Our immune system - do we really know what it is?

I have to admit, I had to deal with the flu and colds more times this year than I thought necessary. In my search of more natural ways to alleviate the symptoms,and help my family get over the pains and aches of being sick, I often will come across things like "immune booster", "it strengthens the immune system", "improves immune function". I started wondering, do we really know what this means? Where is that magical part of our body that can keep us healthy and how does it work? I started asking questions and doing some research. It turns out there is as many opinions out there as experts. Still, they had a few things in common , which I want to share with you and which opened my eyes to a different approach towards what "being sick" really is.
                       image by medicalcenter.osu.

 By definition the main purpose of the immune system is to keep any infectious microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, out of the body or to destroy them if they manage to invade the body. It is comprised of organs called lymphoid organs, which affect growth, development , and the release of lymphocytes ( a type of white blood cells). The picture above shows the organs that roughly comprise the immune system. I really want you to look at it . Did you notice it includes the tonsils, the appendix and the bone marrow? The first two are often deemed unnecessary by modern science and the last one is often forgotten until something goes wrong. But know this, all the cells in the body are formed in the bone marrow and initially they are all the same. The way they mature turns them into the building blocks of you immune system. Some cells move to the thymus and become T-cells. Some cells stay in the bone marrow and mature to become B-cells. T and B cells are the two major groups of lymphocytes which recognize and attack infectious microorganisms. Once mature some lymphocytes stay in the lymphoid organs, while others travel continuously throughout the lymphatic vessels and the bloodstream.
 I am not going to follow every detail of how this complex system of cells work in our bodies. It is not my point. The details I gave above were to prove one thing - the immune system is a whole body experience. Which means we have to keep our bodies whole in order to protect them . Think twice when your doctor tells you that you don't need your tonsils and all those times that you got sick were because this is you week spot. The opposite is true. You were getting sick because the immune response was strong and your body was doing its job. Your skin, your tonsils, your sinuses - those are the first line of defense. We often mistake the symptoms they cause for the disease. The fever, the sinus problems, the aches and pains - it all signifies your body is fighting to make itself better.
 But wait, some of you might say, we've heard that majority of the immune system is in the gut. And you will be right to believe this. It is a whole body experience, remember? The bacteria in your gut determines what nutrients are absorbed by your body , and what toxins or allergens are kept out.There are 500 species which comprise roughly 3 pounds of bacteria in our gut. They help us digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that nourish the body and keep it healthy. An imbalance in the digestive system can cause an imbalance in the whole body.If you are not properly nourished and your body can not absorb the nutrients it needs, all those lymphatic organs will be flooded with toxins and not be able to do their jobs.
 According to Dr. Mark Hyman here are a few things that might cause imbalances in our gut, and respectively imbalances that affect our whole bodies and how our immune system works:
  • Our low- fiber, high- sugar, processed, nutrient-poor, high calorie diet, which causes all the wrong bacteria and yeast to grow in our gut and damages the delicate ecosystem in our intestines.
  • Overuse of medications that damage the gut or block normal digestive function - things like acid blockers ( Prilosec, Nexium, etc.), anti - inflammatory medication ( aspirin, Advil, and Aleve), and overuse of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones.
  • Undetected gluten intolerance, celiac desease, or low grade food allergies to foods such as dairy, eggs, and corn.
  • Chronic low-grade infections or gut imbalances with overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, yeast overgrowth, parasites, or even more serious gut infection. 
  • Lack of adequate digestive enzyme function, which can come from acid blocking medication use, or zinc deficiency.
  • Stress, which can alter the gut nervous system, cause a leaky gut, and change the normal bacteria in the gut.
So, now that we have this basic information, a question comes to mind: how do we make all this better? And the answer is simple: you actually do not need to spend a lot of money on well advertised products that claim to " boost your immune system". The first and most important thing you need to do is cleanse and nourish the body. A lot of people are afraid of the word "cleanse" thinking that it involves starving oneself for a period of time. And some people definitely do that but it does not have to be the only way. I cleanse my body with proper food and herbs. Eat more produce and give up allergen foods such as dairy , gluten, eggs, and meats. In other words bring more easily absorbed nutrients in you diet so your body can focus on detoxing and not on digesting. With the help of herbs such as ginger, dandelion, red clover, we can enhance the process of eliminating toxins from our organs and blood. There are plenty of herbal cleanses available out there and they will all do the job since the main part of your cleansing process will be proper nutrition. Do a cleanse once or twice a year and after awhile your body will tell you when it needs it.
 The second and most important part of your immune support should be proper nutrition. This requires long term commitment and is the only path to a disease free life. Whether you choose to be a raw foodie or eat a traditional diet, it is important to always choose you ingredients well. Make sure your food is as close to its natural state as possible, choose dairy with no growth hormones in it, choose pasture fed meats and butter. All those things are getting more and more accessible due to a higher demand. Even your regular grocery store can provide a wide variety of healthy, nutrient dense foods.
 A clean healthy body will work the way it is intended. You might not even know that your immune system is working since most of the time it deals with invaders so fast that it does not trigger any symptoms to tell us that it is fighting something off.
 So next time you see an offer for an immune support "miracle pill" please keep walking towards the produce department. Food is the best preventive medicine that we have. If you let your guard down, and a few symptoms of a cold or flu decide to show up, do not be alarmed. The foundation you've build through cleansing and nourishing your body is your best support. And , of course, there are always friendly plants that will help you restore your health faster. But I will leave that for another post.
 And just remember : "Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food" ( Hippocrates)

What ways do you have of staying healthy and vibrant?