Manuka Honey

The market for Manuka honey has recently exploded, thanks to the perceived benefits of its natural antibacterial properties. But what evidence is there to support the claims?

In this article, we explore what Manuka honey is, what its properties are, and how it differs from other types of honey.

We also look at the evidence available to assess whether Manuka honey really is the next great superfood.

Historical use of honey

Honey has been used to treat wounds since ancient times, as detailed in a document dating back to 1392. It was believed to help in the fight against infection, but the practice fell out of favor with the advent of antibiotics.

As we face the challenge of a growing worldwide resistance to antibiotics, scientists are examining the properties and potential of honey.

Qualities of Manuka honey

The leaves of the Manuka tree, also known as a tea tree, have been known for centuries among the indigenous tribes of New Zealand and southern Australia for their healing powers.

Bees that collect nectar from this tree make Manuka honey, which harbors some of the healing properties.

All Honey contains antimicrobial properties, but Manuka honey also contains non-hydrogen peroxide, which gives it an even greater antibacterial power.

Some studies have found Manuka honey can also help to boost production of the growth factors white blood cells need to fight infection and to heal tissue.

Manuka honey contains a number of natural chemicals that make it different:

  • Methylglyoxal (MGO): This has been shown to be effective against several bacteria, including Proteus mirabilis and Enterobacter cloacae.
  • Dihydroxyacetone (DHA): This is found in the nectar of Manuka flowers and converts into MGO during the honey production process.
  • Leptosperin: This is a naturally occurring chemical found in the nectar of Manuka plants and a few close relatives.

Manuka honey and wound care

Medical grade honey, used by healthcare professionals as part of a wound dressing, can help some kinds of wounds to heal.

Experts believe that because Manuka honey has added antibacterial and healing properties, it may be even more effective. At the moment, however, there is little evidence to support the theory.

A Cochrane Review looked at all the evidence available to support the use of honey in wound care. Published in 2015, the study said the differences in wound types made it impossible to draw overall conclusions about the effects of honey on healing.

The study found strong evidence that honey heals partial thickness burns around 4 to 5 days more quickly than conventional dressings. There is also evidence indicating that honey is more effective than antiseptic and gauze for healing infected surgical wounds.

Another study concluded that honey has rapid diabetic wound healing properties, but recommended more research to confirm that honey can be used as the first line of treatment for these types of wounds.

While some research does show that honey can help improve certain conditions, more studies are needed to confirm honey’s benefits for:

  • mixed acute and chronic wounds
  • pressure ulcers
  • Fournier’s gangrene
  • venous leg ulcers
  • minor acute wounds
  • Leishmaniasis

Manuka honey and bacteria

Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections all over the world. However, the bacteria the drugs are deployed to kill can adapt and become resistant.
Manuka honey has antibacterial properties and may be able to fight superbugs resistant to most standard antibiotics.

This resistance is currently happening all over the world, and a growing number of infections are becoming harder to treat. This leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs, and ultimately, more deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed resistance to antibiotics as the one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development.

The natural antibacterial properties of honey may be useful in this fight. In the lab, Manuka honey has been shown to be able to inhibit around 60 species of bacteria. These include Escherichia coli (E. coli) and salmonella.

Some studies have shown that Manuka honey can fight so-called superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics. These include Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA-15) and Pseudomonas aeruginosin.

This line of investigation is still in its infancy. These have been small, lab-based tests which combined medical grade Manuka honey with antibiotics.

There is still a lot of work to be done before scientists can come to a conclusion.

Other health benefits

There are many other potential health benefits of Manuka honey. These include:

  • reducing high cholesterol
  • reducing inflammation
  • reducing acid reflux
  • treating acne

There is, however, limited evidence for its use in these areas.

Using Manuka honey

The medical grade honey used to dress wounds is very different from the honey sold in stores.

Medical grade honey is sterilized, with all impurities removed, and prepared as a dressing. Wounds and infections should always be seen and treated by a healthcare professional.

Store-bought Manuka honey can be used in the same manner as any other honey: on toast, on porridge, or to sweeten drinks.

There is no clear evidence that people who consume Manuka honey in this way will notice any benefit to their health. It is not clear how the active ingredients that provide Manuka honey with its healing properties survive in the gut.


Honey is usually around 80 percent sugar, mainly supplied by glucose, fructose, and sucrose, so moderate intake is recommended. This is particularly true if you have diabetes.

Due to the recent trend for Manuka honey, it can be expensive, so it is important to make sure you know what you are looking for.

When buying Manuka honey from the store, look for the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) mark. This means the honey has been produced by one of the 100+ beekeepers, producers, and exporters licensed by the UMF Honey Association.

The number displayed next to the UMF mark represents the quantity of Manuka key markers, leptosperin, DHA, and MGO. Consumers are advised to choose UMF 10+ and above.

Using Anti-pathogens {Building Your Immune System – Part 2}

The medical community’s arsenal of anti-pathogens is somewhat limited–90% is comprised of antibiotics, with another 5% of antivirals, and 5% cytokine therapies. (In truth, there are actually very few effective medical antivirals.) The discovery and use of these drugs have represented one of the greatest achievements of medical science over the last hundred years. Unfortunately, thanks to arrogance and misuse, resistant strains of bacteria and viruses have proliferated like fear mongers in an Ebola epidemic. And in truth, this trend may be almost impossible to stop since it is the result of the simple rules of evolution.


Any population of organisms, bacteria included, naturally includes a handful of variants with unusual traits — in this case, the ability to withstand a particular antibiotic’s attack. When this antibiotic is used and kills the overwhelming majority of defenseless bacteria, it leaves behind those few bacteria that can resist it. These renegade variants, now the only bacteria left, are now free to multiply without constraint, increasing their numbers a million fold in a single day, instantly becoming the new dominant variant. In other words, the very act of using an antibiotic creates the opportunity for resistant strains to flourish and become dominant. That means that the next time you use the antibiotic, it will have little effect.

It’s important to understand that antibiotics vary in the way they kill microbes. Penicillin, for example, kills bacteria by attaching to their cell walls and then breaching those walls, thus killing the bacteria. Erythromycin, tetracycline, and streptomycin, on the other hand, kill bacteria by attacking the structures inside the bacteria (ribosomes) that allow them to make proteins, thus also destroying the bacteria. Because each antibiotic is a single compound and one-dimensional in its approach, it’s not that hard for microbes to “evolve” around such attacks. For example, microbes resistant to penicillin have developed cell walls that prevent the penicillin from binding. Similarly, other variants prevent antibiotics from binding to ribosomes, thus neutralizing the effect of those antibiotics. Using antibiotics with different attack modes in combination can help in the short term, but it also accelerates the breeding of superbugs, resistant to many types of drugs.

Where it gets really frightening, though, is that bacteria swap genes like Facebook members swap friends — which brings us to vancomycin, until a few years ago, the antibiotic of last resort. When all other antibiotics failed, doctors knew they could count on vancomycin. But then vancomycin resistance was discovered in a common hospital microbe, enterococcus. By 1991, thirty-eight hospitals in the United States reported the variant. Just one year later, vancomycin-resistant staph bacteria were observed with the same gene. What this means is that not only are bacteria programmed to “evolve” defenses against antibiotics but once they produce such a defense, they are also programmed to rapidly share that defense with other strains of bacteria, thus rapidly spreading the resistance through the entire bacterial world. That is truly scary!


Viruses evolve around antivirals in much the same way as bacteria evolve around antibiotics, but even more quickly since their DNA is much simpler — more primitive, more malleable as it were. On the other hand, how medicine deals with viruses is actually quite different.

A virus is defined as an infectious “agent” that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by an optical microscope, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host. They can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea (single-celled microorganisms that are similar in size and shape to bacteria but possess different genes and incorporate different metabolic pathways). There is a major debate within the scientific community as to whether or not viruses are actually alive, with the community currently punting the issue by declaring that they exist in a “gray area.”1 But in truth, the debate is more intellectual than practical because, whether they are alive or not, viruses behave as if they are living and have intent–and that intent is often harmful to us.

One of the primary medical tools for dealing with viruses is pharmaceutical antivirals. The major difference between antivirals and antibiotics is that unlike most antibiotics, antiviral drugs do not destroy their target; instead, they merely inhibit their development. Nature too has an abundance of antivirals such as tea tree and eucalyptus oils,2 and in fact, most medical antivirals are derived from nature. Tamiflu, for example, was developed from a biochemical found in the Chinese star anise. (We’ll talk more about Tamiflu in a bit.) However, alternative medicine gives us access to a second option that is unavailable to us in the world of pharmaceuticals: virucides. Natural virucides don’t just “inhibit” viruses; they can actually destroy or deactivate them. That’s a huge advantage when fighting a viral infection.

Viruses work by invading cells, making copies of themselves inside the cell, and in many cases, destroying the invaded cell in the process before they burst forth to then invade millions of additional cells–and on and on. Viruses can disrupt the functions of the invaded cell. They can also interact with the chromosomes in the invaded cell, which is how they can cause cancer. And some viruses–think HIV–specifically attack and invade the cells of the immune system, causing widespread loss of immune system function throughout the body.

Like the viruses themselves, antiviral drugs can also work in a number of ways. They can alter the structure of the invaded cell, or even its genetic material so that the viruses can no longer use it to multiply. Other antivirals work by blocking enzyme activity in the invaded cells, thus inhibiting the ability of the virus to multiply.  And yet other antivirals make use of interferon substances that were produced by virus-infected cells trying to defend themselves to protect other cells from being invaded.

The problem with all of these approaches is that, like antibiotics, they too are one dimensional, which gives viruses an easy work around. And as we mentioned earlier, because viral DNA is even simpler than bacterial DNA — more primitive, more malleable as it were–viruses can “evolve” around antivirals with extraordinary speed. Whereas it may take bacteria several months or even two to three years to work around an antibiotic, viruses can pull the trick off when it comes to antivirals in a matter of weeks.3

How Pharmaceuticals Destroy Nature

If all that pharmaceutical antibiotics and antivirals did was negate themselves and breed superbugs over time, that would be bad enough. Unfortunately, their effect is far more damaging. Since many pharmaceutical drugs are drawn from nature, they also undermine nature. Let me give you an example.

The Chinese star anise plant has a long history as a healing herb — for digestive problems, women’s health, and for treating colds and flu. The Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche, focused in on the cold and flu benefit and then “subtracted out” all of the “extraneous” biochemicals in the plant until they settled on one component, shikimic acid, that they said was responsible for the star anise plant’s ability to inhibit colds and flu’s. From shikimic acid, they synthesized oseltamivir (for patent purposes) and thus was born Tamiflu. This is a subtractive process. You eliminate everything “extraneous” and get down to one single active ingredient. Of course, there are major problems with this magic bullet approach — and in the case of Tamiflu, two big ones:

So how does that undermine nature? To put it simply, Roche has managed to take a natural cold and flu remedy that viruses had not been able to evolve around since the dawn of man, and by reducing it to a single active component, breed multiple strains of resistant flu viruses in short order. Astoundingly, they have managed to negate one of the nature’s best antivirals in less than a decade — truly an amazing achievement.

What Can Be Done?


When you think about how quickly pathogens evolve around pharmaceutical antibiotics (and even faster around antivirals), it’s more than amazing that these same microbes have been unable to do so against most natural antipathogens. Garlic, olive leaf, and oil of oregano, for example, are still effective even given thousands of years for those pathogens to evolve around them (not counting those natural antipathogens such as star anise that have been nullified through the “unnatural” intervention of the pharmaceutical industry). How can that be? Actually, it’s quite simple — or more accurately, simply complex. While drugs, as we have discussed, are essentially one-dimensional in their mode of attack, which allows microbes an easier path to evolve around them, natural antipathogens often contain dozens of biochemicals. To be sure, not all of them are necessarily “active” when tested in isolation, but many of the so-called inactive components potentiate the active ones and offer therapeutic combinations numbering in the thousands, even within a single plant. This presents a complexity that makes it virtually impossible for microbes to work around.

Take garlic. For a long time, many people thought there was only one active component in garlic, allicin (in fact, many supplement companies still promote that concept). However, researchers now know that allicin is rapidly oxidized, breaking down into more than 100 biologically active, sulfur-containing compounds. (While allicin still serves as a marker of garlic’s potency, S-allylcysteine and other sulfur compounds are now recognized as the most therapeutically active ingredients.)

So how many possible pathogenic defense combinations can you get from garlic’s 100 biologically active compounds? A whole bunch!! Thousands and thousands and thousands, in fact!

The formula for finding the number of combinations of k objects you can choose from a set of n objects is:

n_C_k = ———-
k!(n – k)!

With 100 objects/compounds to work with and possible combinations ranging from any 2 of them to any 99 of them, the complexity is just far, far, far too much for simple pathogens to evolve around.
And that’s the secret. But it gets even better.

When you combine several natural substances/herbs–each with their own complement of bioactive compounds–in one formula, the combinations of compounds are beyond counting. Quite simply, microbes cannot evolve around them–unless assisted by the greed and incompetence of pharmaceutical companies.

The widespread use (and misuse) of pharmaceutical antibiotics and antivirals has led us to a world filled with growing numbers of drug-resistant “superbugs.” Eventually, one of them will unleash a devastating worldwide plague that, by definition, will be resistant to all that medical science can throw at it. At that moment, natural antipathogens may offer the only viable defense.

The End of the Age of Antibiotics

When taken at face value, the end of antibiotics (and antivirals too) is a frightening prospect–even for those into alternative health. Although people who are health conscious try and avoid antibiotics and antivirals as much as possible, there are times you truly need them. And when you need them, you really, really need them to work. If they don’t, the potential for death rates from infection climbing through the roof is a very real possibility. Antibiotic resistant infections, using the most conservative estimates possible, now kill about 23,000 people each and every year in the United States alone. But some less conservative estimates say the number is closer to 100,000, which would already make drug-resistant bacteria and viruses the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Then, once you eliminate the effectiveness of the remaining antibiotics and antivirals we still have in our arsenal over the next several years, you can easily see drug resistant infections occupying the number three spot, or even higher.

This is absolutely something to be concerned about. However…

How fast that day actually arrives is up to us. We’ve crossed the point of no return for existing drugs. Can’t go back, and we will have to deal with the consequences moving forward. Can’t change the obsolescence of those drugs no matter what we do. However, what we do in the near term does influence how soon we will have to face that day of reckoning and what happens after that–and that matters big time.

Given enough time and money, drug manufacturers can probably find one or two new antibiotics to help buy us some more time. But the big ace in the hole–and don’t fall out of your seats–is genetic engineering. Despite what you might think about genetically modified foods, and not to mention the fact that genetically engineered plants and animals may have actually played a major role in directly promoting antibiotic resistance in the first place, genetic engineering is actually the future when it comes to fighting bacteria and viruses. (By the way, genetic engineering is already involved in manufacturing most of the vitamin B2, B12, E, and C that you find in health store supplements.)  What genetic engineering is likely to produce in the post-antibiotic era promises to be far, far more effective than today’s antibiotics, and far more targeted. Today’s antibiotics are essentially a blunt weapon. Yes, they kill the bad guys, but they also kill the good bacteria in your body–bacteria that are essential for your health. The post-antibiotic age has the potential to be far healthier.

You need to understand that the use of genetic engineering when it comes to antibiotics is far from new. While most manufacturers now simply make their antibiotics in the lab, for several decades, a number of antibiotics were manufactured from genetically engineered bacteria. For example, manufacturers made erythromycin commercially through fermentation using the soil bacteria Saccharopolyspora erythraea and E. coli. But our new-found ability to quickly unravel the genetic code of bacteria, has opened the door to an entirely new world of infection fighting. It seems that almost weekly now, the genetic code of yet another bacterium has been revealed.

The future lies in using a particular bacterium’s genetic code against it by locating its unique vulnerabilities and then modifying other bacteria to produce agents that target those particular vulnerabilities–and nothing else. This would mean that we could fight both bacterial and viral infections far more effectively and with virtually no side effects. It would also give us the ability to counter any workarounds the pathogens develop as fast as they develop them. One of the most interesting strategies involves directing specific counterattacks at the infectious agents’ resistance weapons–as revealed through genetic decoding. Treatments could then be devised that combine an antibiotic that might currently be ineffective with a second drug that has a little antibiotic effect but possesses the power to disarm a bacterial or viral defense molecule. Other hybrid treatments could be devised using compounds that impair the invading pathogen’s ability to pump the antibiotic component out of the bacterial cell.

This is coming. The only question is time. Do we get to roll relatively seamlessly from antibiotics of diminishing effectiveness into targeted, genetically engineered, infection-fighting drugs, or do we have an extended gap in which deadly bacteria and viruses have free reign and kill millions of people before we plug that gap?

Unfortunately, two things stand in the way of quickly plugging the hole:

  • Getting new antibiotics and antivirals into the pipeline is not going to be easy. Pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to develop such drugs because they’re not very profitable. Most people only need antibiotics and antivirals for just a few times in their lives–and then only for a few weeks until they get better.  Compare that to a new statin drug that requires people to stay on them every day for the rest of their lives. For this reason, there has been a 75% decline in the development of new antibiotics since 1983. And the development process is lengthy. If a pharmaceutical company decided today to develop a new antibiotic or antiviral, it would be ten years and hundreds of millions of dollars before that drug would be available to patients. And then, thanks to the ability of pathogens to quickly evolve around them, they only remain effective for a couple years, months, or weeks, as the case might be. Unless governments decide to subsidize their development, we’re unlikely to see many stop gap antibiotics and antivirals. In other words, we’re pretty much stuck with what we have unless governments totally transform their mindsets–which is another way of saying we’re stuck with what we have.
  • The time we have left for using the drugs now in place is likely to get exponentially shorter. If physicians stopped prescribing unnecessary antibiotics, if patients actually finished their course of antibiotics instead of stopping the moment they felt better, and most important of all, if large commercial farms abandoned all use of antibiotics in the raising of their beef, pork, poultry, and farmed fish, then the whole process would slow down, and we would have more time before new methods for fighting infection would need to be in place. But nothing in modern human history says that even one of those things is likely to happen–at least in time to make any difference.

In the meantime, with medicine having an ever decreasing supply of infection-fighting options at this moment in time, it’s up to you to take care of yourself. So:

  • Keep your immune system optimized so that you don’t get sick in the first place.
  • Keep a supply of natural pathogen destroyers on hand to give yourself a fighting chance against any infection you might get. And be sure and start using the anti-pathogen formula all out the moment there is any indication that you have come down with something. Remember, it is far easier to defeat an infection during its incubation phase then after it has taken hold.
  • And no matter what advances science brings, there will always be a role for natural antipathogens, which tend to be broad spectrum and capable of working against all pathogens–known and unknown– as opposed to targeted pharmaceutical drugs which would have to be retargeted every time a new pathogen appears.


At the moment, vaccines are probably the most successful method available to the medical community for dealing with viruses. They work by “pre-building memory” into our immune systems — memories of significant diseases we have never had such as measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, and smallpox. Vaccines contain a weakened, sterilized version of microorganisms (or proteins from those microorganisms) that is capable of producing an immune response in the body without inducing a full-blown onset of the disease itself. Although vaccines have played a significant role in helping reduce the number of deaths from these diseases, this benefit has not come without cost. The truth about vaccines is that:

  • They are not as effective as the medical community and the media promote.
  • Nor are they as safe as promised.
  • On the other hand, they are not as ineffective as many in the alternative health community believe.
  • Nor are they quite as dangerous.

One other thing to understand about vaccines is the concept of “herd immunity.” The concept is simple. When a high enough percentage of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, then everyone in that community is protected against the disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak to take hold. Even those who are not immunized are largely protected because the overall immunization of the community means that the spread of contagious disease is contained. In other words, people within the community are free to opt out of vaccination and still not come down with the disease–at least until, the critical level of non-immunization is breached and the disease is free to spread. The principle of community/herd immunity has been used to control a variety of contagious diseases, including influenza, measles, mumps, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease.

So, does vaccination work? To some degree, yes, but the effectiveness varies from vaccine to vaccine–and it always comes at a cost. Most people probably believe it’s worth it. But if you or one of yours happens to have a severe reaction to the vaccination and have to pay “the price,” then probably not so much.

For more about the pros and cons of vaccines, check out:

Pathogen Destroyers

Pathogen destroyers represent an alternative, complementary route to assisting your immune system. They don’t build immune function as the immune boosters that we discussed in our last newsletter do. Instead, they “free up” immune function by directly destroying pathogens in the body that would otherwise occupy the attention of your immune system. They function as natural antibiotics, antivirals, and virucides.

Incubation phase

Before we talk about specific anti-pathogens, we need to talk about the optimum time to use them: the incubation phase. This is the period of time between exposure to a pathogenic organism and when the classic full-blown symptoms and signs of the disease first become apparent. For the flu, this period can run from one to three days. For the common cold, two to five days. For Ebola, two to 21 days. And for mononucleosis, it can take as long as 42 days. Everyone knows the symptoms for the common diseases. When you have a full blown cold or flu, you know it. That’s when most people take action. Unfortunately, that’s too late. At that point, all you can hope to do by using anti-pathogens is to shorten the duration of your illness a few days. After all, your immune system is already on the job.

But if know you’ve been exposed to a virus, or you can recognize the early symptoms of an illness that manifest during the incubation phase, you can kill the invaders before they get established, and before your immune system even breaks a sweat. And in truth, we all know those symptoms; we just rationalize them away while they’re happening. We’re talking about the scratchy throat that precedes a sore throat, the sniffles that precede a runny nose, and the dull body ache that precedes a full-blown fever.  These are the symptoms that you rationalize as:

  • I’m really tired; I need to catch some extra sleep.
  • I shouldn’t have eaten that extra ice cream; I can feel it in my throat.
  • My allergies are kicking in; my nose is starting to plug up.
  • I think a strained myself cleaning the house today; my body aches.
  • The kids drove me crazy; I have a dull headache.

But it’s important not to ignore these early symptoms. Stopping the flu, for example, in the incubation phase is much, much, much easier than getting rid of it once it has established itself. If you hit it hard during incubation, you can be almost 100% effective in stopping it cold (all puns intended). If you allow it to incubate and fully manifest, it will take you several days to beat it back. It’s true that you can significantly cut the time of your sickness, but you will still be sick for several days, and you will need to keep taking the anti-pathogenic formulas for four to five days after you feel better to make sure you clear the virus from your body and it doesn’t reassert itself. Definitely, it’s better to shut it down during incubation. And what’s the worst that happens if you read it wrong and you’re not actually infected — you end up having some garlic and olive leaf extract a couple of times because the kids really did drive you crazy. Is that too high a price to pay for almost never getting sick?

One other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes you’re in situations where you don’t even have to wait for any symptoms to appear to take prophylactic measures. For example, whenever I take a trip that involves traveling on an airplane, or that puts me in contact with large numbers of people during cold and flu season, I automatically use anti-pathogens before bed and upon rising every day of the trip — one capsule each of olive leaf extract, oil of oregano, and one capsule of AHCC to keep my immune system primed. Then as soon as I get home, I’ll down an entire bottle of my own garlic based liquid formula just to make sure. (I tend not to bring the garlic formula on trips in case it breaks in the suitcase.) I have not gotten sick once while traveling when following this routine.

Cytokine Storm

We talked about cytokine storms in the last newsletter, but let’s revisit them for a moment since they are directly connected to the importance of pathogen destroyers.

In a cytokine storm, the immune system sees a virus that it has never seen before, and it goes nuts, whipping itself into a frenzy in response to the invading virus. A biochemical cascade of immune cells and immune system bio-chemicals such as interferon, interleukin, and monokines — collectively known as cytokines — literally pours into the lungs. The subsequent damage to the lung tissue caused by these cells and biochemicals leads to a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that literally chews up a person’s lung tissue, which causes fluid to pour into the lungs, ultimately causing the victim to suffocate as a result of their own disease-fighting chemistry.

Most common flu’s and colds do not produce cytokine storms. Most flu’s kill people who have weak immune systems by eventually opening the door for pneumonia, which is what actually kills them. That’s why health authorities specify that the very old and very young and those with weak immune systems are prime candidates for annual flu vaccines (even though they don’t work very well–especially in the very old and very young). And for that matter, Ebola does not produce cytokine storms. Ebola kills by breaking down the clotting factor in your blood so that you bleed to death internally. But swine flu, avian flu, and most notably, the great flu pandemic of 1918 are different animals. They don’t kill through pneumonia. They don’t cause internal bleeding. They kill you by unleashing a cytokine storm, which means that it is your own immune system that kills you. And this means that the most vulnerable are not the very old and the very young but healthy adults and pregnant women, people who have very strong immune systems. In other words, the stronger your immune system, the greater the danger — the exact opposite of standard flu strains.

Does that mean that you should weaken your immune system to protect against the flu? Not at all! That would be silly. Strong immune systems are good for many, many reasons. However, it does mean that you want natural antipathogens on hand in your medicine cabinet to use at the first sign of a cold or flu. It will protect you against standard flu, and if you perchance catch a rogue strain of avian or swine flu, the anti-pathogens will kill enough of the virus to take your viral load down to the point that your immune system can do its job with no risk of being forced into a cytokine storm. You get the best of all possible worlds.

What You’re Really Looking for from an Anti-pathogen Formula

Anti-pathogens both kill and inhibit viruses and bacteria. If used during the incubation phase, yes, they have the potential to totally eliminate most invading microbes. If used after the pathogen takes hold, that result is unlikely. Once an invader has established itself, the goal in using an anti-pathogen change. You’re now looking for the anti-pathogen to inhibit and kill enough of the invaders to allow your immune system to do its job more easily. For example, when it comes to Ebola, everyone focuses on the 70% mortality rate. I, on the other hand, prefer to focus on the 30% survivor rate. What that tells me is that the immune systems of 30% of the people who are now getting Ebola, with no medical help other than rehydration, are not succumbing to the virus, but rather, are defeating it. With a virus like Ebola, the key is time. Do you survive long enough for your immune system to win out, or do you die before that happens? Now imagine how much higher the number of survivors would be if you could take the viral load down by 20% to 30%, or more and gain the extra time your immune system needs to win out.

One thing to keep in mind is that you probably want to keep a supply of natural antipathogens in your medicine cabinet because there is likely to be a run on them at the first hint of a viral pandemic. We saw just such a run on Tamiflu during the avian and swine flu scares — even though it provided little protection. And we saw a similar run on iodine tablets after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. And it’s not like your supply of natural anti-pathogen will go to waste, as you will use it regularly for preventing and shortening the duration of everyday colds and flu too.

Now let’s take a look at some of the natural antipathogens at your disposal. We’ll start by looking at those that I use in my own anti-pathogen formula.

Ingredients in an Anti-pathogen Formula

Ginger Root

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the active ingredients in ginger are the volatile oils and pungent phenol compounds such as gingerols and shogaols. Although ginger is commonly thought of as an anti-inflammatory, COX-2 inhibitor and anti-nausea treatment, it is also a strong multi-bacterial anti-pathogen–, dose dependentespecially against multi-drug resistant bacteria. In addition, studies have shown that idose-dependentvirucidal activity against a number of viruses, probably as a result of interfering with the viral envelope. Other pathogens that it’s been proven effective against include: S. mutans, C. albicans, and E. faecalis.

Garlic and onions

Although the other pathogen destroyers in this formula are extremely potent, garlic (Allium sativum) is my favorite — for the simple reason that it is the “kindest” to the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. In addition, as we discussed earlier, garlic is one of the best infection fighters available for both bacterial and viral infections. Garlic also possesses the ability to stimulate the activity of macrophages to engulf foreign organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and yeast. Furthermore, garlic increases the activity of the helper T-cells. Garlic may be particularly effective in treating upper respiratory viral infections, due to its immune-enhancing properties and its ability to clear mucus from the lungs. It is also effective against streptococcus and staphylococcus bacteria — and even bacillus anthracis, which produces the poison anthrax.

The question that everyone asks is whether or not taking garlic can prevent or cure the common cold–and the flu. And, in fact, according to the Cochrane Database, the answer is that out of 146 test subjects, those taking an allicin-standardized garlic supplement for 12 weeks reported 111 days of illness as the result of getting the common cold versus 356 for the placebo group–a 300% difference. (Note: as we discussed earlier, S-allylcysteine and other sulfur compounds are now recognized as the most therapeutically active ingredients as opposed to allicin. How much more effective would the study have been with a complete garlic supplement rather than one that was allicin based?) So why didn’t you hear about this study? Well, the Cochrane Database summarized the results of the study by saying, “A single trial suggested that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold but more studies are needed to validate this finding.” In fact, there are other studies that validate the findings.

Note: everything that’s been said about garlic goes for onions too. Onions and garlic share many of the same powerful sulfur-bearing compounds that work so effectively as antiviral and antibacterial agents.

Olive Leaf Extract

The olive tree (Olea europaea) is native to the Mediterranean region. Olive leaf extract has a long history of use against illnesses in which microorganisms play a major role. In more recent years, studies of olive leaf extracts (containing oleuropein, calcium elenolate, and/or hydroxytyrosol) were effective in eliminating a very broad range of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeast, mold, and fungi. In addition, Olive leaf has demonstrated antiviral activity against both HIV infection and replication, primarily by blocking the entry of the virus into host cells in the body’s immune system.

Studies have also shown that oleuropein exhibits a significant antiviral activity against respiratory syncytial virus and para-influenza type 3 virus. In addition, it has been found to be effective against viral hemorrhagic septicemia rhabdovirus, a highly deadly and infectious virus that afflicts over 50 species of both freshwater and marine water fish.  There are studies that demonstrate that olive leaf extracts augment the activity of the HIV-RT inhibitor 3TC. In fact, cell-to-cell transmission of HIV was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner, and replication was inhibited in an in vitro experiment. One of the suspected targets for olive leaf extract action is the HIV-1 gp41 (surface glycoprotein subunit), which is responsible for HIV entry into normal cells. In order to establish HIV protein targets of olive leaf extract and its inhibitory action at the molecular level, researchers reported a joint theoretical and experimental effort has been carried out to help achieve this goal.

Habanero and horseradish

Habanero (Capsicum chinense Jacquin) and horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) are stimulants that quicken and excite the body. They energize the body, stimulating its defenses against invading viruses, and help to carry blood to all parts of the body. They are also diaphoretics and thus help raise the temperature of the body, which increases the activity of the body’s immune system. They are both often used in herbal formulas to complement and potentiate the activity of other ingredients. In fact, studies have shown they can even potentiate the activity of pharmaceutical antibiotics, which effectively validates their use in herbal formulas for the same purpose.

But make no mistake, in addition to potentiating other anti-pathogenic ingredients in this formula, both capsicum and horseradish have powerful anti-pathogenic properties in their own right. Horseradish in particular contains volatile oils that are similar to those found in mustard: glucosinolates (mustard oil glycosides), gluconasturtiin, and sinigrin. In test tubes studies, the volatile oils in horseradish have shown antibiotic properties, which may account for its effectiveness in treating throat and upper respiratory tract infections. At levels attainable in human urine after consuming the volatile oil of horseradish, the oil has been shown to kill bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections–with one early trial finding that horseradish extract may be a useful treatment for people with urinary tract infections. And yet another study found the volatile oils were effective against pathogens such as H. influenzae, M. catarrhalis E. coli, P aeruginosa, MSSA, MRSA, and S. pyogenes.

Meanwhile, capsicum has demonstrated antibacterial activity against microbes such as Streptococcus mutans, not to mention inhibitory activity against both yeast and Candida infections.

Liquid zinc

Like colloidal silver, liquid ionic zinc is antibacterial and antiviral, but without the potential toxicity issues associated with silver. The mineral zinc is found in all body fluids, including the moisture in the eyes, lungs, nose, urine, and saliva. Proper zinc levels offer a defense against the entrance of pathogens. In the 1800s, surgeons used zinc as an antiseptic/antibiotic after surgery, and they noted its amazing healing properties: wounds would heal, at times, as quickly as twenty-four hours after an operation, without swelling, and scarring was barely noticeable after a short period of time. Because zinc moves through all the fluids in the body, it creates a defense against infection-causing bacteria and viruses trying to enter the body and stops bacterial and viral replication. In other words, to be effective, it must be in a liquid form. If you take zinc tablets, your body must convert them. If you take your zinc in a liquid, it’s already in the form your body needs. The exception, of course, is when zinc is used externally as in zinc ointment, which is used to treat everything from diaper rash to HSV1/HSV2 cold sores.

In addition, as noted by the CDC, a study in Bangladesh showed that zinc supplementation significantly reduced the duration and severity of diarrhea in children suffering from cholera–recovering in as few as two or three days. And human zinc-finger antiviral protein (produced in your body if you have enough zinc in your diet) specifically inhibits the replication of many viruses such as Moloney murine leukemia virus and Sindbis virus by preventing the accumulation of viral mRNA in the cytoplasm.

Oil of Wild Mountain Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial herb native to Europe, the Mediterranean, and central Asia. Oil of wild mountain oregano is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic. It also has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The key component appears to be an isomeric phenol known as carvacrol, which is also the key anti-pathogen in several other plant-derived essential oils and has proven effective against at least 11 multi-resistant pathogenic bacteria including Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli, Salmonella, and MRSA–not to mention Legionnaires’ disease. It’s also been proven effective against norovirus, hepatitis A, and acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus. However, as is typical with natural products, the whole oil is more effective than its isolated parts. In dilutions as low as 1 to 50,000, it can destroy a wide range of pathogens, including Candida albicans, aspergillus mold, staphylococcus, Campylobacter, Klebsiella, E. coli, giardia, pseudomonas, and proteus. Another phenol constituent of oregano, thymol, helps boost the immune system. In fact, the combination of thymol and carvacrol has been shown to inactivate herpes simplex by some 90% in as little as one hour.

Apple Cider Vinegar

ACV (Apple-Cider Vinegar) is anathema to all kinds of germs that attack the throat. In effect, it acts like a sponge and draws out throat germs and toxins from the surrounding tissue. Also, because of its acetic acid content, it stimulates a condition called acetolysis in which toxic wastes that are harmful to the body are broken down and rendered harmless.

Other Anti-pathogens

Essential Oils

There are a number of essential oils–such as clove, cinnamon, and thyme–that have proven anti-pathogenic properties. They were not included as part of the formula for one of two reasons.

  • Their bioactives are essentially the same as one of the herbs already used in the formula. For example, the primary active biochemical in clove oil and thyme oil are carvacrol and thymol, but they are present at even higher levels in oil of wild mountain oregano.
  • The oil may have anti-pathogenic properties, but they are not that strong.

Colloidal Silver

Colloidal silver is a suspension of submicroscopic metallic silver particles in a colloidal base. Although colloidal silver can be an effective anti-pathogen, I have several concerns. Concentrations can vary wildly in supplemental forms, and in many products, the silver particles are too big and not a true colloidal suspension, meaning that, over time, they drop out of suspension and the concentration in the liquid lessens. When it is at sufficient strength to be effective, colloidal silver is indiscriminate — that is, it kills the good intestinal bacteria as well the bad. And it can, if taken in sufficient quantity, cause argyria, a “potentially” irreversible blue/gray discoloration of the skin. Although rare as the result of using colloidal silver, it has nevertheless been documented. Then again, although all out argyria is rare, milder versions where the skin merely picks up a very slight gray cast that is so mild that it is essentially unnoticeable, but nevertheless makes you look perpetually tired and worn, are far more common–but undocumented.

It should be noted that new versions of silver products, such as Silver Sol, claim to have eliminated the potential for argyria, but that claim has not been tested over time.  So, in the end, my bottom line recommendation (and I know this will anger many colloidal silver advocates) is to restrict colloidal silver to external use except for special occasions. Using it for a few days if you come down with the flu or a bacterial infection is not going to be a problem. Drinking a glass every day as a prophylactic measure is probably less advisable. And be sure to follow any internal use with a good probiotic supplement. Again, silver is a full spectrum antibiotics. It tends to kill all bacteria — both good and bad.

As I said in the last issue of the newsletter, I like colloidal silver as an antibacterial agent especially for topical use, and studies support its effectiveness in this regard. However, studies do not consistently support its effectiveness against viruses.55  If you come down with Ebola, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take colloidal silver; it just may not perform as promised. That said, for anything other than very occasional use, I prefer ionic zinc, which has similar efficacy without the risk of skin discoloration issues.

Note: while writing this, and I kid you not, Kristen and I went out for Sunday brunch–and who should we see sitting 20 feet from us but a woman with pronounced argyria! Her skin tone matched the picture above–maybe a half tone less intense, but still strongly blue-gray. What are the odds? Or perhaps, with some voices in alternative health recommending heavy dosing with colloidal silver, it’s no longer quite as rare as it once was.

Using Anti-pathogens

Anti-pathogens should not be used on a daily basis. To do so puts both your microbiome and beneficial viruses at risk.

We have discussed the microbiome before. Within the human body (both inside and on the surface of your skin), it is estimated that there are 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells, and the vast majority of them are actually beneficial and “support” our biological functions. These symbiotic microbial partners perform a number of metabolic reactions that are not encoded in (and therefore not handled by) the human genome but are nevertheless necessary for human health. And it’s not just bacteria. A number of viruses actually play a beneficial role in your health.

Some viruses, for example, can help build immunity to related but more dangerous viruses. For example, exposure to cowpox, a fairly mild, non-contagious virus, made people immune to smallpox, which was highly contagious and a very deadly. The smallpox vaccination was developed from cowpox. Viruses can also play a role in evolution by transferring genomes through a mechanism called horizontal gene transfer, by which an organism can incorporate genetic material from another organism to which it is not directly related. Horizontal gene transfer can be thought of as natural genetic engineering–that happens either by chance, or by the hand of God.56 The bottom line, though, when it comes to viruses is that we’re just beginning to understand them. Keep in mind that until just a few years ago, the medical community had no understanding of the importance of the 100 trillion bacteria in our microbiome. They saw no problem in drinking chlorinated water, using antibiotics indiscriminately, and washing with antibiotic soap. Now they know differently. Perhaps in the next couple of decades we will learn more about the as yet undiscovered benefits of some viral infections–or not.

The bottom line is that constantly supplementing with anti-pathogens or using them whenever you bathe or wash your hands puts all those benefits–and your health–at risk. Anti-pathogens should only be used on an “as needed’ basis. But you will want to keep a supply on hand in your medicine cabinet so that you can use them when needed–particularly in the incubation phase of an illness.

Building Your Immune System {Part 1}

Did you know that when it comes to boosting your immune system, there’s a lot of misinformation circulating on the net?  Yes, everyone is selling magic bullet immune boosters, but do you know why, when it comes to the immune system, magic bullets can’t work?  Were you aware that it’s actually possible to fool your immune system into being more vigilant?  But most important of all, did you know that studies have shown that some immune enhancing herbs can actually boost T-cell production 30% more than the most powerful pharmaceutical drugs your doctor can prescribe–and a lot more safely at that?

If you want to maintain your health, increase your longevity, and minimize your risk of many illnesses, you must boost your immune system. It is not important to build your immune system just to protect yourself from cancer, age-related diseases, or autoimmune disorders either. Your garden variety flu is responsible for some 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide each and every year–about 36,000 in the US alone–each and every year. In fact, of some 1,700 bacteria and viruses known to cause disease, historically, the flu virus has been the leading cause of death — only recently being surpassed by the HIV virus and the resulting AIDS!

The bottom line is if you’re looking to stay healthy–it’s worth optimizing your immune system. Scientists have known for years that it is possible to improve the functioning of your immune system. The conventional medical approach has been to use expensive, proprietary drugs, including concentrated cytokines such as interleukin and interferon. Holistic healers, on the other hand, have adopted a more nuanced approach using natural substances to:

  • Stimulate and strengthen the immune system
  • Fight infection
  • Strengthen tissue against assault by invading microorganisms
  • Stimulate macrophage capability
  • Increase T-cell production and protect helper T-cells
  • Complement the action of interferon and interleukin-1
  • Promote increased production of cytokines
  • Assist the cell-mediated immune response

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some natural immune boosters. Not only are they safer than their pharmaceutical counterparts, but they have fewer side effects and are, surprisingly, often more powerful– at least up to this point in time. First, we’ll look at the ingredients I use in my own immune system support formula. As a formula, they are designed to complement each and boost your immune system across the board. After that, we’ll take a look at some other useful immune enhancers that can be taken separately. The reason they are not included in the formula is that, although they are very powerful, they need to be taken in larger amounts–sometimes one or two capsules of just that one ingredient–to be effective and are, therefore, not suitable for inclusion in a multi-part formula.

A Multi-Part Formula for Building the Immune System

Under normal circumstances, your immune system responds to foreign organisms by producing antibodies and stimulating specialized cells which destroy the organisms or neutralize their toxic byproducts. A second major function of your immune system, though, is to watch over all of the cells of your body to ensure that they are not abnormal–in other words, cancerous. A properly functioning immune system is actually your first line of defense against cancer.

The secret to a good immune tonic is to:

  • Select complementary herbal immune enhancers that build immunity across the board, in multiple ways.
  • Use meaningful doses of a select number of herbs, not minuscule doses of a large number of herbs. You want efficacy from each herb you use, not a large number of herbs on a label used at insignificant doses.
  • Use only the highest quality herbs, not the cheapest. Formulators can buy ginseng for $5.00 a pound or $400-$600 a pound for high-quality wildcrafted or organic. Which do you think actually work? When it comes to your health and your immune system, you want only high-quality ingredients used in any formula you use.

With that said, let’s take a look at what actually goes into a good multi-part immune building formula.


There are several different ways that immune boosters can power up your immune system. One of the simplest is by presenting your immune system with what it perceives as a non-specific threat — a foreign antigen — that in actuality offers no real threat to the body. This false threat causes your immune system to “power up” its defenses. However, since the immune booster presents no actual threat to the body, the immune system has nothing to use its new-found readiness against. And thus it waits, charged up, primed for some/any threat to manifest so that it can jump on it with a vengeance. One thing to keep in mind about this kind of immune booster is that the immune system can be fooled by a false threat for only so long before it says to itself, “Ah, you’re just yanking my chain. I’m onto what’s happening here — time to stand down.” And thus the effectiveness of the supplement begins to wane. When using immune boosters of this type, it’s best to take regular breaks so your body forgets the false threat presented to the immune system. This works because since the threat is false, your immune system never actually gets to take the final step of “attacking” the immune booster, which is required for the cells of your immune system to memorize a response to an invader. Thus, you can pull your immune system’s leg again and again, while keeping your immune system on high alert indefinitely. For Echinacea, it’s best to use it for three weeks on and one week off.

Note: if someone is highly sensitive to the antigens presented by this type of immune booster, their immune systems can actually “kick over” into an actual allergic response to the immune booster and produce symptoms such as sneezing and watery eyes, for example. For sensitive people, then, this type of immune booster is not useful. It should also be noted that this type of response can plant part dependent. With Echinacea, for example, more people are sensitive to supplements made with Echinacea flowers as opposed to Echinacea seeds and roots. Fortunately, the strongest bioactives are in the seeds and roots, not the flowers.

Echinacea (purple coneflower) was “discovered” in the late 1800’s by a traveling salesman named Joseph Meyer, who learned about it from the Plains Indians while roaming out West. He brewed it up as an alcohol tincture and sold it as a cure all — demonstrating its effectiveness by drinking his tonic and letting rattlesnakes bite him. Needless to say, he never got sick, from whence comes the phrase “snake oil.”

How does Echinacea work? In addition to tricking the immune system to ramp up, Echinacea has a number of bioactives that help in several other ways. First, E. angustifolia and E. pallida roots contain echinacoside, a natural antibiotic comparable to penicillin in effect, which can kill a broad range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.3  And all three varieties contain cichoric and chlorogenic acids, as well as cynarin, which all work to charge up the immune system by stimulating phagocytosis. In addition, Echinacea contains high molecular weight polysaccharides such as heteroxylan, arabinogalactan, and fucogalactoxyloglucan, which stimulate macrophages and possess anti-inflammatory activity.

As a result, Echinacea is invaluable in wound healing and in the treatment of infectious diseases. Research has also reported Echinacea’s efficacy in treating colds, flu, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. And Echinacea contains echinacein, which along with echinacoside protects against germ attack by neutralizing the tissue-dissolving enzyme hyaluronidase, produced by many germs. Among the many pharmacological properties reported for Echinacea, the one demonstrated most convincingly is macrophage activation — by increasing production of interferon gamma. In addition, one study showed that Echinacea extracts can boost T-cell production by up to 30 percent more than pharmaceutical immune boosting drugs. And finally, Echinacea also increases production of the chemokines interleukin-8 and MCP-1, which enhance the migration of immune cells to the site of infection.

There are two primary varieties of Echinacea: purpurea and angustifolia. And depending on the country you’re in, you may also find E. pallida used in your formula. They are similar, but also have complementary properties. Formulas that use at least two of them (especially purpurea and angustifolia) are more likely to be effective. It’s also worth noting that potency runs from seed to root to leaf to least in the flower. And of course, herb quality is paramount.

Over the last few years, there have been several studies that claimed to debunk Echinacea’s ability to boost the immune system and fight colds. Suffice it to say that the studies were either flawed in design (reviews of previously flawed studies), used the wrong parts of the Echinacea plant (flowers and leaves rather than roots and seeds), or used it at the wrong strength. More disturbingly, a more recent study (2010), conducted using good quality Echinacea at a significant dose, found little benefit to using Echinacea in terms of reducing the length of a cold. Not surprisingly, the press jumped all over it, proclaiming Echinacea was now proven to be little more than a placebo. However, two aspects of the study’s protocol negate the results.

  • Dosing with Echinacea commenced at the onset of symptoms. This is too late to capitalize on Echinacea’s primary ability to ramp up the immune system in preparation for any pathogenic invasion. Once symptoms start, your immune system is going to be responding to the antigens presented by the cold virus itself so adding Echinacea will provide little added immune benefit at that point. (Remember, the key to Echinacea is ramping up the immune system “before” the invader arrives. And studies have shown that when used in that way, Echinacea can decrease your odds of getting a cold by 58%.)  After that, any benefit will come from its germ killing properties, which although real, are secondary. And even at that, the study showed that Echinacea did indeed shorten the duration of colds — just not by that much. Once again, the major benefit of Echinacea is in ramping up your defenses before an invader attacks–not shortening the duration of an illness after an attack. For that, you need an anti-pathogenic formula.
  • If you are going to wait until the last second, you have to intervene during the incubation phase at the latest, before symptoms fully manifest. And, at least with Echinacea, you have to use a liquid extract for quicker absorption. Once you hit the incubation phase, it’s only a matter of hours before the virus kicks into full gear. Waiting for an Echinacea pill to dissolve and make its way through the digestive tract takes too long.

Forget the negative studies. Echinacea still stands as a powerful immune booster. And as an interesting side note, a study published just a few weeks ago found that echinacoside protects against beta amyloid fibril-induced neuronal cell death. For those of you who don’t remember, beta amyloid protein depositions play a crucial role in a variety of degenerative disorders, especially Alzheimer’s.

Pau d’arco

Pau d’arco (Tabebuia impetiginosa) is a broad-leaf evergreen tree that comes from the rain forests of Brazil and other areas of South America. It is the inner bark of the tree that provides the medicinal function.

Like Echinacea, this amazing herb both stimulates the body’s defense system and actively attacks pathogenic organisms, especially bacteria and fungi. It has been used for centuries to improve immune function, detoxify, and reduce pain throughout the body, especially in the joints. Research has shown that it contains lapachol, a natural antibacterial agent that has a healing effect on the entire body, cleanses the blood, and kills viruses. Pau d’arco has been used as a treatment for AIDS, allergies, infections and inflammations, anemia, asthma, arthritis and rheumatism, arteriosclerosis, bronchitis, cancer, candidiasis, colitis, cystitis, diabetes, eczema, fistulas, gastritis, gonorrhea, hemorrhages, Hodgkin’s disease, liver disease, leukemia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, osteomyelitis, Parkinson’s disease, prostatitis, psoriasis, skin sores, snake bites, ulcers, varicose veins, warts, and wounds.

The primary active biochemicals in Pau d’arco are the naphthoquinones: lapachol and beta-lapachone. Researchers have shown that lapacholhas antitumorous, antiedemic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal (even against MRSA), and antifungal activity–not to mention being anti-parasitic.


Natives of the Amazon jungle have used suma root (Pfaffia paniculata) for at least the last 300 years. It wasn’t until 1975, however, that Suma was first tested at the University Of São Paulo, Brazil. The studies concluded that although it was not a cure, suma nevertheless brought significant relief for cancer, diabetes, and gout sufferers, with no undesirable side effects. Since then, studies at the American College of the Healing Arts have indicated that consistent use of suma may help combat fatigue (including treatment of chronic fatigue and low-energy conditions), prevent colds and flu, speed healing, regulate blood sugar, and stimulate the sex drive. In general, suma is considered an energizing adaptogen, an herb used to normalize and regulate the systems of the body when the body is under severe stress or attack from pathogens. Specifically, it is used to boost the immune system. In fact, it is suma’s ability to enhance non-specific immune and/or cellular immune systems that likely accounts for its anticancer abilities.

The key working ingredients in suma are pfaffic acid (prevents the spread of various cell disorders), pfaffocides and other saponins (help stop diseases already in progress), the plant hormones sitosterol and stigmasterol (prevent cholesterol absorption and improve blood circulation), allantoin (helps accelerate healing), and germanium. Suma has one of the highest concentrations of organic germanium sesquioxide (Ge-132) of any plant known. Discovered about thirty years ago, Ge-132 works much like Pau d’arco in that it stimulates the production of interferon gamma, while at the same time activating cytotoxic natural killer cells and macrophages. The net result is that it can invigorate the body, restore sexual function, protect against miscarriages, heal burns, reduce pain, treat circulatory disorders, and shrink cancers, in addition to being a powerful immunostimulant.

Astragalus Membranaceus

Astragalus has been a foundational herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds of years. It is one of the important “Qi tonifying” adaptogenic herbs from the Chinese materia medica. Current research on Astragalus focuses on the immune stimulating capacity of its polysaccharides and saponins. It also appears to be useful in dealing with cancer, and in increasing stamina. First and foremost, though, it is an immunostimulant used in the treatment of chronic viral infections, hepatitis, edema, common cold, and flu. Astragalus increases the interferon response to viral infection and works synergistically with interferon. It also increases phagocytic activity and antibody levels and improves the functioning of natural killer cells.


Cordyceps Sinensis has properties similar to those of ginseng and has been used to strengthen and rebuild the body after exhaustion or long-term illness. It is one of the most valued medicinal fungi in Chinese medicine and has also been used traditionally for impotence, neurasthenia, and backache. Recent research with extracts of Cordyceps has yielded a protein-bound polysaccharide with activity against tumors, as well as being capable of up-regulating macrophage activity,  and inducing the apoptosis (cell death) of human leukemia cells, while at the same time moderating overactive T-cell activation.  In other words, Cordyceps functions as an immunomodulator–up-regulating depressed immune systems, but throttling back out of control immune systems. (More on this later.) Cordyceps is widely employed to treat upper respiratory problems, impotence, and weakened immune systems, and also by athletes to increase endurance.

Other Immune Boosters

Medicinal Mushrooms

Cordyceps is not the only immune-boosting mushroom of note. In fact, compounds found in mushrooms such as reishi and maitake, as in cordyceps, are classified as host defense potentiators. It is believed that combinations of these compounds target and strengthen the human immune system, as well as aid in neuron transmission, metabolism, hormonal balance, and the transport of nutrients and oxygen. Through a host-mediated (T-cell) immune mechanism, they help the body regulate the development of lymphoid stem cells and other important defense responses.

The anti-cancer and immune-enhancing effects of the reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidumi) are thought to be largely due to its mucopolysaccharides, which the body incorporates into cellular membranes, making them resistant to viruses and pathogenic bacteria and the triterpenes, which induce tumor necrosis factor production. The polysaccharides also appear to activate macrophages that “consume” viruses, bacteria, and other large particulate matter.

Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa, also known as Sheep’s Head and Hen of the Woods) have a very high concentration of a unique polysaccharide compound called beta-1,6-glucan, which researchers consider to be one of the most powerful immune stimulants and adaptogens known. One study showed that maitake produced a 64 percent inhibition of breast cancer and tumor activity and a 75 percent inhibition of skin cancer and tumor activity. Also, laboratory studies conducted at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Japanese National Institute of Health showed that maitake extract kills the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and enhances the activity of helper T-cells. In fact, the NCI researchers reported that the maitake extract was as powerful as AZT (a commonly prescribed AIDS drug) but without the toxic side effects.

Research has demonstrated that maitake stimulates the production of a variety of immune cells, including macrophages, NK cells, and T-cells, and it increases their effectiveness by increasing the production of interleukin-l, interleukin-2, and lymphokines. It also stimulates the bone marrow to produce stem cells and granulocytes by stimulating the production of the cytokine granulocyte colony stimulating factor. Further, maitake has been confirmed to have a multifaceted benefit for treating cancer and tumors: it protects healthy cells from becoming cancerous, helps prevent the spread of cancer (metastasis), and slows or stops the growth of tumors. Maitake works in conjunction with chemotherapy by lessening the negative side effects (by as much as 90 percent).

Incidentally, maitake is not the only source of beta glucan. Beta-glucan is a natural complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) found in cereal grains such as oats and barley. But it is found in its greatest concentration in medicinal mushrooms as described above and in the cell walls of yeast. Beta glucan as a purified supplement, particularly Beta- 1,3/1,6 Glucan extracted from yeast cell walls, is a potent and proven immune response potentiator and modulator. It has been shown to stimulate anti-tumor and antimicrobial activity by binding to receptors on macrophages and other white blood cells and activating them, while at the same time throttling back overactive parts of the immune system.


AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) is a proprietary dietary supplement derived from mushrooms that are rich in polysaccharides and fiber. Some 20 human clinical studies and more than 100 pre-clinical and in vitro studies have shown that it can be effective in stimulating the production of NK cells, killer T-cells, and cytokines (interferon, interleukin-12, and TNF-alpha). In Japan, it is used extensively in hospitals in combination with chemotherapy treatments to reduce the adverse side effects of those treatments.

Aloe Vera

The polysaccharide component of aloe vera, acemannan, possesses significant immune-enhancing and antiviral activity. Supplementing with acemannan has been proven to increase lymphocyte response to antigens by enhancing the release of interleukin-I. In addition, Acemannan has been shown to increase macrophage levels and have a positive effect on T-cell activity and dendritic cell maturation. In addition, acemannan has various medicinal properties such as being osteogenic (promotes bone repair), anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial, which accelerate the healing of lesions. Also, in vivo studies have shown that acemannan has antiviral and antitumor activities through activation of immune responses. Look for whole leaf aloe extract, which is two to three times more potent than gel/juice. Why? The greatest concentration of active ingredients is at the interface of the rind and the inner gel. If your extract doesn’t come from the whole leaf, you lose half to two-thirds of the active biochemicals.


Alkylglycerols (AKGs) are lipids naturally manufactured in the body and found in mother’s milk, the liver and spleen, and bone marrow. They play a major role in the production and stimulation of white blood cells. They also help to normalize bone marrow function. The immune-supportive effect of AKGs helps our bodies protect against bacterial, fungal, and viral infections through enhanced phagocytosis (eating up the bad guys) and antibody production. The most potent source of AKGs in the world is shark liver oil.

Colostrum and Lactoferrin

Colostrum is the clear, yellowish, pre-milk fluid produced from the mother’s mammary glands during the first seventy-two hours after birth. It provides both immune and growth factors essential for the health and vitality of the newborn. Obviously, supplementation with human colostrum is not an option, but researchers have found that bovine colostrum (from cows) is virtually identical, except that the immune factors are actually several times more concentrated.

The immune factors in colostrum have been shown to help the body resist pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, yeast, and fungi. In addition, colostrum contains a number of antibodies to specific pathogens, including E. coli, salmonella, rotavirus, Candida, streptococcus, staphylococcus, H. pylori, and cryptosporidia. In addition, proline-rich-polypeptide, a component of colostrum, works as an immunomodulator, boosting a low immune system and balancing an overactive one. Another key component of colostrum is transferred factors, small molecules that transfer immunity information from one entity to another. In effect, they transfer immunity “memory,” thereby giving you instant resistance to a number of diseases.

Colostrum is a potent source of lactoferrin, a globular iron-binding protein produced in the body. It is found anywhere that is especially vulnerable to attack, such as in the gut, eyes, ears, nose, throat, and urinary tract. Lactoferrin has been shown to inhibit virus replication (including AIDS and herpes viruses), limit tumor growth and metastasis, directly kill both bacteria and yeast (including Candida), and activate neutrophils. Supplementation with lactoferrin can significantly boost the immune system and help the body recover from any existing infection. Maintaining healthy levels of intestinal flora through the use of probiotic supplements allows the body to produce its own lactoferrin.

Look for colostrum obtained from organic, grass-fed dairy cows and standardized to 40% Immunoglobulins.


Glutathione is a tripeptide molecule found in human cells. In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, glutathione works to support the active functioning of the immune system and is a key component of all lymphocytes. In fact, all lymphocytes require sufficient levels of intracellular glutathione to function properly. It also plays a major protective role against the damaging effects of the whole range of pathogens and carcinogens. For many people, glutathione supplements are upsetting to the stomach, and for that matter, it has been assumed for years that very little actually makes it out of the digestive tract when taken as a supplement, although at least one study may contradict that. Either way, it is possible to boost your body’s levels of glutathione by supplementing with the glutathione precursors L-cysteine and L-glutamate and specially formulated whey products.


Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is a tropical evergreen tree whose fruit (and especially the hull of the fruit) contains a unique group of antioxidants called xanthones. Xanthones, particularly beta and gamma mangostin, work to maintain the immune system, support cardiovascular health, optimize joint flexibility, are naturally antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory, and are some of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. In addition, recent studies have confirmed that gamma mangostin is a potent COX inhibitor, an important factor in reducing inflammation, pain, and fever. Other studies have shown that alpha-mangostin can enhance the body’s innate responses to viral infection. And as has been true with most of the other immune boosters we’ve looked at so far, mangosteen has also shown the ability to work as an anticancer agent. Specifically, the antimetastatic activity of alpha-mangostin has been demonstrated in clinical studies on breast cancer.

Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C is currently being pushed online as an Ebola solution. That may be a bit of a stretch. That vitamin C helps boost the immune system is pretty much a given. And it certainly has strong antiviral qualities in a test tube. But in real life, the results are more mixed. Forget Ebola or the flu, even when it comes to the common cold, results are mixed. As a 2013 Cochrane Report says, “Trials of high doses of vitamin C administered therapeutically, starting after the onset of symptoms, showed no consistent effect on the duration or severity of common cold symptoms.”

However, the story doesn’t end there. What most studies evaluate as “high doses” is not even close to what Linus Pauling recommended. For most studies, we’re talking about 1-3 grams a day. Pauling himself took 18 g a day. At these levels, ascorbate has been shown to have specific antiviral effects in which it inactivates the RNA or DNA of viruses or in the assembly of the virus. But it should be noted that even in these studies, the beneficial effect of vitamin C was moderate—not a cure-all.

The bottom line on vitamin C is that large doses are used as an immune booster but are unlikely to prove to be a cure-all for Ebola.

Colloidal Silver

Colloidal silver is not an immune booster, but rather, an anti-pathogen. However, since it’s currently being promoted as a cure for Ebola, we’ll make mention of it here.

I like colloidal silver as an antibacterial agent, and studies support its effectiveness in this regard. However, studies do not consistently support its effectiveness against viruses.  If you come down with Ebola, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take colloidal silver; it just may not perform as promised. Note: when using colloidal silver, argyria(the permanent blue/graying of your skin) is always a back of the mind concern. The risk is extremely low and is almost always the result of foolishly high doses used over a long time, but it does happen. It should be noted that new versions of silver products, such as Silver Sol, claim to have eliminated the potential for argyria, but that claim has not been tested over time. That said, for anything other than very occasional use, I prefer ionic zinc, which has similar efficacy without the skin discoloration issues.


As we’ve mentioned several times so far, optimizing your immune system isn’t just about boosting it. An over-amped immune system can be just as problematic as an underperforming one. Many autoimmune disorders are the result of your immune system doing too much, eventually attacking healthy cells and tissue in your body. In medical terminology, an immunomodulator is a drug or natural substance that adjusts the immune response to the desired level, through either immunopotentiation, immunosuppression, or induction of immunological tolerance (stopping it from attacking a particular antigen). In other words, as with most medical thinking, immunomodulation is not about balancing the immune system, but about forcing it to behave in certain ways.

In contrast, in the world of natural healing, immunomodulators are thought of as nutraceuticals that can “intelligently” regulate your immune system, boosting a weak system or calming down an overactive one. If a person with low immune function takes an immunomodulator, it will help raise their immunity. Likewise, if a person with a hyperactive immune system takes the same immunomodulator, it will tend to calm their immune system down and normalize it. It appears that natural immunomodulators accomplish this, at least to some degree, by naturally increasing the body’s production of messenger molecules to regulate and correct defects in memory T-cells. In that sense, true immunoregulators are adaptogenic — capable of modifying the immune system, either up or down, as needed. By using natural immunomodulators, you can retrain the immune system to respond more efficiently and to not overreact (as happens in the case of people with autoimmune disorders). Some of the better immunomodulators include:


  • L-carnosine54
  • Cetyl myristoleate (CMO)
  • Colostrum
  • Ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Rhodiola

Immune System Memory

Something to keep in mind is that your immune system has memory. If you are exposed to a pathogen (virus, bacteria, etc.), your immune system has a memory of that pathogen and the defense it mounted to defeat it. Thus, it can protect you against it (and its close cousins) for years–and possibly for the rest of your life. That means that some people who never seem to get sick were exposed to cold and flu germs previously that are similar to those currently circulating about. This gives them the appearance of invincibility. However, when exposed to a new pathogen, they quite likely will get sick as quickly as the next person.

Cytokine storm

There is a caveat to boosting your immune system. Under certain circumstances, having a maximized immune can be a two-edged sword. Some viruses actually use your immune system to kill you through a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome in which the victim’s own immune system unleashes a cytokine storm that literally chews up their lung tissue, ultimately causing the victim to suffocate. In a cytokine storm, the immune system sees a virus that it has never seen before, and it goes nuts, whipping itself into a frenzy in response to the invading virus. A biochemical cascade of immune cells and immune system bio-chemicals such as interferon, interleukin, monokines and cytokines literally pour into the lungs. The subsequent damage to the lung tissue caused by these cells and biochemicals leads to the condition mentioned above called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The net result is that the victim suffocates as a result of their own disease-fighting chemistry.

Most common cases of flu do not produce cytokine storms. Most cases of flu kill people who have weak immune systems by eventually opening the door for pneumonia, which is what actually kills them. That’s why health authorities specify that the very old and very young and those with weak immune systems are prime candidates for annual flu vaccines (even though they don’t work very well). But swine flu, avian flu, and most notably, the great flu pandemic of 1918 are different animals. They don’t kill through pneumonia. They kill you by unleashing a cytokine storm, which means that it is your own immune system that kills you. And this means that the most vulnerable are not the very old and the very young but healthy adults and pregnant women, people who have very strong immune systems. And that means that the stronger your immune system, the greater the danger — the exact opposite of standard flu strains.

Does that mean that you should weaken your immune system to protect against these special viruses? Not at all! That would be silly. Strong immune systems are good for many, many reasons. However, it does mean that you want natural antipathogens on hand in your medicine cabinet to use at the first sign of a cold or flu. It will protect you against standard flu, and if you perchance catch a rogue strain of avian or swine flu, the anti-pathogens will kill enough of the virus to take your viral load down to the point that your immune system can do its job with no risk of being forced into a cytokine storm. You get the best of all possible worlds.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is likely to be a run on natural antipathogens at the first hint of a viral pandemic. We saw just such a run on Tamiflu during the avian and swine flu scares — even though they provide little protection. And we saw a similar run on iodine tablets after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. In other words, you might want to stock your medicine cabinet before you actually need the anti-pathogens.


We’ve talked a lot about building your immune system, modulating it, and complementing it with anti-pathogens, but there’s an elephant in the room: what about all the other factors that impact your immune system indirectly?

  • For instance, how good can your immune system be (taking all the supplements in the world) if your colon is packed with pounds of old fecal matter? There are skeptics who deny it and doctors who say they’ve never seen it, but the math is irrefutable: a significant percentage of people on a typical Western diet store pounds of old fecal matter in their colons. A substantial portion of your immune system then has to combat the effects of self-toxicity. Clean up your intestinal tract, and you free up your immune system.
  • And then there are the beneficial bacteria that manufacture potent immune boosters such as transfer factor and lactoferrin (which we talked about earlier) right in your intestinal tract — if those beneficial bacteria are actually present in your intestinal tract. In other words, using a good probiotic can substantially boost your immune system by increasing internal production of a number of powerful immune factors.
  • Taking systemic/proteolytic enzymes between meals relieves stress on the immune system by helping to eliminate Circulating Immune Complexes from the body.
  • Proper diet and nourishment boost your immune system. Each and every immune cell in your body is manufactured from the food you eat. A nutritionally deficient diet means functionally deficient immune cells. You can’t build the same immune cells from chips and beer that you can from a balanced healthy diet.
  • Full spectrum antioxidant formulas boost the immune system in multiple ways. Just one example is curcumin. A study published in Immunological Investigations proves that curcumin can increase white blood cell count by some 50% in just 12 days — not to mention circulating antibodies by some 512 times in the same timeframe.
  • Cleaning out the liver with a good liver detox program improves your liver’s ability to produce immune factors and remove bacteria from the blood. Cleaning out the blood with a good blood cleansing formula and balancing your blood’s pH with alkalinizing formulas or high pH water also helps to improve immune function.
  • And of course, as we’ve already discussed, along with immune boosting formulas, you’ll want to use natural pathogen destroying formulas that are specifically designed to improve immune function and directly destroy invading pathogens.
  • As explained in Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, what you think matters too. Negative thoughts can kill you. Likewise, practicing some mental relaxation techniques and visualizations can result in a dramatic increase in immune function — virtually overnight.
  • And finally, one of the primary benefits of regular exercise is an optimized immune system.

The bottom line is that if you want your immune system running at peak level, you need to think holistically. Supplements are good and often necessary, but equally important is having all your body systems working in the background to move your immunity up or down as needed. No other program in the world works to enhance the immune system in as many ways as the Baseline of Health Program. It also works in the most targeted and efficient manner possible so that you don’t have to take 100 supplements to get a result — just deal with the major systems in the body. The bottom line is that you don’t have to chase the next hot “magic bullet” to build your immunity as long as you have optimized all of your major body systems.

Food as Medicine: Sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Polygonaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Polygonaceae) is a wild, perennial herb characterized by slender stems supporting bright green, spear-shaped leaves, with distinctive backward-reaching lobes.1,2 Sorrel grows in patches that average in height from 20-36” and produce small red-brown flowers, which bloom in early summer and produce tiny, hard fruits.3 Sorrel is easy to cultivate and grows best in cool, temperate climates, as well as grasslands, coastal dunes, and cliffs.1 In addition to R. acetosa, another species of sorrel, French sorrel (R. scutatus), is used for culinary purposes.4 This article will profile the history, uses, and components of R. acetosa.

Sorrel is native to Europe and northern Asia, and evidence of cultivation dates back to 4,000 BCE.2 In the Middle Ages, sorrel was a prominent vegetable throughout Europe and was also cultivated by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Often referred to as the lemon of the leaf crops, the sour-tasting leaves are the most commonly consumed part of the plant.2,5 Sorrel’s stem and flower were also used in medicinal applications.2 Sorrel’s species name, acetosa, is Latin for “vinegary,” indicating the plant’s acidic taste.6

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Sorrel is a nutrient-dense green, containing important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron.2Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that supports healthy vision, bone growth, and a strong immune system.7Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, essential for its role in collagen synthesis and its antioxidant properties. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium are the most abundant minerals within human cells, and each plays a role in electrolyte and fluid balance. Calcium is a structural component of the skeletal matrix, and Iron is necessary for oxygen delivery and DNA synthesis.

Flavan-3-ols and other phenolic compounds in sorrel leaves provide additional benefits.8-10 Phenolic compounds have protective effects against inflammation and cell damage and interfere with tumor and estrogen receptor activities.10 The main phenolic compounds present in R. acetosa include resveratrol (41.27 µg/g), vanillic acid (130.29 µg/g), sinapic acid (5,708.48 µg/g), and catechin (75.46 µg/g). Sorrel leaves also contain beta-carotene, though not in therapeutic levels.11

Historical and Commercial Uses

Documented uses of sorrel include domestic remedies, and extend to complex medicinal therapies.2 Sorrel leaf juice has been used in fragrances and for stain removal, and sorrel leaves are a popular ingredient in French cuisine.

Sorrel leaves are considered acidic, astringent, and cooling.6 Sorrel has been used as a laxative and a topical treatment for skin disorders, sore throats, and warts.11 Sorrel leaf also was used for its diuretic properties to induce water excretion and to manage fevers.1,5,12 Due to its high concentration of vitamin C, sorrel has been used as a therapeutic food for conditions caused by vitamin C deficiencies, such as scurvy.1Furthermore, common garden sorrel was used as a treatment for constipation, cramping, and diarrhea since the plant demonstrates soothing effects on the stomach and intestines.8,9 The astringent properties of the seeds were used to treat hemorrhages.12

Currently, sorrel is used as an ingredient in herbal medicinal remedies, such as Sinupret (Bionorica SE; Neumarkt, Germany), a proprietary blend of botanicals, indicated for sinusitis and bronchitis.7 Tablets contain 18-36mg of sorrel leaf and stem extract, in addition to four other herbs: elder flower (Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae), primrose flower and calyx (Primula veris, Primulaceae), European vervain leaf and stem (Verbena Officinalis, Verbenaceae), and yellow gentian root (Gentiana lutea, Gentianaceae).

Modern Research

Currently, studies on sorrel offer promising results in the areas of digestion, infection prevention, topical skin treatments, and anti-proliferative activity.10,12,13

A recent in vivo and in vitro study evaluated the traditional use of R. acetosa to treat stomach discomforts and distress in animal models.12 A 70% methanol extract from sorrel leaves was found to have a high acute toxicity dosage (i.e., large amounts were well tolerated and exhibited no adverse effects), relaxed the gastrointestinal tract or produced gastrointestinal contractions depending on the dose, and exhibited anti-emetic properties. These findings support the traditional use of sorrel as a constipation aid that stimulates a bowel movement.

Anti-diarrheal properties may be linked to the presence of calcium-binding components and tannins in sorrel.8,9,12Oxalic acid binds with and thereby reduces available free calcium for receptor stimulation. This leads to reduced muscle contraction and may alleviate diarrhea.12Tannins exert an astringent effect, which may help alleviate not only conditions such as diarrhea but also chronic upper respiratory infections, by reducing excess fluid.9

Phytochemical extracts from other buckwheat families (Polygonaceae) members exhibit antiviral and anticancer effects, specifically extracts from R. acetosella or sheep sorrel. Sheep sorrel has a history of use as an ingredient in the formula known as Essiac tea, which purportedly is based on the traditions of the indigenous Ojibwa Native American tribe.11 Garden sorrel shows similar antiviral and anticancer effects. An in vivo trial discovered that an extract of R. acetosa reduced influenza A viral invasion of host cells, and further reduced viral growth.14 Antiviral reactions are primary effects of rich polyphenol concentration. In sorrel, these polyphenols mainly include flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and hydrolysable tannins. These compounds may prevent the assembly and maturation (growth and development) of certain viruses, an important step in infection control.

Additional documentation supports anti-proliferative (tumor cell growth preventing) activities seen with R.acetosa preparations.10,13 Prevention of cell growth, specifically tumor cells, was found at concentrations of 75 and 100 µg/mL of a 90% aqueous methanol extract.10

In vitro and in vivo trials displayed antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Sinupret was able to reduce viscosity, or thickness, of mucus in animal models and produce an anti-inflammatory response. Sorrel’s contributions to anti-inflammation are credited to an increased response by immune cells. Few adverse side effects related to sorrel have been reported, and include gastrointestinal disorders and correlated allergic reactions.7
Consumer Considerations

Oxalic acid within sorrel produces a bitter taste, which makes sorrel a valuable ingredient for adding a tart, lemony flavor to various dishes. However, oxalic acid is a potential cause for concern in regard to renal function.11 Crystalized calcium oxalate (which forms when oxalic acid combines with calcium) can lead to the formation of kidney stones and may also accumulate in the heart, circulatory vessels, and lungs.15 In addition, oxalic acid’s ability to bind to micronutrients, such as iron and calcium, decreases its absorption.11,13 Furthermore, oxalates may irritate the digestive system when consumed in large amounts.16 For these reasons, consumption of sorrel should be monitored for special populations affected by renal and arthritic conditions, as well as those with gastrointestinal disorders.1,11

Oxalic acid is concentrated at 300mg per 100 grams of sorrel.11 The majority is found within the leaves, followed by marginal amounts in stems.13 The concentration of oxalates depends on the plant’s growing conditions, such as soil and climate.8 Moreover, tannins in sorrel leaves are concentrated between 7-15%.11When consumed in large amounts, tannins may cause stomach upset and/or kidney and liver damage.

Fortunately, the oxalic acid concentration decreases to negligible amounts with light cooking.11 For example, sorrel soup has a lower oxalic acid concentration compared to pesto made with fresh sorrel leaves.13 Also, the oxalic acid concentration increases proportionately to the size and length of the leaf, making young, tender leaves a better choice for those people affected by these conditions.

Nutrient Profile17

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup chopped raw sorrel)

29 calories
3 g protein
4 g carbohydrate
1 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup chopped raw sorrel)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin A: 5320 IU (106.4% DV)
Vitamin C: 63.8 mg (106.3% DV)
Magnesium: 137 mg (34.3% DV)
Manganese: 0.5 mg (25% DV)

Very good source of:
Iron: 3.2 mg (17.8% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 4 g (16% DV)
Potassium: 519 mg (14.8% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:
Phosphorus: 83.8 mg (8.4% DV)
Thiamin: 0.1 mg (6.7% DV)
Calcium: 58.5 mg (5.9% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.1 mg (5.9% DV)

Also, provides:
Folate: 17.3 mcg (4.3% DV)
Niacin: 0.7 mg (3.5% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Green Potato Salad

Adapted from Blue Apron18


  • 2 pounds yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 ounces fresh spinach
  • 6 ounces fresh sorrel leaves
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, salt the water, then cook until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork, approximately 15 minutes.

  2. Lift the potatoes out, reserving the water, and set aside in a bowl. Add the greens to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until wilted. Drain the spinach into a strainer, pressing to release as much water as possible.

  3. Roughly chop the greens, then add to the potatoes.

  4. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss thoroughly to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Salad may be served warm, at room temperature, or after chilling.


  1. Rumex acetosa (common sorrel). Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  2. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc.; 2006.
  3. Bown D. The Herb Society of America: New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
  4. Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It: Sorrel. Grace Communications Foundation website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  5. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory. 18th edition. Cincinnati, OH: Ohio Valley Co.; 1898. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  6. Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers & Lovers of Natural Foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 1996.
  7. Oliff HS, Blumenthal M. Scientific and Clinical Monograph for Sinupret. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2009.
  8. Kemper KJ. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa L.). Boston, MA: The Longwood Herbal Task Force; 1999.
  9. Bicker J, Petereit F, Hensel A. Proanthocyanidins and a phloroglucinol derivative from Rumex acetosaL. Fitoterapia. 2009;80(8):483-495.
  10. Kucekova Z, Mlcek J, Humpolicek P, Rop O, Valasek P, Saha P. Phenolic compounds from Allium schoenoprasumTragopogon pratensis and Rumex acetosa and their antiproliferative effects. Molecules. 2011;16(11):9207-9217.
  11. Vasas A, Orbán-Gyapai O, Hohmann J. The Genus Rumex: Review of traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;175:198-228.
  12. Hussain M, Raza SM, Janbaz KH. A pharmacologically mechanistic basis for the traditional uses of Rumex acetosa in gut motility disorders and emesis. Bangladesh J Pharmacol. 2015;10(3):548.
  13. Tuazon-Nartea J, Savage G. Investigation of oxalate levels in sorrel plant parts and sorrel-based products. Food Nutr Sci. 2013;4(8):838-843.
  14. Derksen A, Hensel A, Hafezi W, et al. 3-O-galloylated procyanidins from Rumex acetosa L. inhibit the attachment of influenza A virus. PLoS One. 2014;9(10).
  15. Oxalic acid. J.R. Organics website. Available here. Accessed May 5, 2016.
  16. Elpel T. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC; 2013.
  17. Basic report: 11616 Dock, raw. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  18. Seared Salmon and “Green” Potato Salad with Pickled Mustard Seeds. Blue Apron website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.

Food as Medicine: Caper (Capparis spinosa, Capparaceae)

The caper (Capparis spinosa, Capparaceae) bush is a small, salt-tolerant shrub with trailing, thorny branches, and thick, fleshy leaves. Caper has a deep root system and trailing vines that grow seven to 10 feet tall.1 The semi-prostrate branches have ovate, petiolate leaves arranged opposite of each other. The flowers are pink or white with three petals and numerous stamens. Caper is a deciduous, dicotyledonous plant that produces distinctive flower buds, which have a lifespan of 24 to 36 hours after opening.1,2

Caper’s edible shoots are considered a vegetable, and its processed buds are considered a culinary herb.1The tender shoots emerge in the spring, while the flower buds are harvested from mid-May to mid-August. Each plant produces hundreds of flowers each season. When pickled in vinegar or brine, the immature flower buds form capric acid, which is responsible for caper’s unique, salty-sour flavor.2,3 Once the flower blooms and is pollinated, it produces a fruit two to three inches in length and one-half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Caper fruits start out green but turn purple when ripe. Each fruit contains 200 to 300 seeds.1 The fruit of the caper bush is also harvested, but not commonly used.2

capersCurrently, capers are cultivated commercially in northern Africa, Spain, and Italy. Caper plants in Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey are grown for domestic use and not for export. The United States imports more than $20 million of processed capers annually.1 Caper plants that are two to three years old produce about two pounds of buds in a year, while plants older than four years may produce more than 20 pounds of buds annually.1

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Macronutrients are found in capers in very small amounts. One tablespoon (8.6 grams) of pickled capers has two calories, half a gram of carbohydrates, and minute amounts of protein and fat. An important micronutrient to consider when eating capers is sodium. One tablespoon of capers contains 202 milligrams of sodium, which is 8.5% of the recommended daily intake for a healthy adult.4,5 The flower bud also contains trace amounts of vitamins C and E. The concentration of vitamins can vary from plant to plant. The vitamin C content in capers cultivated in different regions in Tunisia, for example, ranged from 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams per 100 grams of capers.6

A number of bioactive compounds have been isolated from the flower buds of the caper bush. The pickling process has varying effects on the bioavailability of compounds due to different fermentation methods.7 Among the most investigated of these phytochemicals are flavonoids and antioxidants.

Flavonoids from Capers reportedly have cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antiparasitic properties.7,8 Rutin (quercetin-3-O-rutinoside) is the most abundant flavonoid in fresh and pickled caper buds.7 Simple water extractions high in rutin have been shown to reduce inflammation and arrest cell growth in cancer cells, as well as kill intestinal parasites in animals.8,9 Caper flower buds also contain quercetin-3-O-rhamnosylrutinoside, a derivative of quercetin.6

Quercetin, another well-studied flavonoid, is formed from rutin during the pickling process.7 Quercetin can inhibit inflammation and cancer cell growth in the same way as rutin.9 Quercetin has also shown immune health benefits. Kaempferol 3-O-rhamnosylrutinoside, another flavonoid identified in an aqueous extract, has proven antiparasitic properties.8

The flower bud of the caper bush also contains antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbic acid, and a newly identified antioxidant, cappariside, a small organic acid.6,10 Antioxidants eliminate free radicals that cause damage to body tissues and DNA and have been implicated in the prevention of cancer, kidney damage, and heart disease, as well as protection against prescription drug-induced toxicity.11 The antioxidant effects of flower bud preparations have been shown to be more potent than those of the antioxidants in isolation.8

Historical and Commercial Uses

The unopened flower buds of the caper bush are commercially known as capers.2 Capers are used as a condiment in salads and sauces, or with meat or fish. They are also used in cosmetics and medicines.

Archeological evidence for the historical use of capers as a food and medicine exists among many ancient cultures.12 The earliest known evidence of caper consumption was found in the Mesolithic soil layer of an excavation site in Syria, potentially dating back to 9000 BCE. Nearby ancient peoples may have been using capers in 7500 BCE as evidenced by mineralised seeds found in the Franchthi cave, a Stone Age cave in the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula. Dried seeds found in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel may have been used as early as 6000 BCE. In China, fresh clumps of capers and plant parts were preserved in entombed containers that are almost 3,000 years old. There is also evidence of Egyptian consumption of capers from 275 BCE to 600 CE.

Historical medicinal uses of capers ranged from expelling bad odor spirits in ancient Arabic cultures to treating paralysis in ancient Xinjiang, China.12 In addition to the buds, the root bark, fruit, and aerial parts of the caper bush were used in traditional remedies. Countries in the native range of caper, including Iran, Iraq, and Syria, used every part of the caper bush for a variety of ailments. As the cultivation and use of capers spread, the Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese incorporated the caper bush into their traditional medicine practices.

Capers contain phytochemicals that can inhibit inflammation, which supports caper’s usages as a cleanser and pain reliever.9,12 In ancient Chinese, Greek, and Arabic cultures, the root bark was mixed with vinegar or honey and applied topically to treat skin conditions such as ulcers and white spots associated with vitiligo.12 Similarly, the root was consumed as a treatment for inflammation and lacerations of the mouth, spleen, stomach, and intestines. In ancient Egypt, the root was used to reduce the pain of a scorpion sting.

In ancient Greece and China, the caper bush was regarded for its drying properties and was used as an expectorant in treating wet cough and asthma.12 Ancient Romans boiled caper root and root bark in oil and used it as an anthelmintic (digestive tract parasitic worm expeller). Likewise, in the 12th century, the Egyptians used the root to cleanse and dry the stomach.

Current medicinal usages are a testament to caper’s efficacy for treating different ailments. In the Middle East, indigenous groups still use capers as a so-called “blood purifier” and diuretic, to relieve stomach discomfort, treat kidney stones, improve liver function, and treat eczema.13 In Ayurveda, one of the traditional medicine systems of India, caper is used to treat paralysis and tremors, as well as edema, gout, and rheumatism.14 The root bark is still used to stimulate the menstrual cycle, as an expectorant, and to treat paralysis, rheumatism, spleen conditions, and toothaches.15

Modern Research

Commercial capers are not frequently studied for their medicinal properties. However, some research has been conducted on the bioactive compounds in the flower buds.

A recent study investigated the antiparasitic effect of a caper bud extract against Haemonchus contortus, a common parasite in cows and sheep. A large number of eggs and short lifespan of H. contortus allows the parasite to adapt quickly to its environment.16 Parasite infestations can result in large economic losses in the animal production industry, and current treatments include chemotherapy and vaccinations, which pose a safety concern.17 Researchers compared the caper extract to a commonly prescribed antiparasitic drug albendazole. The flower bud extract (50 mg/mL) was almost twice as effective as albendazole (1 mg/mL) at killing parasites in sheep and inhibited  the hatching of parasitic eggs more than the leaf extract.8

The caper bud has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic properties. A recent study investigated the potential of capers to inhibit nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB), a transcription factor that controls inflammation and cell growth. Mutations that impact its activation may lead to uncontrolled cell growth, one of the conditions that can cause a proliferation of cancer cells.18 For this reason, NF-κB is a therapeutic target for pancreatic, renal, and thyroid cancer treatments.18-20 In one in vitro study, researchers tested an aqueous extract of the flower bud and leaves, which were selected for their high levels of phenolic compounds, on human adenocarcinoma cells. The caper extract successfully inhibited the inflammation mechanism and arrested cell growth in a dose-dependent manner.9

Additionally, a caper flower bud extract has been studied for its ability to treat liver toxicity in animals. Rats were exposed to two different liver toxins: carbon tetrachloride, a known carcinogen that has been used as a commercial refrigerant, propellant, and solvent; and paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, a pain-relieving drug that can induce liver failure in sufficiently high doses.21 Compared to control, the caper extract resulted in a significant reduction in carbon tetrachloride-induced and paracetamol-induced liver toxicity.

Nutrient Profile4

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 tablespoon pickled capers, drained)

2 calories

0.2 g protein

0.4 g carbohydrate

0.1 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 tablespoon pickled capers, drained)

Provides small amounts of:

Vitamin K: 2.1 mcg (2.6% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g (1.2% DV)

Provides trace amounts of:

Magnesium: 3 mg (0.8% DV)

Vitamin C: 0.4 mg (0.7% DV)

Iron: 0.1 mg (0.6% DV)

Riboflavin: 0.01 mg (0.6% DV)

Folate: 2 mcg (0.5% DV)

Vitamin E: 0.1 mg (0.5% DV)

Manganese: 0.007 mg (0.4% DV)

Calcium: 3 mg (0.3% DV)

Niacin: 0.06 mg (0.3% DV)

Vitamin A: 12 IU (0.2% DV)

Phosphorus: 1 mg (0.1% DV)

Potassium: 3 mg (0.1% DV)

Thiamin: 0.002 mg (0.1% DV)

Vitamin B6: 0.002 mg (0.1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Lemon Capellini with Capers

Adapted from Ina Garten22


  • 1 pound dried capellini pasta
  • 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of two lemons
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 1/4 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and return to pot off the heat.

  2. Toss the cooked pasta with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, adding pasta water a tablespoon at a time until

    a thin sauce forms

    . Discard any remaining pasta water.

  3. Add capers and lemon zest and toss once more to combine. Serve immediately.


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