Prevention: How to Boost Our Immune System
Another area of dramatic contrast between natural medicine and orthodox practices is in the prevention of disease or simply reacting to it. Many conventional medical practitioners do little to educate their patients on prevention. It's simply not a priority in their medical school training. Jack Stobo, a senior physician at Johns Hopkins, has said: The way we educate physicians is out of sync with the problems they have to face when they go into practice. . . . [Of the] number of the problems that end up in the hospital . . . somewhere around half are preventable. Contrastingly, natural medicine has always stressed the prevention of disease through diets rich in whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables and by using supplements for heightened health. Meditation and stress management are also thrown in the mix as integral factors in determining our total well being. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to enhance our immunity. In order to do so, we need a basic understanding of how our immune system works to defend us against invading microorganisms and carcinogens.
A Brief Overview of Immune Function
The immune system consists of various body organs and processes: the main ones are the thymus gland, spleen, tonsils, adenoids and lymph nodes, and a variety of white blood cells designed to protect the body. The thymus gland is an intregal part of our immune defenses. It produces T-lymphocytes, which are a special kind of white blood cell that plays a profound role in creating cell-based immunity. Immunity on a cellular level is what protects us against fungi, viruses, bacteria, and yeast infections.
Today, more and more evidence suggests that all basic immune functions also play a vital role in protecting us from allergies and malignancies. All of us have tumor cells which our immune systems recognize and destroy. When a person does develop cancer, this immune function has failed to provide the body with protection. For some reason, it does not recognize malignant cells, and they are allowed to reproduce.
As we grow older, our spleen ages and shrinks. It is particularly vulnerable to the kind of oxidative injury caused by free radicals. It is also very sensitive to radiation and infection. For this reason, it is crucial that we make sure to supply our diet with thymic building nutrients. These include vitamin C with bioflavonoids, selenium, vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc, and alpha lipoic acid. Recent clinical data supports the notion that many of us become zinc deficient as we grow older. This may help to explain why elderly people become so much more susceptible to disease. Herbs which support the thymus gland include astragalus, echinacea, and pau d'arco.
The lymph system is responsible for collecting lymph fluid and draining waste from the tissues. This fluid must be purified by white blood cells which are responsible for destroying infections microorganisms and cellular waste. Our lymph nodes also help to produce antibodies which comprise armies of special cells designed to kill specific organisms. The lymph system can be supported by using herbs, such as ginseng and echinacea, and by making sure we get enough exercise each day.
The body's defense mechanisms are complex and incredibly marvelous. In some cases, a virus must penetrate several lines of defense in order to cause a problem. Some of our best defenses are things we can do like washing our hands to prevent the spread of germs and by properly storing and preparing food to prevent food-borne illness.
The body's defenses include the skin, mucus layers covering infection-susceptible tissues, white blood cells (leukocytes), and interferon. Leukocytes are divided into two classes called granulocytes and agranulocytes. These two classes are further divided into smaller groups. Granulocytes are primarily phagocytic, which mean they have the ability to ingest particulate substances, a process called phagocytosis. Granulocytes include juvenile
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