The Innate Immune System is an animal’s first line of defense against foreign intruders like parasites, bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungus, mold and other cancer causing agents. These primary defense cells require an optimum level of protein along with certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E, and B, as well as the minerals copper, zinc, manganese, and iron to function properly.
When their system is functioning properly, it recognizes these foreign intruders and dispatches ‘killer’ T-cells to destroy them. Other members of the innate immune system that assist in this process include macrophages and neutrophils, which engulf, digest, and kill the intruders.
Everyday pets are taken to see a veterinarian for skin conditions, allergies, infections, autoimmune diseases and more. Each of these has a primary cause, but an underactive or overactive immune system can contribute as well.
How the Immune System Becomes Compromised
Poor breading habits, environmental influences, and the increased amount of stress placed on our pets accompanied by the lack of micronutrients vital to immune function can easily lead to a suppressed immune system and increased disease in all of our pets. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system becomes overactive and begins responding to normal cells as if they were foreign. This results in the immune system destroying its own healthy cells. Steroids are used for treatment in these circumstances, but prolonged use of steroids can cause a series of other issues.
The immune system and disease resistance are impaired by malnutrition and stress.
As pets age, nutrient absorption become compromised resulting in the slow decline of the immune system. This is one of the reasons senior pets are more prone to infections, why they typically have a slower recovery rate, and why they have a higher incidence of cancer.
Other factors leading to immune system failures are chronic disease, environmental and physical stress, and most importantly, failure to provide the nutrition needed to keep the immune system at peak performance levels.
Many things can cause the immune system to become compromised or suppressed, such as:
- Infants who do not receive colostrum
- Infant immunity gaps
- Infectious diseases like Parvovirus and Distemper
- Overuse of steroids and antibiotics
- Exposure to harmful chemicals
- Modified live vaccination response
- Protein, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies
- Hormonal imbalance
When the immune system becomes compromised, it decreases an animal’s ability to combat disease, fight off infection or resist environmental insults such as pesticides, toxins, and other pollutants.
Antibiotics and steroids can be helpful at times, but they also are known to suppress the immune system and kill good bacteria. The bacteria in the digestive system are known to play an important role in the overall effectiveness of the immune system.
Immune Boosting Nutrients
Protein quality is important in maintaining the body’s natural defenses. Protein deficiencies resulting from diet, prolonged disease or high levels of stress remove an animal’s ability to naturally fight off disease and protect themselves. Micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and related cofactors support the immune system.
Vitamin and Mineral Immune Enhancers
- Vitamin A: The fat-soluble vitamin retinol is crucial for immune defense. The administration of Vitamin A to cortisone-treated animals appears to abolish the immunosuppressive effects of this steroid. Vitamin A enhances white blood cell function, enhances resistance to infection and carcinogens, and helps maintain skin and mucus membrane defenses to infection.
- Carotenoids and beta-carotene: A precursor to vitamin A, beta-carotene has its own unique immune-stimulating properties that vitamin A does not. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant. There are more than 600 other carotenoids found in nature. Many, such as lycopene and Zeaxanthin protect the eye and have potent anti-cancer properties.
- B vitamins: The B vitamins often work together in concert and, as such, are called “B Complex.” Vitamin B6 is particularly important for immune function. Vitamin B12 is also central to immune processes because it governs cell division and growth. Without adequate B12, white blood cells can’t mature and multiply. Folic acid also plays a key role in immune system development and maintenance.
- Vitamin C: As a powerful antioxidant Vitamin C is known as an antiviral and anticancer nutrient and an important immune system booster. White blood cells use vitamin C to combat infections. Both the dog and cat are capable of synthesizing Vitamin C however, in the face of prolonged stress, heavy exercise, inflammation or bacterial infections, levels of vitamin C are depleted and should be supplemented.
- Vitamin E: Deficiency of this crucial immune booster is not uncommon particularly in older pets. As a fat-soluble vitamin, it is important to note that over-supplementation with vitamin E may be immunosuppressive.
- Chromium: Normally thought of as a mineral associated with the regulation of blood sugar levels, recent research in animal models shows chromium can enhance the ability of white blood cells to respond to infection.
- Copper: A recent study shows that a diet deficient in copper affects the human immune system, reducing the activity of some cells that attack invading bacteria. Further research is needed to see if copper supplementation can further enhance immune function.
- Iron: Like vitamin E, the effect of iron on immunity is twofold. Iron deficiency paralyzes the immune response while excess iron can be harmful. The immune system keeps invading microbes in check by depriving them of iron via a specific immune defense substance called lactoferrin, made in the intestine and found in mothers’ milk.
- Manganese: Supplementation of manganese has been shown to enhance natural killer cell and macrophage activity.
- Selenium: Researchers now suspect that selenium deficiency may allow viruses to mutate into more dangerous pathogens. Selenium’s role as a partner for the key antioxidant glutathione also helps explain its protective effects.
- Zinc: The role of zinc and its essentiality for optimum defense is well accepted. Numerous studies have shown that supplemental zinc can help bring a suppressed immune system back to normal. As with iron and vitamin E, excessive zinc supplementation may be immunosuppressive.
Non-Vitamin Mineral Nutrients that Support Immune Function
- Arginine: The amino acid arginine augments T-cell response and may be helpful in surgical recovery, cancer and immune deficiency diseases. As a caution, very high levels of arginine can compete with lysine, an amino acid that keeps certain viruses in check.
- Coenzyme Q10: This energy-enhancing nutrient may work to promote immunity by powering the cellular batteries of microbe-devouring macrophages.
- Dimethylglycine (DMG): DMG has known anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. DMG improves antibody response, enhances B & T cell function and macrophage activity. DMG also regulates cytokine and interferon production
- Phytonutrients: A wide variety of plant-derived substances have specific immune-enhancing capabilities. These include garlic, Echinacea, cat’s claw, astragalus, maitake mushroom and yeast-derived beta 1, 3 D-glucans. It should be noted that garlic has been identified as one of the potentially dangerous foods that should not be fed to the dog or cat.
- Probiotics: Much of an animal’s immune system is located within the digestive tract of the dog and cat. Gut health relies on the balance of good and harmful bacteria that populate the intestinal tract. The two most prevalent good bacterial species found in the dog and cat include Lactobacillus species and to a lesser extent Bifidobacterium species.
- Colostrum: Colostrum contains an array of immune support nutrients that help defend the newborn. This is known as passive immunity, the transfer of immune support antibodies and cofactors from mother to offspring. Nutritional components in colostrum also offer metabolic support to enable the newborn to meet the demands of rapid growth.
- Arabinogalactan: Arabinogalactan supports the production of NK Killer Cells, T Cells and macrophages that form the basis of first line defense forces of the innate immune system that protect the dog and cat.
- Beta Glucan: One ingredient that has overwhelmingly been proven to enhance the innate immune system is a natural Glucopolysaccharide (Beta glucan) that is derived from the cell wall of yeast. Beta Glucan has been shown to support macrophage, NK killer cell, and T cell activity in their role of combating disease-causing organisms.