Biologist Aaron White, PhD, became fascinated with supplemental transfer factor(s) (colostrum) when he began doing research to “understand what was happening to a friend with CFIDS.” After exhaustive research he published a book – A Guide to Transfer Factors & Immune System Health – to help people and their doctors learn about transfer factors and the extensive science behind them.
As Dr. White explains it, transfer factors act as “a signaling mechanism used by the immune system to alert white blood cells of potential threats in the body…. They are like post-it notes that deliver disease-related details to cells throughout the body.” So how can transfer factors be delivered to our bodies via dietary supplements? Read on.
Healthy immune systems are our best hope for preventing, slowing, or surviving pandemics caused by bird flu and other viruses.
Healthy immune systems can also help our bodies withstand the ravages of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and can prevent the resurgence of pathogens hiding in our bodies – like the herpes virus that causes cold sores and the mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis.
Creating and maintaining a healthy immune system is an active and multifaceted process. It requires a healthy lifestyle that includes a reasonable diet and at least moderate exercise. The lifestyle part is very important here. For people with otherwise healthy immune systems, eating some vegetables and exercising once a week can give the immune system a little lift, but it probably won't do much for its overall strength.
Beyond basic lifestyle factors, carefully selecting certain supplements – those with science behind them – can help. In 2005, American consumers spent over $21 billion on supplements, many of them aimed at boosting immune health. Some of these products are backed, directly or indirectly, by research. Echinacea, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamins C and E are examples of ingredients known to help boost immune system activity.
Other products, including some with very low doses of helpful supplements, are themselves unhelpful. Because they are not regulated by the FDA, over-the-counter immune boosting products can contain just about anything and can make claims as varied as the ingredients.
What Are Transfer Factors – And What Are They Not?
Transfer factors are small molecules generated by the immune system. They are used by immune system cells to communicate with – and coordinate the activity of – other immune cells throughout the body. They are not species-specific, meaning that transfer factors generated by cows, chickens, and other animals [and delivered in supplement form] can augment immune system activity in any other species, including humans and household pets. They were long used in veterinarian medicine before becoming available for human consumption! (See the "sidebar" at the end of this article on transfer factor’s discovery and targeted development: “A Brief History.”)
Clinical and scientific research strongly suggests that transfer factors are capable of boosting human immune system health on a grand scale. For healthy people, this can make them even healthier. For ill people, this could improve the quality of their lives.
Improving immune system health is an understudied approach to dealing with many diseases, in part because advances in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases have become intimately – too intimately – tied to drug development by pharmaceutical companies.
Transfer factors are not drugs. They carry information that, when read by immune cells, can cause the immune system to become more active and vigilant.
Unlike most drugs, transfer factors carry minimal risks of side effects, with the exception of mild flu-like symptoms that generally occur sometime during the first few weeks of taking them. These symptoms are temporary and are viewed as evidence that the immune system is responding to the information carried by the transfer factors. (Those who have been ill for quite some time, and who respond positively to transfer factors, should expect an exacerbation of symptoms on the way to healing. This is normal and is one of the factors that should be carefully considered before deciding whether to take them.)
At present, the Western medical community has little to offer people who suffer from CFIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders), treatment-resistant Lyme, and a long list of other conditions. If a drug isn't available to treat it, many conditions are not even taken seriously. This is well-known to hundreds of thousands of patients with immune conditions searching for help.
Helping the Body Contain Viruses
New research suggests that several conditions, including CFIDS and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), are related to infections with HHV-6, one of the eight herpes viruses. Active HHV-6 infections appear capable of suppressing the immune system, which simply perpetuates the cycle of illness. Other researchers speculate that HHV-6 might thicken the blood, perhaps causing ‘brain fog’ and at least some of the pain associated with CFIDS and related conditions.
Aside from expensive, and potentially toxic, pharmaceutical antiviral drugs, nothing seems to hold more promise for helping the body contain HHV-6 and other viruses than transfer factors.
Possible "Normalizing Effect" on Immune Activity
What about autoimmune conditions where the immune response seems to be too aggressive for some reason? Transfer factors appear to have a normalizing effect on immune activity.
Why and how is still anyone's guess. However, logically, they might replace the faulty immune signals that cause autoimmune conditions with more accurate signals, thereby diminishing the likelihood that the body will attack itself.
Let's look at a theoretical example. Let's say a cow's immune system accurately recognizes potential pathogens and can distinguish between those pathogens and cells in the body. Let's say your immune system can't do that, leading the immune system to attack the body every time it tries to attack a particular pathogen. (This is the case with strep bacteria and the newly identified childhood disorders comprising PANDAS).
Now, let's say you swamp your immune system with the more accurate information carried by transfer factors generated by the cow's immune system. Voila. The odds increase that your immune system will respond correctly, and the odds decrease that your body will attack itself. This remains theoretical, of course.
Disclaimers – and Information to Share with Your Physician
As with all supplements, transfer factors are not intended to treat or cure diseases. However, this particular type of supplement has the potential to boost immune system health in profound ways, which can help the body take care of itself.
There are absolutely no guarantees that transfer factors can help a person deal with their ailments, or protect them from new ones. However, for those with immune-related conditions unhappy with the help they have received from the traditional medical community, I strongly urge that you read more about transfer factors to see if they're right for you.
As is the case with anything else that comes in a capsule, it's very important to make careful, informed decisions before taking them. Any substance that impacts how your body functions could have undesirable effects. It is impossible to know how each individual will react to something like transfer factors, so please inform your doctor if you [are thinking of taking] them.
Transfer factors are small molecules generated by the immune system that can boost immune health and potentially help the human body deal with diseases. There are no guarantees that they will change your life, but I recommend considering them if you, or even your household pets, have been ill with conditions related to the immune system. I also recommend considering them if you are healthy, already have a healthy lifestyle, and want to maximize immune system health. The ultimate decision is yours to make…
A Brief History of Transfer Factor
Transfer Factor was discovered in 1949 by an inquisitive immunologist named H.S. Lawrence. He transferred immunity from a human with tuberculosis to one without tuberculosis. He did this by sucking the innards out of white blood cells from the sick person and injecting them into the healthy person. What, exactly, was transferring immunity was unknown. Dr. Lawrence referred to the mystery substance as "Transfer Factor."
Penicillin was discovered in 1928 but it would be the 1940s before technology made mass production, and thus widespread use, possible. Technology has just recently caught up with transfer factors, 50 years later, and they are now becoming available. The drug companies claimed ownership of antibiotics. Thankfully, that has not, and hopefully will not, happen with transfer factors. Transfer factors are sold as supplements, protected under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. A small number of good companies, unrelated to Big Pharma, have marshaled the resources needed to manufacture transfer factors and distribute them…
Advances in science have made it possible to extract transfer factors from cow colostrum (first milk) and chicken eggs and put them in capsules. In addition, researchers have figured out how to make messengers that carry information about specific threats, like Lyme, Epstein-Barr, Herpes Simplex 1&2, Human Papilloma Virus, Human Herpes Virus 6 type A&B, Cytomeglavirus, Varicella-Zoster (shingles), and – potentially – viruses like the dreaded H5N1 strain of bird flu.
As is always the case, transfer factors affect the courses of these ailments by helping the immune system do its job, not by directly attacking the pathogens.
* This material is reproduced with kind permission of the author, Aaron White, PhD.
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is not meant to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you never make a change in your healthcare plan or regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.