Immune Enhancing Supplements Gain Validation
There will always be a certain amount of controversy when it comes to recognizing the value of herbal and nutritional supplements as immune system modulators. Historically, conventional medicine has demanded double-blind, placebo controlled human studies. Such studies, however, on these types of products are difficult to set up and impractical to fund. In spite of that, significant progress is being made.
Two new studies provide good examples of this. One study, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine – investigated an Echinacea purpurea extract for the prevention and treatment of the common cold. The results were positive. Those taking the echinacea had a slightly reduced chance of coming down with a cold, but those who did get sick had a “highly significant” reduction of days spent with the illness–672 days compared to 850 days in the placebo group. In addition, the echinacea group experienced a 59% reduction in recurring infections.
One interesting thing about this study is that it is one more contradiction to the once fashionable advice against taking echinacea continuously, over a long period of time. This often repeated caution was the result of a misinterpretation of a German publication.
This is only one of many positive studies on echinacea, by the way. A meta-analysis published in 2007 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases (Vol. 7, Pages 473-480) concluded that echinacea may cut the risk of catching the common cold by almost 60%. And researchers from the University of Connecticut combined the results of 14 different studies with positive results. In one of the studies they found in that echinacea taken in combination with vitamin C reduced cold incidence by 86%, and when the herbal was used alone the incidence was reduced by 65%.
The other study I want to call your attention to is related to my recent article on the importance of mushroom extracts as immune system modulators. (You can read that article here.) I am not alone when it comes to having a very high regard for the efficacy of beta-glucan rich mushroom extracts for immune support. It seems the European Union is backing a 240-person trial to investigate the ability of a range of beta-glucans to boost immune systems.
The data will be analyzed using, “many biomarkers including those indicative for the innate immune system, the adaptive immune system, the effect on gut microbiota and metabolites generated by the gut microbiota as a response to the intervention.”
The trial involves several sources of beta-glucans in addition to one of the mushroom extracts I wrote about–a yeast beta-glucan, an oat beta-glucan, a wheat arabinoxylan, and beta-glucan from Shiitake mushroom.
There may be a difference between using echinacea, or similar herbs and beta-glucan rich mushroom extracts. As I pointed out in the above referenced article, “If your immune system is already overactive, as is the case with autoimmune diseases, you should avoid echinacea. It’s also not recommended for progressive diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Finally, the jury is still out on whether echinacea should be used by persons with HIV infections.”
“This is why many experts in the field believe that these conditions are the domain of the adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens such as astragalus, ashwagandha and eleuthero “tend to enhance the immune system by way of a balancing approach, as opposed to the more nonspecific approach taken by echinacea. This means adaptogens can be used to treat conditions in which the immune system is either depressed or overactive.”
Getting back to the echinacea study, the actual product used was Echinaforce by Bioforce. It was a randomised, double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled clinical trial with 717 participants. The group assessed safety and efficacy variables over a collective total of 11,472 weeks, or 2,868 months of prophylaxis. The patients mixed 25 drops of Echinaforce or a placebo with water and held it in their mouths for 10 seconds before swallowing it, three times per day over a four month period.
The conclusion, again, was as follows: “the new data reports that three daily doses of the common remedy for four months reduced the likelihood of developing cold and also slashed the duration of the illness by an average of 26%. The herbal supplementation was also reported cut the number of recurrent colds, suffered by those with weakened immune systems, by 60%.
“Prophylactic treatment with Echinaforce over 4 months appeared to be beneficial for many reasons,” explain the researchers, led by senior author Professor Ronald Eccles, from Cardiff University, UK.”
Echinaforce is a mixture of both the herb and root from Echinacea purpurea. As this study shows, along with other studies, this type of extract works. There are other forms, such as root only, as well as other sources, such as Echinacea angustifolia. It should be noted that this study did not compare the efficacy of one type against the other.
The mushroom extract product referenced in my previous article was PhytoTech Mushroom Extract Complex, available from Willner Chemists.
Reference: (1) Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1155/2012/841315
“Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”
Authors: M. Jawad, R. Schoop, A. Suter, P. Klein, R. Eccles
(2) Immunomodulation: Enhancing Immune Function With Herbal Supplements – Doing It The Right Way. By Don Goldberg. Willner Chemists Catalog/Newsletter Autumn 2012. (Digital version online at http://www.willner.com.