Wooden Shield

A type of fiber taken from the larch tree helps stimulate a stout immune defense.

September 2013

by Lisa James


Fiber: Is there any word in the world of natural well-being with more of a “been there, done that” connotation? Insoluble fiber is good for regularity, soluble fiber is good for cholesterol control—tell us something we don’t know.

Fiber’s reputation for dullness is deceptive, however, as researchers keep finding new roles for novel kinds of fiber. One such substance is arabinogalactan (ARA), taken from the wood of the tall, stately Western larch (Larix occidentalis). ARA has been found to stimulate the immune system, allowing it to fend off infections and other health threats.

Immune Stimulation

Among the immune system’s many components are natural killer (NK) cells. Despite the sinister-sounding name NK cells are really good guys, latching onto cancer cells and infectious microbes alike before destroying them with a blast of deadly chemicals. Researchers have linked decreased NK cell activity to a number of serious conditions, including cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, viral hepatitis and autoimmune disorders.

ARA has been found to stimulate the immune system in general and NK cells in particular. In one high-quality study—randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled—an ARA extract was able to boost immune response to the pneumonia vaccine (Nutrition Journal 8/10). In another study of similar design, the incidence of colds was “significantly reduced” among people taking ARA (Current Medical Research & Opinion 3/13). Researchers speculate that ARA’s immune-boosting power may make it useful in fighting pediatric ear infections. ARA might also improve the effectiveness of standard cancer therapy and help block the spread of malignancies to the liver, a common metastasis site.

ARA has shown an ability to improve digestive health. It can increase intestinal production of fatty acids, particularly butyrate, that supply the cells lining the colon with their preferred energy source; butyrate also helps protect the bowel wall against disease, including colon cancer. What’s more, ARA supports the growth of healthy probiotic bacteria within the digestive tract.

ARA and Friends

While ARA is a powerful immune booster in its own right, it is even more effective when combined with other immune-stimulating supplements. For example, the Indian herb Andrographis paniculata, which fights both infection and inflammation, has been found to hasten recovery from influenza and reduce the risk of post-flu complications (in addition to promoting energy production and liver health).

ARA also works well with olive leaf, an ancient fever remedy now known to contain a substance that fights a wide variety of bacteria and viruses, including those that cause colds and flu. What’s more, olive leaf acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing harmful molecules called free radicals.

Some supplement formulations combine ARA, olive leaf and Bacillus coagulans, a probiotic bacteria species that has shown as ability to reduce colon irritation linked to antibiotic use and to ease symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (Gut Pathology 10/22/12, Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology 12/09).

Don’t let anyone tell you that fiber is old school. ARA is a cutting-edge fiber that, used either on its own or as part of immune-support formulations, can help your immune system stay up to date.

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