The immune system
is best compared to a well-trained army that utilizes both
defensive and offensive mechanisms. Immune system chemicals such
as interferon, antibodies, cytokines, etc. represent the
marching orders, bullets and other devices the body uses to
destroy microbes and tumors. It is the well-orchestrated synergy
and function of each component that allows for the proper
defense of the body against pathological invaders.
Proper immune function literally allows the human organism to
survive in the milieu of pathogens and mutagenic cells that
continuously bombard the harmonious existence of the 50 trillion
cells that comprise homosapiens.
To ensure proper functioning for the immune system, sufficient
and optimal nourishment and stimulation is essential. Sufficient
hydration, adequate sleep, consuming a variety of fresh produce
are all foundational. Yet in today’s world of excess stress,
environmental pollutants and super-bugs, enhancement of immune
function is crucial. Nurturing healthy immune systems
proactively opposed to reactively is a must for those serious
about maintaining wellness and healthy aging.
Understanding the immune system is vitally important to
understanding which nutritional supplements can have the
greatest effect on its function. In this article, I will address
three important aspects of immunity: secretory IgA
immunoglobulins, natural killer cells and the CD4/CD8 ratio.
IgA is primarily secreted via the mucous membranes of eyes,
noses, throat and gastrointestinal tract. Secretory IgA
functions like the body’s very own ScotchGuard™, coating the
surfaces of the mucous membranes, enveloping them and creating a
highly impervious barrier to help prevent microbes from binding
to epithelial cells in the respiratory and digestive tracts.
Ensuring that sIgA is present in sufficient quantity is critical
to help fight pathogens that come in contact with vulnerable
body surfaces via ingestion or inhalation. Body fluids rich in
sIgA include colostrum, mother’s milk, saliva and tears. Among
the unique qualities of sIgA include its rich cysteine content,
a physiological significant sulfur containing amino acid. This
might help explain why n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), which works so
well to break up thick nasal, sinus and respiratory mucus, also
helps accelerate innate healing processes.
Low levels of IgA contribute to susceptibility to infection,
asthma, autoimmune conditions, Celiac disease, chronic
infections, intestinal disease, candidiasis, food intolerances,
allergies, autism and ADD/ADHD. The concept of more is better
does not apply to immune function – this is illustrated by the
observation that very high levels of sIgA also can be found in
people who have chronic infections and immune system
hypersensitivity. Therefore, supplements such as EpiCor™ that
establish balanced sIgA levels will help fortify the body’s
defenses by strengthening the barrier against pathogen invasion.
Natural Killer Cells
NK cells are important players in immunity. They are like
soldiers who enter directly into battle. In this case, these
immunological soldiers kill pathogen-infected cells and cells
that have mutated into tumors. This is why they are described as
cytotoxic (the same term used to describe many chemotherapy
drugs), which means cell-destroying. NK cells are lymphocytes
(white blood cells) that powerfully contribute to immune defense
and offense. In order to achieve full killing potential, NK
cells do not require much new protein synthesis and remodeling.
Thus, this rapid killing activity justifies their name as
In their cytoplasm, NK cells contain small granules of special
proteins called perforin and proteases, which are known as
granzymes. These “zymes” function as enzymes. On release in
close proximity of a cell to be killed, perforin forms pores in
the cell membrane of the target cell through which the granzymes
and associated molecules can enter and induce apoptosis
(programmed cell death). By killing cells via apoptosis, the
release of pathogens is contained in the surrounding tissue
rather than allowing for a systemic spread.
When a viral invader enters the system or a cell becomes
mutagenic, NK cells are activated in one of two ways. By
triggering the production of antigens on the infected cells,
interferons create a “red flag” that helps the NK cells more
easily find the infected cells. Antigens are like name tags on
the cells – they let NK cells and other immune factors know
whether a cell is self (i.e. normal) or non-self (i.e. invaded
by a pathogen or cancerous). The other way NK cells are
activated is through macrophage derived cytokines. Cytokines,
proteins produced by white blood cells, send NK cells a signal
that an immunological response is needed. Whichever way NK cells
are activated, they stop viral infections by causing the immune
response to generate cytotoxic T cells. These cytotoxic T cells
are like soldiers who each have been assigned a specific enemy
to destroy; in other words, specific antigens that have given
each T-cell an assignment to kill one type of foreign microbe.
Antigens help NK cells create a built in safety mechanism that
allows for “self” to be differentiated by “non-self.” The end
result is that NK cells only attack cells infected by microbes
but not uninfected healthy cells. In this way, collateral damage
during the battle is intentionally minimized.
CD4/CD8 (Helper/Suppressor Cells)
A healthy immune system is defined by the balance that it
presents. Too great an immune response can contribute to
progressive autoimmunity, inflammation and generalized
hyperreactivity. In contrast, an immunosuppressed immune system
significantly increases the prevalence of infection, progression
of HIV and cancer. The HIV epidemic has helped further the
research into the fine balance between suppression and
T helper cells (aka CD4) are a type of white blood cell
(lymphocytes) that contribute to maximizing the capabilities of
immune function. CD4 cells can be compared to generals on the
battle field; they are not equipped for personal combat.
Consequently, unlike natural killer cells, they possess no
cytotoxic nor phagocytic activity. Thus they cannot kill an
infected host cell; rather they help mobilize the other white
blood cells and immune constituents and direct the fight for
T helper cells are of paramount importance in determining B cell
production. B cells are the body’s very own biological weapons.
They activate and promote the growth of cytotoxic cells, and
optimize the bacterial killing activity of phagocytes such as
macrophages. It is this diversity in function and their role in
influencing other cells that give helper T cells their namesake.
Noteworthy, as an HIV infection progresses, the performance and
number of CD4 cells diminish, contributing to the symptoms
complex known as AIDS. It is the drop in number of CD4 count
that is used to stage the severity of HIV infection and the
timing of treatment regimens.
In contrast, the CD8 cells known as suppressor T cells suppress
activation of the immune system and thereby maintain immune
system balance. Under normal circumstances CD8 cells serve a
life-sustaining function – they prevent hyper-vigilant immune
activity. In short, they allow cells to survive, because without
their presence out of control self attack would occur
continuously. Without CD8 cells, the immune system would be like
an 18 wheel diesel truck running out of control down a steep
hill, and the damage throughout the body would be catastrophic
EpiCor is one nutritional supplement shown to upregulate and
increase CD4 (helper cells) while decreasing CD8 (suppressor
cells), which improves the balance between the two. The clinical
implications of this ability far exceed mere HIV application,
for it is this immunological balancing act that is the key to
all successful immune defenses.
Controlling stress, getting sufficient sleep, performing mild to
moderate exercise, ensuring proper hydration and practicing a
health-promoting diet and lifestyle are all pivotal for those
seeking to enjoy true wellness and a healthy aging process.
Nutritional supplements also can build immunity by increasing
levels of secretory IgA (which builds a barrier against
pathogens), increasing the killing efficiency of natural killer
cells and improving the CD4/CD8 ratio. As the saying goes, the
best defense is a good offense.
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