Our dogs are constantly exposed to environments and substances that can compromise their health. Whether you live in the city or the country, pesticides can be difficult to avoid as neighbors and farmers spray their yards and fields. Many dogs live a relatively boring and inactive lifestyle and that can create stress. Other dogs are exposed to viruses, bacteria and parasites in vet offices, training buildings, dog parks and even open parks and fields.
The key to a healthy dog is not to keep him at home and avoid these immune stresses – the best option is to keep his immune system in top working condition so he can quickly and effectively fight disease when it strikes. Naturally (no pun intended), feeding a fresh, whole diet including lots of meat and bones is an important step, as is avoiding vaccinations, drugs, worm medications and topical flea and tick products. Beyond that, there is still much you can do to boost the immune system in healthy dogs, or to restore it in dogs with immune challenges, especially those suffering cancer.
World-leading nutraceutical researcher, Jon Barron has compiled a complete and well thought out list of items you might want to add to your dog’s diet to boost his immune health. If you would like to read more about how the immune system functions, you can read Jon Barron’s informative article, Anatomy and Physiology of the Immune System.
Here is Jon Barron’s list of important immune boosting supplements along with great information on how they stimulate immune health.
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. Alternative 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 natural immune boosters safer than their pharmaceutical alternatives (having fewer side effects), they are, surprisingly, often more powerful– at least up to this point in time.
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 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 yankin’ my chain. I’m onto what’s happening here — time to stand down.” And thus the supplement stops working. When using immune boosters of this type, it’s best to use them for three weeks on and one week off. By taking that one week off, the immune system quickly forgets the false threat presented to the immune system. Thus, you can pull its leg again and again, while keeping your immune system on high alert indefinitely. You can do this because no memory cells are produced by the immune system since the immune system never actually gets to take the final step of “attacking” the immune booster, which is required for production of memory cells.
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 be 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 Echinacea 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 traveling 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 helps in several other ways. First, it contains echinacoside, a natural antibiotic comparable to penicillin in effect, which can kill a broad range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. This makes it 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. Echinacea also contains echinacein, a biochemical that 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 immune boosting drugs. 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. They are similar, but also have complementary properties. Formulas that use both are more likely to be effective. It’s also worth noting that potency runs from seed to root to leaf to almost none 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. A more recent study (2010), however, 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. Once symptoms start, your immune system is going to be responding to the antigens presented by the cold virus 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.) Any benefit will come from its germ killing properties, which although real, are secondary. And in that regard, the Echinacea did shorten the duration of colds — just not by that much. In truth, the major benefit of Echinacea is in its ability to prevent you from getting a cold in the first place — not shortening its duration — if you’ve been using it to build up your immune system in advance of being exposed to the virus.
- 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. (We’ll talk more about the incubation phase when we talk about pathogen destroyers in Part 3 of our series.)
Forget the negative studies. Echinacea still stands as a powerful immune booster.
Pau d’arco (Tabebuia avellanedae, impetiginosa, and heptaphylla) is a 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. 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 a natural antibacterial agent, 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 lapachol has antitumorous, antiedemic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, and antifungal activity.
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 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.
The key working ingredients in suma are pfaffic acid (prevents the spread of various cell disorders), pfaffocides and other saponins (helps 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 germanium sesquioxide (Ge-132, aka organic germanium) of any plant known. Discovered about thirty years ago, Ge-132 works much like Pau d’arco in that it stimulates 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.
Many of the compounds found in reishi, maitake, and cordyceps mushrooms 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.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum or lingzhi) — The anti-cancer and immune-enhancing effects of the reishi mushroom 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 appear to activate macrophages that “consume” viruses, bacteria, and other large particulate matter.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa, also known as Sheep’s Head and Hen of the Woods) — Maitake mushrooms 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 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).
Cordyceps 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. It 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 upregulating macrophage activity, and inducing the apoptosis (cell death) of human leukemia cells. Cordyceps is widely employed to treat upper respiratory problems, impotence, and weakened immune systems, and also by athletes to increase endurance.
AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) — AHCC is a proprietary dietary supplement rich in polysaccharides and fiber derived from mushrooms. 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.
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.
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. 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 200-300% 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. Proline-rich-polypeptide, a component of colostrum, works as an immunomodulator, boosting a low immune system and balancing an overactive one. (We’ll talk more about immunomodulators in our next newsletter.) Another key component of colostrum is transfer 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 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. Alternatives include the glutathione precursors L-cysteine and L-glutamate and specially formulated whey products.
Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is a tropical evergreen tree whose 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.
Beta-glucan is a natural complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) found in cereal grains such as oats and barley. However, it is found in its greatest concentration primarily in the cell walls of yeast and in medicinal mushrooms. Beta Glucan as a supplement, however, particularly Beta- 1,3/1,6 Glucan, extracted from yeast cell wall, is a potent and proven immune response potentiator and modulator — stimulating anti-tumor and antimicrobial activity by binding to receptors on macrophages and other white blood cells and activating them.
If your dog is fighting cancer or other immune challenges, we’re certain you will find this list to be very useful.