Saturday, March 03, 2012

Immune Boosters

A question was posted the other day on a local equine group discussion forum:
I am hearing a lot about immune boosters for both people and animals.   Does anyone out there have any experience with them?  Any suggestions for brands and where to get?
Thank You,
Responses included recommendations for APF  from and Total Immune Health - a Chinese herbal mixture from FLOTH
Hi DiAnne ~

APF (Advanced Protection Formula) is a concentrated tincture of three ginsengs, which are in the group of "adaptogenic" herbs.  These herbs tend to "normalize" body systems - an example might be calming a hyperactive horse and improving alertness in an exceptionally laid back horse. 

This article from the APF site provides some interesting information but doesn't really explain why adaptogens work.

This Wikipedia article gives a little better idea.

Canadian ginseng powder will give similar results; good sources are 

If looking for immune support for a specific condition, you want to differentiate between an immune "stimulant" (something that boosts immune response, like adjuvants in vaccines do) and an immune "support" product (substances that allow the body to modulate the source/cause of inflammation).  You want to avoid immune "stimulants" if treating an autoimmune related inflammatory condition (for example Transfer Factor is an immune stimulant).  

Many immune "support" supplements act as anti-inflammatories through a variety of mechanisms - 

Spirulina acts on leukotriene receptors (similar to the human asthma medication Singulair) to reduce production of histamine

Duralactin (and other milk protein, whey protein or colostrum-based products) appears to block cytokines to inhibit neutrophil participation in the inflammatory response

Chondroitin has anti-inflammatory action not only on joints but on many other body systems at a cellular level (making it very useful for sterile urinary tract inflammation in cats along with skin "allergies" in horses).

Anti-oxidants play a strong role in supporting the immune system in horses - vitamin E, Omega-3 from flax, selenium, grape seed extract (, along with balanced minerals and vitamins.  

IMO, if you start out with quality feed and hay, (preferably mineral balanced), provide a good level of anti-oxidant support including flax and vitamin E for horses not on pasture, avoid excessive iron, and provide lots of exercise you generally won't need pricy "immune" products except for periods when your horse is exposed to extra stress. For travel, competition, new experiences, etc. I'd reach for the APF or ginseng.  For "allergic" (inflammatory) responses, I'd look to vitamin E, flax, Spirulina and chondroitin, and consider whey protein, colostrum or Duralactin as a next line of defense. I also feel it's important you have an idea of what results you expect from a nutrient (product, herb, etc.) before spending a lot on something.

A lot of people indicate they've had success with the FLOTH herbs - I feel they can be a bit pricey and not always useful if the basics haven't been covered first and I'm not well versed enough about TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) to comment on the specific herbs used in the formulas.  As with any herb, if they're potent enough to be effective, they're potent enough to have undesired side effects if used incorrectly.

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