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Updated 06/29/2012 10:37 AM
Your Health: Immune boosters
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The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by "foreign" invaders. These are primarily microbes-tiny organisms such as bacteria, parasites and fungi that can cause infections.
UTHealth Media Relations
Viruses also cause infections, but are too primitive to be classified as living organisms. The human body provides an ideal environment for many microbes. It is the immune system's job to keep them out or, failing that, to seek out and destroy them.
While many believe vitamin C will help ward off colds and flus, research finds that's not the case for most people.
A comprehensive analysis of 29 studies called [for the use of] "Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold." They conclude, "Regular ingestion of vitamin C had no effect on common cold incidence in the ordinary population. However, it had a modest, but consistent effect in reducing the duration and severity of common cold symptoms."
The analysis goes on to state, "Trials of high doses of vitamin C administered therapeutically, starting after the onset of symptoms, showed no consistent effect on either duration or severity of common cold symptoms. However, only a few therapeutic trials have been carried out, and none have examined children, although the effect of prophylactic vitamin C has been greater in children. One large trial with adults reported equivocal benefit from an 8 g therapeutic dose at the onset of symptoms, and two trials using five-day supplementation reported benefit. More trials are necessary to settle the possible role of therapeutic vitamin C, meaning administration immediately after the onset of symptoms."
Scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston are studying a naturally-occurring immune booster called lactoferrin to add to tuberculosis and flu shots.
Dr. Jeffrey Actor is investigating how lactoferrin modulates the body's immune response. Much like a seesaw, too little of a response is bad and too much of a response is bad. Dr. Actor believes lactoferrin can boost the response of a TB vaccine to increase protection against disease.
One-third of the world is infected with TB. If lactoferrin could increase the protective aspects of the disease, even slightly, it could save thousands of lives.
Dr. Actor thinks it could be added to the current vaccine to boost protective immune function.
One day, Dr. Actor envisions lactoferrin being added to childhood vaccines. It could strengthen the benefits of existing vaccines and provide longer lasting protection against a variety of organisms. He also sees the protein as a way put the brakes on the body's over response to bacterial infections that can lead to sepsis.
The possibility of catching a bacterial infection that leads to sepsis is often higher in a clinical setting.
If someone knew they were going to be a situation when their risk of sepsis was increased, they might take lactoferrin ahead of time as a preventive measure.