Between 60 and 70% of the body’s immune defenses are concentrated in an area of the gut known as the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). (By the way, 70% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut, too!).
It is imperative, therefore, that the gut flora – the good bacteria that colonizes the intestines – be intact. Good bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus, B. Lactis, and others, are not only good for helping with digestion, but they are also important for the assimilation of nutrients from food, supporting hormone balance, neurostransmitter balance, and yes, even the immune system.
But maintaining the life of these healthful bacteria is more of a daunting task in today’s world than ever before. Dietary insults like the sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and highly processed foods can diminish these important organisms. Likewise, antibiotics in the pill form and from the ones hidden in commercial meats are a death blow to our bacteria friends. Antibiotics (meaning, “anti-life”), are designed to annihilate all forms of bacteria, good and bad. What is often left over after a round of antibiotics are the resistant bad guys who then gladly take up residency where the good guys once were. And that can eventually wreak havoc on the health of the GI, the immune system, hormone balance, and one's mood!
Thankfully, we can replace much of these friendly organisms with supplemental “probiotics” (meaning, “pro-life”).
While the list of probiotic organisms is a long one, there are a few that research has shown are the best choices in enhancing immunity.
Firstly, the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 has shown remarkable immune-enhancing qualities.
In a 2001 study on the elderly reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, thirty healthy elderly volunteers (age range: 63–84 y; median: 69 y) participated in a 3-stage dietary supplementation trial lasting 9 wk. During stage 1 (run-in), subjects consumed low-fat milk (200 mL twice daily for 3 wk) as a base-diet control. During stage 2 (intervention), they consumed milk supplemented with B. lactis HN019 in a typical dose (5  1010 organisms/d) or a low dose (5  109 organisms/d) for 3 wk. During stage 3 (washout), they consumed low-fat milk for 3 wk. Changes in the relative proportions of leukocyte subsets and ex vivo leukocyte phagocytic and tumor-cell-killing activity were determined longitudinally by assaying peripheral blood samples.
Increases in the proportions of total, helper (CD4+), and activated (CD25+) T lymphocytes and natural killer cells were measured in the subjects’ blood after consumption of B. lactis HN019. The ex vivo phagocytic capacity of mononuclear and polymorphonuclear phagocytes and the tumoricidal activity of natural killer cells were also elevated after B. lactis HN019 consumption. The greatest changes in immunity were found in subjects who had poor pretreatment immune responses. In general, the 2 doses of B. lactis HN019 had similar effectiveness.
Am J Clin Nutr 2001;74:833–9
Likewise, the Lactobacillus Rhamnosis HN001 and the Saccharomyces Boulardii strains have shown similar immune-enhacing benefits. In fact, L. Rhamnosis HN001 was shown to lead to “an increased ability to fight infectious diseases” in subjects who were already healthy. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Apr;20(2 Suppl):149-56. In other words, the addition of L. Rhamnosis HN001 made a strong immune system even stronger.
A Cold and Flu Prevention Protocol
During this time of year, a basic foundational regime for prevention of colds and flu would be to take the vitamin C complex (see my last post), and include 1 capsule of the L. Rhamnosis/B. Lactis, S. Boulardii formula on an empty stomach. This formula is the newest probiotic designed specifically for immunity. It contains 5.5 billion live organisms of S. Boulardii, 3 billion B. Lactis HN0019, and 1 billion L. Rhamnosis HN001 per capsule. For acute infections, one could go up to 6 per day.
Not Limited to Colds and Flu Alone
This new probiotic formula is what saved me from a bout with “Montazuma’s Revenge” when I was in Mexico last year. Laying on my bed in the fetal position for about six hours, a friend came to the rescue with his last capsule. In a half hour I was up and around and feeling great again. GI infections are a great application of this powerful probiotic combination as well.