Finding the balance between conventional and functional health solutions takes time and effort
There might not be a more daunting task than researching the best natural supplements to help support your immune system. For starters, so much factors in, including lifestyle, diet and medical history. Beyond that, there’s the problem of searching for answers on the internet. In addition to competing information about what works, what doesn’t and why, there’s the real difficulty of human anatomy.
“Everyone is different,” isn’t just an observation about people’s opinions, it also is an observation about how a person’s chemical makeup reacts to the world around it.
What works well for one person might not have much of an effect on another. Those who use holistic health practices in their lifestyle and diets eventually get a good sense of which ingredients are the most effective and, from there, can compare one brand to another.
People starting from scratch may feel as if they have to choose at random and hope for the best. Alternatively, they may follow an influencer’s advice whether it is tailored to them or not. The best bet, though, is to vet experts in the field, to hear personal journeys to wellness and an improved lifestyle.
Holistic health experts tend to gain their knowledge as much from personal experience as from medical literature and training, discovering the best ways to solve their own problems by trial and error. When it comes to immune system health, things just get more complicated.
When researching natural supplements, it’s critical to know whether what is advertised on the bottle is in the bottle. Some supplement companies take advantage of relaxed labeling rules to hedge against making false claims. It’s a blight on the industry that infuriates those who go the extra mile to label accurately and correctly.
For example, in two different studies last year, products claiming to contain turmeric and carotenoids, respectively, didn’t have the amounts required to be effective. An “active” ingredient isn’t necessarily an “effective” ingredient in subpar amounts.
Products that list the amount or percentage of ingredients are more trustworthy because of that disclosure. Moreover, the fact that a company chooses not to provide a detailed listing should send up red flags right away.
Whether and how transparent a company represents itself is another key indicator of trustworthiness. Easy access to a list of the board of directors, sourcing and processes can tell a consumer a lot about a company. Whether the principles have any certifications or a background in holistic health should also be obvious. The more open a person is in sharing why they adopted or created a product, the more trustworthy they are.
Even after doing all the research possible, there may be a lot of trial and error before a person can find the best natural supplements to help them reach their goals. Pamela Wirth, CEO and Founder of Hello.Health knows that story as well as anyone.
When her son Ryan was six, something about his demeanor and behavior changed after a brief illness. He started having nervous tics and unusual vocalizations. Ryan began to suffer from anxiety and lethargy.
In her quest to help her son, Wirth ran the gamut of modern medicine. One of the early diagnoses from a simple blood test was that Ryan was low in vitamins B12 and D3, had a genetic marker MTHFR (approximately 50% of the population has this and can affect the absorption of vitamins and minerals), high inflammation levels and high strep titers (suggesting an active strep infection even though he was negative for strep throat) and had the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Together, this caused his immune system to not function correctly which can cause some of the longer-term motor, vocal and mood symptoms he experienced.
Although antibiotics relieved some of the symptoms, Wirth could tell there still was something holding Ryan back. He didn’t have the same spark or humor he had before becoming ill. He also still had tics and the occasional headache.
The doctor that had first treated Ryan used a mixture of functional medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to the antibiotics, the doctor had prescribed a group of 15 probiotics, oregano, boswellia, olive leaf extract, a multivitamin and Omega-3s.
Wirth learned that one of the keys to his recovery was finding ways to prop up Ryan’s immune system, to keep it strong as it fought off the various ailments.
Oftentimes people only think about their immune systems once they get sick. They think of it either in terms of recovery or, for those with severe allergies, a part of their biology that has run amok. It makes more sense to think of the immune system in the same way people think of their heart health, as something to be strengthened and maintained.
There are plenty of factors that have an effect on the immune system, but diet stands out. Simple things such as cutting back on sugar or simple carbohydrates that break down into sugar (a microbe’s favorite food) can make a world of difference. There are lots of reactive measures people can take to improve their immune system, but there also are proactive measures, like supplements, that can help bolster not only the immune system but other, subtler functions such as the gut and brain affected by diet.
Many think of diet in terms of weight gain or loss, but it might make more sense to think of what a person eats in terms of the way it improves or hinders gut health.
Increasingly people are coming to understand that gut health plays a massive role not only in immune system strength and maintenance, but also in people’s mental health and mood. The gut is where a battle of sorts between “good” and “bad” bacteria takes place. A healthy gut will have more vital, good bacteria.
The most effective natural supplements that help support a person’s immune system do so by supporting good bacteria in the gut. This support can have far-reaching effects, improving a person’s sense of well-being as well as their physical health.
If conventional medicine works from the symptom to the cause, functional medicine looks at the way causes evolve. Conventional medicine aims at triggering healing within the body. Functional medicine works to set the body up so healing is constantly triggered. Rather than working from symptom to cause, functional medicine considers generalities like environment and diet as critical parts of the preventative as well as the healing process.
Practitioners understand that these approaches can work hand-in-hand. Just as the physician had prescribed both antibiotics, olive leaf extract and supplements in an attempt to address Ryan’s health issues, people find that a combination of approaches can be more effective in the long term. Moreover, while it isn’t safe or wise to take antibiotics daily, natural supplements can be taken regularly as a preventative measure.
For many people, natural supplements get their gut’s to a place where they are less and less likely to need a conventional medicine approach because their symptoms are fewer and far between. Plus, by not defaulting to a conventional response to every sneeze or cough, people can become less reliant on mass-produced palliatives.
It is a process though, a whole-life attitude that puts wellness at the forefront with the knowledge that wellbeing won’t be far behind.
The idea that gut health was a key to an improved immune system hadn’t been foreign to Wirth, especially as Ryan’s recovery seemed incomplete. Regular bloodwork revealed that even though he never had strep throat, he had a persistent, low-level strep infection. A doctor suggested removing his tonsils, even though they appeared healthy, because they were continually cycling Ryan through different antibiotics to keep the strep at bay.
They also suggested removing gluten and sugar from his diet. This advice, combined with a doctor’s assurance that they could “flip” Ryan’s immune system, laser-focused Wirth on this connection between gut health and her son’s condition. With his tonsils removed, the strep abated, but there was a long recovery period ahead. It was described to Wirth that the body will repair itself given the tools it needs but it takes time and to plan on one year of healing for every year since the symptoms started.
Ryan is in his teens now and doing well. As it turns out, he suffered from autoimmune encephalitis, a condition arising from the immune system mistakenly targeting healthy brain cells that can cause inflammation, leading to the kinds of motor and vocal tics and mood issues Ryan had as a child.
Between all the professional medical advice about how diet affected the immune system and her own research on natural anti-inflammatories, Wirth began to put together a picture of how conventional and functional medicine could help people who were having gut-related cognitive problems.
“I’m not an anti-medicine person at all,” she said. Adding that if she knew then what she knows now that she would have treated her son’s condition with nutrition and medicines earlier.
“When you have an unhealthy gut,” she said, “you’ve got an unhealthy brain situation going on.
In 2019, Wirth partnered with pediatric neurologist Dr. Melanie Alarcio and Dr. Jeremy Appleton to write, Hello, Health: Navigating and Winning Better Cognitive and Immune Function. The book combines her and 2 other family personal stories and discoveries with the insight her physician partners have into its medical implications.
After more than a decade of research into the specific supplements that helped her son, she wanted to make it easier for families to identify inflammation-based ailments. Ryan’s earliest diagnosis was autism, and Wirth was told he would likely continue to regress and she would have to take care of him the rest of his life. As she pressed for a better description of why and what was going on with his body, she also got a better picture of the difficulties in a diagnostic approach.
She describes it today as the difference between pursuing the “why” and pursuing the “if.” Traditionally “if” a person is expressing certain symptoms there is a prescribed regimen. Asking “why” a person is expressing symptoms is a bigger question requiring a more complete explanation and data.
Wirth had been approached by friends and acquaintances who had seen the change in Ryan. While she had no intention of selling the supplements she made in her kitchen, she used her business acumen and the contacts she made after years of research and consulting to put together a team that could. The result was a line of all-natural, organic, gluten-free supplements that promote gut wellness and fight inflammation, particularly for those with autoimmune and autism disorders.
The early focus was on prebiotics that prevent negative overgrowth of gut bacteria and a proprietary strain of 15 probiotics, which are well known for their positive effect on the gut-brain health axis. More recently, though, they developed Happy Brain, a mushroom-based natural supplement. Beyond their efficacy in promoting both gut and brain health, mushrooms are the only natural plant source of vegan vitamin D.
Since deciding to bring the best natural supplements for families, Hello.Health has enhanced its research into other “whys” that can be addressed by functional medicine. Wirth has also become an expert in her own right along the way.
Wirth spent some of the most harrowing times of her life discussing what are somewhat esoteric medical issues with doctors of every specialty. Developing an expertise is as much about understanding the conversation than having command of the facts. It’s an active approach to the unknown combined with an intellectual humility that’s not afraid to be questioned.
Most important, an expert isn’t repeating things they’ve heard. They are evaluating new information in light of the possibilities as well as past knowledge.
After more than a decade of research and making dozens of connections in the conventional and functional medical world, Wirth was able to synthesize her experience into knowledge. Going forward, Hello.Health will continue its commitment to helping people find the right balance between the conventional and the functional approach when it comes to supplements that promote gut health and brain function while fighting inflammation. Maybe call it the practical approach.
This article does not contain health or medical advice, and the information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease, condition or health problem. Before beginning any program of diet, nutrition or supplementation, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional in order to determine the possible effects on your health, given your individual sensitivities, needs and objectives.