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The fall is a time when the stress levels ramp up, the weather becomes cooler and viruses and bacteria challenge our immune system. Getting enough sleep, eating a nutrient rich diet and avoiding refined sugar are excellent ways to keep the immune system healthy. However, sometimes we need a little boost to keep our immune system functioning at its best. We’ve all heard of Echinacea and mushrooms as immune boosters, but the following 3 substances are less well known natural substances that pack a powerful immune punch.

Lactoferrin is a key immune boosting molecule that is secreted primarily in breast milk, boosting the baby’s immune system at the same time as delivering iron. In adults it is secreted in many external fluids (such as saliva or lung mucous) as a first line of defense. Studies have found that lactoferrin’s multifunctional role encompasses antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant and immune-balancing activities. Neonatal hospital units have also successfully used lactoferrin to help reduce infection in hospitals. Lactoferrin’s anti-microbial activity is partly due to its ability to bind to iron, which is essential for the growth of pathogenic bacteria and is also a major contributor to the generation of damaging reactive oxygen species. The evidence suggests that supplementation with lactoferrin increases the activity of immune cells known as leukocytes and stimulates the production of natural killer cells. Another unique action of lactoferrin is to turn on important immune related genes in the small intestine. Lactoferrin not only stimulates the immune system but also has a balancing effect, which explains why some studies have noted it’s an anti-inflammatory effect.

Andrographis: Out of the long list of immune boosting herbs, andrographis stands out for its effectiveness, tolerability and rapid action in combating infections and supporting the immune system. Andrographis is unique because it is a very “cooling” herb and has been traditionally used in ayurvedic medicine as an anti-fever, anti-bacterial and digestive tonic. Due to its cooling action (from the perspective of traditional Asian medicine), it is indicated for high fever, influenza and throat infections. Andrographis actually has an impressive amount of supporting literature supporting its use. At least 7 human trials have shown that it can decrease the symptoms of UTI’s in as little as 3 days. What is even more interesting is that andrographis has shown benefit in other infections such as hepatitis and enteric infections.

Carnosine: Believe it or not, there is new research that may support the benefit of chicken soup in fighting off viral infections and boosting our immune system. A recent study found that carnosine, a potent antioxidant found in chicken (and chicken soup), has a key role is disrupting viral replication and spread inside our cells. Carnosine is a key antioxidant with a primary role of neutralizing damaging free radicals inside our cells. By comparison, vitamin C is another potent antioxidant but its role is outside the cell. The influenza virus causes its damage and infection but taking over our own human cellular machinery to make more copies of itself. It actually will infect and hijack healthy human cells as a mechanism to spread its infection. The study found that carnosine blocks this “hijacking” process by quenching free radials produced by the virus. This suggests that a diet high in carnosine or supplementation could help prevent and possibly even stop the flu.


García-Montoya et al. Lactoferrin a multiple bioactive protein: an overview. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Mar;1820(3):226-36.

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Melchior J, Palm S, Wikman G. Controlled clinical study of standard- ised Andrographis paniculata extract in common cold ± a pilot trial. Phytomedicine 1996; 3: 315 ± 8

Melchior J, Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV, Bulanov AE, Wikman G. Double blind, placebo controlled pilot and Phase III study of activity of stand- ardised Andrographis paniculata Herba Nees extract fixed combination Kan jang) in the treatment of uncomplicated upper respiratory tact infection. Phytomedicine 2000; 7: 341 ± 50

Thamlikitkul V, Dechatiwongse T, Theerapong S, Chantrakul C, Boon- roj P, Punkrut W et al. Efficacy of Andrographis paniculata, Nees for pharyngotonsillitisinadults.JMedAssocThai1991;74:437±42

Babizhayev MA, Deyev AI. Management of the virulent influenza virus infection by oral formulation of nonhydrolized carnosine and isopeptide of carnosine attenuating proinflammatory cytokine-induced nitric oxide production. Am J Ther. 2012 Jan;19(1):e25-47

Dr. Paul Hrkal

About The Author

Dr. Paul Hrkal is a board-certified Naturopathic doctor with a passion to apply innovative and evidence-based nutritional, biological, and supplemental interventions to address underlying metabolic, endocrine and immunological dysfunctions. He is strong advocate of integrative medical education frequently writing and lecturing to both healthcare practitioners and public audiences. He also is the medical director for Advanced Orthomolecular Research, a leading Canadian natural health product company, and maintains a clinical practice in the Toronto area.

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