July/August 2007 Alternative Health
Boost Your Immune System for Wellness and Healing
by Bryan Flournoy
As we age, the immune system picks up the pace on behalf of the body's decline in efficiency. Proper nutrition can have a
profound effect on the immune system when it is battling stress.
Stress can range from environmental to physical to emotional. Pesticide and herbicide residues on food, industrial and automotive emissions and heavy-metal content in public water are just a few environmental hazards that bombard our bodies daily. We are constantly exposed to free radicals from our immediate surroundings and, due to global food importation, other regions as well.
No Free Radicals
Free radicals are unstable electrons created during the process of oxidation. In our bodies, oxidation is a natural process associated with aging and metabolizing foods. However, it also occurs from drinking alcohol, exposure to pollution and radiation, smoking, iron overload and extreme exercise.
During oxidation, a free radical takes an electron from another source in order to become stable. This can result in a
host of problems including the onset of Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, cataracts, arthritis or immune dysfunction. However, antioxidants through diet and supplementation can be a powerful line of defense against the effects of free radicals.
Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E, donate electrons to these scavengers, leaving cellular integrity intact. Antioxidant minerals and the trace metal subgroup do the same by directly transmuting free-radical contaminants into less toxic substances. Phytochemicals are plant-derived antioxidants, including carotenoids in carrots, isoflavones in soy and flavonoids in fruits.
A diet rich in colorful, organic fruits and vegetables (the antioxidants are found in the pigments) allows the protective components to become synthesized within cells so that direct oxidation is prevented. In addition, many minerals and trace metals are also chemical catalysts, maximizing enzyme efficiency, subsequently enhancing the vitality of individual cells throughout.
The emotional stress of daily living can compound and complicate environmental stresses by trapping poisons within the body. Valerian root, passionflower and chamomile help reduce emotional stress. Yoga, meditation and guided imagery also are effective stress reducers.
In addition to treating daily stress to the body, phytochemicals can assist in fighting viral infection. Viruses do not have genetic material for replication. Because of this, they must invade other cells in order to reproduce. They hijack the host cell's DNA and then clone more viruses. Phytochemicals, specifically flavonoids, interrupt this process. Bacteria already have DNA, so they invade tissues to exploit nutritional resources for colony growth. Scientists suggest that flavonoids halt bacterial replication by dismantling its DNA.
In addition, the herb echinacea improves a
cell's efficacy in sharing viral immunity with other cells. Echinacea also prevents certain bacteria from releasing mucus-dissolving enzymes. This benefits cells that line breathing passages, which secrete mucus as a defense barrier. When used in combination with phytochemicals, these natural products may kill bacteria resistant to our most capable antibiotics.
Thick sinus and chest congestion succumb to natural substances in hot foods like chili peppers, radishes and hot mustard. Eyebright, peppermint or nettle tea can also be considered to relieve irritated, congested eyes and sinuses. Zinc oxide, witch hazel and oatmeal baths soothe itchy, irritated skin. For an annoying cough, try licorice or eucalyptus.
Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately, so the naturally occurring good bacteria in the body's digestive system gets wiped out when antibiotics are used. This situation makes overgrowth of other microbes possible and diarrhea can result. Prevent diarrhea and bacterial-yeast infections (secondary to microbial overgrowth) by supplementing with the healthy bacteria found in probiotics and dairy with live-active cultures.
Strong Immune Support
Vitamin A and herbal echinacea stimulate production and function of macrophages that kill common germs, which often go unnoticed. Minerals, such as zinc, become incorporated into hormones, stimulating production of targeted infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes, which appear to have improved cellular memory in identifying the particular microbes they destroy.
All immune cells are protected with outer membranes rich in fatty acids. Although fatty acids are especially vulnerable to oxidation, this is not the case for omega-fatty acids. Dietary supplementation rich in omega-fatty acids ensures that immune cells withstand oxidation.
Antioxidant vitamins and minerals protect immune cells, too. They neutralize free radicals by becoming less harmful free radicals themselves. Through the use of enzymes, trace metals such as selenium neutralize these less harmful free radicals. Also, when diets are wholesome the body stores excess amounts of some antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, a
provitamin that converts to vitamin A when needed.
The immune system gives its best effort, often in ways that go unnoticed until infection occurs. Nurturing and protecting the immune system through holistic measures helps the entire body to function optimally. Be sure to seek out the advice of your medical professional first, and then consider the multitude of ways that you can support your body in times of both sickness and health.
Bryan Flournoy, pharmacist, medical intuitive and metatelepath, promotes the in-person and radio/internet workshop called Making It All Click! Call 419-260-2195 or visit www.making-it-all-click.com.