Immune system: Defend yourself from ill-health with these vital nutrients

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A friend of mine who grew up in the country, recalls a time when emergencies were announced by blasts on a powerful horn near the centre of town. Back then, the local volunteer fire fighters knew the coded series of blasts to listen for that signalled the need to drop everything and report to the fire station.

In a sense, this is what happens in your body after surgery; a series of complex immune and inflammatory changes send out the signal that special resources are urgently needed.

Time to send in the immunonutrients. Specifically, there are five nutrients that have been shown to improve immune system function after surgery, according to a special report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The overall result: fewer infections and shorter hospital stays.

Multi-taskers
You dont have to be in need of surgery to reap the benefits of immunonutrients, which also provide natural defences against common viral and bacterial infections. So with some helpful insights from HSI Panellist Dr Allan Spreen well take a look at the five immunonutrients featured in the BMJ report, along with notes on the best sources of each.

Ill begin with the nutrient that needs no introduction to HSI members: omega-3 fatty acids. Ive written about this key nutrient so often in the daily e-alerts that Im not going to delve into this very familiar information again here.

And in the recent e-alert Discover the numerous health benefits linked to L-arginine (8/4/05), I told you about this remarkable amino acid thats known to play a role in a number of important functions, including: blood vessel dilation, reduction of inflammation, thymus gland regulation and repair of skin and connective tissue.

The other three immunonutrients are L-glutamine, branched chain amino acids, and nucleotides. After looking over this list, Dr. Spreen told me that he was impressed that the BMJ, a mainstream medical journal, spoke so highly of these healing nutrients.

The antioxidants friend
The BMJ report highlighted the successes of using post-surgical L-glutamine (or simply glutamine) intravenously to combat toxins and reduce the incidence of pneumonia. Dr. Spreen said, Im STUNNED at the comments (and progress) made with intravenous glutamine. I had no idea theyd gone so far at trying such things. Its pretty detailed when youre putting it in an IV and fixing up intestinal mucosae and stimulating the immune system.

Dr. Spreen also explained this additional benefit of L-glutamine: It seems the brain uses glutamic acid almost as well as glucose for energy, and with less stress in doing so. The problem is, it doesnt cross the blood-brain barrier into the brain directly. However, glutamine DOES cross, and then the brain can convert it to the utilisable form and burn it. It makes sense that easy-energy fuel for the bodys processes would make everything work better.

L-glutamine is one of the precursors of the highly effective antioxidant glutathione, which Ive written about many times. There are a number of good dietary sources of L-glutamine, including meats, fresh fruits and vegetables. L-glutamine supplements are also widely available.

The repairman  
Dr. Spreen tells me that branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are apparently the easiest form of protein for the body to use for repair, and thats why this nutrient is popular with many body builders. BCAAs are readily available for incorporating into new proteins, both structural and enzymatic.

The three BCAAs (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) are essential amino acids, which are also precursors of glutamine. Without BCCAs in our diets, we literally couldnt live.

About BCAAs, Dr. Spreen says, Ive always felt that anything that makes it easier for the body to do its thing is immunologically beneficial. If it has easy access to energy, readily available components for fixing whatevers damaged, and ways to move the bodys biochemical processes around without having to worry about rationing whats available, that HAS to make it easier to go out and eat invading organisms and fix whatevers broken.

BCAAs are available in supplement form, but are easily obtained from meat, whey protein, egg protein and other dairy products.

Down in the DNA  
As for our last of the big five immunonutrients – nucleotides – Dr. Spreen says theyve been mentioned in articles for years as immune system enhancers, but hes never had the occasion to use them.

Nucleotides (the basic unit of nucleic acids) are the building blocks of DNA, and they help make cell division possible. When the immune system is under stress, new cells are needed to help fight infection. White blood cells, bone marrow cells, and the mucous cells of the intestine all require sources of nucleotides.

Breast milk is perhaps the richest source of nucleotides. Formula-fed infants are generally more prone to infection than breast-fed children, and researchers believe that nucleotides are primarily responsible for this difference. Organ meats such as liver and kidney are rich in nucleotides, as are legumes and seafood. Nucleotides and nucleic acids supplements are also available from good health food shops.

Food for thought  
One final note from Dr. Spreen: If amino acid supplements (which can be expensive) are taken with protein foods, the protein receptor sites are flooded with competition from the protein in foods. So if youre trying to get a predominance of one amino acid for some reason (L-glutamine for energy, arginine for growth hormone production, etc.) youd be wasting money to take them with other proteins.

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