Lorna Vanderhaeghe, BSc
What causes one person to catch a cold and another to avoid it? Why do serious outbreaks of infectious disease leave some individuals untouched? Why are some people incapacitated by allergies? The answers lie within the most powerful curing m.
What causes one person to catch a cold and another to avoid it? Why do serious outbreaks of infectious disease leave some individuals untouched? Why are some people incapacitated by allergies? The answers lie within the most powerful curing machine hardwired into our body: the immune system.
The body's ability to protect itself from the onslaught of offending viruses, bacteria, fungi and cancer can be enhanced or weakened by a number of factors. We have each experienced the cold that sets in after an extraordinarily stressful event, too many days of celebration and/or unrelenting stress. Years of poor diet, inadequate nutrients, continual stress, negative emotions, lack of exercise and environmental poisons all contribute to the inability of our immune system to properly defend us. Fortunately, the body is wonderfully regenerative and our internal army of immune cells can be enhanced in a matter of weeks simply by improving our nutrition, reducing stress, adding immune-specific nutrients, exercising and seeking emotional well-being.
Defenders Of Our Immune System
Our immune army is a highly specialized front-line defence that identifies, remembers, attacks and destroys disease-causing invaders and abnormal or infected cells. When this internal army is functioning optimally, few viruses, cancer cells, bacteria, fungi or parasites are allowed to set up house and wreak havoc. The immune system is so determined to annihilate invaders that it can sometimes go awry and begin to damage the body itself, as happens in autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Our immune system is made up of an arsenal of different cells, each with a specific duty. Natural killer (NK) cells are often the first cells a virus or bacteria encounters, and if the NK cells are effective, these invaders will never be able to infect healthy cells. NK cells are also our cancer-fighting cells. Macrophages are like "Pac-Man" cells, digesting and destroying offending agents. T-cells are the generals of our immune army: they include helper T-cells and cytotoxic T-cells.
Cytotoxic T-cells fight viruses and bacteria that manage to get past the NK cells and are now inside your cells. Helper T-cells are especially important because they control the secretion of important immune factors, called cytokines, that modulate or balance the immune system and keep it functioning at peak performance.
There are two types of helper T-cells: T-helper-1 and T-helper-2. When these two are in balance, we are healthy. When we are sick with cancer or infectious diseases (such as herpes, hepatitis C, colds and flu, pneumonia and HIV), our T-helper-1 cells are suppressed and unable to release enough of the "good guy" immune factors. When we have allergies, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, or autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes, Crohn's disease or celiac disease, our T-helper-2 cells are overactive and secreting too many of the inflammatory immune factors.
The key to maintaining health is to keep these two types of helper T-cells in balance. The five steps to optimizing immune function focus on enhancing T-helper-1 cells and controlling T-helper-2 cells.
1. Eat foods that heal and eliminate those that harm
Sugar is one food that should come with a warning label stronger than that found on a cigarette package. Sugar inactivates our NK cells. As little as one teaspoon of sugar shuts off NK-cell activity for up to six hours, leaving us vulnerable to invasion. While sugar is toxic to the immune system, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds optimize immunity and should make up the bulk of our diet. Organic foods should be chosen over pesticide-laden foods, free-range eggs and dairy over antibiotic-tainted conventional varieties, and purified water over tap water.
2. Take nutrients that support immune function
Vitamins A, C, E and B complex, reduced L-glutathione, selenium, zinc, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid and sterols and sterolins all have important immune-enhancing properties.
Vitamin A is clearly an immune vitamin. If you are deficient in this vitamin, you will be prone to infections, especially colds and flu. Wounds and stomach ulcers will not heal quickly. Vitamin A helps mucous membranes maintain their structure and keep invaders out, which is especially important for immune cells. It also helps with cell division and enhances T-cell counts. Vitamin A has also been shown to combat hair loss in those undergoing chemotherapy. A dosage of 5,000 IU should be taken daily.
Vitamin C increases levels of the antibody immunoglobin A, which plays an integral role in stopping invaders from entering our digestive tract. Vitamin C also has antiviral, antibacterial and anticancer properties. Supplement with at least 1,000 milligrams per day for optimal immune health.
Vitamin E, along with vitamin C and selenium, increases our resistance to infection and protects us against the damaging effects of stress. It also enhances our T-cell function and the release of the good-guy immune factors, interleukin-2 and gamma interferon. Vitamin E has been found to improve B-cell activity and antibody production. Take 400 IU per day for immune protection.
Vitamin B6 with a B complex is essential for maintaining optimal hormone levels and a healthy immune and nervous system. B6 is required for good thymus gland and T-cell activity and it enhances NK-cell function. Without vitamin B6, the immune system is like an army without weapons, waiting for attackers to descend. B6 should always be taken with a B-vitamin complex. Look for a supplement containing 25 to 50 mg of each B vitamin.
Magnesium is required for more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, and that alone makes it important to the immune system. Magnesium keeps pro-inflammatory immune factors in check, effectively reducing pain and swelling for those with fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis. A minimum of 100 mg per day is needed.
Zinc truly is the most important immune mineral. Zinc increases the size of the thymus gland, the conductor of the immune orchestra. Without a healthy thymus, the immune system is powerless. Zinc has been studied for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. The recommended dose is 15 mg per day. Zinc is one of those nutrients where more is not better. Too much zinc can cause immune suppression, so don't take more than 60 mg per day unless it's under the guidance of your health-care practitioner.
Selenium deficiency may be one of the causes of cancer. It was found that women living in areas with poor selenium levels in the soil had higher per-capita rates of cancer. In Africa, the worst rates of HIV are in areas where soil selenium levels are very low. Selenium is needed to fight off bacteria and viruses, and to ensure our T-cells and NK cells work hard. For cancer prevention, 100 micrograms per day is essential.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has been found to halt tumours and has antibacterial and antiviral properties. By the time we are 50, our CoQ10 levels are half what they were in our twenties. A maintenance dose is 30 mg per day, but more than 320 mg has been used to treat breast cancer with excellent tumour-inhibiting action.
Reduced L-glutathione is my favourite nutrient. No other antioxidant is as important to overall health as glutathione. It is the regenerator of immune cells and the most valuable detoxifying agent. Low levels are associated with viral infections and early death. Optimum levels control insulin, halt inflammatory processes, detoxify alcohol, eliminate carcinogens and keep cholesterol from oxidizing. A protective dose is 50 mg per day.
Lipoic acid, another potent antioxidant, is a more effective detoxifier than vitamin C and vitamin E. It is well researched for the treatment of diabetes, as it improves insulin sensitivity and controls diabetic neuropathies. Studies have shown that lipoic acid is an important vitamin-like nutrient that inhibits the ability of HIV to replicate.
Sterols and sterolins have been researched extensively worldwide for their anticancer, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Professor Patrick Bouic, head of immunology at the University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, has found that sterols and sterolins balance the action of the T-helper-1 and T-helper-2 cells. Within four to six weeks, immune function is normalized and the symptoms of disease begin to disappear. Allergic reactions cease, autoimmune disease goes into remission, cancerous cells shrink and general well-being is observed.
Double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have shown that sterols and sterolins control the negative immune factors interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor (both of which are implicated in autoimmune disease), increase gamma interferon and interleukin-2 (those good-guy immune factors) and increase levels of the hormone DHEA. The body will also make DHEA from plant sterols and sterolins, ensuring we always have adequate DHEA levels. Dr. Bouic has performed human trials using sterols and sterolins on the following diseases with excellent results: HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, HPV-induced cervical cancer, tuberculosis, stress-induced immune suppression, enlarged prostate and rhinitis.
3. Reduce stress to improve immunity
Poor nutrition combined with excess stress causes most disease. When we are exposed to stress, be it emotional, physical, environmental or nutritional, our body sends out the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone then causes two things to happen: our DHEA levels drop and our interleukin-6 levels rise.
DHEA is the most important immune hormone. It is also called the anti-aging hormone. DHEA is negatively affected by cortisol. Interleukin-6 (Il-6) is an inflammatory immune factor that causes inflammation, pain and swelling, and it is known to exacerbate autoimmune and fibromyalgia symptoms. HIV and the herpes virus use Il-6 to replicate themselves. Il-6 also draws calcium from the bone into the blood, causing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
4. Nurture your spiritual well-being
All body systems are intricately connected to the immune system. Research performed at the University of Rochester, New York, has shown that our nervous system directly communicates with our immune system, and therefore, thoughts and emotions affect our immunity. Happiness and feelings of self-worth are paramount to good immune health. Prayer, a positive attitude and spiritual well-being have been proven to enhance T-cell activity, making our internal army more effective.
5. Exercise to enhance immunity
Low to moderate exercise benefits health and enhances immunity. Walking is the most effective immune-maximizing activity, providing movement for the body while clearing the mind. Boost the intensity and duration of an exercise routine, however, and too much of a good thing can be bad. The moral is "all things in moderation." Exercise moderately at least three times a week for one hour and ensure you add the nutritional supplements recommended above to protect your immune system. Walk, walk, walk!
The body has remarkable regenerative abilities. We only have to give it the tools it needs to repair itself. Stress reduction, good nutrition and regular exercise will help your immune system do its job of fighting off bacteria, viruses, parasites and more.