About the Immune System
Your immune system is your bodyguard. It works both pro-actively and protectively to shield you from anything in your world that threatens your life and limb. The main elements of the immune system are the thymus gland, bone marrow, the spleen, the complement system of enzymatic proteins, and the lymphatic system with white blood cells and lymphocytes, the backbone of immune defenses. Your immune system is ever-vigilant, constantly searching for proteins, called antigens, that don't belong in your body. It can deal with a wide range of pathogens - viruses, funguses, bacteria and parasites. It can even recognize potential antigens, such as drugs, pollens, insect venoms and chemicals in foods, and malignant cells and foreign tissue, such as transplanted organs or transfused blood.
The immune system is the body's most complex and delicately balanced infrastructure. We hear so much about immune system breakdown today. Yet, most of us don't know very much about it, or how it works. It's really an amazing part of our bodies. While the workings of other body systems have been well known for some time, the complex nature and dynamics of the immune system have been largely a mystery. One of the problems in comprehending immune response is its highly individual nature. It's a personal defense system that comes charging to the rescue at the first sign of an alien force, such as a harmful virus or pathogenic bacteria. Personal immune response shows us that there is so much more to our healing than the latest wonder drug. It shows us that we are the ultimate healer of ourselves.
Most Americans today don't have good immune response to fight off illness. Pollution, drug overload and nutrient-poor diets compromise our immune health even in good weather. So we're already pre-disposed to a life of frequent colds and flu when bad weather rolls in. Stress is a definite culprit in reduced immune response because it affects the production of interferon, your body's natural antiviral agent. People who are under continuous stress from work or their personal lives are 2 and a half times more likely to get a cold or flu infection than other people. You may think you're protected if you've had a flu shot, but think again. Flu shots are only effective for specific flu viruses... you may be exposed to a different one, or even a brand new one (flu viruses mutate rapidly). That means your shot won't be effective. In any case, follow-up studies show flu shots are only effective for 30% of the population.
Drugs aren't the answer for immune enhancement. The immune system is not responsive to drugs for healing. Even doctors admit that most drugs really just stabilize the body, or arrest a harmful organism, to allow the immune system to gather its forces and take over. Each one of us has a unique immune response system. It would be almost impossible to form a drug for each person. Antibiotics used to fight infections actually depress the immune system when used long-term. Long courses of tetracycline and erythromycin are some of the most common and some of the worst for immune health. But natural nutritive forces, like healing foods and herbal medicines can and do support the immune system. They enhance its activity, strengthen it, and provide an environment through cleansing and detoxification for it to work at its best.
I believe the only way to stay healthy during high risk times is to prepare your body for the defenses it's going to need. Even if you've improved your diet, take another look at it because a super nutritious diet is imperative when you're under attack.
What does the immune system really do? Immune defense is autonomic, using its own subconscious memory to establish antigens against harmful pathogens. It's a system that works on its own to fend off or neutralize disease toxins, and set up a healing environment for the body. It is this quality of being a part of us, yet not under our conscious control, that is the great power of immune response. It is also the dilemma of medical scientists as they struggle to get control of a system that is all pervasive and yet, in the end, impossible to completely understand. It is as if God shows us his face in this incredibly complex part of us, where we are allowed to glimpse the ultimate mind-body connection.
Maintaining strong immune defenses in today's world is not easy. Daily exposure to environmental pollutants, the emotional and excessive stresses of modern lifestyles, chemicalized foods, and new virus mutations are all a challenge to our immune systems. Devastating, immune compromised diseases are rising all over the world. Reduced immunity is the main factor in opportunistic diseases, like candida albicans, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, HIV, hepatitis, mononucleosis, herpes II, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer. These diseases have become the epidemic of our time, and most of us don't have very much to fight with. An overload of antibiotics, antacids, immunizations, cortico-steroid drugs, and environmental pollutants eventually affect immune system balance to the point where it cannot distinguish harmful cells from healthy cells.
I see traditional medicine as "heroic" medicine. Largely developed in wartime, its greatest strengths are emergency measures -- the ability to arrest a crisis, destroy or incapacitate pathogenic organisms, reset and re-attach broken body parts, and stabilize the body so it can gather its healing forces. Because drugs work in an attempt to directly kill harmful organisms, it is easy to see that their value would be for emergency measures, and for short term use.
But, three unwanted things often happen with prolonged drug use: 1) Our bodies can build up a tolerance to the drug so that it requires more of it to get the same effect. 2) The drug slowly overwhelms immune response so the body becomes dependent upon it, using it as a crutch instead of doing its own work. 3) The drug misleads our defense system to the point that it doesn't know what to assault, and attacks everything in confusion. This type of over-reaction often happens during an allergy attack, where the immune system may respond to substances that are not really harmful. Most of the time, if we use drugs wisely to stimulate rather than over kill, if we "get out of the way" by keeping our bodies clean and well nourished, the immune system will spend its energies rebuilding instead of fighting, and strengthen us instead of constantly gathering resources to conduct a "rear guard" defense.
The very nature of immune strength means that it must be built from the inside out. The immune system is the body system most sensitive to nutritional deficiencies. Giving your body generous, high quality, natural remedies at the first sign of infection improves your chances of overcoming disease before it takes serious hold. Powerful, immune-enhancing superfoods and herbs can be directed at "early warning" problems to build strength for immune response. Building good immune defenses takes time and commitment, but it is worth it. The inherited immunity and health of you, your children and your grandchildren is laid down by you.
One more thing: Laughter lifts more than your spirits. It also boosts your immune response. Laughter lowers cortisol, an immune suppressor, allowing immunity to function better.
Linda Page, Ph.D., Traditional Naturopath, is an internationally renowned author, educator, and classical herbalist.
Dr. Page is an Adjunct Professor at Clayton College of Natural Health. She is a member of The American Naturopathic Medical Association. The California Naturopathic Association, The American Herbalist Guild The American Botanical Council and The Herb Research Foundation. Author of the best-selling book, Healthy Healing, A Guide to Self Healing for Everyone, now in the 12th edition. Dr. Page owns and formulates Crystal Star Herbal Nutrition supplements.