When and Why to Use GI-Specific Products to Strengthen Immunity Against Mold
Strengthening the immune system has been the focus of many during these pandemic times. While those of us in integrative medicine has been looking at this issue for a very long time, the public, in general, has become much more aware of the need for a healthy immune system both in the prevention of viral diseases such as COVID, but also in the protection against less severe viral infections. Many patients who have suffered or are currently suffering from mold-related illness have also recognized the importance of a proper immune response and how the cycle of chronic inflammation triggered by mold depletes and compromises the immune system in a very big way. Thus, incorporating protocols aimed at detoxing the system and supporting a healthy immune response has become an integral piece of their healing.
The Gut-Immune System Connection
No discussion of the immune system can be had without examining the importance of the immune lining of the gut. For a reminder here, the gut is the lining of the small intestine. While this is the major place where absorption of nutrients occurs, the gut is also where the beginning of part of the immune system is found. The gut is also easily damaged by toxins (like mold), poor diet, and poor nutrition; therefore, many mold-injured patients sustain considerable gastrointestinal damage and present with symptoms that run the gamut from bloating and constipation to diarrhea and malabsorption.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Some of you may have heard of SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This is a condition in which non-desirable bacteria are flourishing in the small intestine. Some of these bacteria are normal inhabitants but are growing and taking over the situation, pushing out the beneficial bacteria that should be helping in producing the protective lining of the gut and in the formation of short-chain fatty acids. The result is that the toxins produced by these non-desirable bacteria create havoc and damage, increasing GI symptoms but also impeding proper absorption of nutrients. Symptoms often include an increase in food sensitivities and an increasing incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Candida does the same sort of thing. All of us have some candida, but when it grows out of control, it causes issues. I am approached so many times by patients wanting just the right medication or nutrient to kill off all the bad stuff, and I do prescribe it, but what must be understood is that if nothing else has changed, it is impossible to maintain a good balance of gut bacteria unless the immune system is set right. It is like a garden with weeds. A few weeds can easily be removed, but when the roots remain and they are really aggressive, you have to modify the soil’s nutrients, remove the rocks, and really get rid of those things that foster the weeds. In other words, it is a thorough and systemic approach that is needed for long-term success.
In all of our articles, we discuss the importance of clean air, clean food, and clean water. If you don’t clean up these foundational things, then other interventions are going to be of little benefit or fail entirely–yes it is THAT important!
Then, when it comes to the gut, the addition of immune support products along with good probiotics are the next steps in restoring health. So what are these products and what do they do? In general, immune support products are proteins called immunoglobulins. Usually, these are produced by white blood cells and are a critical part of the immune response by specifically recognizing and binding to particular antigens, such as bacteria, yeast, and fungi. There are several types of immunoglobulins, but the most common type is IgG or Immunoglobulin G. IgG is always there to help prevent infection and is also ready to multiply and attack when foreign or dangerous substances get into the body. As mentioned before, toxins, poor diet, and stress can all cause a decrease in IgG production by suppressing its reproduction.
There are many IgG products on the market intended for improving gut immunity. Many of these are derived from colostrum, the milk produced right after a calf is born. While colostrum is rich in IgG, it is not always well tolerated if one is dairy sensitive. Some forms of colostrum-based IgG are purified such that the dairy-based molecule is not as large and, in these cases, they may be better tolerated by those with sensitivities.
Another source of IgG comes from bovine serum. Years ago, one of the better products in this form was a nutritional product, but its patent was bought out by the pharmaceutical industry, which increased the monthly cost from $85 to almost $600 per month. As insurance rarely covers it, this was not sustainable, and furthermore, few pharmacies carry it or can even get it. Go figure! The good news is that Micro Balance Health Products now offers a product called IgG Gut Protect, which is capable of binding a broad range of microbes and toxins within the gut. It is reasonably priced so long-term use will not break the bank, and it is purified, dairy-free, AND bovine serum-derived! A triumph indeed!
You may recall that we have discussed the function of IgA immunoglobulin in the restoration of gut and sinus health, so we will review that a bit here. IgA is extremely important in mucosal health which would be reflected in the gut, sinuses, and respiratory passages. Its primary function is referred to as immune exclusion, a process that limits the access of numerous microorganisms and mucosal antigens to these thin and vulnerable mucosal barriers. Secretory IgA has been shown to be involved in preventing opportunistic pathogens from entering and disseminating in the system. Just as in IgG, IgA can be decreased by toxicity and stress, but the unfortunate thing is that we cannot replace it with a product, although research is ongoing. (It should be noted that some patients have a genetic deficiency of IgA.) What we CAN do, however, is support the system such that as much IgA as possible can be formed. The avoidance, as usual, of all the things we don’t need to have in our bodies, is first and foremost–aka toxins, processed foods, chlorinated water, etc. Probiotics and their activity on indigestible fiber play an important role in the formation of short-chain fatty acids which line the lumen of the small intestine and may allow for better and more formation of IgA. If IgA levels are low, then it is all the more important to support the levels of IgG for protection. Thus, combining a high-quality probiotic with an IgG supplement is a helpful intervention for many patients. Other supports for low IgA levels include curcumin (lowers inflammation), avoidance of alcohol, and stress management as the stress hormones cause a further decrease in IgA. It has also been suggested that fasting is not beneficial in those who have low IgA, either genetically or secondarily; therefore, it is advisable to work with a trained and trusted health practitioner before embarking on time-restricted eating plans or a fast to make sure your gut and immune system are in a position to benefit and heal from the exercise. Mold patients especially fall into this category as gastrointestinal issues provoke the desire to fast, but the body is not always in a position to do so safely and beneficially.
In conclusion, remember that gut immunity plays a huge part in health, both in its maintenance and in restoration when ill. Keeping that immunity in a good place can help prevent illnesses of all types as well as decrease tendencies toward allergies and hyperimmune conditions. Listen to that gut feeling!