Innovative Strategy for Combating ImmunosenescenceApril 2011
By Judy Colson
Age-related loss of immune function is called “immunosenescence,” a term first coined by Dr. Roy Walford, who was Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UCLA and formerly a member of the Life Extension® Medical Advisory Board. In his historic book, The Immunologic Theory of Aging (Munksgaard, 1969), Dr. Walford discusses in detail how a declining immune system is one of the major causes of systemic aging—including a growing risk for cancers, infections, and inflammatory conditions.1
Researchers concerned with finding solutions to cure diseases often start with a look at the human immune system. Without the invisible wall of defense provided by a well-regulated immune system, we are susceptible to virtually every imaginable disease, from pneumonia to arthritis to diabetes.2-4 Even cancer and cardiovascular diseases are quick to take advantage of our weak spots—or over-activity—of normal immune function.5,6
Infections and cancers arise when the immune system loses its normally intense surveillance.7 Cancer victims are particularly vulnerable to infections because both the disease and many of its therapies further weaken the immune system. Autoimmune disorders, on the other hand, occur when the natural restraints on immune reactivity fade, allowing an uncontrolled inflammatory response to take place.8 And that inflammatory response, in turn, can increase the risk of cancer.9
The good news is that if we can protect and even enhance the aging immune system, we may be able to substantially delay the pathological impact of aging itself.10,11 Scientists are constantly seeking out new methods of boosting immunity, through supplements, diet, exercise, sleep, and of course expensive medications that appeal to the pharmaceutical industry.
Interestingly, leading scientists have discovered how to provide natural immunological support using immune-protective proteins found in hens’ eggs. This development promises to deliver substantial immune enhancement at a fraction of the cost of medications.12 That’s good news for all of us as we age—and great news for those whose immune systems are particularly vulnerable, such as cancer patients or those living with HIV/AIDS.
Creating the Hyperimmune Egg
Agricultural scientists long ago discovered that they could immunize hens against germs that threaten humans. This immunity was then passed on by the hen to her egg.13-15 Concentrated protein extracts from those so-called “hyperimmune eggs” confer remarkable levels of immunity to humans who consume them.16,17 Scientists have now been able to customize eggs to provide different types of immunity. At least 24 different organisms have been used to immunize a single hen, which then lays eggs that offer passive immunity to all of the organisms.14
Let’s now look at how hyperimmune egg extracts provide unique immune protection and reverse some of the deficits caused by age-related immunosenescence.
Atherosclerosis is another manifestation of immunosenescence, as decreased control over inflammation facilitates the formation of arterial plaques in a process often referred to as “inflamm-aging.”18,19 The US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine became interested in this process because of the shocking number of soldiers with elevated cholesterol levels and decided to study the potential of hyperimmune egg extract to lower cardiovascular risk.20
What they found was that soldiers who used a drink containing hyperimmune egg powder stabilized their cholesterol compared to the placebo group.20 This was a fascinating finding, considering that eggs are often maligned as being the source of high cholesterol.
In the study, military personnel—sergeants major in the US Army with elevated total cholesterol (greater than 180 mg/dL)—participated in a 26-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study of a drink containing hyperimmune egg extract.20 All subjects were physically fit people who also participated in a dietary education program to reduce fat and cholesterol intake. By the end of the trial, total cholesterol levels of placebo recipients had increased, while those in the supplemented group showed no change. Similarly, in placebo subjects, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL increased (a bad finding), while again no change was observed in the supplemented group. These findings suggested to the researchers that “hyperimmune egg might beneficially modify the regulation of serum lipoprotein levels and thereby reduce the possibility of cardiovascular disease.”20
Fighting Inflammation and Arthritis
As our immunity declines, we can also experience increased immune reactivity in the form of excessive inflammation. This seeming paradox occurs because the immune system includes powerful feedback mechanisms that normally control inflammation once the true threat has faded.8 With deteriorating overall immune function, that regulatory capability declines, leaving us vulnerable to conditions characterized by excessive inflammation.18
The drop in our immune regulatory function with aging brings with it chronic autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Notoriously difficult to treat, hyperimmune egg and similar preparations have shown considerable success in reducing inflammation in animal models.14,21-23
An astonishing human study from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences demonstrated the power of hyperimmune egg therapy in patients with various forms of arthritis.24 There was a significant improvement following the start of supplementation and there was a strong trend for improvement in the patients with rheumatoid arthritis as well. Improvement was sustained for at least 30 days after patients stopped taking the supplement. The researchers believed that the hyperimmune egg preparation may have reduced the intestinal burden of organisms that tend to cross-react with human tissues during the autoimmune response.24
Immunosenescence brings with it many negative changes to the oral cavity, particularly the teeth and gums, which can harbor infectious organisms and massive inflammation that contribute to chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.25,26 Dental plaque is a biofilm of bacteria and inflammatory molecules that increase the risk of both cavities and gum inflammation (gingivitis).
Hyperimmune egg extract has been shown to reduce the volume of dental plaque, which in turn cuts down on the total load of inflammation in the mouth.27 And animals supplemented with hyperimmune egg against the leading bacterial cause of caries developed significantly lower caries scores than did control animals.28,29 Oral hyperimmune egg rinses have also been used successfully in humans to reduce their burden of disease-causing bacteria; the extracts remain active and present in the mouth at least overnight, offering long-standing protection.30-32 Hyperimmune egg-containing toothpaste and gum implants have even been used in the battle against tooth and gum disease.33
Immunosenescence has tremendous implications for the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is one of our largest organs that interacts directly with the outside world. Normal GI immune protection allows only beneficial nutrients and fluids to pass while excluding the millions of dangerous organisms. The normal GI tract also secretes beneficial IgA antibodies that coat and isolate bacteria. And the GI tract contains its own set of vigilant immune system cells that recognize and respond to threats instantly.
With aging, all of those GI immune functions diminish, leaving us vulnerable not only to GI-related infections and to diarrhea, but also to malignancies such as colon cancer, one of the top killers of the elderly.34-36 In fact, bacterial overgrowth, extending into the small intestine, is a significant problem that is commonly misdiagnosed in the elderly.37
Unfortunately, most common viral GI infections don’t respond to antibiotics, and some can actually be exacerbated by them.38,39 We need to find a better way, one that relies not on killing the organisms with chemicals, but rather inactivates them where they live and prevents their spread.
Hyperimmune egg extracts appear to offer just such a better approach. The most notorious harmful microorganisms in humans are the bacteria Salmonella and E. coli and the common virus called rotavirus. In animal studies, efficacy rates for the use of the hyperimmune egg preparation are typically near 100%, even when the egg preparation is given after infection.40-44 For example, mice were protected against rotavirus and Salmonella infection by oral administration of the hyperimmune egg.44-46 Astonishingly, experimental animals also received partial protection against strains other than those to which the hens had originally been immunized!42,44 Of equal importance for public health officials, hyperimmune egg-supplemented subjects excrete little or no virus or bacteria, compared with the high rates of viral and bacterial transmission seen in controls.47-50
Even when used for treatment, after an infection has already taken hold, hyperimmune egg can be effective, producing cure rates as high as 84% and reducing excretion of germs in the stool. Interestingly, in human studies by world-renowned expert S.A. Sarker at the Center for International Diarrheal Disease Research, hyperimmune egg proved similarly effective at treating infant rotavirus diarrhea compared with a similar milk-based colostrum preparation.17,51
It’s clear that hyperimmune egg has the potential to prevent and treat dangerous and uncomfortable gastrointestinal infections. But many other roles are emerging for this discovery. Let’s examine how hyperimmune egg can prevent other kinds of infections.