The Immune Miracle – Chapter 4 – Priming Your Immune System

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

The Immune Miracle

The all-natural approach for better health, increased energy, & improved mood.

Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN


Chapter 4

Priming Your Immune System

As discussed in the last chapter, the relationship between stress and decreased immune function is well-established by researchers around the world. Chronic stress can cause deleterious effects on the immune system by reducing the responsiveness of the innate and adaptive systems (so we get sick more frequently) and increasing inflammatory mediators (so we’re likely to experience daily fatigue, moodiness, and pain). Psychological stress reduces immune cell populations, lowers antibody production, and alters cytokine responses — though these are biochemical changes that none of us “feel” in our bodies on a day-to-day basis.  What we “feel” is whether or not we’re sick, whether or not we have energy or are in a good or bad mood,  whether or not we feel motivated to get up and get things done. With a dysfunctional immune system, we tend to feel tired, moody, confused, irritable, tense, and simply “off” of our best game. But, with a properly primed immune system, we’re less likely to get sick, and we’re more likely to have the high levels of vigor that most of us describe as feeling energetic, happy, clear-headed, motivated, and “in the zone” when it comes to our mental and physical performance.

Sounds great, right? But how do you take your stress-suppressed immune system and “prime” it back into an optimal state of function? A variety of dietary supplements have been studied for the prevention and treatment of both experimentally-induced and naturally-occurring colds, including: Echinacea, vitamin C, ginseng, vitamin E, and zinc. You can read about these and others in Chapter 5.

In a recent research study conducted by SupplementWatch, the physical and psychological effects of a natural yeast extract containing “whole beta-1,3/1,6-gluco-polysaccharide” (the WGP mentioned earlier) were studied in a group of “stressed out” volunteers.  In previous clinical trials, WGP has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in both stressed and non-stressed subjects. In laboratory studies, WGP has also been shown to enhance the microbicidal activity of innate immune cells (to directly destroy viruses and bacteria) as well as to increase the survival time of animals challenged with a variety of pathogens in vivo.

Therefore, WGP already has a good track record for being effective in reducing the incidence or severity of URTI in humans whose immune systems have been affected by chronic stress. In the most recent study, SupplementWatch reported the effects of using WGP on the physical and psychological well-being of healthy women under moderate levels of psychological stress. The study employed a series of subject self-assessment questionnaires that addressed overall health status and URTI symptoms. In addition to evaluation of subjects for physical health, a psychological assessment known as the Profile of Mood States (POMS) was conducted. A key objective of the study was to explore how 12 weeks of WGP supplementation (versus a placebo) affected URTI symptoms and indices of well-being under conditions of moderate psychological stress.

The study used a randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind design. Seventy-seven women (average age: 41 years old) were screened for “moderate” levels of stress and randomly assigned to take either 250 mg/day WGP or a look-alike placebo. Subjects self-administered the allotted capsule once daily in the morning for 12 weeks.

Results showed that women supplementing with WGP had significant improvements in measurements of their physical health as indicated by a reduction in URTI symptoms, such as sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, and coughing – by more than half! See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1.  URTI Symptoms


When psychological health was measured, women in the WGP group had a significant 29% increase in overall mood and well-being – indicating that they simply “felt better” in a variety of ways (energy, mood, mental function) as a result of their superior immune system function. See Figure 2 below.

Figure 2.  Global Mood State Score (POMS)


This recent study of WGP supplementation in stressed women shows us that a stress-suppressed immune system can effectively be primed back to normal levels of activity, resulting in better physical health (fewer episodes of cold symptoms) and better mental health (improved measures of vigor and well-being). During the course of the 12-week supplementation period, subjects adding WGP to their diets (250mg/day) reported fewer URTI symptoms (indicating better physical health – see Figure 1) and higher overall Global Mood State (indicating superior psychological health – see Figure 2) compared to moderately stressed subjects taking a daily placebo.

As indicated in earlier chapters, WGP has been shown to bind to specific receptors of innate immune cells (CR3), priming them to be more effective in killing foreign challenges.  This binding site preferentially recognizes WGP over other forms of polysaccharides, resulting in a significantly higher level of immune system activation as compared to other immune modulators.  The specificity of the activation mechanism and preferential binding of WGP on the CR3 receptor site of innate immune cells also explains the lack of effect on URTI symptoms reported with other types of WGP supplementation (such as the generic “beta-glucans” that can be extracted from cereals).

This most recent study shows that improving immune system function with specific yeast-derived WGP has a noticeable effect on maintaining health and positive mental attitude in psychologically stressed individuals.  Daily supplementation with WGP reduced the incidence of symptoms associated with URTIs and improved psychological well-being.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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