Every minute of every day, hostile forces infiltrate our bodies; bacteria, viruses, microbes and fungi gain entry to our bodies either through open areas of skin or by being ingested through respiratory or digestive passages.Once inside our bodies, these aggressive foes seek to wreak havoc. Yet, even though these malicious outsiders gain regular entry, we don’t get as sick as we could thanks to our two special forces known as the nonspecific and specific defense systems, the second of which is more commonly referred to as our immune system.
Our first line of defense is our nonspecific defense system. This system is made up of intact skin, mucous membranes, the inflammatory response and certain proteins produced in the body. This system attacks everything and takes a load off our immune system.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “know your enemy” and this is what our immune, or specific defense, system does. From birth, it begins acquiring the knowledge it needs to recognize and defend our body against disease-causing agents (pathogens). Our immune system is born with innate immunity; a type of general protection that humans have. Some of this immunity (called passive immunity) is passed on to us through our mother’s breast milk. Later, if we get measles, our body creates a line of attack against the virus called an anti-virus and from that time forward, we are immune (adaptive immunity). Only in very rare circumstances does an individual contract measles twice in their lifetime.
This adaptation process is referred to as “adaptive immunity” or “acquired immunity” and creates immunological memory. Immunological memory created from a primary response to a specific pathogen, provides an enhanced response to secondary encounters with that same, specific pathogen. This process of acquired immunity is the basis of vaccination. 1
Have you ever heard the criticism that some parents keep their children “too clean”? This may have some sound physiological basis in that if a child is seldom exposed to normal levels of environmental pollutants, the child’s immune system cannot develop a base of recognition. A certain amount of “healthy dirt” is good for a child’s immune system.
Our immune system is not an organ-based system like our respiratory system is. Rather, our immune system is a functional system, part of which consists of millions and millions of immune cells found in lymphatic tissues and circulating throughout the body. These cells, the most important two being macrophages and lymphocytes, will directly attack the offending substance. These little killers are so effective that, after an organ transplant, an immune-suppressing drug is given that inhibits their effectiveness so the transplant can take hold.
DISORDERS OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Disorders of the immune system can be broken down into four main categories:
- Immunodeficiency disorders (primary or acquired)
- Autoimmune disorders (in which the body’s own immune system attacks its own tissue as foreign matter)
- Allergic disorders (in which the immune system overreacts in response to an antigen)
- Cancers of the immune system
Immunodeficiencies occur when a part of the immune system is not present or is not working properly. You can be born with an immunodeficiency (primary) or acquire immunodeficiency through infection or produced by drugs (acquired or secondary). An example of a primary immunodeficiency is an allergy – IgA, found primarily in body fluids, guards the entrance to the body. An IgA deficiency can lead to more colds, respiratory infections and allergies. Acquired immunodeficiencies usually develop after a person has a disease, although they can also be the result of malnutrition, burns or other medical problems.
In autoimmune disorders, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy organs and tissues as though they were foreign invaders. Autoimmune diseases include lupus, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma (inflammation and damage of the skin, joints and internal organs).
Allergic disorders occur when the immune system overreacts to exposure to antigens in the environment. Allergic disorders include asthma, eczema and allergies to dust mites, seasonal allergies, drug allergies, food allergies and allergies to toxins such as bee stings.
Cancer of the Immune System
Cancer occurs when cells grow out of control. This can also happen with the cells of the immune system. For example, lymphoma involves the lymphoid tissues and is one of the more common childhood cancers. Leukemia, which involves abnormal overgrowth of leukocytes (white blood cells), is the most common childhood cancer. With current medications most cases of both types of cancer in kids and teens are curable. 2
KEEPING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM HEALTHY
It cannot be stressed enough that a healthy immune system is integral to our overall health and happiness. Our immune system is essential to our continued wellbeing. Following are a few key points to keeping your immune system healthy:
- Get enough sleep – when we sleep, the immune system is reinforced and replenished. The loss of even one night of sleep can affect the proper functioning of your immune system.
- Wash your hands – touching your eyes, mouth or ears without washing your hands can introduce microorganisms into your body.
- Eat nutritious foods – immune-boosting foods include organically grown fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes, natural oils, coconut butter, brazil nuts (a rich source of selenium), kiwis, red peppers and oranges (vitamin C). Organically grown fresh fruits and veggies contain vitamins, many of which are antioxidants that will protect cells from damage by toxins in the environment. Dark-colored produce tends to be higher in antioxidants.
- Stay stress-free – when we are stressed, our adrenal glands secrete a hormone known as cortisol. Although cortisol is in many ways good for our bodies, keeping inflammation in check, too much of it on an ongoing basis can create problems. For example, when cortisol output is high, the immune system secretes interleukin 6 (IL-6), which contributes to inflammation. IL-6 is also believed to cause autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia to worsen, to cause calcium to leave the bones, and to act as a growth factor for a number of tumors. 3
- Avoid unhealthy foods – sugar and overly processed foods suppress many immune cells, particularly macrophages.
- Get enough exercise – exercise is a powerful immune booster and makes it easier for you to sleep at night. Getting outside in the fresh air is always a good idea but getting outside in the cold air activates your thyroid gland which plays a vital role in maintaining immune strength. Exercise keeps your lymph fluid circulating and moves it through lymph nodes, detoxifying as it goes. Lymph fluid also contains immune cells that need to circulate throughout your body to do their job.
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes – alcohol interferes with immune defenses and cigarette smoke negatively impacts immune response.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure – exposure for longer than 15 minutes is linked with immune suppression.
- Avoid exposure to pollutants and toxic chemicals – pollution is a major factor in immune suppression.
OLD WIVES TALES – Truth or Fiction?
Lemons – not only are they packed with vitamin C, but they are the ideal food for restoring the acid-alkali balance in your body. Drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice in water or tea, or adding it to salad dressings, helps maintain the body’s pH balance, which supports healthy bacteria instead of the viruses and harmful bacteria that thrive in a more acidic environment.
Eat plenty of protein – protein is a building block for a healthy body, mind, and immune system. Diets low in protein tend to be high in carbs that convert to glucose, spiking blood sugar and stressing the pancreas and immune system. Proteins make enzymes, which help the immune cells kill germs, viruses and bacteria.
Drink that water! – dehydration can have devastating effects on the body, one of which is headaches. Dehydration also causes blood flow to slow down and lymph fluid to thicken which leads to chemical, nutritional and pH imbalances and overall impaired immune function. Drink your water when you’re sick as symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can dehydrate you quickly. Phewf! Who knew a glass of water held so much?!
Relax! – stress and exhaustion leads the body right into sickness such as colds and sore throats. Remember, your emotional and mental state always affects your physical state. And laugh! The chemicals produced when we are happy have receptor sites on cells all over our body so happy minds can make happy, healthy cells.
The Bicarbonate of Soda Steamer – relieves symptoms such as runny nose, cough, irritated sinuses, sore throat/nasal passages. Place 3 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda into a soup bowl and fill the bowl ¾ full with boiling water. Placing a towel over your head, place your head over the bowl and inhale the steam for approximately 4 minutes. The steam alone is enough to break up any mucous, however, the theory goes that the bicarbonate of soda helps destroy the environment the virus creates for itself and helps your body return to it’s normal pH.
Try to avoid excessive use of antiseptic and antibacterial soaps, sprays and other detergents. We’re not advocating a filthy house here, just a restriction in the amount of products you use on a daily basis. While these products may kill bacteria and other organisms in the short term, they also contribute to the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Use natural cleaners such as tea tree oil, baking soda and vinegar. These three are healthier for the environment as well.
Supplements to support a healthy immune system include a good multivitamin, zinc, selenium, glutamine, probiotics and omega-3 (ALA) essential fatty acid.
Zinc is effective in individuals who suffer recurrent infections.
Selenium – This is the antioxidant mineral that works with vitamin E to fight free radicals. As a trace mineral, selenium helps promote detoxification. Selenium is a building block of one of the body’s key antioxidant enzymes, Glutathione peroxidase, and is thought to play a key role in helping immune system cells protect us from invading viruses and bacteria.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is important for normal immune system function. (Not to be confused with Glucosamine.)
Garlic has been used as a food and medicine since ancient times. It is well known for its ability to stimulate and boost immunity, improve circulatory and heart health and is considered an anticancer agent. Garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal activity and may work against some intestinal parasites.
Omega 3 (alpha linoleic acid) has been shown to support and improve immune function and reduce infections.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live in our gut, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, and may help protect the body from harmful organisms in the intestine that cause local or systemic (throughout the system) infections. Using a product that contains 14 probiotic strains instead of just one provides a broad diversity of strains commonly found in the human digestive tract.
For further reading on the immune system, you can print off your own copy of the National Institutes of Health’s publication called “Understanding The Immune System – How It Works” by CLICKING HERE,. 4
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
1. www.wikipedia.org – search string, “Immune System”
2. KidsHealth – A Body Basics Article: Immune System
4. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health