Recent research offers an exciting new way to enhance the effectiveness of the immune system and thereby cut the risk of cancer. But first a little background on the immune system.
The immune system can be divided into two distinct sub-systems – the acquired and the innate immune systems.
The acquired immune system
The acquired immune system is the one with the ‘memory’, and is involved in immunisation, in allergic reactions and auto-immunity. Once the acquired immune system has learned to recognise an ‘enemy’, (after an initial infection from a bacteria or virus or after vaccination), it remembers that enemy’s characteristics. On a second exposure to the threat, the specialised ‘memory’ immune cells recognise the threat, and generate a defensive immune response by creating antibodies.
This is a powerful, sophisticated and highly specific system, but it is slow to mount and, by definition, will not protect the host against the first onslaught from a virulent bacterium or virus.
The innate immune system
The innate immune system is rather more basic. Its key components are macrophages, neutrophils (the most abundant immune cells in the body), lymphocytes, and Natural Killer cells. They patrol the body and look out for anything foreign that may constitute a threat.
If macrophages spot a bacterium, they swallow it whole and try to digest it. If natural killer cells recognise a virally infected cell or a cancer cell in the body, they will kill it so that it cannot produce more viruses, or replicate.
Unlike the acquired immune system, the innate immune system is on constant alert. It springs into action the moment it recognises the presence of a pathogen (foreign invader). It is our first line of defence, while the acquired immune system is the second line of defence – because it only works against previously encountered threats.
1-3, 1-6 Beta Glucans – priming the innate immune system
The innate immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells can be enhanced by a nutrient called
1-3, 1-6 beta glucans – generally derived from baker’s yeast. (The innate immune system also requires adequate calories and protein, along with arginine, omega 3 fatty acids and many different vitamins and minerals in order to function at peak effectiveness).
Biothera is a leading research company which has spent years studying beta glucans, and is the manufacturer of a patented source of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans WGP 3-6. According to their research, once swallowed whole, beta glucans pass through the stomach into the small intestine. Once there, they are taken up by specialized regions called the Peyer’s patches.
In the Peyer’s patches, the 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan molecules are encountered by circulating macrophages. These macrophages transport the beta glucans to immune organs throughout the body and break down them down into smaller particles.
This enables the fragments of beta glucans to ‘lock onto’ a receptor on the surface of neutrophils and, in conjunction with a blood protein called complement, prime these immune cells – thereby enhancing their tumoricidal activity. (Essentially the innate immune system recognises the beta glucans as ‘foreign’ and increases its level of activity to combat them).
This makes the beta glucans potentially effective anti-cancer agents – especially when used in conjunction with cancer therapies involving monoclonal antibodies.
Neutrophils – pathogen destroyers
A neutrophil that is fully primed or activated by 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans, now migrates to the site of a pathogen (a virus or bacterium) and then binds to the surface of this pathogen. It is now able to destroy that pathogen by releasing toxic chemicals – whether that pathogen is a cancer, virus or a bacteria.
As a virus or bacteria is destroyed, other killer cells retain fragments of this pathogen and place them on their surfaces. During this process, the killer cells send signals to other members of the immune system family, making them function as memory cells.
These memory cells recognize the virus or bacteria if they attack a second time. They produce antibodies which stick to the surface of the virus and prevent it from infecting healthy cells.
The effectiveness of beta glucans for fighting cancer
A research team from the memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York studied the impact of beta glucans on mice with Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphoma (Modak et al ’05). They gave beta glucans singly or together with ritumixab, a monoclonal antibody.
The cancers were significantly suppressed in mice given the combination, and the survival of mice was very substantially increased. No clinical toxicity was observed.
In a 2005 study, a Japanese group reported on the effects of beta glucans on a range of cancers in mice (Kobayashi et al ’05). They found that the beta glucans were effective in killing ovarian cancer cells, and did so by triggering apoptosis (cell death) in the cancer cells. They also found that, although the beta glucans did not kill lung cancer cells, they did reduce the formation of metastases in both the ovarian cancer and lung cancer cell models.
A second Japanese paper reviewed the clinical literature of the use of beta glucans as a complement to chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. In 10 cases, the treatments led to 7 complete remissions and one partial remission.
A third Japanese study found that beta glucans increased the effectiveness of orthodox chemotherapy in patients with inoperable and advanced gastric cancer. Yet another Japanese paper reported on two cases of inoperable liver metastases from colorectal cancer. The patients received chemotherapy (HAI + PMC), plus beta glucans. One patient went into apparently complete remission for 3 months, but then died; the second remained well and without remission at 19 months.
The innate immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells is also enhanced by Beta sitosterol (Nair et al ’84, Bouic et al ’96); and vitamin D (Quesada et al ’95, Balogh et al ’99).
How beta sitosterols help
Beta sitosterol is a nutrient derived from plants, especially seeds and nuts, and is one example of a group of molecules called sterols. They are regarded as the plant kingdom’s equivalent of cholesterol. It is a natural immuno-modulator as it up-regulates certain aspects of immune function while down-regulating others, and beta sitosterol increases natural killer cell activity.
Problem Diet – low in effective nutrients
Western diets are historically low in the key nutrients needed to make the immune system work at optimum level – beta glucans, Vitamin D and beta sitosterol.
Beta sitosterol consumption has fallen because of decreased intakes of seeds, nuts and whole grains. Vitamin D levels have fallen due to decreased exposure to sunlight and the relatively few foods that contain vitamin D eg oily fish. This is a problem as a large number of studies show that vitamin D status is inversely linked to cancer risk.
Amounts of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans in our diet have fallen due to improved standards of food storage and hygiene. This has ensured that levels of yeasts and related micro-organisms which contain beta glucans in their cell walls are far below those we used to encounter before canning and freezing technology became universal.
It is highly likely, therefore, that a combination of dietary shift, sun avoidance and hygiene has left the innate immune system below its functional best.
How to include essential nutrients in your diet to fight cancer?
The role of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans in strengthening the immune system – together with another natural nutritional immune modulator called beta sitosterol – is explained in detail by the international health expert Dr Paul Clayton in his book Health Defence and at www.drpaulclayton.com.
Dr Paul Clayton, who is a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and a former advisor to the UK Committee on the Safety of Medicines, advised on the formulation of Uni-Vite ImmunoShield. It contains a unique combination of WGP 3-6 beta glucans supplied by Biothera and beta sitosterol.
Visit www.immunoshield.com to learn more about the effective use of ImmunoShield in activating immunity. ImmunoShield also works synergistically with Uni-Vite’s NutriShield – a very comprehensive daily nutritional supplement for boosting your Innate Immune System.