A Safe and Effective Natural Alternative for Asthma, Alergy & Autoimmune Conditions
By Andrew Keech, PhD.
Our immune system is amazing. It can respond to a nearly infinite variety of threats nimbly and rapidly. However, the system sometimes breaks down, producing a response that is either too weak or too strong to meet the threat. This paper will deal with the results of an immune system that is overreacting to threats, or perceived threats. By definition this includes allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.
The incidence of allergies, asthma and autoimmune disease is on the rise, particularly in industrialized societies such as the United States. Ironically, this may be partially due to improved sanitation and hygiene in these societies which prevents our immune systems from being challenged by as many antigens as in less modern times. Another possible cause, particularly of asthma and autoimmune diseases, is environmental pollution which weakens our immune systems and throws them out of balance. Genetic factors, the increased stress of modern life and other factors also play roles.
When our bodies encounter a foreign antigen, a protein or other substance that we have not produced ourselves, our immune system recognized it as “not-self” and mounts a defense against the antigen. In most cases, this is exactly what we want our immune system to do, as the antigen may be a dangerous microbe that could make us sick or a toxin that could also damage us. Sometimes, however, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the body attempts to fight off antigens that are not dangerous to our health. A common substance that provokes this response in many people is ragweed pollen, although there are many others. Obviously ragweed pollen poses no threat to our health and well-being, but when those who are allergic to the pollen encounter it in the environment, a powerful immune response is triggered that results in runny nose, puffed up eyes and so forth. Thus allergies are defined as an atypical immune response to an otherwise harmless antigen.
It also happens that sometimes our immune systems become over-sensitized and begin making antibodies against our own proteins. This is known as an autoimmune disorder or disease, from auto, meaning self, and immune. This can have devastating consequences, depending on the proteins involved. Rheumatoid arthritis is one common form of autoimmune disease. The body makes antibodies against the collagen proteins that make up our connective tissue and cartilage, resulting in sore and swollen joints and other complications. Other forms of autoimmune disorders include Addison’s disease (destruction of the adrenal cortex), aplastic anemia (attacks the bone marrow), Crohn’s disease (gastrointestinal tract), diabetes mellitus Type I (attacks insulin producing cells in the pancreas), Guillain-Barré syndrome (attacks the peripheral nervous system by demyelinating neurons), Hashimoto’s disease (attacks the thyroid), lupus erythematosus, MS multiple sclerosis (central nervous system), and numerous others.
Asthma is a complex disorder with a strong immune component. It is also a disease which is on the increase, particularly in urban, industrialized societies. It has been estimated that one in four urban children in the United States now suffers from asthma[i]. Although asthma manifests in different ways in different people, it is generally characterized by intermittent episodes of partial or complete bronchial obstruction resulting in shortness of breath, wheezing, and rapid heart rate. The attacks may be set off by a variety of causes, including exercise, airborne allergens, air pollution, stress or upper respiratory infection. Severe attacks can be life-threatening.
All of these disorders are connected by one thing: an over-response by the immune system which results in a sickness or disease state in the body. Traditional treatments are as varied as the number of disorders involved. Asthma is usually treated with bronchodilators, allergies with antihistamines, and autoimmune diseases with drugs that are targeted to whatever organ system or systems are involved. Often the treatments have harsh side effects and do little to affect the underlying cause of the disorder. Research into the mechanisms the immune system uses in normally functioning individuals, however, has led to more natural alternatives that may help those who suffer from these debilitating conditions.
The two most promising natural alternatives are lactoferrin and a class of small signaling peptides known as proline-rich polypeptides (PPR). Both are produced by cells throughout the body and are important parts of our body’s front-line immune defenses and rapid-response system. Both function as immunomodulators, adjusting the immune response to fit the need at any given time[ii]. While there are many substances known that either dampen an overactive immune system or boost an underactive one, these two substances are unique in their ability to do both in response to different conditions.
Lactoferrin – the “lacto” in its name refers to the fact that it was first discovered in milk – is a large protein molecule that functions, among other things, as one of the principal components of the so-called innate immune system in mammals[iii]. The innate immune system is non-specific, responding to a broad range of antigens, unlike the adaptive immune system which responds to antigens in a much more specific, tailored way. Lactoferrin (LF) is important in mucosal defense, forming a part of the body’s “border defense” where it interfaces with the external world, such as the skin, mucosal surfaces of the mouth and nose, tears in the eyes, and so forth. It attacks pathogenic microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoans nonspecifically[iv].
Lactoferrin is able to modulate the immune response via several mechanisms[v]. It can increase the number and activity levels of T and B lymphocytes and Natural Killer (NK) cells[vi], the major cellular components of the adaptive immune system. It also stimulates the release of a number of cytokines (small messenger proteins that can turn cellular functions off and on in target cells)[vii], including anti-inflammatory cytokines, and also can stimulate the production of various immune cell receptors[viii]. LF is the principal component of the neuro-endocrine-immune system which maintains homeostasis in the body through the use of positive and negative feedback loops[ix].
Proline rich polypeptides, PRP, unlike lactoferrin, is not a single protein, but a collection of similar peptides. Peptides are short length chains of amino acids. They function in the body as cytokines, signalling devices between cells and within cells. The PRP found in plentiful supply in colostrum also act as potent immunomodulators[x]. They are able to stimulate the production of either helper or suppressor T lymphocytes, depending on the need to either stimulate or suppress immune system activity[xi],[xii],[xiii]. PRP also induces the growth and differentiation of B lymphocytes.[xiv] PRP stimulates the production of a number of cytokines, including IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine[xv].
Both Lactoferrin and PRP have been shown to be helpful in reducing the effects and duration of allergy and asthma attacks. Pollen grains contain reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADPH) oxidases which generate superoxide anion when they come into contact with mucosal surfaces. In the presence of iron this anion can then be converted to more reactive oxygen compounds, such as H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) or hydroxyl radical (-OH), which can cause produce allergic airway inflammation. LF, which binds iron, can reduce this effect by binding free iron in the nasal passages and preventing the production of these compounds[xvi].
Lactoferrin inhibits tryptase, a potential causative agent of asthma. It also abolished late-phase bronchoconstriction and airway hyper-responsiveness in an allergic sheep model[xvii]. Lactoferrin may also decrease inflammation in asthma and allergic reactions by binding CpG dinucleotides containing oligodeoxynucleotides, which are potent inflammatory stimuli produced by certain bacteria[xviii].
PRP acts to modulate the immune response, and in the case of allergy and asthma attacks, to return it to homeostatic levels. It appears to have the same effect on autoimmune diseases, which are also characterized by an over-active immune response. PRP in its immunosuppresant phase has proven useful in inhibiting autoimmune conditions[xix],[xx], such as multiple sclerosis[xxi]. PRP has been used clinically to treat rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder[xxii].
One of the cytokines stimulated by PRP is interferon. Disruption of the regulation of interferon production is observed in the development of both neoplastic (cancer) and autoimmune diseases[xxiii]. PRP can help restore this vital regulation.
In experimental system using mice, injecting PRP intraperitoneally twice a week significantly lowered positive Coombs reaction and prolonged the mean age of the mice. This suggests that PRP has the ability to stimulate the production of suppressor T cells[xxiv].
A pilot study was conducted to see if a PRP-LF product is effective in relieving the symptoms of allergies in humans. The study was designed by Dr. Andrew Keech, an expert in colostrum and its constituents who has done previous studies on the effectiveness of the PRP-LF spray product with AIDS patients in Africa. Patients suffering from one of the following conditions: seasonal allergies, food allergies, asthma, and other allergic conditions such as skin rashes and bug bites were given the PRP-Lactoferrin product in 2 ml doses in a spray form over a seven day period. All showed significant improvement in allergic symptoms compared to placebo over the test period. Symptoms included sneezing and/or itching of the nasal passages (allergic rhinitis), swelling of the nasal passages (allergic sinusitis), swelling of the eyes, restriction of bronchial passages (asthma), or skin rashes due to shaver’s rash, diaper rash or bug bites. Results are summarized in the charts below[xxv].
[xii] Zimecki, M, et al. The effect of a proline-rich polypeptide (PRP) on the humoral immune response. II. PRP induces differentiation of helper cells from glass-nonadherent thymocytes (NAT) and suppressor cells from glass-adherent thymocytes (GAT). Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis 32(2):197-201 (1984). PMID: 6237628
[xiii] Lisowski, J. Proline-rich polypeptide (PRP) from ovine colostrum. Bi-directional modulation of binding of peanut agglutinin, resistance to hydrocortisone, and helper activity in murine thymocytes. Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis 36(4):381-93 (1988). PMID: 2977937
[xv] Zablocka,A. Cytokine-inducing activity of a proline-rich polypeptide complex (PRP) from ovine colostrum and its active nonapeptide fragment analogs. European Cytokine Network 12(3):462-467 (2001). PMID: 11566627
[xvii] Elrod, KC, et al. Lactoferrin, a potent tryptase inhibitor, abolishes late-phase airway responses in allergic sheep. American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine 156(2 pt 1):375-81 (1997). PMID: 9279212
[xviii] Britigan, BE, et al. Lactoferrin binds CpG-containing oligonucleotides and inhibits their immunostimulatory effects on human B cells. Journal of Immunology 167(5):2921-28 (2001). PMID: 11509640
[xxiv] Zimecki, M, et al. Effect of a proline-rich polypeptide (PRP) on the development of hemolytic anemia and survival of New Zealand black (NZB) mice. Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis 39(5-6):461-7 (1991). PMID: 1841543
[xxv] Keech, A. Unpublished results. 2007.