Tune Your Immune
It is estimated that a single sneeze can contain up to 40,000 droplets, some traveling at over 100 miles per hour, covering a distance of twelve feet or more. Think of that the next time you’re in an elevator and someone who is obviously sick sneezes. When such an event occurs, you wait and you worry and you wonder—am I going to get that, whatever it was? Answer: Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on whether or not you have a well-functioning immune system. The human immune system is awesome, a work of Divine art. When healthy, our immune system is more efficient than the best trained army at eliminating invaders.
When unhealthy, we are definitely at risk. This intricate system has numerous parts:
• Skin and mucous membranes: Unless there is a cut, scrape, or wound invaders cannot gain access through our skin. Other possible entry points of course are the nose, mouth, and other body orifices.
• Lymphatic vessels: This is the circulatory system for the immune system. Should an invader gain entrance, there is a quick, aggressive attack.
• White blood cells: There are many types of white blood cells that have specialized and critically important functions. For instance the T-lymphocytes race around and turn on and off various functions. The B-lymphocytes manufacture antibodies and the larger phagocytes clean up debris. The killer cells are on a search and destroy mission and move quickly to the invasion site.
• Additional parts of the immune system include the tonsils, adenoids, thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, appendix, and certain areas of the bone marrow. The process of aging may bring a gradual decline in the ability of our immune system to do its job, especially to fight off infections. Our bodies constantly react with oxygen and molecules are produced known as free radicals. Free radicals combine with other molecules in our cells and this can cause oxidative damage to proteins, membranes, and genes. When T cells are altered they can set up an inflammatory response, which can lead to many age-related diseases such as arthrosclerosis, dementia, osteoporosis, and tumors. Many studies warn that chronic stress can decrease immunity and bring on illness or even begin a disease process. Prolonged and extreme grief depresses T cells. Stress hormones are delivered to the lymph nodes and the spleen as well as other locations around the body. But science is constantly looking for cures, and innovative treatments are proving successful.
Boosting our immune systems will never be accomplished by simply swallowing a magic pill or potion. I believe that God created the immune system as a complex and miraculous system composed of many parts, which when functioning properly, allows us to age well, but there are ways to support this naturally. For example, moderate exercise boosts immunity. But overdoing exercise can depress the immune system: high-intensity or prolonged endurance exercise increases oxidative stress and steps up the output of two so-called stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, both of which can depress various components of the immune system. This is why Olympians and other high level athletes must take supplements designed to offset the results of extreme levels of exertion on their body. Interestingly enough, fruits and vegetables (or concentrates that contain them) have been very effective in combating exercise-induced oxidative stress, though vitamins in isolations or multivitamins have not been shown to have much effect.*
Additionally, there is increasing evidence that practicing your faith can also improve your immune responses. Researchers are investigating the effects of prayer and meditation on the vagus nerve’s role in calming down a high-level inflammatory response.
Fortunately, we do not have to wait until we get ill to see if our immune system is functioning properly. Several blood tests can be performed, including the C-reactive protein test, to measure the health of our system. Many physicians are now suggesting this as part of a yearly check up. Also the number of colds we get a year will give us an idea of how well our army within is functioning. The size and number of lymph glands we are able to see or feel can indicate how well our body is disposing of foreign substances. An excess or enlargement of glands may indicate sub-par performance. If you are noticing delayed healing with little cuts or scrapes, check it out with your doctor. Your immune system may need a tune up.
*For more on this option visit: www.health-wise.us. This article is based on a chapter in the January 2012 book: The A to Z Guide to Healthier Living, by David B. Biebel, DMin; James E. Dill, MD; and, Bobbie Dill, RN.
- Written by James E. Dill, MD