Learning to Love the Immune System
We’ve all heard our entire lives that we need to boost our immune system. That’s all fine and dandy but I’m sure when many of us look deep into our knowledge, do we know any more than just taking Vitamin C and drinking some orange juice? What do we really know about the immune system? Hopefully I can help you out.
This is a topic particularly important to me right now because of a recent decision I’ve made in my own life. In April, I will accompany my pastor to Zambia, where we will be offering our assistance to some missionaries. This will be my first trip of that magnitude so there’s a lot of excitement going on even as I write this. However, the immune system plays a huge role in my readiness for this trip. I will not be receiving any immunizations so strengthening the system myself in these few months prior will be key to my overall health on the journey.
The immune system itself is a complex series of cells and responses but fairly simple when you break it down. When a pathogen, any harmful bacteria or fungi or pollutant or etc., initially enters the body, it’s our innate immune system that responds first to this attack. It’s purpose is to make the first contact with these pathogens and release a chemical that will try to stop the spread of the harmful cells. It almost always results in inflammation which is why we typically have a sore throat or something like that when we have a cold.
More importantly though, this same chemical attracts the white blood cells. These are the cells that are going to come save the day. We call that the adaptive immune system. White blood cells are the lifeblood of a healthy body as they maintain and attempt to destroy any threat against it. They are made in the thymus, spleen, and bone marrow and are stored away for use in the lymph nodes. So you can see it’s obviously important to keep organs like the spleen healthy. If you deal with something like chronically swollen lymph nodes, it’s a sign that the white blood cells aren’t getting where they need to be and are storing up instead of releasing. Or even worse, something is directly targeting your lymphatic system which, of course, is not good seeing as how your disease fighting cells are there.
The lymphatic system is a series of vessels that act as the circulation for the immune system. It carries fluid that contains the lymphocytes, the white blood cells that are going to destroy the pathogens. So you can see there’s a basic need for proper functioning of this system as it will affect your body’s ability to fight disease. Exercise is one of the best ways to keep the lymph nodes working properly and pumping fluid like it should be.
So let’s talk about what to avoid and what to use to boost the immune system. Sugar and caffeine are examples of things that suppress the body’s natural immune abilities. Caffeine taken in excess has been found to raise cortisol levels which in turn greatly inhibits the immune system. Even just a slight increase in the cortisol level and your immune system can be at risk for as much as 18 hours. Stress is another thing that will cause those levels to rise, so there’s no coincidence that we get sick at all the wrong times. It’s typically when a lot is going on in our lives and we’re feeling more stressed out.
Antibiotics are another thing you should be wary of when considering taking them. Unfortunately, antibiotics live up to their name. They kill bacteria. When it’s in your system, it doesn’t discern the good from the bad. So you may be destroying harmful bacteria but you’re also losing many good bacteria found in the stomach and intestines that we need for proper functioning. Also, excessive antibiotic use for a prolonged time can lead to “super bugs” such as MRSA. These bugs have developed their own immunity to antibiotics and are resistant so they’ve caused many outbreaks among hospitals, nursing homes,and even schools.
Let’s talk about how to actually strengthen you. As I said previously, Vitamin C is obviously a must. Be careful of what you get though. Make sure it’s extracted from whole food sources (it may be labeled as ascorbic acid). Drinking water is also a big part of staying healthy. Not just “liquids”, you have to be drinking water. A good place to start is drinking half of your body weight in ounces. For instance, I weigh around 180 so I should be drinking 90 ounces per day. Add 20 oz. to that if you’re sick.
Maintaining a proper zinc level is also a big part in staying healthy. It’s vital that you do because it’s directly involved in antibody production. So essentially less zinc = less white blood cells.
Elenolic acid….it’s ok to ask what it is, I didn’t know before I researched it either. It’s hard to find this in foods (unless you happen to be eating lots of olive leafs). One study by a pharmaceutical company found that this acid fights every known virus! That’s pretty incredible.
Hopefully this gives you a little more information on how important it is to keep your immune system up and running. We should be very thankful for a Creator who gave us all the tools right here on earth. It’s just up to us on whether or not we want to respect that.