If you have ever had a fever, or red and itchy skin after an insect bite, a wound with pus, or swollen glands in your throat: congratulations. These are indicators of an immune system hard at work quelling invaders.

It is the immune system’s job to protect the body from threatening antagonists. These include the body’s own damaged – perhaps cancerous – cells and four varieties of pathogens. One classification is bacteria. These are self-sufficient and increase by subdivision; a process that produces toxins and leaves us feeling ill. Historically, bacterial infections were a leading cause of death until the crucial role of hygiene was understood, and later the development of antibiotics in 1928. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and cannot be treated by antibiotics. They take over host cells for their main mission of massive reproduction.

Fungi make up one of the largest families of living organisms on the planet. These include mushrooms, moulds and yeasts. Some are beneficial (penicillin is derived from a mould) and even tasty such as blue cheese. Others including the yeast candida usually live unassertively in the human intestine, but under the right conditions can excessively populate and weaken its host. Parasites are organisms of the animal kingdom that can forage for nourishment at the expense of their hosts. These include worms, giardia, and the infectious transmissions made by mosquitoes, ticks, lice and fleas.

An illustrative example of the voracious power of pathogens is what happens to a dead human body. Within hours – without the protection of the immune system – a corpse is invaded by a multitude of bacteria and fungi. Depending on conditions, within weeks these organisms leave only the skeleton behind.

This intense activity provides a needed and efficient global sanitation service. To a living body however, these organisms can cause infection, which means entry and multiplication. If there is a strong enough immune system though, then the next stage can be prevented: disease. This is when cells become damaged and symptoms appear. There are three extensive lines of defence. The first barrier level includes the oily antiseptic of sweat on Skin (see article in my website TIPS section); antiseptic tears that bathe eyes; prohibitive mucous and enzymes in saliva; more mucous and fine hairs that line respiratory and Digestive tracts for entrapment and propulsion elsewhere; and numerous chemical barriers – particularly the caustic hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach.

If invaders manage to penetrate further they trigger the next phase of immune response. Tissue may become inflamed as white blood cells (WBCs) called phagocytes seek to isolate, engulf and destroy invaders. If necessary a third line of action enlists other WBCs – lymphocytes – to release powerful assault experts or antibodies. Millions of these swim alertly throughout your interior looking for antigens: pathogens, tumour cells or otherwise toxic particles. Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that use their tips to bind to antigens and destroy them. They signal to complement proteins produced by the Liver to assist with attack and removal of debris. Efficient liver function is also essential for the body’s detoxification overall and for transforming the nutrients in our foods to life sustaining building blocks and energy.

Maximising Traffic Flow

Even more extensive then the vascular or blood system is its close partner the lymphatic system. This is also the supreme motorway for the immune system’s circulation of surveillance and military personnel, dead foes it wishes to eliminate, and the nutrient helpers to carry out the entire campaign. While the vascular system has the heart as a pump, the lymphatic system substantially relies on the pumping action of muscles to move its fluid contents. Lymphatic vessels are found in every organ except the brain. Specialised lymphatic organs and sites include the tonsils, thymus, spleen and bone marrow, which are involved in the production or deployment of infection-fighting WBCs.

These have numerous categories and subgroups. Eosinophils and basophils secrete inflammatory compounds such as histamine. This is a mechanism for destroying antigens but when over used it can encourage chronic allergic and inflamed reactions. Lymphocytes include T cells of several types to promote or suppress WBC function (a poor ratio between them is evident in chronic fatigue syndrome, and Autoimmune Disorders such as lupus, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis; TIPS: Aches); B cells that produce antibodies (which can become hyper-reactive and attack host tissue as in autoimmune disorders); and NK or natural killer cells (low with chronic viral infections and cancer). T cells, produced by the thymus gland, are responsible for cell-mediated immunity: mechanisms not controlled or mediated by antibodies. Cell-mediated immunity is crucial to resisting all pathogens and thus conditions such as candidiasis, herpes, glandular fever and hepatitis.

One of the greatest challenges presented to the immune system is the food you eat. About 80% of your immunity security forces are therefore positioned along the GUT. Pathogens or contaminants may be attached to foods; a Protein, starch or other fraction may be poorly digested, cross the intestinal barrier and cause an inflammatory response there or at a distant site; or a food molecule may – for inherited reasons or due to excessive use and poor nutrient levels – act as an antigen. A food antigen will become bound to a specialised allergic antibody known as an immunoglobulin or Ig. These can be recognized by tests including saliva, blood and hair (TIPS: Why You May be Allergic to the 20th Century).

A conventional medical test for environmental allergens (pollen or dust mites for example) and food allergens has been a skin scratch test. However this is best at detecting the presence of one type of immunoglobulin. This type, IgE, is primarily evident with allergies that involve immediate reactions. An example is when a person’s face or throat swells each time peanuts or shellfish are eaten. It is not a good register of the other four major families – IgA, IgG, IgD and IgM – which can be implicated with delayed or cyclical reactions. In these cases someone can eat a food that the body considers a threat, and then one to three days later experience worsened eczema, hay fever, digestive problems, or headaches. A tissue analysis test (obtain one through this office) is ideal for determining these masked reactions.

Protecting the Intestinal Barricade

Personally observing a connection between intake and delayed consequences is not easy, especially if the food is consumed regularly. A reaction may be experienced or intensified only with the addition of stress, menses or other health challenges. Stress – whether psychological, pathogenic, or from an adversarial food – draws heavily upon nutrient and glandular resources and decreases IgA levels. IgA is a preeminent protector of the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract – the critical barricade against the entry of food antigens. When IgA is low, then the absorption of destructive antigens and pathogens increases explosively.

Increased intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’ can be the initiating environment for irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, hay fever, asthma, all pathogenic infections, auto-immune disorders, cancer, neurological problems (such as depression and anxiety), skin, skeletal and muscular problems (psoriasis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and others; TIPS: Aches). States of chronic inflammation are also being viewed by medical science as linked with obesity and Type 2 diabetes (here gut toxins induce insulin resistance and thus poor glucose use, fatigue and easy Weight gain-TIPS), and cardiovascular disease (the presence of cytokines and especially another inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein, are high risk indicators for stroke, blood clots and heart disease). See TIPS: Inflammation.

While health problems can have shared precipitating points, so can health solutions. A new branch of science – pyschoneuroimmunology – explores one of these central and configuring relationships. Hormones (TIPS) from the immune, nervous and endocrine systems swiftly communicate their readout on the body’s operational status to the brain, just as it relays important messages back. The process is one of acute and respectful dialogue and interdependence, rather than one system issuing orders to subservient inferiors.

The data used to determine the nature of these messages – whether it will be stimulating or calmative for instance – includes that generated internally and externally. What you choose to eat, your pervasive attitudes and feelings, and the consistent pattern of response to the world around you, all have chemical consequences. Stressful reactions decrease the number of our vigilant NK cells and diminish protective IgA levels. In contrast both these indicators increase with positive emotional states and social interactions, with humour, relaxation and simple contentment.

Just as it takes a cluster of factors to promote disease, gradual adoption of health supportive practices and attitudes can tip the scale toward renewal and vigour.

How to Promote Healthy Immunity

  1. Assist Gastrointestinal Health

· Diagnose and deal with food sensitivities. Consume no more than once per week; completely avoid when ill or stressed. Rotate use of diverse, wholesome, minimally processed plant (vegetable, fruit, legume, grain, nut, seed) and animal (egg, fish, seafood, meat, organic dairy) foods. Contact this office for a specialised lab test.

  • Relax before and during dining. Eat mindfully and rewardingly by following 3 Fine Dining Guidelines: 1) Decide what to eat and how much before entering kitchen/café/party; 2) Only eat food from a plate; 3) Only eat seated at a table. Chew thoroughly, eat slowly to generate sufficient digestive juices in mouth and stomach. Have 6-8 glasses water/herb tea daily to help produce the 9 litres of mucous and other digestive fluids required each day (do not drink with meals as beverages can dilute their efficiency).

    Sufficient B vitamins are crucial to produce HCL. One Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in water before the main meal can help stimulate HCL production, as can other sour foods (vinegar, pickled foods – such as ginger, kimchi, sauerkraut – pomegranate molasses, tamarind pulp, yoghurt – get a lab test for yeast family tolerance first though), as well as bitter foods (small lettuce greens, many herbs). Eat a few mouthfuls of these foods first – such as starting with salad and vinaigrette – before the rest of the meal. Consider 1 month only of supplemental HCL or pancreatic enzymes (consume too often and self-production can become lazy). With upper gastric problems (eg reflux, burping; see Inflammation) have 1 tsp Chlorofresh in water daily – this can also enhance mineral absorption.
  • Ensure efficient liver function. Every 15 minutes the liver scrutinizes every drop of blood to remove impurities. The liver discharges these – cellular wastes and toxins, downgraded hormones, excess LDL cholesterol, and heavy metals – via bile injected into the start of the small intestine when food leaves the stomach. However this must be mixed with soluble fibre to be eliminated – otherwise that debris can be reabsorbed. Include top sources at 2 meals daily (linseed, slippery elm, psyllium, rice bran, prunes, figs, mango, oat bran, legumes, seaweed, mushrooms, apple). Most of these are best cooked to maximise the soluble fibre benefits (see Linseed Cereal recipe in The Shape Diet).

    Bile is excreted by the liver’s storage sack: the gall bladder. To prevent both organs being impaired by over or under-stimulation, avoid very high or very low fat meals and skipping meals, especially breakfast. Drink sufficient high quality fluids, especially purified water to help the Kidneys (TIPS), bowel and skin share elimination tasks. Ensure a daily intake of B vitamins (from savoury/nutritional yeast, seeds, peanuts, wholegrains) to support the liver and all digestive function. B6, B12 and folic acid also help protect DNA from damage. Minimise the liver workload engendered by poor quality fats (see point #3); any unnecessary Medications; MSG artificial sweeteners and other artificial additives in foods; excess Alcohol, sugars, highly refined and other rapidly burned carbohydrates.
  • Achieve bowel elimination one to three times daily that is easy, thorough, but not urgent, neither loose nor hard and dry, mild smelling, easy to flush and without undigested or mucous remains (see TIPS for DIGESTION: The Crime Scene Investigation of Bowel Function). This requires regular rhythms of Sleep (TIPS), dining, relaxation and exercise; ample soluble and insoluble fibre (the latter is primarily in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains; while legumes, nuts, seeds have both types); sufficient good quality fluids; and food selection that takes into account any sensitivities and your basic metabolic body type (see the questionnaire in The Shape Diet). Take a probiotic supplement daily for at least one month; repeat annually, when traveling, and after a course of antibiotics.

    2) Maximise Immune System Support

· Exercise daily to encourage removal of debris by the pumping action of muscles. A mini trampoline or vibration plate is especially beneficial. Use massage, and consider saunas (unless easily overheated) for both lymphatic assistance and stress management. Remember “2 every 20”: after each 20 minutes of sitting be sure to move and stretch for 2 minutes.

  • Minimise exposure to pathogens. Wash hands thoroughly before touching eyes, nose, mouth, open wounds, preparing or eating food. Lower toilet lid before flushing or millions of droplets cover nearby towels etc. Keep toothbrushes inside a cabinet. Each night thoroughly clean in boiling water the average household’s most bacterially populated item: the damp dishcloth. Be monogamous with your ‘spit’ and do not share drink containers, toothbrushes etc. Floss daily: the mouth is a major point for pathogenic entry and multiplication. Brush teeth twice daily with natural toothpaste – wait until 30 minutes or more after eating as saliva is then mineral-rich to protect teeth and maintain acid-alkaline balance. If near someone infectious then avoid sneezes, coughs, sharing towels etc.
  • Minimise exposure to toxicity. Discourage cell vandalising free radicals; limit: exposure and inhalation (excess sun; x-rays; chemical fumes from cigarettes – one of the densest sources; standard cleaning agents – eg use EcoStore Products); topical application (most hair and skin products – read all labels and use Living Nature, Antipodes, Trilogy, Dr Hauschka, EcoStore and other qualifying brands – for list see TIPS for CHEMICALS: Would You Eat Your Skin Care and Cleaning Products?); internal free radical production (worst food contributor is poor quality fats – see point #3; also preservatives; food cooked in microwaves; and over heated, cross linked proteins such as in over-barbequed or otherwise darkly browned meat, milks with added milk powder – these include low fat or added calcium types: TIPS: Modern Milk); excessive exercise – in most health regards too much of something is as bad as too little.
  • Limit the use of added sugars (all granulated sugars, syrups, concentrated fruit juice, even honey) and the highly refined carbohydrates that break down rapidly into sugar (white flour products, and even finely milled wholegrain products – such as brown bread with one uniform texture). Not only does this create the preferred food and environment for many pathogens, regular intake is also detrimental to the lymphatic system and intestinal barricade due to the effect on WBC activity. When about 100 grams of refined Sugar is consumed (NZ daily average 180 grams), the ability of the WBCs to destroy invaders has been observed to reduce up to 50%. This effect can last for hours. The greater the sugar intake, the greater the impact.

    Aim for no more than once per week of a high added-sugar food such as dessert.  Read labels; snack on savoury more than sweet. To appropriately cater to the natural desire for sweet tastes include high nutrient sources in a meal such as fresh fruit in a salad, dried fruit in rice dishes or stews. Contrast with vinegar or other sour taste such as in dressing or sauce to excite as many as possible of the 5 taste receptors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami/savoury. This encourages full mouth satisfaction and fewer cravings due to unmet urges.

    3) Minimise Oxidants and Maximise Antioxidants
    •  Avoid oxidised fats that damage cells and increase inflammation common to most disease. Purchase only cold-pressed or extra virgin oils (avoid highly processed oils such as rice bran oil, canola and most supermarket oils and pre-prepared food); cook with oxidation resistant fats such as monounsaturates (olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil) or occasional saturates (coconut fat, clarified butter/ghee, organic lard, Better Butter – see my website for recipe, and TIPS for The Fats of Life); do not heat fats until visibly shimmering or smoking; cook over as low a heat as possible or use alternative methods such as baking, steaming or simmering instead of frying.

      Use oxidation-sensitive Omega 6 and 3 fat sources (tahini, sesame or flaxseed oil) raw in dressings or in whole food form (pumpkin kernels, linseed, fish, tofu: TIPS: Soyburban Myths) and do not use these extracted food oils (eg soybean oil) for frying; read labels and do not purchase foods with hydrogenated fat (often ‘vegetable oil’ on labels) or TFAs (both the result of high heat and chemical processing); or highly processed ‘esterified’ oils such as in ‘heart healthy’ table spreads. Discard any rancid, stale or bitter tasting oils, nuts or seeds, or products prepared with them.
  •  Prevent and limit the damage from excessive free radicals by eating a minimum of 5 servings daily (roughly a handful each) of vegetables and fruit, both cooked and raw. Eat 5 colours of these daily to ensure a broad spectrum of thousands of antioxidants and other supportive phytochemicals. Eat RED (tomato, radish, beetroot, chilli, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, apple etc). Eat GREEN (spinach, broccoli, Asian greens, cabbage, peas, fresh herbs, kiwifruit etc). Eat YELLOW/ORANGE (pumpkin, kumara, carrot, swede, corn, peach, melon, apricot etc). Eat BLUE/BLACK/PURPLE (eggplant, capsicum, radicchio, Maori potato, plums, blueberries, raisins, prunes etc). Eat WHITE/TAN/BROWN (mushrooms, onion, cauliflower, parsnip, turnip, garlic, ginger, pear etc).

    Include some high quality fat to assist with antioxidant absorption. Newer research on the gut microbiome recommends eating a minimum of 25 different plant foods daily from all 4 plant groups if tolerated (fruit and veg – includes herbs and spices; legumes; nuts and seeds; wholegrains). For top gut health aim for 50-75 types.
  • Consider antioxidants and other supplements. Remember that in excess some nutrients can become pro-oxidants, so keep doses low to moderate. Potentially useful are flavonoids, carotenoids, glucosinolates, phenolics and other phytochemicals; vitamin C; vitamin E; the minerals Zinc (TIPS), selenium, sulphur compounds; glutathione, CoQ10 and alpha-lipoic acid. In excess, iron is a pro-oxidant and can encourage infection (excess iron storage is relatively common among middle-aged men and women after menopause).

    Vitamin E and selenium are particularly important for dealing with the oxidation, free radical damage and liver impairment that excess iron encourages. Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium (TIPS) are critical for managing nerves and muscles and thus digestion, stress, and moods. B vitamins, and Omega 3 (particularly anti-inflammatory) support digestion, liver, Brain function (TIPS). Have needs professionally assessed.

    4) Manage Life Challenges Holistically

 · Enjoy foods and activities that satisfy with a full spectrum of pleasure: immediate sensual gratification and the long-term mastery and positives of good health. If food and drink intake can be compulsive employ the 4 Ds: 1) Delay; 2) Deep breathe; 3) Drink Water; 4) Do something else. Engage in simple, non-food related pleasures. Time in nature helps reorient us to what ‘natural’ actually is. Lie in the grass or by a wood fire, luxuriate in a scented bath, have a solo or shared foot rub, listen to inspirational music or tapes, take a walk in a park or along a beach, join a book club, yoga, Tai Chi, or dream analysis classes. Do volunteer work for a worthy cause. At least weekly, do something generous and of a style outside your norm for yourself, a loved one or a stranger. Live consciously and appreciatively.

  •  Each day women should enjoy a ‘Me Break’; men a ‘Power Recharge’. This means setting aside 10 minutes or more for quiet, solitary, agenda-less being. If preferred this can be done during simple, solo exercise such as walking, cycling or running. At first you might play old tape loops that focus on the past or future. Patiently and without fuss return mind and heart to being calmly aware of the simplicity and fullness of the moment. This will improve with practice and help you to become familiar with the relaxed yet poised, wise center of being.

    Note the nature of your breathing, posture and any associated sensations while in this state. At other times when you start to feel stressed or out of balance, instead of trying to change your thoughts or emotions directly, just pause and adopt the breathing and posture factors associated with being in balance. This can bypass deeply imprinted mental and emotional objections and swiftly return you to a place of reason and intuitive power (see The Shape Diet: Successful Psychological Strategies).

    Here too is a beautiful, simple 7 minute guided meditation.
  • Some books which offer assistance in aligning with that wise core, and how to put aside self-sabotaging imprints and urges: Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky; The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle; Ageless Body, Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra; Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can by Caroline Myss; Choosing Happiness by Stephanie Dowrick; Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza; The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner; A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber.

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