Allergies, Arthritis and Immunity: The Food Factor
The link between food and immune responses, including arthritis or allergies, is as complex as the immune system itself.
By Mark Anthony, Ph.D. | 02/06/2006
The Original Probiotic
One of the oldest known probiotic foods is yogurt. Its custard-like texture, tart taste and probiotic ability stem from characteristic bacteria that ferment the milk and convert lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. Lactobacillus bulgaricus is the main strain of bacteria in yogurt, but Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria lactis may also be in yogurt and have similar health-promoting properties.
Stonyfield Farm (www.stonyfield.com) Londonderry, N.H., has furthered enhancing the basic probiotic profile of yogurt further by adding another type of lactobacillus, reuteri (as well as inulin) to its formulae. In a January, 2005 study in several Israeli daycare centers, L. reuteri proved to be more effective than B. lactis when comparing days with fever, fewer doctor visits, diarrhea episodes, childcare absences and antibiotic prescriptions in subjects.
Protein and Minerals
Whole-body health is intricately linked to whole-body nutritional balance. For example, sufficient dietary protein is critical to immune function, but excessive protein may have a detrimental effect. A number of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C, riboflavin, iron, zinc and selenium also have important immune-related functions.
Vitamin A has been called the anti-infective vitamin because of the close association between severe vitamin A deficiency and increased infection-related illness and death. This may relate to the necessary of vitamin A for the maintenance of healthy levels of circulating T cells in children. Even a mild deficiency may increase the risk of infection.
Vitamin A plays a crucial role in the health and normal functioning of the skin and mucosal cells that line the airways, digestive tract, and urinary tract, limiting the colonization of pathogenic microbes. Both vitamin E and vitamin B6 are critical to immune health, especially as we age.
|Enhanced beverages are increasingly becoming destinations for immune-support nutrients. Glaceau, for example, offers “Defense,” a raspberry-apple-flavored water fortified with zinc, vitamin C, and four of the B vitamins.
Research conducted over the past 20 years has demonstrated that large doses of vitamin C do not significantly reduce the incidence of the common cold, supplemental vitamin C may lessen severity and duration of colds by lowering histamine release.
Zinc has great scientific support for its abilities to reduce the severity and duration of colds, too. (For more on zinc, see "Heavy Metal," Feb. 2006) The vital mineral plays an indisputably central role in immune health, and zinc deficiency increases susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. It’s also a nutrient most Americans are lacking in their diet. In addition, zinc functions as an antioxidant, stabilizing membranes and protecting the integrity of the skin as a barrier, and assuring the normal development of immune cells.
Another trace mineral, selenium, helps regulate the production of cytokines by T cells, which in turn control the immune response. This may be why selenium deficiency has been linked with impaired immune function. Selenium supplementation has been shown to enhance the production of antibodies in response to foreign antigens.
Copper is important to the development and maintenance of immune function through an as yet unknown mechanism. Abnormally low white blood cell count is a clinical sign of copper deficiency in humans.
Drink to Your Health
Beverages have taken a leading role in the pro-immunity sphere. Tropicana Products Inc., Bradenton, Fla., has enjoyed strong sales from its “Tropicana Pure Premium Immunity Defense” orange juice, enhanced with vitamins C and E, as well as selenium and folate.
With the motto “hydrate responsibly,” Glaceau (www.glaceau.com), Whitestone, N.Y., is a pioneer of enhanced water beverages, with several lines of waters supplemented with B vitamins, vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants in combination with fruit and plant extracts. Under the company’s Vitaminwater category, Glaceau features “Defense,” a raspberry-apple-flavored water fortified with zinc, vitamin C, and four of the B vitamins.
Such anti-inflammation, anti-allergy and pro-immune benefits to foods and beverages are becoming increasingly important to consumers. From beverages and bars to cereals and snacks, the inclusion of proactive and protective components is only increasing. Even breath mints are taking the opportunity to protect us against more than social ills. Dyna-Tabs Products (www.dynatabs.com), Brooklyn, N.Y., includes citrus-flavored, vitamin C-laced “Immune Health Support” to its line of dietary supplement-enhanced breath strips.
Immune protection is like a chain of barriers to disease. But this chain is only as good as its weakest link. “Boosting” the immune system is a whole body event that is intimately linked to balanced, healthy diet.