Awareness of the benefits of immune-supporting nutrients has grown significantly over the past 12 months, but supplements are just one of the tools consumers can turn to help safeguard their wellbeing. Here, we take a wider look at the immune category.
Functional Foods & Beverages
When it comes to immune health, promoting fruit and vegetable intake is an important start. Beyond the nutrient-rich basics, there are plenty of foods imbued with immune-supporting ingredients that can offer an additional assist. We’ve discussed many of the all-star nutrients in earlier installments of this four-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3), including vitamins C and D, zinc, and elderberry. Those nutrients are available in non-supplement forms, including in beverages, like one from Uncle Matt’s: The company makes an Organic Ultimate Immune juice that contains orange juice, elderberry, 300% RDA vitamin C, 50% RDA Vitamin D, and 25% RDA zinc. The drink is certified glyphosate residue free.
Remedy Organics also offers an elderberry-based beverage—the company’s Berry Immunity drink contains elderberry, echinacea, lion’s mane, and prebiotics. It also contains camu-camu, a fruit that grows in the Peruvian Amazon, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia. Camu-camu contains vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin, and high amounts of vitamin C—100g of camu-camu delivers 2,145mg of vitamin C, or 3,575% of the daily value (1). It has a higher concentration of vitamin C than lemons or oranges, making it a potent source of this all-important vitamin.
Bragg, too, has created blends that can help customers support their health, while providing the comfort of familiarity. The company offers Organic Apple Cider Vinegar Refreshers in Ginger Lemon Honey and Honey Green Tea. Ginger, lemon, and honey is a classic combination—in part 3 of this series, we covered how it soothes sore throats, boosts the immune response, and helps reduce inflammation. The caffeine-free Honey Green Tea drink combines immune-boosting honey and green tea antioxidants. Bragg states on its website that the company’s apple cider vinegar is a prebiotic, for added benefits.
Also benefitting from familiarity, the tea category contains opportunities for customers to get some herbal immune support into their daily routines. The immune category particularly lends itself to this format, as so many immune boosters are herbal. Offer options like Yogi Tea’s immune support line, which includes Echinacea Immune Support and Elderberry Lemon Balm Immune + Stress tea. The company offers Sweet Grapefruit Everyday tea, which includes astragalus root, tulsi leaf, acerola fruit, cinnamon, and, of course, grapefruit, along with hibiscus. For an extra boost, sweeten the tea with local honey, which can benefit the immune system beyond just helping with allergies.
Also offering tulsi, Organic India has Tulsi Original and Tulsi Turmeric Ginger. Tulsi, the company says, is an immunomodulator shown to reinforce and support the immune system.
And perhaps less familiar to some, foods made with chicory root deliver inulin, a prebiotic that can provide digestive support and more. Upwards of 70% of the immune system is in the gut, and maintaining digestive health is key to maintaining immune health. Studies from Beneo show the immune potential of its Orafti branded inulin. One randomized, parallel, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was performed on 219 children aged 3 to 6 (2). The relative abundance of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria increased in the trial group, and the number of fever and sinusitis episodes were significantly lower, although rates and durations of infectious episodes did not differ significantly between the two groups. The researchers noted, “Large conclusive studies are thus justified to examine in further detail…whether the moderate, but significant effects seen in this study can be interpreted as signs of this beneficial immune-modulatory effect.”
The latest innovation in health and wellness is shots. Not the vaccination kind, but the drinkable kind. We can drop in on Bragg again, for their Carrot Ginger ACV shot—the company states that it contains vitamin A, which is involved in the creation of B- and T-cells (for a cheat sheet on different types of cells, see part 1 of this series) (3). Vitamin A is also a useful immune system regulator—a deficiency leads to increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Remedy Organics makes a whole line of immune support shots, with added benefits such as energy support. These shots contain ingredients we’ve discussed before—elderberry, ginger, vitamins C and D—but they also contain ingredients such as cayenne, which has been shown at low doses to beneficially influence gastrointestinal permeability and absorption and changes in gastrointestinal microflora, along with other gastrointestinal benefits (4).
For something trendy that boasts benefits, customers may be interested in Lumen’s Hemp Shots—offered in Immune, Vitamin D & Zinc, and Gut Well, all of the shots contain 1,750mg of hemp seed oil. Hemp seeds are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which, besides their heart- and brain-health benefits, may have an effect on immune health. A study published in Lipids in 2003 explains that the matter is more complicated than “omega-6 is bad, omega-3 is good” (5). The author’s point: Balance is vital. For those who don’t eat enough fish, hemp seeds can be a useful way to up their omega-3 intake, and pairing it with immune-support ingredients can make this a go-to for customers looking for a wellness boost. (If you’re curious about omega-3’s other benefits, watch Dr. Alex Richardson’s talk in the Naturally Informed event Mental Wellness: Mastering the Market, available at www.NaturallyInformed.net.)
Buried Treasure offers a liquid version of many of the nutrients we’ve discussed as well, including a whole food complex Adult’s Daily Immune Wellness product and a D3 formula offering 5,000IU of this all-important nutrient.
There are also companies looking to improve bioavailability within the wellness shots arena. Vive Organic offers a line of Immunity Boost shots, including one with cayenne and one with elderberry. Their base mix includes turmeric and black pepper, a scientifically supported combination. Curcumin (a component of turmeric) is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and a 2007 study notes that “curcumin has been shown in the last two decades to be a potent immunomodulatory agent that can modulate the activation of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells. Curcumin can also downregulate the expression of various proinflammatory cytokines…curcumin at low doses can also enhance antibody responses” (6). Black pepper, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have major immune health benefits—but it contains a compound called piperine, which aids absorption of curcumin and other compounds, increasing bioavailability (7).
Quicksilver Scientific is improving bioavailability via liposomal technology. Liposomes are phospholipid bilayer structures—effectively, spheres made up of two layers of fat (8). These structures can contain a water-based solution, and can travel through the body to their target without breaking down; upon making contact with the target cells, the lipid bilayer breaks down, releasing its contents into the cell (8). This can increase absorption. Quicksilver offers a range of products, including several immune-support products, all made with liposomal technology.
Helping Hand: Houseplants
In 1989, NASA released a report regarding the use of plants to reduce indoor air pollution (9). In the late 1970s, the report states, buildings were designed to maximize energy efficiency, and were heavily insulated and sealed up—but, as it turns out, synthetic building materials are known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOC), which have been linked to numerous health complaints. These compounds include benzene, present in items including inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber; trichloroethylene, used in printing inks, paints, varnishes, and adhesives; and formaldehyde, found in urea-formaldehyde foam insulation and particle board or pressed-wood products. Paper products including grocery bags, wax paper, facial tissues, and paper towels are also treated with urea-formaldehyde resins.
Once buildings are thoroughly sealed, ventilation is reduced, allowing these compounds and other sources of indoor air pollution—such as the humans who inhabit a space—to build up to levels which can cause health problems. While natural ventilation is the best way to air out a space while also sweeping away airborne germs, NASA’s report found that “The answer to [this problem] is obvious. If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system.” In other words: plants, and the microbial systems in their soil.
NASA’s tests found that Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) removed the highest amount of VOCs, but peace lilies, marginate, and English ivy were close behind. Peace lilies, specifically, were best at removing trichloroethylene. What’s more, NASA found that “when the same plants and potting soil are constantly exposed to air containing such toxic chemicals as benzene, their capacity to continuously clean the air improves.” These plants are also known for needing little light and minimal care, making them useful options for those in apartments or offices, and for in rooms that receive little ventilation. NASA notes: “This effort… has gone a long way toward reminding man of his dependence on plants for his continued existence and well-being on our planet.”
Since then, researchers have developed an even greater understanding of the importance of clean air, thanks to research driven by the 2003 SARS epidemic and the H1N1 influenza epidemic in 2011. A 2018 study published in Journal of Thoracic Disease notes that most people spend over 90% of their time indoors, making indoor ventilation even more important to help decrease transmission (10). While there’s little in the way of a natural ventilator, encourage customers to—if possible, and weather permitting—open a window, and let some nature in.
Rather than taking a decongestant—either conventional or herbal—there are times when it’s best to go straight to the source with a nasal spray. While traditional sprays can end up doing more harm than good, as discussed in part 3 of this series, there are natural alternatives that support both decongestion and immune health. Xlear offers a range of xylitol-based sprays, intended to reduce bacterial adhesion in the nasal passages, wash away dust and pollen, and hydrate the nasal passages. The spray is available in xylitol and saline for daily use, but there’s also a Rescue option, made with Pau d’Arco, oregano, tea tree, eucalyptus, and parsley essential oil, to help provide fast relief. For severe congestion, Xlear offers MAX, which includes capsicum and aloe vera to help alleviate sinus pressure and congestion, while effectively moisturizing the nasal passages. The company warns on its website that a burning sensation is natural and expected as the capsicum takes effect, and that the product is not intended for daily use.
Xlear also offers an option for customers who find that drug-based nasal sprays are the only thing that works for them: A product containing oxymetazoline, a widely used decongestant. Xlear’s xylitol solution alleviates dryness, the main complaint with oxymetazoline use.
Natural Path Silver Wings offers an immune supportive nasal spray, made with colloidal silver. According to the company, colloidal silver is a liquid mineral supplement containing a mixture of ultra-fine silver particles with water. Silver Wings notes that colloidal silver comes in atomic and ionic forms, wherein atomic colloidal silver contains complete, stable silver atoms, and ionic colloidal silver is made with atoms that are missing an electron, and are therefore unstable. Atomic silver products have an amber tint, which gets darker the higher the strength of the product; ionic silver products are typically clear. The nasal spray is useful for those who would rather not ingest the product, for whatever reason.
Another helper: Herbalist & Alchemist offers an Herbal Relief Botanical Throat Spray, containing echinacea and propolis, along with other herbs.
The takeaway here: There’s plenty that can be done to help customers who can’t or don’t want to swallow pills, and plenty of ways to support immune health that can be done in addition to a regular supplement regimen. Keep your customers aware of their options, and they’ll thank you for it. Plus, check out parts 1, 3, and 4 of this series. WF
- Annie Price, “Camu Camu: A New Superfood with the Most Vitamin C,” Dr. Axe. Posted 01/02/2020. Accessed 03/01/2021. https://draxe.com/nutrition/camu-camu/
- Szimonetta Lohner et al., “Inulin-Type Fructan Supplementation of 3- to 6-Year-Old Children is Associated with Higher Fecal Bifidobacterium Concentrations and Fewer Febrile Episodes Requiring Medical Attention,” The Journal of Nutrition. 148(8). 1300-1308(2018). https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/148/8/1300/5048772
- Jillian Kubala, “Vitamin A: Benefits, Deficiency, Toxicity and More,” Healthline. Posted 10/04/2018. Accessed 03/01/2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-a
- Amal K. Maji and Pratim Banerji, “Phytochemistry and gastrointestinal benefits of the medicinal spice, Capsicum annum L. (Chilli): a review,” Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine. 13(2). 2016. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/jcim-2015-0037/html
- Laurence S. Harbige, “Fatty acids, the immune response, and autoimmunity: a question of n-6 essentiality and the balance between n-6 and n-3,” Lipids. 38(4). 323-41(2003). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12848277/
- Ganesh Chandra Jagetia and Bharat B. Aggarwal, “’Spicing Up’ of the Immune System by Curcumin,” Journal of Clinical Immunology. 27. 19-35(2007). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10875-006-9066-7
- G shoba et al., “Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers,” Planta Medica. 64(4). 353-6(1998). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9619120/
- Durgavati Yadav et al., “Liposomes for Drug Delivery,” Journal of Biotechnology & Biomaterials. 7(4). 2017. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/liposomes-for-drug-delivery-2155-952X276-97370.html
- B.C. Wolverton, Anne Johnson, Keith Bounds, “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement.” NASA. Published 09/15/1989. Accessed 03/01/2021. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19930073077
- Hua Qian and Xiaohong Zheng, “Ventilation control for airborne transmission of human exhaled bio-aerosols in buildings,” Journal of Thoracic Disease. 10(Supplementary 19). S2295-S2304(2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6072925/