I thought this was a great topic to cover as we head into our cold and flu season. It’s a huge topic when you address what it is, how it stops working for us, how to boost it etc, but I have tried to cover some of the key points.
The immune system is in evidence all over the body, in the blood, the lymph, the intestines, the bone marrow, tonsils and adenoids. Failure of the immune system can result in everything from a cold to cancer.
Immunity is defined as the ability of the body to fight off invaders usually bacterial or viral and even the ability to fight off the body’s own nasties such as cancer cells (produced daily in their thousands from genetically mutated cells that are not fit for purpose).
Developing a strong immune system is a lifelong process that begins in utero, exposure to germs is essential; we have to be exposed to something to be able to react to it. One of the biggest issues in the modern world is our obsession with a germ free environment, our fear of exposing kids to everyday dirt and germs is weakening their immune systems to such an extent that they are unable to fight off even a basic cold without the assistance of drugs, usually antibiotics.
How Does Your Immune System Work?
You need to think of your immune system as your soldiers within, they are armed and trained and completely ready for action should they be needed. Detection of an invader is of paramount importance and for that we rely on a well functioning nervous system. The response that is then initiated is completely dependent upon the severity of the attack.
Identifying an invader can take the body a few days and its first defence is always to increase body temperature. In many cases this is enough to kill the invader in others it buys enough time to make the correct antibody to attack the invading cells at their core. It takes about four days to detect, identify and create the exact defence for most bacterial and viral invaders. Once a battle against a specific infection has been fought the immunity to that exact bug stays with you for life.
I cannot overstate the importance at the early stage of invasion in letting the body ride out a high temperature. I know it makes you feel horrible, but that helps the body too as it forces you to slow right down and often takes you to your bed and sleep, leaving the body able to get on with internal mechanisms programmed to get you well again. Should you ignore this stage you will almost certainly prolong your illness, weaken your immune system and suffer for longer. Putting a toxic drug into a system that is already struggling should be a last resort and taking medication in an attempt to carry on regardless is a “sticking plaster” on the real issue.
Bacteria and viruses cannot survive at elevated temperatures, that is why our bodies increase our core temperature. We have a maximum temperature that our cells can survive and should we go beyond that range the results can be fatal. Luckily we do have some safety mechanisms for that rising body temperature – often seen in children a febrile convulsion although terrifying to watch is actually protecting the brain cells from temperature damage.
A weakened immune system takes months to rebuild, be patient and don’t expect to be immune to everything even if you do everything right. Be mindful of your own stress load in the three areas of health – your physical, chemical and emotional well-being. Imbalance in any one area can leave you susceptible to illness as your immune response is lowered. Keeping an excellent diet, regular exercise and emotional stability are essential ingredients to a healthy immune system.
Our Secret Agent
Deep within our gut you’ll find your secret agent – your own healthy “good” gut bacteria. Lining every inch of your lower gut wall lay billions of these little helpers. Weighting in at about 1kg of your body weight they represent 75% of your defence systems.
How do we get them?
We develop them through exposure beginning with our own births and we follow that through a childhood of playing in the dirt and eating foods that support a healthy digestive system.
It is easy to see how with sterile births and children kept out of dirt and away from all germs as well as fed inappropriate diets that the gut bacteria and hence our immune system becomes compromised from a very young age.
If by some miracle a modern child does develop a strong effective amount of gut bacteria the first time they are given antibiotics the whole lot is wiped out! That creates the situation of a child with a chronically reduced capacity to fight infections and reliance on antibiotics at every exposure to germs that create illness.
There is an important differential to make here ant that is the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral one. Only a bacterial infection can be helped by an antibiotic.
A simple rule to help you define which invader may be attaching you is viruses tend to affect multiple body sites, throat, nose, chest etc whereas a bacterial infection tends to be single sited i.e. ears.
Foods that Decrease your Immune Response
These are foods that upset the gut bacteria balance or create a stressor within your body chemistry that forces the body into the stress response.
Sugar – high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are the worst.
Processed grains – especially white bread, pasta and rice.
Hydrogenated fats – such as margarine.
Medications – most forms wipe out the gut bacteria and stress the body with their toxins.
Emotional Stress is a very important consideration and often overlooked. The sense of powerlessness to change many factors creates chronic stress levels that force our bodies to release adrenalin and cortisol and prevent our immune systems functioning correctly; we then develop chronic low grade illnesses and leave ourselves open to more serious illness. Learn to minimise your emotional stress – it’ll save your life!
FOODS TO EAT TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Unpasteurized Grass-Fed Organic Milk– Raw organic milk from grass-fed cows contains beneficial bacteria that prime your immune system and can reduce allergies. It is an outstanding source of vitamins, especially vitamin A, zinc, and enzymes. Raw organic milk is not associated with any of the health problems of pasteurised milk such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin rashes, diarrhoea and cramps. Raw milk also contains beneficial fats that will help your immune system. It is however very hard to get hold of and a good alternative is whey protein.
Fermented Foods– If you are serious about boosting your immunity, then adding traditionally fermented foods is essential. One of the most healthful fermented foods is kefir. Kefir is an ancient cultured, enzyme-rich food full of friendly microorganisms that balance your “inner ecosystem” and strengthen immunity. Besides kefir, other good fermented foods include natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt (watch for sugar), and olives.
Raw Organic Eggs from Free-Range Chickens– Not my favourite idea but I’ve put it in as raw eggs are an inexpensive and amazing source of high-quality nutrients that many people are deficient in, especially high-quality protein and fat. Personally I love mine cooked and have never faced a raw egg!
Grass-Fed Beef or Organic Meats– Don’t confuse “organic” with grass-fed, since many organically raised cows are still fed organic corn, which you don’t want. However, most grass-fed cows are raised organically. If you can find organic AND grass-fed, that’s ideal.
Locally Grown Organic Vegetables– When it comes to fighting off pathogens, you simply can’t do any better than eating a variety of fresh, organic and preferably raw vegetables for the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes they contain.
Blueberries and Raspberries– Wild blueberries in particular are potent immune boosters. They contain powerful phytochemicals, such as anthocyanin, which is the pigment that gives blue berries their colour. They are lower in sugar than many other fruits.
Mushrooms– Strengthen your immune system because they are rich in protein, fibre, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and other minerals.
Chlorella – As foods go, chlorella is nearly perfect.
Coconuts and Coconut Oil – cook with this oil as it survives heat well.
Propolis – this is a bee resin and one of the most broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds in the world.
Green Tea and Matcha – Matcha is the most nutrient-rich green tea and comes in the form of a stone-ground powder, completely unfermented. The best Matcha comes from Japan and has up to seventeen times the antioxidants of wild blue berries, and seven times more than dark chocolate.
Herbs and Spice and Everything Nice– Garlic, ginger, turmeric, cloves, oregano, cinnamon, elderflower, yarrow, linden and peppermint.
Omega 3 – no food list would be complete without this, daily for life, no question!
The best immune system boosts ARE GARLIC AND GINGER. It’s a big ask but garlic juiced if you are really poorly works a treat but for a softer more palatable juice add ginger. A little fresh ginger daily in any juice will help provide a boost to immune response and keep the system in tip top shape.
Try apples, carrots, pineapple, ginger and lemon.
After any antibiotic treatment or if you feel your digestive system or immune system are not in tip top shape try a 10-30 day course of a super strength probiotic called VSL/3. Available on-line, then move onto Udo’s Choice Super 8 Hi Potency probiotic, taking one a day for 2 months.
Also dump the yoghurt drinks – they are sugar, dairy and contain very little probiotic. They won’t do you the good they promise and cost a lot.