by Dr. Mikell S. Parsons
We live in a bug filled world. Viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungus. All around us, everywhere. Inside and out of our body. It is a creepy thought, but true. So how is it possible for humans to survive constant interaction with these small little critters?
It is all about how well the immune system works. The immune system has to determine if something is a friend or a foe. Does it need to take care of business or can it leave something alone? There are billions of cells distributed throughout the body that are part of the immune system. The skin provides the first barrier of protection to prevent penetration of “bad guys.” The gastrointestinal system has a plethora of immune cells however, it takes a hit from the toxins ingested from Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs), or foods which include stabilizers, additives, preservatives, and food coloring, that are now considered staples in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Our body has immune cells that circulate via the lymphatic system waiting for the alarm to go off in a compromised area of the body. When the alarm goes off, they are able to reach the location quickly and take care of business.
There are four immune system organs in the body. The first is in the bone marrow, where the immune cells are born. Another area of cell production is the thymus. The thymus is located behind the breast bone and makes specialized cells, which then go to the bone marrow to mature. Third on the list are the lymph nodes, located in the neck, groin, and under the arms. These are the areas that may become swollen when the immune system is working to prevent the bad guys from entering into the blood stream and reaching vital organs. Last but not least is the spleen. The spleen produces some immune cells and it also is responsible for cleaning up the blood.
There are many types of immune cells produced, each with a specialized job. Some tag the bad guys so other immune cells will attack and destroy. You can think of it as the military. Each branch has a different specialty, yet all are meant to defend. These cells are constantly on patrol, searching and communicating with each other when trouble is detected.
These bad guys come in the form of bacteria, yeast and virus. Bacteria are all around us, living in soil, food, air, water, and inside our bodies. Not all are bad, some are critical for intestinal health and many bacteria do not need a human host to thrive.
Viruses are very different. These little guys need to take over the host cells (that would be you and me). They are able to be transmitted in the air (cough or sneeze), or from direct contact (hands, doorknobs etc.), or from the exchange of body fluids (breast feeding, needle sharing, sexual contact). Here is where it gets tricky. Bacteria can be killed with something like an antibiotic, or various herbal remedies, but viruses are immune to antibiotics. It is dependent on the health of the immune system as to how the body will defend against a viral attack. If the body is fighting a virus, a healthy immune system will release free radicals to kill them. Unfortunately, free radicals can also damage healthy tissue which is why you may feel sick. Think of viruses as being very sneaky or as having special mutant powers. They are able to constantly change and evolve into new strains.
Fungus, also known as yeast, can live on and within the body. It has a particular attraction to warm, moist areas. Areas like the intestine, underneath the breast, in the vaginal area or even toenails. The control of yeast is done through the presence of good bacteria. The overuse of antibiotics which wipe out both good and bad bacteria is like inviting that relative to visit that now will not get off of the couch and go home.
How does one keep their immune system running optimally, especially during the flu season? Here are some tips:
1. Eat real food. We should be eating multiple servings of vegetables and fruits, which have micronutrients locked inside them. Guess what is needed to counter act the potential cell damage of the free radicals that the body produces to kill off viruses? Yup! The very things found in the fruits and veggies. At least seven servings of veggies and two servings of fruit per day is recommended. (One cup raw or ½ cup cooked which equals one serving of veggies). Talk to a properly educated nutritionist for more information.
2. Back off of processed sugar. This does not mean avoiding sugar from fruit (the exception is if you are just drinking juice or battling a yeast overgrowth). Processed sugars in the form of sugar laden cereal, cookies, cake, or candy should be avoided – basically all of the foods that are so prevalent during the flu and holiday seasons. Processed sugar actually binds to the fighting white blood cells (part of the immune system) and renders the poor guys inactive to fight the big fight. It will also help you lose weight.
3. Do not cheat on your sleep. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. You short change your body’s ability to fight infection, burn fat, and detoxify when you cut short your repair and maintenance time.
4. Take your supplements, especially if you are already skipping meals or eating food from a box, bag, can, or fast food joint. You can never make up lost opportunities to get in those micronutrients. Supplements could be a critical secret weapon to fuel your immune system and make it battle ready when the time arises. If you are taking a daily (intended to be taken once a day) multi-vitamin, replacing it with a multivitamin which is designed to be taken multiple times a day in addition to adding in some additional supplements (see below). There is no way to get all of the nutrients you need in a tiny synthetic pill you ingest once a day.
5. Beware of alcohol. Yes, many enjoy the taste, but too much will cause dehydration in the body. Even a small shift in hydration makes the brain work harder. It also puts an increased burden on the detoxification system. It makes more work for the body. Think of how well a car runs when there is no more water in the radiator. Your body is much more complicated than your car, so make sure you rehydrate yourself. Be frugal if the fruity sweet alcoholic drinks are your preference, as those calories add up fast.
There are several supplements which should be taken on a daily basis to add to the immune system arsenal. An antioxidant blend which contains Vitamin C, Vitamin E, zinc, bioflavanoids, and probiotics may be beneficial especially if you have taken antibiotics in the past. Berberine is an herb that is considered to be a natural antibiotic. It has been found effective for stomach bugs, colds and flus. It also enhances the natural immune system.
Another popular herbal remedy is Echinacea. It is best used when you are just beginning to feel sick. A popular belief is that it will help prevent or ward off illness so many take it as a preventative measure when they do not feel sick however this practice could actually do more harm than good. Echinacea helps to fight infection by stimulating the immune system to increase a very potent free radical. You do not want to produce high amounts of free radicals all of the time, so this amazing herb should be used only when beginning to feel sick. Another favorite combination is what I refer to as the “magic mushrooms”; Maitake, Reishi and Shiitake mushrooms are all wonderful immune boosters.
We all have an immune system. How well it works is often based upon how well we treat it. Treat it bad, and it will not protect you. When you feed yourself real food, get the proper rest, manage stress and supplement your diet, you have a much higher likelihood of sailing through the cold and flu season feeling amazing.