, 2017, Vol. 8, (No. 62), pp: 105860-105872