The Immune System

The immune system is the "guardian" of our health. It is an amazing constellation of responses to attack on the body by unwanted viruses, bacteria and free radicals (pathogens).

This defense system works initially by preventing the pathogens from entering the body in the first place:

  1. - the skin produces sebum and sweat which help repel pathogens.
  2. - mucous membranes, such as the nostrils, produce mucous to block them, and the mouth has saliva to flush out foreign bodies.
  3. - the gastric juices in the stomach not only aid the digestive process, but also kill many unwanted viruses and bacteria.

However, many pathogens still manage to get past these natural barriers and enter the blood stream. From here it is up to the defence proteins in the blood and lymph (lymphocytes and phagocytes) to recognise, kill and remove the pathogens. We are sometimes very aware of this inflammatory response going on, with our body showing symptoms like swelling and heat around an open sore, or pain and fever with a flu.

Once the phagocytes have been killed and ingested, the body heals.

Another very important thing that happens during this process is that the defence proteins become able to recognize the pathogen (which can be also called an antigen). The specific protein formed to recognize this antigen, is called an antibody. The moment we have an antibody to protect against an antigen we have immunity. This is why many of the childhood diseases like chicken pox only affect us once, because when the chicken pox pathogen invades our body a second time, the chicken pox antibodies recognise it immediately and are able to destroy it before it has time to make us ill. Colds and flu however, are caused by viruses which are able to mutate (change) rapidly, so when they invade us a second time, the antibodies DO NOT recognize them. This explains why we can get colds several times a year.

This defense system is remarkably effective most of the time, but we may want to boost or support our immune system especially if we are stressed, tired, or preparing for the winter colds and flu. There is a huge selection of vitamins, minerals and herbs that can be used to help us do this:

Vitamins and minerals support immune function on all levels. Especially important is vitamin C. It is a very good antioxidant, boosts the whole immune system, as well as reducing the symptoms of colds and flu. To do this, it should be supplemented in the buffered (neutrilised) form up to 1000-2000mg daily.

Zinc is a mineral that can be used to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms if begun within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Echinacea is a herb that is immune stimulating and can be supplemented either by tablets (2 daily), or drops (even better): 15 drops daily.

Probiotics: these are 'friendly' bacteria that keep the digestive tract in good health. Whilst they appear to have a beneficial effect on digestion, absorption of nutrients, and excessive gas, recent studies show that 70% of the immune system is in the gut, so keeping the bacteria healthy here is vital.

Garlic is antibacterial and antiviral, as well as supporting the immune system on all levels.

Elderberry extract is anti viral and helps to thin mucous, whilst propolis is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-oxidant and antifungal.

An annual flu vaccine is highly recommended. These vaccines are made each year specifically to target the latest flu viruses. Especially important to remember are elderly and sick people.

Gillian Watson

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