T lymphocytes are white blood cells that contribute to the body’s adaptive immune reaction. T lymphocytes or T cells are produced in the bone marrow and later migrate to the thymus gland to mature. T cells that possess a CD4 protein on its surface are T helper cells, and they assist in mounting a response against an antigen-carrying cell (Copstead & Banasik, 2013). They release cytokines that help direct other immune response cells (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). T cells that posses CD8 proteins on their surface are cytotoxic T cells (Copstead & Banasik, 2013). Cytotoxic T cells work by recognizing antigens and killing the corresponding cell that carries them (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). A third type of immune response cells is B lymphocytes or B cells, which are responsible for producing antibodies. B cells are also produced in the bone marrow, but they remain there until they are mature (Copstead & Banasik, 2013). They can be recognized because they carry CD19 and CD20 proteins on their surface (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
The body produces T helper cells, cytotoxic T cells, and B cells naturally as a response to an antigen, toxin, or foreign substance being detected by the body that the immune system needs to mount a response to. However, there are many types of natural substances that can help support the body in producing these three cells.
1. Shiitake Mushroom
Lentinus edodes, better known as shiitake, is a mushroom originating in China and Japan. In addition to being a widely consumed mushroom and a good source of protein, soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals, shiitake has been consumed as an immune stimulant, cholesterol lowering, and anti-aging supplement (Natural Standard, 2014e). Lentian, an active constituent of shiitake, has been studied for its immunomodulatory effects. Natural Standard (2014e) cited 14 different studies that looked at varying administrations of lentian and its effect on the immune system. Results were varied, but most studies showed increased serum levels of T helper cells and cytotoxic T cells. Traditional uses of the herb have recommended consuming six to eight mushrooms daily as a food. Clinical uses indicate consumption of 4 g of powdered herb daily for up to ten weeks (Natural Standard, 2014e).
3. Maitake Mushroom
Maitake is the Japanese name for Grifola frondosa, an edible mushroom readily consumed as a food and administered as a medicine. Traditionally it was used to treat arthritis, hepatitis, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), but recently studies have indicated that it has immune stimulating and antitumor effects (Natural Standard, 2014d). Preclinical studies indicated that consumption of maitake increased production of T helper cells, but decreased activation of B cells. As an immune stimulant, maitake fluid extract has been consumed up to a dose of 5 parts per mg/kg twice a day for three weeks (Natural Standard, 2014d).
Astragalus membranaceus is an herb that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to stimulate the immune system. In vivo studies in guinea pigs and mice indicated that astragalus increased production of T helper cells (Natural Standard, 2014a). Studies in humans were conflicting. Some studies conducted on children and patients suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) showed that consumption of astragalus caused an increased production of both T helper cells and cytotoxic T cells. However, other studies indicated that astragalus increased serum levels of T helper cells, but decreased production of cytotoxic T cells. Appropriate levels of dosing of the herb were not clear, but as an immunostimulant conventional treatment had administered 10mL of fluid extract, equivalent to 15g of the herb, twice a day for eight weeks (Natural Standard, 2014a).
4. Desert Parsley
Desert parsley, Lomatium dissectum, has been used by Native Americans to treat infections. It was used in the influenza pandemic of 1917 to successfully treat patients (Natural Standard, 2014b). Its antiviral activity has been studied in vitro and showed direct effect against the attacking virus, but also showed that it inhibited proliferation of all types of T cells (Natural Standard, 2014b). Desert parsley can be consumed as fluid extract, tea, or tincture. As a tea, 1-2 teaspoons of the herb can be steeped for 25 minutes in 1 cup of boiling water, and consumed up to three times a day.
Eleuthero or Eleutherococcus senticosus is commonly known as Siberian ginseng, and is used to increase endurance, improve memory, improve wellbeing, and enhance the immune system (Natural Standard, 2014c). Animal studies on mice and clinical trials on 18 athletes, 73 cancer patients, and 61 healthy individuals indicated that Eleuthero increased the production of T helper cells (Natural Standard, 2014c). The study conducted on athletes also showed increased production of B cells and cytotoxic T cells in those consuming the herb. The recommended dose of Eleuthero for adults is 2 – 3 g of dried powdered herb daily, although it is recommended that there by a two-week break at least every two months (Natural Standard, 2014c).
It is evident that natural production of T helper cells, cytotoxic T cells, and B cells can be regulated or varied by consumption of different herbs, including shiitake and maitake mushrooms, astragalus, desert parsley, and eleuthero. It is best to consult a healthcare provider before beginning a course of any type of supplement.
Copstead, L. E. & Banasik, J. (2013). Pathophysiology (5th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Saunders.
Natural Standard. (2014a). Astragalus. Natural Standard Professional Monograph. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/ professional.aspx?productid=963
Natural Standard. (2014b). Desert parsley. Natural Standard Professional Monograph. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/d/desert-parsley/professional.aspx
Natural Standard. (2014c). Siberian ginseng. Natural Standard Professional Monograph. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/s/siberian-ginseng/professional.aspx
Natural Standard. (2014d). Maitake mushroom. Natural Standard Professional Monograph. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/m/maitake-mushroom/professional.aspx
Natural Standard. (2014e). Shiitake. Natural Standard Professional Monograph. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/s/shiitake/professional.aspx
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.