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Supplement Perspectives

Immunity and Inflammation: Inseparable

Regular contributor Blake Ebersole examines this alliterative connection.

We all have experienced the inflammation that comes with sudden immune response. Hay fever, a bee sting, and a cut all marshal our acute systemic response, which brings inflammation as part of the healing process. Immunity and inflammation are inseparable. And when our immune systems aren’t working well, either too little or too much inflammation is the result. 

Today’s clinical analytical tools have tied together immunity and inflammation even further. Even Alzheimer’s disease, generally considered to be caused by inflammation, oxidation and protein deposits in the brain, is centrally regulated by the immune system. In fact, the most promising drugs targeting Alzheimer’s are monoclonal antibodies (typically, drugs ending in –mab). While monoclonal antibodies effectively target inflammatory markers such as TNF-a and amyloid-beta, they can increase the rate of infections because these markers are also central to the immune system. This is why addressing inflammation without thinking about immunity has received a lot of criticism due to safety issues with drugs that may hit their target with a hammer, instead of a scalpel.

Nonetheless, it is likely that a healthy inflammatory and immune response is best developed through the use of natural products that are not only more gentle in their activity, but have a longer history of human consumption than some of the drugs being developed today.

The research is teeming with examples that support this concept. Look at the clinical data on echinacea, vitamin C, prebiotics and other immunosupportive natural products and an interesting trend emerges: a strengthening of immune response and a reduction in inflammation.

A couple examples from recent times: The population in Scandinavia enjoys a fantastic life expectancy, which is thought to be partially due to a diet high in fish and plants. In a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a healthy Nordic diet consumed over 18 weeks was found to change expression of 128 genes related to immune response, including leukocyte and macrophage movement, adaptive immune response, and reactive oxygen species (1). Notably, these genes also showed an overrepresentation of binding sites for pro-inflammatory NF-kB. 

In a 2014 study published in Pediatrics, children fed a formula of DHA and prebiotics for 28 weeks had higher levels of white blood cells and lower levels of inflammation than the control group consuming a cow’s milk beverage only (2).

A number of recent studies have focused on obese populations, and it is found that many dietary interventions such as grape powder can help improve the inflammation and immune response that are weakened in metabolically challenged populations (3). 

In any case, nature’s pharmacopoeia offers an abundance of compounds which represent smart approaches to balancing the immune-inflammatory paradigm.


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