I’m sure you have no problems selling probiotic products in your store. Considering the recent surge of awareness about the importance of digestive health and the crucial role of gut microbiota in this capacity, your customers are likely actively seeking out these products. However, digestive health is far from the only thing probiotic products can support. In fact, good health, many experts note, starts in the gut, making probiotics an important dietary supplement for immune health support. Covered in this segment of WholeFoods Magazine’s Immune Health Series will also be specialty supplements. These are novel ingredients or formulas other than  vitamins, herbs and minerals that target immune health specifically.

Probiotics and Immune HealthIt may not be initially obvious how a dietary supplement primarily associated with digestive health can be beneficial for immune health, but it makes a great deal of sense if you break it down. The nutrients we receive on a daily basis are predominantly from the food we consume. These nutrients are absorbed during digestion. Pathogens and harmful bacteria can also infiltrate our bodies in this way. As Natalie Lamb, technical advisor, for Protexin, Inc., maker of Bio-Kult, based in Miami, FL, points out, “Up to 70% of immune cells are located in the gut and heavily influenced by the trillions of microbes residing there.” The composition of our microflora is therefore important for immune health because it “influences the immune system’s state of alertness, optimizing the speed and effectiveness of the body’s defense response to an infection.”

It is the communication between immune cells and microbes that keeps us healthy. “There is a what is termed a ‘cross-talk’ between microbial cells and immune cells,” explains Silvano Arnoldo, probiotics consultant for Jarrow Formulas, Los Angeles, CA. “This communication is transmitted directly or indirectly via various molecules produced by both the microbial cells and immune cells. For example, one of the ways in which the immune system affects the composition of the gut microbiota, is by secreting antimicrobial peptides and immunoglobulins.”

The small intestine in particular is an important junction in the fight against pathogens, says Jay Levy, director of sales at Wakunaga of America Co., Ltd., based in Mission Viejo, CA. “Because the small intestine is designed to protect us from pathogens, its walls are rich in macrophages, neutrophils, plasma cells, and other immune cells,” he explains. “The small intestine is also lined with mucus that creates a physical barrier to pathogens and foreign substances. The mucus layer provides a place where immunoglobulins can lie in wait for pathogens. Nestled within the folds of the small intestine are bundles of lymphatic tissue known as ‘Peyer’s Patches,’ the gut’s surveillance team that identifies harmful pathogens and rallies an immune response before these harmful agents can trigger illness.”

People have long known that poor diets make us prone to illness. What we eat certainly influences the composition of our microflora and a bacterial imbalance in turn affects the way we absorb nutrients. Dr. John Deaton, VP of science and technology at Deerland Enzymes & Probiotics, Kennesaw, GA, refers to this as a “failure to communicate.” He states, “Poor digestion leaves the body and the immune system with a lack of nutritional factors that support immune function and the function of the entire body.”

Ashley Harris, founder and CEO of LoveBug Probiotics, based in New York City, NY, points out that research demonstrates 70 million Americans suffer from digestive problems. It would not be a stretch to presume that these digestive troubles are having a negative influence on their immune health and those that have trouble strengthening their immune system are not recognizing that their gut may be the reason. This is a large cross-section of consumers that can be tapped if you help them make the connection between digestive and immune health.

Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, senior director of research and development/national educator for Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp., based in Sugarland, TX also stresses the scale of probiotics’ potential benefits. “The National Commission on Digestive Disorders in the U.S. reported in 2009 that 60 to 70 million Americans are affected each year by digestive diseases at a cost that exceeds $100 billion in direct medical expenses,” she explains. “Each year, an additional 105 million visits are made to physicians related to digestive diseases. If probiotics can help us reduce even a portion of these costs, they are worth serious consideration.”

Immune health is a loaded term, but likely calls to mind the prevention of the common cold and loading up on vitamin C at the first inkling of illness. Probiotics like all immune health products serve us better after long term use, and certainly go beyond the nuisance of a common cold. “Implications for the use of probiotics in the developing world for diarrheal diseases may be equally important,” says  Sugarek MacDonald. “Diarrhea remains a primary cause of preventable deaths in children younger than age 5.” She cites a 2010 Cochrane review that examined 63 trials of probiotics totalling 8,014 subjects with infectious diarrhea. “Findings revealed that people who took probiotics were generally sick 25 hours less, without any adverse effects, and the risk of diarrhea lasting four or more days reduced by 59 percent,” explained Sugarek MacDonald.

The BacteriaConsumer awareness about the benefits of taking probiotics is excellent but as more manufacturers recognize the potential of selling probiotics and the more there is to choose from, understanding how to pick the right product becomes difficult. There is a large variety of probiotic bacteria and therefore a great variety of products so it’s important to understand what to stock so that your customers have nothing but good choices and you can educate them about what factors to consider when purchasing a probiotic.

You’ve likely heard of some of the more common bacterial genera such as Lactobascillus, Bifidobacterium as well as the species within a genera such as L. plantarum or L. rhamnosus, which Cheryl Myers, head of education and scientific affairs at Europharma, Inc., Greenbay, WI says are two species associated with immune health in the gut. The reason you’ve heard of them is because they are commonly used in probiotic formulas and the reason they are used is because they are naturally-occurring to the human body, says Sugarek MacDonald. “Other common probiotics include Bacillus, Enterococcus, and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, which is now regarded as a separate cluster located within the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” she explains.

Deaton says, that among these, “Bifidobacteria have been identified as the most important organism in the intestines for providing gut barrier protection.” He explains, “Research has shown that Bifidobacteria help to support the immune system by promoting normal lymphocyte and phagocyte activity, which are cells that are essential for fighting infections.”
Poor digestion leaves the body and the immune system with a lack of nutritional factors that support immune function and the function of the entire body. — Dr. John Deaton, VP of science & technology, Deerland Enzymes & Probiotics
“Different species offer different benefits for our health and well-being, however most probiotics support immunity,” says Patti Pirrie, digestive category manager for NOW, based in Bloomingdale, IL. She also points out that these common bacteria have the most research backing up their efficacy. This is the most important factor to consider. While probiotic bacteria may be familiar in name, what are being studied are particular strains of that bacteria species. You’ve likely heard experts say, “Not all probiotics are created equal,” but they are not referring to differences across species but differences across strains of the same species. “What’s key to understand is that everything is strain specific so some probiotic strains have been shown to have a significant effect on immune response while others that may seem like they are similar strains, may have no data whatsoever for immune support,” explains Michael Bush, president, Ganeden Inc., Mayfield Heights, OH.

Myers explains why this is with a very apt analogy; horses. Everyone would agree that a horse is a horse, but some horses are superior to others, such as Kentucky Derby race horses which are bred for generations to bring out particular traits. “There are companies out there that spent a lot of time and energy to create strains that they bred successive generations of,” she explains. “Eventually you end up with a really elite probiotic bacteria that’s acid resistant...and does what it’s supposed to do. I would rather have one colony forming unit of that type than a thousand colony forming units of bacteria that’s just garden variety and dying as soon as it hits stomach acid.”

This brings up another important point, colony forming units (CFU). Many manufacturers advertise the number of CFUs on their boxes which may compel consumers to base their purchasing decisions on the number of CFUs on the box (ie. the more CFUs, the better). However, this thinking is flawed. “There is still no consensus on the most effective dose of a probiotic,” explains Lamb.  “The range of daily doses in clinical trials has ranged from 10 million to 100 billion CFU a day and a dose that is found to be effective for one probiotic strain may not be effective for another and will differ between individuals.”

Therefore, when it comes to CFUs, the first thing to consider is the number of CFUs researchers used to test the efficacy of a strain. Does the manufacturer utilize, at minimum, that amount in their formula. Second, if the manufacturer produces probiotic products at multiple CFU levels above the standard, more is not intrinsically better, as different people have different needs. “There’s no way to tell if a certain number will work best for you or not; a higher CFU count does not always equal greater value and the benefits will vary with different species and strains of organisms,” says Pirrie. “It’s best to experiment and see what amount seems to provide you with the most benefits.”

A crucial characteristic of an effective probiotic is survivability. This means a bacteria’s ability to withstand the onslaught of digestive acids and pass further into the digestive tract through the small intestine and populate the large intestine. “When probiotics colonize the large intestine, they are pretty much preventing any pathogens from coming into your system, so that’s the main way of action of probiotics boosting or improving your immune system,” says Luis Echeverria, executive vice president of Unique Biotech, Medley, FL. “If there is no survivability, there is no way the good bacteria will arrive in the large intestine to attach itself.”

While some strains are capable of surviving this passage, others may not fare as well. This does not always make them inferior, as these strains may be beneficial if given the opportunity to populate. That is why manufacturers may employ special delivery systems such as special coatings that withstand digestion until probiotics reach their destination. Harris for example, boasts of her firm’s patented delivery system (BIO-tract), “developed to get the microorganisms past the stomach acid barrier and to their final destination in your digestive tract, where they do their health-boosting work. This makes it 15 times more effective than standard capsules.”

Many formulas will wisely employ multiple strains of bacteria. “Multi-strain is how live microorganisms are delivered in nature and with a range of different benefits should be able to support the immune system in a more diverse way,” says Lamb, whose firm produces a 14 strain formula (Bio-Kult). In fact, consumers are coming to expect multi-strain formulas to provide a greater spectrum of support. “Since different strains offer specific benefits, our customers are increasingly seeking a multi-strain formulation of both non-spore and spore forming probiotics,” says Deaton.

Know Your StrainsThe most important factor when considering a dietary supplement is have supporting evidence of its efficacy. Probiotics are no different.  Given the disparity between different strains of the same bacteria, it’s crucial to seek out strains validated by research. WholeFoods encourages retailers to study the efficacy of any probiotic strain they consider stocking on their shelves. The following is only a small sample of strains utilized by various firms.

Bio-Kult, mentioned previously, for example, utilizes a strain of Bacillus subtilis called PXN21, which Lamb says have been shown to stimulate innate immune response. One animal study she cites, published in FEMS Microbiology Letters found that the strain was affective at suppressing a pathogen called Clostridium difficile, a primary cause of nosocomial diarrhoea. In fact, it was found to be particularly affective post infection, attenuating symptoms of infection (1).

Deerland Enzymes & Probiotics also uses a strain of Bacillus subtilis called DE111. The strain is a genome sequenced and clinically tested probiotic spore “that works as a complement to many of the non-spore strains on the market today,” says Deaton. “Bacillus subtilis has the ability to form spores that protect the microbes from harsh conditions until they enter an environment ripe for germination.”

The strain, he says, has the ability to crowd out E. coli as well as other bacterial pathogens, allowing beneficial bacteria to proliferate. “DE111 can bind to the epithelial cells of the intestinal lining and increase in number; this promotes a stronger intestinal lining to protect against immune responses to food molecules that may be interpreted by the body as foreign objects,” Deaton explains.

Another spore forming bacteria found in probiotic formulas is Bascillus coagulans. A strain from Ganeden called BC30 has been subject to over 25 studies and has a demonstrated stability making it ideal for functional food and beverage formulations. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in particular, published in the Journal of Nutrition, studied the strain’s affect on the immune health of 36 men and women ages  65—80 (2). Results showed that those given the probiotic strain had increased populations of the bacteria Faecalibacterium prausnitzii as well as an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines, demonstrating the potential for improving the immune health of aging individuals, who are particularly vulnerable to illness.

Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa, based in East Windsor, NJ, explains that Bascillus coagulans produce lactic acid. “This lactic acid producing species possesses potential health benefits, including improved nutritional value of food, control of intestinal infections, improved lactose digestion and to help fight certain allergic conditions,” he says. Sabinsa’s strain (brand name Lactospore) in one in vivo model, explains Majeed, demonstrated a significant effect on phagocytosis as well as the ability to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels, when combined with their proprietary cinnamon extract (3).

A proprietary blend of Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum formulated by Wakunaga of America, Co., Ltd. (Kyo-Dophilus) was shown in a 2015 randomized, placebo-controlled study of older adults published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition to promote a 48% increase in beneficial Bifidobacteria, a 55% uptick in lactic acid bacteria and a 52% decrease in Escherichia coli bacteria, explains Levy. “The probiotic group also had higher levels of a specific cytokine called interleukin-10 (IL-10) that possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties,” he continues. “IL-10 plays a critical role in balancing the immune response to pathogens and maintaining homeostasis.”

Lactobacili bacteria are also lactic acid-producing. “Many studies have shown that lactic acid bacteria (including the genera Lactobacillus, Enterococcus and Streptococcus) are able to help protect their host against pathogenic bacteria,” says Sugarek MacDonald of the significance of lactic acid producing bacteria. “In women, lactic bacteria also play the same protective role inside the vaginal canal by supporting the microflora and preventing yeast invasion, such as candida albicans.”

This additional factor of supporting vaginal flora makes strains such as L. rhamnosus GG, found in LoveBug Probiotics’ products and L. rhamnosus HN001 and Lactobacillus acidophilus 14 found in NOW probiotic formulations important components to female specific pre- and post-natal products. L. rhamnosus GG, for example, says Harris has been subject to 800 studies to date.

Arnoldo stresses the quality of lactic acid bacteria. The efficacy of an immune-specific probiotic product from Jarrow Formula’s (Immuno-LP20) he says, “compared to other lactic acid bacteria is thought to be related to its content of lipoteichoic acid (LTA) as a key component for immune stimulation.  LTA exists in and outside the cell wall of bacteria and L. plantarum L-137 expresses much higher amounts of LTA outside the cell wall than do other general lactic acid bacteria.”

Probiotic SidekicksProbiotics are often only part of the immune health equation. Prebiotics, for example, are another important component of a healthy gut. “Prebiotics are known to resist digestion in the small intestine and reach the colon where they are fermented by the gut bacteria allowing for the growth of favorable bacteria, thus providing beneficial effects throughout the GI,” explains Sugarek MacDonald. Majeed describes prebiotics as food for beneficial bacteria which improve the activity of Lactobacilli.

Deaton stresses the importance of digestive enzymes. “The human body produces its own enzymes, and about half of the body’s total enzyme production is used for digestion,” he explains. “Because the body places such a high priority on digestion, an inadequate digestive system that is enzyme-deficient will ‘steal’ enzymes from the immune system to operate, in turn weakening immune function. The body can be weakened to the point that it can no longer protect against outside invaders.” This is because a lack of enzymes prevents the body from properly breaking down food and taking up the necessary nutrients.

Probiotics in FoodAwareness of the benefits of probiotics not only created a demand for supplements but also probiotic-rich fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt. This is great because good nutrition starts with one’s diet and eating right is the first step. “Several studies have shown that some fermented foods and their constituents have anti-microbial, anti-tumour, anti-carcinogenic and immunomodulatory activity,” states Lamb. “Recent research in Korean adults showed that regular consumption of traditional fermented foods was associated with a reduced likelihood of the inflammatory condition atopic dermatitis (eczema)” (4,5).

However, there are some limitations to depending solely on food for beneficial bacteria if you have an imbalanced microbiome. One issue is standardization. “Unless you’re eating raw dairy, the yogurt and other dairy purchased at grocery stores that are rich in probiotics, that’s all supplemental, not naturally occurring,” explains Myers. Because of pasteurization, naturally-occuring bacteria are killed and food manufacturers make up for this by adding probiotics after the fact. Unfortunately, not all food companies put in the effort to provide efficacious bacteria at the right doses.

On the other hand, this is changing as more stable probiotic strains such as Bascillus coagulans are finding a home in functional foods and beverages, offering consumers efficacious probiotic support. Therefore, like supplements, it’s important to check that label and look for the clinically studied strain at the right dosage. “Whether a clinically documented strain is delivered to the gut in a supplement form or in a food, it is still the same strain.” says Arnoldo.

While this may be growing in the States, using beverages to deliver functional ingredients is not particularly new in other parts of the world, says Majeed. “In much of South East Asia, one of the most common delivery systems for traditional plants and natural remedies is in beverage formats,” he explains. “This is a relatively new concept in the western world, but there has been some recent interest, such as turmeric teas and probiotic drinks. The one type of drink that has been particularly interesting has been Kombucha, but now added with probiotics.”
What’s key to understand is that everything is strain specific so some probiotic strains have been shown to have a significant effect on immune response while others that may seem like they are similar strains, may have no data whatsoever for immune support. — Michael Bush, president, Ganeden Inc.
This has important implications about the way consumers  supplement their diet. “The more options consumers have to take their probiotics, the better, because that way they don’t have to get medicine or supplements. That would create the right balance,” says Echeverria. This also has an implication on the changing habits of consumers. “In the past, consumers of all ages and need-states were taking a reactive, quick-fix to their health and wellness,” says Molly Fitzgerald, senior digital communications manager for Wellmune, a part of the nutrition and wellness portfolio of Kerry Group, based in St. Paul, MN. “Today the story has evolved, and people are moving to a more proactive, preventative approach.”

Specialty ProductsIt’s clear that supplementation with probiotics has far reaching benefits. Immune health is deeply integrated with the health of our guts and the composition of our microbiome, making such products an important part of your inventory by reaching a large cross section of consumers. Specialty supplements in the immune health category are more specific, offering novel ingredients meant for immune support.

An easy segue from probiotics, Ganeden Inc.’s new immune health offering (Staimune) is an innactive form of their probiotic strain. “When we started looking at the mechanism of action for BC30, we saw that immune function is largely attributed to the physical characteristics of the organisms, not the metabolic activity of the organism, so we saw that the cell walls [of the bacteria] were what was causing the immune benefit, so we decided that although the product wouldn’t be considered probiotic, we decided to basically take the organism, inactivate it and then sell it specifically for immune health which allows it to go into things that the probiotic couldn’t, ranging from some supplements to shelf stable beverages which is really important,” explains Bush. So while, the ingredient will no longer support digestive health, like its metabolically active counterpart, immune health will be well taken care of. It will also allow food and beverage manufacturers to more easily incorporate functional immune support into their products and tap into the category.

Mushroom.A variety of specialty supplement products in the immune health category are constituents of medicinal mushrooms. Jerry Angelini, MS, director of education for Fungi Perfecti, LLC, Olympia, Washington maker of Host Defense Organic Mushrooms explains that mushrooms can support immune through the microbiome. “Some recent research is suggesting that a ‘healthy’ intestinal ecosystem contains less Firmicutes species and more Bacteroidetes species,” says Angelini. “We know from research that mushrooms feed Bacteroidetes, the friendly species, thereby supporting beneficial physiological processes.” Polysaccharides found in both the root structure called mycelia and the fruitbody of mushrooms may also provide selective prebiotic activity says Angelini, which also contributes to shifting the gut microflora from Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes dominant. “Many of the species we consider pathogens consume simple sugars like sucrose or processed sugar,” he continues. “Many of the probiotic species flourish when they are given complex polysaccharides (carbohydrate molecules) found in mushrooms and cellulose materials found in vegetables.”

The reason for their mushroom product’s effectiveness in the gut is because Host Defense mushroom mycelium products are cultured and grown in organic brown rice.  “The mushroom mycelia enzymatically digest and transform the vast majority of the rice starch into specialized compounds,” explains Angelini. “Culture metabolites from the enzymatic process are recognized as being supportive to the intestinal environment and the immune system.”

Besides their capacity to support the microbiome, mushroom supplements have also been found to stimulate innate immune cells called natural killer cells and microphages. “Innate immune cells are crucial to maintaining overall health and longevity,” says Angelini. That is exactly what Mushroom Wisdom’s immune formula (Maitake D-Fraction) does, says Mark J. Kaylor, founder of the Radiant Health Project, representing Mushroom Wisdom, East Rutherford, NJ. “Maitake D-Fraction has been shown to increase the numbers of several types of immune cells, i.e. macrophage, NK cells, and cytotoxic T cells to name a few,” he states. “It may also increase the activity of these cells.”

There is also the holistic benefit of mushroom Kaylor says such as Shiitake’s direct anti-viral and anti-fungal activity and Reishi which can help control inflammation, support detoxification, improve sleep and reduce stress.

Rick Jahnke, vice president of American BioSciences, Inc., based in Blauvelt, NY describes a hybridized mushroom extract called Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) which has been the subject of more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals. These studies demonstrate that AHCC supports peak natural killer cell function. “Natural Killer cells have been identified by scientists as the most powerful white blood cells in our immune system…killing and destroying any ‘non-self’ cells, which are any cells that don’t belong in your body,” he explains. The firm’s product (ImmPowerD3) also utilizes vitamin D for its ability to promote T-cell activation, without which says Jahnke, T-cells would remain “naïve” and not provide the full protection required for good health. This product can be used for a short term boost of immune health, but like all products is more effective long term.

A specialty supplement (PeakImmune4) from Daiwa Health Development, based in Gardena, CA, which contains Rice Bran Arabinoxylan Compound (RBAC) also promotes the activity of natural killer cells by increasing the count and activity of the body’s white blood cells (lymphocytes), specifically T and B lymphocytes says Hank Cheatham, vice president, marketing and sales for the firm. RBAC also induces the production of cytokines, in particular tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a), gamma-interferon, Interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interleukin-12 (IL-12), says Cheatham. The ingredient is a polysaccharide dietary fiber derived from rice bran and modified by an enzyme from Shiitake mushrooms through a patented biotechnology process which breaks down and modifies the rice bran to greatly reduces the molecular weight, allowing  for optimal absorption by the gut. The product has been shown to be effective at mitigating symptoms at the first signs of cold or flu.

While RBAC is only available in supplements currently, Cheatham says that the nutrient is suitable for food applications and that consumers can open capsules and sprinkle the contents onto food or into beverages if they so choose.

Whole Food Fermentate.Derived from natural yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a proprietary whole food fermentate (EpiCor) manufactured by Embria Health Sciences, based in Ankeny, IA, is an effective specialty immune ingredient that can be found in a variety of supplement products. It supports immune health in multiple ways, including having a prebiotic effect on the gut microbiome. “EpiCor fermentate has been clinically shown to provide prebiotic-like activity by boosting billions of beneficial bacteria,” explains Larry Robinson, Ph.D., VP of scientific affairs for the firm. “With a low dosage of only 500 mg and the ability to reduce side affects like bloating, EpiCor has a great advantage over traditional prebiotic fibers.”

According to Robinson, Bifidobacteria is among the bacteria boosted as a result of supplementation and its prebiotic effects also increase the presence of propionate and butyrate, two immune-supporting short chain fatty acids in the gut. This makes it an effective complement to probiotic supplements. “Consumer surveys show that people want an ‘added immune support’ claim on their probiotic product label,” says Robinson. “So, ingredients like EpiCor fermentate that have superior immune substantiation have value in probiotic formulas.”

Outside of a probiotic product, this gives the retailer an opportunity to cross-merchandise. It is beneficial for long term use, alone and in combination with probiotics, but customers can also rely on it for that necessary boost when they start feeling the onset of illness. “Human research on EpiCor fermentate shows that it helps increase white blood cell activity (Natural Killer Cell) and antioxidant capacity in as little as two hours,” Robinson explains.

Beta Glucan.A proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan, Wellmune is clinically validated to use benefit claims such as: Improve general immune health, Maintain overall physical health and Protect against the harmful effects of stress. “Once swallowed, immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract take up Wellmune and transport it to immune organs throughout the body,” explains Fitzgerald. “While in the immune organs, immune cells (macrophages) digest Wellmune into smaller fragments. The fragments bind to neutrophils — the most abundant immune cells in the body — via complement receptor 3 (CR3). Primed by Wellmune, neutrophils more quickly recognize and kill foreign challenges.”

Research has shown that the ingredient is effective in supporting the immune health of at-risk populations such as older adults and young children. For example, one article published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences studied the effects of Wellmune on Chinese toddlers during cold season. Results showed that during the course of the 12-week study, 85% of children in the placebo group experienced one or more episodes of infectious illness while children taking either 35 of 75 mg of the supplement experienced only 42 and 32% respectively, with no serious adverse events (6).

Like probiotics, this functional ingredient is also finding its way into diverse delivery formats. “Popular product applications include gummies, RTD beverages, powders, stick packs, new fortified foods and snacks as well as capsules,” says Fitzgerald.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).An organosulfur compound, MSM is often associated with joint health, but provides a range of benefits, including immune health. As an example, Bergstrom Nutrition’s branded MSM (OptiMSM), says Tim Hammond, vice president of sales and marketing for the firm, based in Vancouver, WA, acts as an antioxidant to “minimize oxidative stress and inflammation helping to preserve white blood cells and reduce temporary immunosuppression.”

MSM has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects as well. A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that supplementation with MSM dampens the release of inflammatory molecules following strenuous exercise “resulting in a less incendiary environment, allowing cells to still have the capacity to mount an appropriate response to an additional stimulus after exercise”(7).

When applied to sports nutrition, this effect makes the benefit two-fold, not only allowing the subject to more easily recover but to also fortify their defenses against disease. In addition to having diverse applications, MSM can also be utilized in various formats, continuing the trend of receiving functional benefits from convenient delivery formats. MSM has GRAS status, “allowing its use in functional food and beverages,” says Hammond. “It can be used in meal replacement and protein beverages, granola and protein bars and fruit-flavored thirst quenching drinks.”

Aged Garlic Extract (AGE).Wakunaga has developed multiple AGE formulations to target a variety of health benefits, including cardiovascular health and blood sugar to name a few. Their immune health formula (Kyolic 103) is a formulation of AGE, vitamin C, astralagus, oregano and a premium mushroom complex. This synergistic blend, “enhances the function of two specific types of immune cells: natural killer cells and gamma-delta T cells (a type of immune cell found in the intestinal tract),” says Levy. “It also enhances glutathione due to the sulfur-containing compounds naturally present in AGE. Studies suggest that glutathione enhances immune response by optimizing macrophage function while protecting disease-fighting cells called lymphocytes from oxidative damage and premature cell death.”

Plant Sterols.Wakunaga’s immune health product line (Moducare) contains plant sterols and sterolins which are unique plant fats which, Levy says, are similar in structure to cholesterol. “They have been found to regulate two types of immune helper cells—Th1 and Th2,” he explains. “A number of clinical trials show that they effectively restore immune balance...Even healthy people whose immunity is suppressed after a bout of intense exercise, such as those who participate in CrossFit or marathons, have been found to benefit from the immune regulating powers of sterols and sterolins.”

Propolis.Another unique specialty ingredient targeting immune health is bee propolis. “Bees use it to seal crack in their hive and acts as an anticeptic in the hive,” explains Myers. “So if a critter gets into the hive like a mouse or a lizard, the bees kill it but they don’t have any way to remove the body. If they leave it there it’s going to putrefy and destroy the health of the hive so they completely cover it in propolis and it does not deteriorate, it just dehydrates.” What makes this an effective immune health ingredient is that it is highly antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. The propolis utilized by EuroPharma is ideal, says Myers, because it is purified, while other propolis can contain 60-75% beeswax as well as other impurities. The lack of beeswax and resins in this propolis also makes it hypoallergenic.

  1. Colenutt C, Cutting SM. “Use of Bacillus subtilis PXN21 spores for suppression of Clostridium difficile infection symptoms in a murine model.” FEMS Microbiol Lett. 358(2):154-61. 2014.
  2. E.P. Nyangale, et al.Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 Modulates Faecalibacterium prausnitzii in Older Men and Women.” Journal of Nutrition. 2015.
  3. Vaclav and Jana. “Physiological effects of a combination of Cinnulin with probiotics.” American Journal of Immunology 9(94):103-109. 2013.
  4. AM de Oliveira Leite, et al. “Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage.” Braz J Microbiol. 44(2):341-9. 2013.
  5. S. Park, JH Bae. “Fermented food intake is associated with a reduced likelihood of atopic dermatitis in an adult population (Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2012-2013).” Nutr Res.36(2):125-33. 2016.
  6. F. Meng. “Baker’s Yeast Beta-Glucan Decreases Episodes of Common Childhood Illness In 1 to 4 Year Old Children during Cold Season in China.” J Nutr Food Sci. 6:518. 2016.
  7. M. van der Merwe, et al. “The Influence of Methylsulfonylmethane on Inflammation-Associated Cytokine Release before and following Strenuous Exercise.” Journal of Sports Medicine. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/7498359, accessed 5/1/2017.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine June 2017