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Immune Supplement Misconceptions

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This is Part Two of the 3-Part Video Series "The Wiser Approach: A Holistic Approach" with Master Herbalist Paul Schulick and Holistic Nutritionist Andrea Donsky.

IMMUNE SUPPLEMENT MISCONCEPTIONS

Andrea:

I am excited to continue the conversation today, since you're such a wealth of knowledge. And we're going to be talking about common misconceptions when it comes to immune supplements. And these days the market is flooded with immune supplements. In your opinion, what are the best immune supplements that we should be taking to boost immunity?

Paul:

A good walk with your beloved friends or partners. That's probably the most important supplement that we could take.

Andrea:

I agree.

Paul:

However, I don't think that's really answering the question that you're asking me. It does address that the most important thing that we need to work on is what's going on up here. So let me talk about up here first. When people think about an immune supplement, they may think, "Oh, let me talk about elderberry. Let me talk about vitamin C or zinc, selenium, or whatever." But in reality, we must first address the mind. And with that, there is a linkage that we need to address, which is our linkage with nature. And I look out here because out there is a forest. And studies show that people who are in hospitals who have even a tree outside their window, that they can gaze upon...

And I noticed that the window behind you, which is not a window, but a drawing, that can have a similar effect on your nervous system as reminding you of the grandeur of the creation. And so as far as a supplement is concerned, we must first get nature. And we must then address what happens when we get into nature. Which is that we feel part of something much bigger than just our limited selves. Right? So in terms of consciousness, then we have some of the simplest of herbs or supplements that can address the mind. And if I were to ask... First, the diet is of course, extremely important. If we're eating processed food, 90% in the United States of our food dollars. And I'll repeat that: 90% of our food dollars in the United States are spent on processed food. And what is processed food? It's fractionated food, it's food that no longer holds together all of the integral and important parts of the food.

And this is going to be a key part of our discussions because when we're looking at an immune supplement, like what most people would think of, like vitamin C. Vitamin C doesn't really exist as we think it does. When we take a vitamin C tablet, which says vitamin C on it, it's actually, for most part, pure, isolated chemical called ascorbic acid. And ascorbic acid is not vitamin C. Vitamin C is this group of factors. Factors, P and J and K and rutin and bioflavonoids that exist as part of a whole being. That's nature. So when we take a walk in nature, it's very, very different. And that's how we are connecting with something bigger and reminding our bodies that we are part of something much bigger. One of the first things I think about when it comes to the mind, is getting outside and being in nature and then feeling connected with a loved one.

And then also addressing the mind from a more acute level in the realm of food. Within the vast field of food choices, there's a select group of foods that are the richest in compounds that will protect us, and heal us, and restore us. And those are our herbs. Those are the elements that take care of us. So, Andrea, if I were to ask 95 out of a 100 people, even on the streets here, if you were to drink a cup of chamomile tea, how is it going to make you feel? At least nine out of 10, people would say, "It's going to calm me down." That's why it's the number two or three most popular herb in the world next to green tea. Because green tea is going to uplift you. Is going to energize you. Chamomile is going to soothe you. So in an era that we're living in of a pandemic and of insanity. And these things which are in danger of ruling our lives, an herb like chamomile is one of the most critical agents to support immunity.

But the key, like the whole field and food for that matter, just like food is fractionated and food is reduced, our herbs are often not what we think they are. So, for example, we're talking about chamomile okay. So it wasn't necessarily what people were thinking. I would say. Because they were thinking, "Oh, he didn't say things like elderberry or echinacea, or astragalus or andrographis, or any one of these others or immune herbs." But what we're talking about here with regard to the mind and an herb like chamomile, is we're talking about an herb, which is going to soothe and ease the body. And that's the most... Once you're in fight or flight, Andrea, you know this. If you're in fight or flight, your immune system is going to be compromised. Because you're thinking about how do I get away from the tiger.

You're not thinking about some microscopic element that you've got some time to respond to. So the most important immune supplements that we can take, is to make sure that we first take care of our mind. And one of the simplest safest ways to do that. But the angel, as I say, is also in the dose. In that if you take a little teabag of chamomile... And by the way, just like... The United States Pharmacopeia did a study of elderberry products. And found the vast majority of them were not what they claim to be. Or had so little of the anthocyanosides, the important compounds that what happens is it has little to no effect. So when you are using chamomile it has to have the right levels of certain compounds that the company needs to study like apigenin, for example, or luteolin. These are important compounds called flavonoids.

And these are the compounds the polyphenols... These are the compounds as or more important. People hear about vitamin D is a supplement for immunity or vitamin C, as I said. But what people really need to be paying attention to are these compounds called polyphenols. According to most experts, we're getting enough vitamins and minerals. Now, obviously there's a lot of people, especially you're eating 90% of your diet is processed foods, it's questionable. But even more deficient are these polyphenols that are up to a hundred times more potent. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, about six or seven years ago, concluded up to a hundred times more potent. So those are the compounds in your chamomile, for example. Or if you're looking at many, many other herbs that might be more understood to have an impact on immunity, you're going to absolutely want to see from whoever you're buying it from, what the levels of these polyphenols or active compounds are.

So I start with the chamomile, as an herb for example, and then other flowers can have a dramatic influence on our mind-body state. And then what we're going to also need to pay attention to is our herbs that are particularly rich in these polyphenols. One of the herbs that I've become really excited about is an herb called Cistus incanus. And we could talk more about that in a few minutes.

Andrea:

Yeah. And so many gems there what you're saying. I am taking notes as you're speaking. So I'm going to look down at my notes because I wanted to pick... I kind of want to dissect a little bit about what you said. So first of all, the nature piece, absolutely. And forest bathing, so important. You're talking about mind, body and mind, body, and spirit. So that really helps with the mind and helps to clear ourselves and just relax us. Right? So putting us into that state where our body can do what it needs to do. And I think that's what you're trying to get at, is that we don't have the mental, emotional component down and our nervous system isn't calmed. How can we actually fight off or do anything to it? So I love that you said that.

And actually, that was a brilliant answer. And one that you don't hear very often. So you're very right about that. The other thing I want to say is that, you're talking about synergy. And again, correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I'm understanding is that you're saying, when you're taking these isolates, they shouldn't be isolates. They should be synergistic. They should be in their natural state. So you mentioned vitamin C, you're talking about amla, right? You're talking about that it comes in the form of... That it's made in nature. So what I hear you saying is that we're actually going to absorb it better when it comes in its natural state. Right?

Paul:

Yes, absolutely correct. And not only are we going to absorb it better because we might... The absorption is what gets into the bloodstream. What we don't absorb has to be detoxified, or has to be eliminated from the body. And even what we are absorbing does that mean it's good that we're absorbing huge amount of ascorbic acid? What's that going to necessarily do for me? So it's more than just what we absorb. It's what our cells want. And one of the assays that I have been looking at products with is an assay called, CAP-e. Which basically is an assay, which looks at... You can have an antioxidant, but if the antioxidant doesn't actually penetrate the cell and protect the mitochondria, the energy center of the cell, what good is it? And on top of that, if it's not helping you it's more work for the body to get rid of it.

So my philosophy and the true philosophy of naturopathy is one that recognizes the wisdom of nature. And that's really, really critical. So when we look at immune supplements. Again, I go first to what's going on up here. Because then we can all know this. Years and years ago, when I first took my first exam in third grade or fourth grade, that scared me. I see you smiling. So I think, you know where I'm going. Within seconds I had to run to the bathroom from my first experience of what happens when I got scared. The gastrocolic reflex. My body says, "Okay, you're in trouble. You better start running." But I couldn't run. I can only run to the bathroom to get rid of what I didn't need so I could run faster. But now since we're in a chronic state like that, and again, I am incredibly abbreviating a vast field of knowledge here with regard to immune supplements. But the other piece, there's two other pieces that need to be attended to. The second piece is your gut. Your gut is your second brain, right?

So the moment you feel fear, or the moment you feel love, you feel the connection with nature, or I feel afraid of what's in front of me. The first thing that happens is my body responds, and my gut responds. So we must address the gut. And that's equally important to addressing what's going on in the mind. But the mind comes first, then the gut responds. So there are important immune supplements that also influence the gut. And one of my favorites is using the microbial kingdom and what people now know as fermentation or probiotics. And using correct technology to make the best fermentation process possible. And using the best prebiotics, probiotics, and then create with those. Create a postbiotic with all the jewels that's going to help nourish, and restore, and heal the gut. So when you're going through stress and you have to respond to a challenge, an immune challenge, your gut is now protected. And I can talk about a few of our best friends that are going to help us in that process.

Andrea:

Before you do, what I do want to ask you is you mentioned vitamin C before. And we're talking about synergistic formulas, synergistic ingredients. So if we do want to take... Going back to immunity, if we do want to take something, let's say like a vitamin C, what should we be taking? You mentioned amla, what are some other sources of vitamin C that we should be taking on a daily basis?

Paul:

Thank you. I'd say one of the most important things that we don't want to take is too much ascorbic acid. I think that's really... It cannot be overstated because look at... Andrea, look at all the people running to the stores to buy huge amount of ascorbic acid. And if they knew that ascorbic acid is not vitamin C... And do you know what? I actually printed this out.

Andrea:

But what is it if it's not vitamin C?

Paul:

So then let me read this to you. Okay? This is written by a Nobel Prize winner, a physiologist who discovered vitamin C around 1930. "The deeper we go into the facets of life, the more mysteries we encounter. Analyzing living systems, we often have to pull them to pieces, decompose complex, biological happenings into simple reactions. The smaller and simpler the system we study, the more it will satisfy the rules of physics and chemistry. The more we will understand it, but also the less alive it will be. So when we have broken down living systems to molecules and analyze their behavior, we may kid ourselves into believing that we know what life is, forgetting that molecules have no life at all."

Andrea:

Wow.

Paul:

So when we think about vitamin C, to me one of my favorite herbs that I drink every day as a concentrated source of vitamin C is rosehips. And rosehips also have another one of these important protective compounds for your immune system, directly responsible for helping your immune system become wiser. And that constitute is called betulinic acid. Now it's one of those molecules that by itself has no life at all. But when it's in the symphony, Andrea, of all of these compounds, that's when its music comes to life. So rosehips is an example. Now the other side of food we eat, rosehips is very concentrated and a wonderful healing agent. And just small amounts of that can have very profound anti-inflammatory influence, which of course is very important relating to infection. However, in our diet, foods like broccoli are incredibly rich in vitamin C and the complexity of all of the compounds.

So in the diet, you have foods like red pepper, and broccoli, lemons. But on the concentrated side where you get the biggest "bang for your buck" look at herbs like rosehips. And what's beautiful is my new favorite herb. I'm completely obsessed with this herb. Over the past year, I can't get enough of it, and I've been studying it and just learning so much about it as I can, is this herb called Cistus incanus. And when cistus which has very high levels, apparently about 32 different polyphenolic compounds. And many of these have been studied for their very profound immune effects. So you've got what's going on in the mind. I used an example of an herb like chamomile. Is something going on in the gut? One of my favorite herbs for that or foods for that is flax, but it must be prepared in just the right way in order to be optimally effective.

And then with regard to immunity, as we think of immunity, I wouldn't choose first, for example, elderberry or astragalus or andrographis. They're all fine. But for me as a daily tonic, and that's really important, Andrea, as a daily tonic, Cistus incanus has been drunk for probably thousands of years as a daily tonic. And it's one of these herbs that has immense protective capabilities for the human that's drinking it or absorbing it. And so when you combine Cistus incanus with rosehips, you get this beautiful combination of synergy.

Andrea:

So where would we find it as consumers? Where would we find that herb? Is it a drink that you take, you mentioned tonic. Does it come already prepared? How can we get our hands on a herb like that?

Paul:

It's a great question. Now what's amazing is if you were in Greece, or in Bulgaria or in Poland, it would be all over the place.

Andrea:

Interesting. Okay.

Paul:

Here, it's almost... Even many of my colleagues who are master herbalists, they've never even heard of it. As I had not heard of it up until a year or two ago. So in the United States, it's just not around. Or if it is, you'd have to do an Internet search just for that one herb. And just like every other herb that I've just about studied, the quality can go from non-existent to exquisite.

Andrea:

To amazing. Yeah.

Paul:

And so that's the challenge here, is to get an herb that is high quality, that's been studied. And then measuring in a clinical study. And that's basically what I spend my waking hours doing.

Andrea:

Paul, you mentioned elderberry before. And I've read the research on elderberry and its ability to help with immunity. What are your thoughts on it?

Paul:

Like so many of our long-regarded herbs and foods, elderberry has as a revered place. Especially, it's the kind of supplement that one might take in a more acute situation. Everything I said about elderberry is true that it's a revered and wonderful herb to use. But one would want to be mindful during a more critical situation. There is controversy over whether it might be more stimulating to an immune response than might be desirable. And so I would pay heed to that concern where it's not something that you'd want to necessarily drink every day, elderberry tea. It's more medicinal by nature. But then it's also controversial if you use it medicinally. So from my perspective, I would recommend, and especially because elderberry's quality, especially on the U.S. market is also controversial.

The United States Pharmacopeia, as I mentioned earlier in our other discussion has rated and the Consumer Union did a scathing report on the quality of elderberry in the market. Where the cost range was prohibitive in some cases for what you are getting, and then the quality wasn't even there in terms of active compounds. So if you're going to use elderberry and make sure you're using one that's been clinically studied, and that your healthcare-informed practitioner can give you some experience with that. All that said, I would steer more towards some of the foods or herbs that I enjoy, and know can be drunk on a daily basis. And that's where herbs like rosehips, for example, or Cistus incanus., as I mentioned earlier, those are wonderful examples of herbs that I would use on a daily basis. Blackcurrant, blackcurrant leaves, you taste them and they're just remarkable. Ginger, that's another example, I eat ginger many times each day. And I model myself aspiring to be more like a Confucius.

Confucius apparently wouldn't leave a meal without ginger. I wrote a book on ginger 26 years ago. So to me, that's one of the ultimate immune supplements. What's interesting Andrea, because it does address, not just directly immunity, it works on the gut and it works on the mind. So ginger is uplifting. It makes you feel... Even if you're kind of dull and that feeling, just chew on some fresh ginger and you lighten up. And so I would use that in a tea form on a regular basis, along with herbs like cistus and rosehips.

Andrea:

Paul, I have a question for you regarding delivery system. So a lot of us have pill fatigue at this point because over the last six or seven months. What are your thoughts on a gummy delivery system? Gummies?

Paul:

Great question. So I understand why people want things to taste good. That's understandable. I grew up on sugar. I had sugar, refined sugar at every meal. And a meal wasn't complete for me growing up. And I can show you my teeth and you'd see the proof of my upbringing. The numbers of cavities that I have outnumber the numbers of teeth that I have. I grew up on sugar. And sugar is a problem. Now you talk about an oxymoron? Sugar and immunity. Sugar is basically... Refined sugar is like a drug, it's highly addictive. And it doesn't deliver on its promise to give you long-term sustained energy. And what's, I don't know, disconcerting at best is putting small doses of hopefully, and I say, hopefully, an herb or a fruit like elderberry... I've seen these, the elderberry gummies. It's just to me, it's an oxymoron.

All that said, it's probably better than not. But if I have a choice, my choice would be the way our ancestors would use the delivery, would be to make teas and for medicinal or for therapeutics, they would use what's called infusions. Infusions usually use larger quantities and/or steep for longer periods of time. And then you could add lemon or honey and then make it incredibly flavorful. And the benefit of a gummy, for example, is you are bathing the entry to your immune system, which is your oral cavity. And your tonsils are sending signals throughout your whole physiology. "Oh, something good is coming in here." And alerting your immune cells like your monocytes, which are going to be part of your innate immune response to say, "Oh, you better go out and check and make sure everything's okay."

And so the monocytes can go and leave the bloodstream. And the way we do that is we signal with a tea for example, or an infusion. But when I mentioned our last conversation, Andrea, an herb like chamomile, or an herb like cistus, the studies show, we need fairly meaningful quantities of these herbs. So you need like five grams, which is like three tea bags of chamomile, to have a profound effect that actually influences key markers of biodiversity in your gut. Now let me translate that for the listeners. Biodiversity on the skin, biodiversity in your gut is basically saying you're healthy. People, for example, who've gotten really sick from infections like different viral infections, you see an alteration in key bacterial populations which show you your diversity is down.

You need a high level of diversity so that they all work in harmony and say, "Oh, there's a bad actor here. Let's all keep that bad actor in check." So it's really, really important that in our delivery systems that what we're using is one that is going to be safe. That's going to be not oxymoronic, like giving you huge amounts of sugar, which is potentially challenging to the immune system. And one that basically is sending a holistic message throughout the body.

Andrea:

I've had really good experiences with gummies. And especially for my kids, they love taking it. And for people who don't want to swallow pills, so a lot of us have that pill fatigue. So taking a gummy form, a sugar-free gummy form that actually tastes really good and has those medicinal ingredients like you're talking about and a significant amount of it, our body, from what I've read from the research I've read, our body actually can absorb it quite readily. So I'm curious if you have any thoughts around that?

Paul:

Thank you. Thank you, Andrea. And I really appreciate the reminder that there are some products that are out there in the gummy class that are reputable and are potentially valuable. Having been in the supplement industry for 40 plus years or whatever. It's been a wonderful ride. I have seen a lot of great products and I've seen a lot of products that don't live up to it. And I think one needs to be very, very mindful of the agents that are used to make it sweeter. And make sure that those agents are something that are going to be systemically valuable. And especially for kids, which is what you're mentioning, the benefits will far outweigh any downsides of using the products. That said, I had got a sample a week or two ago of a gummy product that had 25 milligrams of blueberry. It didn't even specify an extract of blueberry. They put blueberries in a big matrix of glucose syrup, and it was promoted as a health supplement delivering the health benefits of blueberries. They did that with ascorbic acid, as I mentioned earlier.

Ascorbic acid was a major brand of acerola vitamin C. And it had a thousand milligrams of ascorbic acid, and 50 milligrams of acerola. I didn't know where it was coming from. That's the kind of chicanery, in my judgment, which one needs to be careful about. There is the issue with sweeteners that some of these are chemical sweeteners and/or highly refined. And you just don't know what the long-term influence of them is going to be. So yeah, there might be short-term studies showing that this might be beneficial, but I always would apply what I consider to be one of the most important principles, which is common sense. If you have a hard time pronouncing the ingredient, or understanding where it's coming from, or how it's produced, then I would just be careful about that. But the amount of gummies that are on the market right now, and the amount of sugar that people are consuming, I mean, they're just eating them like they're candy. And they are candy for the most part. But does that mean someone can't produce a very beneficial gummy? Probably not, somebody can. So, I thank you for that question.

Andrea:

Yeah, no problem. Okay. I have one more question for you, and we're just going to wrap up today's interview with, what should consumers be aware of? What should they look for when they're going to the store? They're looking at the shelves at the store and they want to buy an immune supplement. Something that you didn't touch upon, that you still want to share with all of our viewers?

Paul:

It's a great question, Andrea. And I had my first health food store in 1979, and I have been since the early seventies an avid student in our field. And customers would come from a distance to ask me as a person that was working in the store, what I would counsel, what I would recommend. At a certain point, that's all they really wanted to know, was what do you recommend? So someone like yourself, Andrea, if you were working in the store, I would say, "Listen to Andrea. Andrea is going to guide you right." So if you're going into a store to buy your supplement, find out what the level of education, or commitment-

Andrea:

Or knowledge of the staff.

Paul:

Thank you. The knowledge of the staff. And then, again there's an old saying that you would want to also... I'm going to screw this up because I can't remember exactly what the proverb is. But essentially you want to be sure that even though the person on the floor has integrity and is educated and so forth, may have a degree, pharmacist or even a doctor. What you want to be able to do is get the certificates of analysis on the product. And have they done clinical studies on the product? That's probably the most important question. Have they done preclinical, clinical studies on the product and show me the C of A. It's really simple. And a good store shouldn't have 200 different brands. You don't need that. You have just a few brands that'll show you, "Here's my clinical, preclinical. And here's my C of A on that product. And I'm using the product." That's the other piece. I would always tell my customers, "I'm drinking this every day."

Andrea:

Yeah, comes from personal [crosstalk 00:36:26].

Paul:

"And look, I feel great. I've been using it for 10 years now. And everybody that I've recommended it to, or most people have had really good results." So that's the most important thing. But then if you are a geek like me, then what you're going to do is when you go to the store, you're also going to be sure that you do your homework and you study, and you look at the National Library of Medicine. So you want to be careful about some blogs, for example, which might recommend that you take huge amounts of elderberry. Or huge amounts of whatever product that a company might be selling. And then go to the National Library of Medicine and review the literature as best as you can as a geek. And then if you're not a true geek, or if you are go to your doctor, colleague, your partner in your health. And ask her or him, what do they think about this battery of studies about this particular supplement? And once they give you that feedback, then I think you're making a good choice.

Andrea:

Thank you so much for doing today's interview.

Paul:

Yes. It's been my joy, Andrea, thank you for having me.

Andrea:

And thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Paul:

Always a joy.