FACT AND FICTION ABOUT IMMUNE SUPPLEMENTSInterview with Dr. Jimmy Gutman, leading author on glutathione and the immune system
QAs a keen observer of health supplements, I am amazed at all the different products that have recently come onto the market claiming to raise the immune system. I’d like to get your perspective as a scientist and as a doctor on how accurate these claims are.
AGreat! Everyone really should have a critical look at the many other “medical” claims that are bouncing around out there on all kinds of health issues. I’m sure you’ve heard me say before – there are only three things that count in making my mind up about any supplement – research, research and more research!
QWell for starters then, what does the research show about the effects of fresh fruit and vegetables on the immune system?
AIn an ideal world, we would get everything we need from our foodstuff. This has been increasingly difficult to do over the past few decades due to the overuse of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, not to mention the genetic modification of plants and animals. Many of these practices have led to the deterioration of quality (not quantity) of nutrition in our food.
QI’ve heard you say in lectures, “Don’t think that the fruits and vegetables you ate as a kid are similar to the ones you can buy at the supermarket today!” I guess that kind of sums up why more and more health professionals are recommending that we need to be taking supplements to round off our needs.
AVery accurate. It would be great to just be able to rely on good food. For example, the vitamin C you derive from an orange is vastly different from that found in most supplements. Unfortunately, the amount of these vitamins in today’s fruits continues to fall. I personally have a problem drinking a gallon of orange juice.
QBut I’ve seen many vitamin C supplements and juice companies claim that their products bump up the immune system! How true is that?
ADr. Linus Pauling demonstrated the positive effect that taking vitamin C had on the common cold more than four decades ago. Over the years however, this has been extrapolated by different individuals to include all threats to the immune system. Unfortunately, the research did not really pan out. In reality, vitamin C can improve immune function somewhat, but only indirectly.
QAre you saying that our immune response is supported rather than actually enhanced by the use of vitamin C?
AVery well stated! Here’s the bottom line – ANY antioxidant potentially can support immune function, whether it is vitamin C, vitamin E or a long list of other vitamins. Their effect on the immune system is through similar mechanisms.
QIndirect mechanisms, like what?
AI know you’re going to love this answer… by supporting the function of glutathione! You see, although we call glutathione the “master antioxidant”, glutathione still appreciates some help, so to speak. When there are exogenous antioxidants like vitamin C or E around, they can support some of the work of glutathione. But the body specifically needs glutathione to feed the white blood cells, our front‐line soldiers of the immune system.
QSo unlike other antioxidants, including those found in exotic fruits (as well as certain mushrooms, red wine, and others) ‐ glutathione actually has a direct effect on improving an immune response!
AThe very thesis of Dr. Bounous’s research that started way back in the late 1970’s is that the ability of white blood cells to multiply and perform properly is very much a function of available glutathione.
QThis really is opening up our eyes here. In effect, can we say that all of the different “wonder juices” out there with supposed “antioxidant power to raise immune functioning” are merely working by playing a supporting role for glutathione?
AAbsolutely, and that’s if we even assume that these antioxidants are still functional after all that processing, which can significantly reduce their effectiveness! All antioxidants work together like gears in a clock. They each have their own different specialized area but work synergistically. However, a clock has to have a spring, and the spring that drives the whole process of antioxidation is the glutathione molecule. Without glutathione, antioxidants cannot work properly.
QImpressive. But obviously there has to be other ways to raise immune functioning.
AYes, of course. Eat well, sleep well, avoid stress, exercise…do all the “right” things.
Easy to understand, not so easy to accomplish!
QWhat about pre‐packaged foods like yoghurt with probiotics, whose ads claim to raise the immune system if you eat their brands?
AHey, I’m a big fan of real probiotic supplements, but like everything else out there, there are huge differences in quality and efficacy. If I’m not mistaken, the government has taken action against some of these yoghurt claims. I suspect they will have to prove by well‐done research that their product actually does what they claim.
QIt goes further! A few months ago I was made aware of a well‐known cereal brand with the statement “Supports. Immunity”. What do you think of that?
AGuess what? That company was forced to cease and desist with those packaging claims, and retract all their boxes and make amends with the public. More and more food and natural product companies are trying to opportunistically jump on the “Immune” bandwagon. I don’t know of any that have over 30 years of clinical research behind them though. Say what you want about the FDA, but they are exerting a pushback against these “immunity” claims.
QMany individuals involved in natural medicine mention herbs like Echinacea or Astragalus, fungi like Shiitake, and even different types of algae. What is your viewpoint on these types of supplements?
AThe research behind these range from credible to very questionable. The quality and efficacy of these products varies greatly, and the quantity required to be efficacious is not always respected. Also many are intended for only brief periods of usage. Importantly, although they may offer various health benefits, they do not optimize human levels of glutathione, so their relevance to immunity may be very questionable. Some may actually be counterproductive to your immune system if used for long periods. Many are also contraindicated in auto‐immune disease.
QAnd raising glutathione does not have these drawbacks?
ARemember, you are not directly consuming glutathione when you take Immunocal. The profound benefit of Immunocal is that it delivers to your body the critical building blocks for your cells to manufacture glutathione themselves. Your cells will make their OPTIMAL level of glutathione and no more. I love this approach because the product works with your own biology and serves to optimize the human immune system.
QSo, from a doctor’s perspective, how is it that Immunocal has a DIRECT effect on our immune system?
AImmunocal does a number of things, the most important of which is raise glutathione to empower an optimal immune response. There are many scientific papers showing how glutathione maintains a strong immune system. Even more importantly, specific papers on the very brand Immunocal itself, ‐in excellent medical journals.
QI’ve seen many of your presentations and you are very careful about not making direct medical claims about any natural products as relating to their potential effect on major disease processes. But you are not shy about making immune‐related statements about Immunocal. Why?
AThe federal government here has recently set up an institution called the “Natural Health Products Directory”. It was given the mandate to examine natural products on a scientific basis to warrant whether that substance can have any associated medical claims be linked to it. Immunotec was one of the first through the door, obtaining an “NPN Number” which allows statements about Immunocal’s ability to positively affect the immune system. Sounds simple, but in fact, this is momentous.
QWhat about the fact that Immunocal appears both in the PDR (Physicians’ Desk Reference, USA) and the CPS (Compendium of Pharmaceutical Specialties, Canada)? I understand these books sit on the desk of every physician and every pharmacist in North America.
AYes that’s true, and these major reference books have been very instrumental in getting Immunocal into mainstream medicine. In them, you’ll find indications, dosage and usage, clinical pharmacology, and more. This is truly a testament to Immunocal’s effectiveness.
QThere also is the aspect of Immunocal being patented to raise glutathione (USA # 5451412) and optimize immune function (USA # 5230902, 5290571).
AVery important! This is the difference between Immunocal and most other supplements claiming antioxidant ability: Only Immunocal is scientifically proven to optimize immunity, and is so recognized by these patents.
QImmunology seems to be one of those new fields that are burgeoning and growing at a tremendous rate. Now it seems, the immune system is not just known for fighting off infection, but also in eliminating toxins, battling chronic illnesses, slowing down the aging process and so much more!
AWe are really in the infancy stage in our knowledge of the immune system, but there are a number of things that seem quite clear. Low glutathione levels are correlated with immune suppression and sickness, high glutathione levels are correlated with optimal immune functioning and health. Toxins, pollution, stress, disease and aging all cut into our glutathione levels. We want to be able to shut the door on these nasty possibilities by raising glutathione.
QAnd this, of course has been our focus for over thirty years of research. What is new on the horizon for Immunocal?
AWell because of all our successes in raising glutathione, we are now in the enviable position of having world renowned outside researchers approach us with proposals to examine the effects of Immunocal on some very specific diseases. The quality of our studies and the prestigious institutions, medical faculty and scientists involved just keeps on amazing me.