Food as Medicine: Mango (Mangifera indica, Anacardiaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Mangifera indica (Anacardiaceae) is a tropical tree that grows from 33 feet to 131 feet in height and produces large, oval-shaped fruits that are red and gold when ripe, though some cultivars are green or yellow.1 The smooth-edged leaves of the mango tree are reddish when young, becoming dark green and shiny as they mature. The tree produces small pinkish-white flowers that precede the fruit.2,3 The mango fruit is a drupe, or stone fruit, containing a large single seed surrounded by fleshy pulp and a thin, leathery skin.4 The mango tree begins to bear fruit four to six years after planting and continues to produce fruit for about 40 years.3,4 Trees older than 10 years tend toward alternate or biennial bearing, producing fruit every other year.5

While the most commonly used part of the plant is the fruit, the mango tree has a variety of traditional uses that make use of the roots, peel, stem bark, leaves, flowers, and seed kernels. These parts typically contain greater amounts of bioactive compounds, including mangiferin, then the fruit.4 Belonging to the same plant family as the cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and pistachio (Pistacia vera), the mango is native to India and Burma, and has been cultivated since 2000 BCE.2 The mango was introduced to Africa about 1,000 years ago and to tropical America in the 19th century.1,2 Wild fruits have a minimal resemblance to the cultivated mangos, having a much smaller size and unpleasant turpentine-like taste. Currently, mangos are grown in tropical and warm temperate climates.3 India remains the largest producer, growing 65% of the world’s mango crop.5

Phytochemicals and Constituents

The macro- and micro nutrient composition and bioactive compounds present in M. indica contribute to its many health benefits. Mango fruits are a rich source of vitamins A, B and C. Mangos are also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.3 Soluble fiber can help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve gastrointestinal health.

Mango is a source of many pharmacologically and medically important chemicals, including mangiferin, mangiferin acid, hydroxy-mangiferin, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and carotenes.6 Different parts of the plant have different chemical compositions. The bark, for example, contains catechins, amino acids, and phenolic and triterpenoid compounds.7,8 Due to these constituents, mango bark extract has shown antioxidant, immune system-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activities, which correspond to many of mango’s traditional medicinal uses.7 The xanthone mangiferin is found in many different plants across the Anacardiaceae family and shows promising results in the areas of antitumor, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial actions.

The health benefits of the fruit pulp are due to its high concentration of antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals, such as carotenoids. Carotenoids play an important role in protective health mechanisms against some forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration, as well as improving immune health.9 Specifically, mangos are high in beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Mango also contains smaller amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids important for maintaining eye health and preventing macular degeneration. These phytochemicals are antioxidants, meaning that they slow or prevent the oxidative process, thereby preventing or repairing damage to cells in the body.10

The polyphenols that have been identified in the mango fruit include gallic acid, Gallo-tannins, quercetin, isoquercitrin, mangiferin, ellagic acid, and beta-glucogallin. These polyphenols have powerful antioxidant activity as well as other potential therapeutic effects. Gallic acid, for example, is known to have anti-inflammatory and antitumor activities, while ellagic acid has been found to exhibit antimutagenic, antiviral, and antitumor effects.4

The most biologically active compound that has been studied in the mango tree is mangiferin. Mangiferin is synthesized by the plant as a chemical defense compound.6,11 Plant parts that contain the highest amounts of mangiferin include the leaves, stem bark, heartwood, and roots. Currently, researchers are investigating potential methods of processing mango bark and peel into a palatable ingredient or food additive. Mangiferin (not to be confused with the previously mentioned mangiferin) is one of a number of enzymes present in mangos that improves digestion. Others include catechol oxidase and lactase.3

Historical and Commercial Uses

Mangifera indica has been used in Ayurveda, India’s primary system of traditional medicine, for more than 4,000 years. The mango was thought to have aphrodisiacal properties and is still viewed as sacred today.3A variety of the plant’s parts are used as a paste or powder for cleaning the teeth, and the juice of the mango is considered a restorative tonic, as well as a treatment for heat stroke.6 Numerous parts of the mango tree are used in Ayurvedic medicine as an antiseptic, an astringent to tone lax tissues, a laxative, a diuretic, and to increase sweating, promote digestion, and expel parasitic worms or other internal parasites.12 The seeds have been used as an astringent and as a treatment for asthma. Fumes from the burning leaves are used as an inhalant to relieve hiccups and sore throats.6 The bark is used as an astringent in diphtheria and rheumatism (disorders of the joints and connective tissues), and the gum was used in dressings for cracked feet and for scabies (an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite [Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis]).

Current Ayurvedic practices use various parts of the mango for different ailments. For diarrhea, mango leaves are pounded together and taken with rice water.13 For nosebleeds, the juice of the mango seed is placed into the nostrils. For an enlarged spleen, ripe mango juice is consumed with honey. To treat gonorrhea, mango bark is pounded and added to milk and sugar. In some tropical countries, mango is actually used as a meat tenderizer, due to the power of the proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins.3In traditional ethnoveterinary medicine, all parts of the mango are used to treat abscesses, broken horns, rabid dog bites, tumors, snake bites, stings, heat stroke, miscarriage, bacterial illness, blisters and wounds in the mouth, inflammation of the inner ear, colic, diarrhea, liver disorders, excessive urination, tetanus, and asthma.14

Among the Tikunas, an indigenous people of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, a mango leaf decoction was used as a contraceptive and abortifacient. Reportedly, taking a cupful on two successive days during menstruation acted as a contraceptive, and taking it for three days caused abortion.11,15

Mango fruit is processed at two stages of maturity. Green fruit is used to make chutney, pickles, curries, and dehydrated products like dried mango, amchoor (raw mango powder), and Panna (green mango beverage). Ripe fruit is processed into canned and frozen slices, pulp, concentrate, juices, nectar, jam, purée, cereal flakes, toffee, and various dried products.4

Modern Research

Studies indicate that M. indica possesses myriad therapeutic properties, including antidiabetic, antioxidant, antiviral, cardiotonic, hypotensive, and anti-inflammatory.6 Each of the mango’s parts — fruit, pulp, peel, seed, leaves, flowers, and bark — can be used therapeutically.

A 2000 study found that mango stem bark extract showed a powerful scavenging activity of hydroxyl radicals and acted as a chelator of iron.6 Although iron is an essential mineral, it is toxic in excessive amounts. Iron chelators could be an important approach to lessen iron-induced oxidative damage and prevent iron accumulation in diseases in which accumulation is prevalent, such as hemochromatosis, a metabolic disorder in which the body absorbs too much iron, and thalassemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder caused by a lack of hemoglobin, which results in fewer healthy red blood cells.4 This same study found a significant inhibitory effect on the degradation of brain cell membranes in an animal model and prevented DNA damage caused by some chemotherapy treatments.6,16

Polyphenolic compounds and related bioactivity are higher in the mango peel than the fruit, and higher still in the leaves and stem bark.4 The bark is one of the main parts of the tree used for medicinal purposes. A standardized aqueous extract of M. indica stem bark called Vimang (LABIOFAM Entrepreneurial Group; La Habana, Cuba) has been developed in Cuba. This extract has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties and has been used in many countries for the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding, diarrhea, syphilis, diabetes, scabies, cutaneous infections, and anemia.4,7

Much of the current research looks at extracts of mango bark or seed. There is a limited amount of literature that looks into the consumption of the mango fruit itself. However, a 2011 study looked at the consumption of freeze-dried mango fruit and its effects on weight loss and glucose tolerance, compared to hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic drugs, in mice fed a high-fat diet.17 In the study, consumption of freeze-dried mango prevented the increase in fat mass and the percentage of body fat. Compared with controls, mice given the freeze-dried mango had improved glucose tolerance and lowered insulin resistance.

Functional and medicinal properties of the non-fruit portions of the mango provide promising data for future uses of the plant and may allow for less waste of the non-edible parts of the mango. The mango peel, for example, constitutes about 15-20% of the mango fruit and typically is discarded prior to consuming the fruit. In commercial processing, the discarded peels become a wasteful by-product.18 A 2015 study conducted chemical analysis and determination of the bioactive compounds in a flour made from green mango peel.19 The mango peel flour had 54 g of total dietary fiber per 100 g of dry sample, compared to 1.8 g of total dietary fiber in wheat flour. The mango peel flour also contained 21.7 mg/g of total phenolic contents and 22.4 mg/g of total flavonoid contents.

The results of this study suggest that the mango peel flour exhibited functional properties similar to wheat flour, and could serve as an acceptable substitute in baked goods and other flour-containing foods. Dietary fiber in mango peel has been shown as a favorable source of high-quality polysaccharides due to its high starch, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin content combined with its low-fat content.18 In Vitro starch studies suggest low glycemic responses from mango peel fiber, which suggests a potential use for diabetic individuals.

Mango kernel oil has recently attracted attention due to its unsaturated fatty acid composition.18 Mango kernel oil has been widely researched for its function as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent due to its high polyphenolic content.4 The major phenolic compounds in mango seed kernels are (in order of decreasing concentration): tannins, vanillin, coumarin, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, gallic acid, and mangiferin, all providing antioxidant protection.

Health Considerations

Possibly explained by its distant relation to poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, Anacardiaceae) and poison ivy (T. radicans), mango peel may be irritating to the skin,3 particularly to people who are highly sensitive to these plants. This is due to the presence of alk(en)ylresorcinols, a mixture of substances that can cause contact dermatitis to those who are allergic or sensitive to it.20 Alk(en)ylresorcinol is similar to urushiol, the toxic resin that causes an itchy rash in those who come into contact with poison ivy. These allergens are more prevalent in the peel than the flesh. In one study, four patients developed hives and eczematous rash after exposure to mangos or mango trees. Children and other persons with food allergies should take caution when handling and consuming mango. Although allergy to mango is infrequent, mango has been identified as an allergy-provoking food in some individuals with other food allergies.


Nutrient Profile21

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)

99 calories
1.35 g protein
24.7 g carbohydrate
0.63 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin C: 60.1 mg (100.2% DV)
Vitamin A: 1,785 IU (35.7% DV)

Very good source of:
Folate: 71 mcg (17.75% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g (10.4% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:
Vitamin K: 6.9 mcg (8.63% DV)
Potassium: 277 mg (7.9% DV)
Vitamin E: 1.48 mg (7.33% DV)
Niacin: 1.1 mg (5.5% DV)

Also, provides:
Magnesium: 16 mg (4% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (3.53% DV)
Thiamin: 0.05 mg (3.33% DV)
Phosphorus: 23 mg (2.3% DV)
Calcium: 18 mg (1.8% DV)
Iron: 0.26 mg (1.44% DV)

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

Recipe: Mango and Watermelon Salad

Adapted from Mango.org22

Ingredients:

  • 2 large, ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 cup watermelon, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup fresh arugula, washed and dried
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine mango, watermelon, onion, pepper, tomato, and arugula in a large bowl. Toss to combine.

  2. Whisk together remaining ingredients and taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary. Drizzle dressing over the salad, toss to

    combine,

    and serve.

References

  1. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  2. The National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
  3. Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  4. Masibo M, He Q. Mango bioactive compounds and related nutraceutical properties: A review. Food Rev Int. 2009;25:346-370.
  5. Morton JF. Mango. In: Morton JF. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: J.F. Morton; 1987:221-239.
  6. Shah KA, Patel MB, Patel RJ, Parmar PK. Mangifera indica (Mango). Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(7):42-48.
  7. Wauthoz N, Balde A, Balde ES, Damme MV, Duez P. Ethnopharmacology of Mangifera indica L. bark and pharmacological studies of its main c-glucosylxanthone, mangiferin. Int J Biomed Pharma Sci. 2007;1(2):112-119.
  8. Hamid K, Algahtani A, Kim MS, et al. Tetracyclic triterpenoids in herbal medicines and their activities in diabetes and its complications. Curr Top Med Chem. 2015;15(23):2406-2430.
  9. Hewavitharana AK, Tan ZW, Shimada R, Shaw PN, Flanagan BM. Between fruit variability of the bioactive compounds, B-carotene and mangiferin, in mango. Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;70:158-163.
  10. Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
  11. Schultes RE, Raffauf RF. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia.Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press; 1990.
  12. Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
  13. Amra (Mangifera indica) National R&D Facility for Rasayana website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
  14. Williamson EM. Major Herbs of Ayurveda. London, UK: Elsevier Science Limited; 2002.
  15. Duke JA, Vasquez R. Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1994.
  16. Martinez G, Delgado R, Perez G, Garrido G, Nunez Selles AJ, Leon OS. Evaluation of the in-vitroantioxidant activity of Mangifera indica L: extract (Vimang). Phytother Res. 2000;14:424–7.
  17. Lucas EA, Li W, Peterson SK, et.al. Mango modulates body fat and plasma glucose and lipids in mice fed a high-fat diet. Brit J Nutr. 2011;106:1495-1505.
  18. Tiwari BK, Brunton NP, Brennan CS. Handbook of Plant Food Phytochemicals: Sources, Stability and Extraction. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013.
  19. Abidin NSA, Mohamad SN, Jaafar MN. Chemical composition, antioxidant activity and functional properties of mango (Mangifera indica L. var Perlis Sunshine) peel flour. Appl Mech Mater. 2015(754-755):1065-1070.
  20. Knödler M, Reisenhauer K, Schieber A, Carle R. Quantitative determination of allergenic 5-Alk(en)ylresorcinols in mango (Mangifera indica L.) peel, pulp, and fruit products by high-performance liquid chromatography. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57:3639-3644.
  21. Basic Report, 09176, Mangos, raw. Agricultural Research Service, USDA website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
  22. National Mango Board. Mango and watermelon salad. Mango.org website. Available here. Accessed May 18, 2016.
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Flatal Incontinence and Women: What is it and Why does it Happen?

Uncontrollable gas (flatus or flatulent gases) is known as flatal incontinence. This condition is defined as involuntary flatulence at least once or more per week. The big problem: it can happen anywhere. Involuntarily ‘breaking wind’ while at the store, restaurant or at the office creates embarrassing situations. It can erode self-confidence. It can negatively impact one’s relationships. Worse yet, the feeling of being powerless to control oneself can stress and isolate an individual. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that afflicts women around the world.

Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Uncontrollable Gas

During pregnancy and natural childbirth, the anal sphincter (the muscle that controls the anus) and the perineum muscles (the muscles of the pelvic area) suffer trauma. As a result, many women experience a loss of control over bowel movements and gas immediately following childbirth. While this is very common, it certainly isn’t desirable.

Studies have found that nearly 1 in 3 women who deliver vaginally report experiencing uncontrollable gas. For some women, the problem occurs for only a short time. For others, the problem becomes chronic.

Researchers have sought to identify why this affects some women, but not others, particularly after pregnancy and delivery. One study linked the use of instruments, such as forceps or vacuum delivery, to an increased risk of trauma to the perineal muscles, resulting in flatal incontinence.

The use of instruments during delivery doesn’t alone explain the problem. It has been noted that women who have multiple natural births report a higher incidence of flatal incontinence. While this might suggest a C-section might offer a way to prevent this problem, researchers have found C-sections did not offer protection against flatal incontinence.

Maybe Childbirth is Not the Cause…

One study of Korean women and post-delivery anal and flatal incontinence did deliver an interesting result. The Korean women in this study experienced the trauma typical to a natural delivery, with lacerations to the sphincter occurring. Vacuum extraction was also used. Yet, the study reported flatal incontinence occurs nearly 20% less in Korean women than in women from Western countries, despite similar risk factors.

Of course, that leads to the question…

What Other Factors Contribute to Flatal Incontinence

Age appears a contributing factor to the problem of controlling gas. As the Korean study shows, the problem exists globally. Researchers from several countries report that about 1 in 3 women ages 30 and older suffer from the involuntary release of gas.

Another study identified menopause, obesity and an increased occurrence of urinary incontinence as factors that increased the likelihood of flatal incontinence. This suggests additional factors can impact the ability of the perineal and anal muscles from functioning properly.

Research supports this idea. One study of women ages 18-50 reported stress significantly increased the chance of an involuntary release of flatus. While childbirth has long been associated with a cause, this continued research demonstrates that the problem of flatal incontinence extends beyond birthing as a simple explanation.

Hope for Women Suffering from Flatal Incontinence

The research has shown factors beyond childbirth can cause flatal incontinence in women. This problem should not be ignored or ‘lived with.’ For those suffering from this unpleasant and potentially embarrassing condition, understand many women suffer from it.

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.

Risks

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.

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.

Echinacea02Echinacea

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.

Suma

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Immunomodulators

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.

Conclusion

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  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.

References

  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.