The gut microbiome, the collection of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc that live in our intestines, is proving to be an incredibly important concept in human health and disease. Studies continue to pour in connecting the health of our digestive systems and gut microbiome with the health of virtually all of the major systems in the body, perhaps most notably the immune system, integumentary system (skin) and nervous system.
The Ingredients of a Healthy Gut
A healthy gut could be characterized as one that has an appropriate balance of microbes, low levels of inflammation, sufficient digestive enzymes and bile, consistent motility, and a properly functioning intestinal barrier that regulates nutrient absorption. A key part of my clinical practice is evaluating and supporting the health of the gut, which is impacted by a myriad of factors including diet, lifestyle and environmental factors. A whole-foods based diet, stress reduction, quality sleep and regular physical activity are the core recipe for a healthy gut. However, our modern environments make it difficult to maintain optimal gut health, and it is very common for me to see imbalances that need additional help.
Therapeutic diets, probiotics, digestive supports and herbal antimicrobials are key tools in the toolbox we can use to push the ecosystem of the gut into a healthier direction. Most people do well with these therapeutics, but I am always looking for new therapies which may be helpful when it comes to improving someone’s health via the gut. One such therapy I have been using is serum-derived bovine immunoglobulins.
Immunoglobulins Help Bind Toxins
Serum-derived bovine immunoglobulins—I’ll refer to them as simply “immunoglobulins” from here on—are a medical food supplement that serve as a concentrated source of antibodies (the other word for immunoglobulins). Our gut is lined with something called a mucosal membrane, which is essentially a defensive barrier between us and the outside world (technically, what is in our gut is not yet inside of our body until it is absorbed!) This intestinal mucosal barrier has many physical and chemical components to help ensure we don’t let unwanted pathogens and toxic compounds into our bodies.
One of the critical components of this barrier is antibodies, which help bind and neutralize irritants and toxins. This is in part why supplemental immunoglobulins can be helpful—they support the immune system in the gut by helping the immune system bind to and neutralize toxins. A component of bacteria called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is among the most potent of these toxins. In an unhealthy gut, LPS can cross the gut lining and be absorbed, causing high levels of inflammation in something called metabolic endotoxemia. By binding LPS, immunoglobulins can lower inflammation, reduce leaky gut and help calm the immune system.
Immunoglobulins for IBS, C. diff, Allergies, and Immunity
We know immunoglobulins can help bind toxins, but we are still learning more about the mechanisms by which immunoglobulins can be helpful, and in what situations they may be most beneficial. A few studies have found that immunoglobulins helped patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who previously hadn’t responded to other therapies. There was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study that found that those taking immunoglobulins experienced significantly less bloating, abdominal pain, and loose stools, among other symptoms. It has also shown potential in assisting with treatment of infections such as C. diff. Preliminary evidence also suggests they could be beneficial for allergies and supporting immunity.
A Promising Alternative Treatment
In general, I am excited about immunoglobulins because they work differently than many of the other gut therapies we use, and have shown promise where other treatments have failed. While most of the first or second-line gut therapies we use are focused on adjusting the types and/or amounts of microbes in the gut, immunoglobulins work to support the immune system in the gut. You need both a healthy balance of microbes and a healthy immune system to have optimal gut health.
This doesn’t mean everyone should start taking immunoglobulins. I still think there are higher level interventions that should be tried first, including things like dietary and lifestyle changes, probiotics, etc. However, immunoglobulins are an exciting therapeutic that I continue to use in my practice.
Immunoglobulin Products to Try
There are a variety of immunoglobulin products out there, and I try to use the products which use the same formulations which were used in the clinical studies. A couple of these are MegaIgG2000 and MegaMucosa, which use the patented ImmunoLin formulation. These contain IgG, IgM and IgA antibodies. They are also dairy-free, which can be helpful for people who are sensitive to milk products (many products with immunoglobulins are from dairy sources). Most people begin to notice any improvements within 1-2 weeks, with maximum benefit typically coming by 6-8 weeks.
This isn’t to say that other formulations out there are unlikely to be effective, but when I can use supplements that match what was used in the clinical studies, I try to do so. There are vegetarian options out there as well, including some derived from egg, which are likely to be helpful as well but don’t have the specific research backing them.