Immune System

Before it is possible to completely understand how any illness can take hold of the human body, it is first necessary to have a basic understanding of how the body stays well and how it gets sick.  The immune system is a network of cells and organs that defend the body from a constant bombardment of bacteria, microbes, viruses, parasites and toxins.  In addition, it works to protect the body from its own cells that may develop incorrectly and cause harm or illness.  The immune system is complex and often misunderstood, as it contains many separate components working together, and its functions usually occur unnoticed.

To understand the necessity of the immune system, you might consider what happens to a living thing once it dies.  With death, the immune system shuts down.  In a matter of hours, bacteria, microbes and parasites invade the body.  None of these things are able to get in with a working immune system, but without that, it takes only a few weeks to completely dismantle the body and carry it away, leaving only a skeleton.  The immune system keeps all this from happening in a living body.  This example may seem extreme, but it does teach much about the power of this great protection mechanism.  Not only do we rely completely upon it to maintain life and health, but also to fight off illness or infections when they are present.

Recognizing How The Immune System Works
The immune system generally keeps us well enough that it goes unnoticed most of the time.  The immune system is at work twenty-four hours a day, but is seldom seen.  There are times when the workings of the immune system are visible:

  • When the skin is cut, bacteria and viruses enter the body through the break in the skin.  The immune system responds immediately, eliminating the invaders while the skin heals itself.  With a splinter, a foreign object has entered the body and the immune system works to eliminate the invader while healing the wound.  If the immune system is overwhelmed, the cut or puncture becomes infected.  This results in inflammation or pus, both of which are side effects of the immune system doing its job.
  • When a mosquito bites or you come in contact with poison ivy, you get red, itchy bumps.  This is a visible sign of the immune system at work.
  • Every day, you are inhaling thousands of germs (bacteria and viruses) that are floating through the air.  Most often, the immune system can deal with these invaders without a problem.  There are times when these invaders get past the first lines of defense of the immune system.  An overwhelmed immune system responds with a cold, the flu or something worse.  The fact that you can get over the illness is a sign that the immune system is eventually able to eliminate the invader after learning about it.  Otherwise, you would never be able to “get well”.
  • In the foods that you eat, there are hundreds of germs, which are most often killed in the saliva or the acid of the stomach.  If one or more happens to get through, you may experience food poisoning.  The diarrhea and vomiting that accompany food poisoning are visible sign of this breach of the immune system.
  • Many human ailments are cause by the immune system working in unexpected or incorrect ways that cause problems.  Allergies are the result of the immune system overreacting to certain stimuli.  Diabetes is caused by the immune system inappropriately attacking cells in the pancreas and destroying them.  Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system acts inappropriately in the joints.  Many diseases are caused by an immune system error.
  • The immune system is not only seen in injury and illness.  It also can prevent us from doing things that might otherwise be helpful.  One example is with organ transplants, where the immune system may fight against a transplanted organ because it is recognized as a foreign invader.

Components of the Immune System
The immune system is absolutely critical to health and survival, and it is fascinating to recognize its role in our lives.  A basic understanding of its components and how they work together makes it possible to see what is working to keep us healthy.  When we are not healthy, this basic understanding will also help us to recognize the steps that must be taken to strengthen the immune system and return to health.

Before looking at the body’s inside elements, there is a critical component of the immune system at work on the outside.  The skin is the initial boundary between germs and the body.  This is the tough barrier that is, for the most part, impermeable to bacteria and viruses.  The skin is also used in elimination, as toxins are eradicated through the pores in the form of perspiration.

Tears, Mucus and Saliva
The nose, mouth and eyes are entry points for germs.  Tears and mucus contain an enzyme (lysozyme) that breaks down the cell wall of may bacteria.  Saliva is also antibacterial.  The nasal passage and lungs are coated in mucus, and most germs that are not killed immediately are eliminated in this layer.  Mast cells also line the nasal passages, throat, lungs and skin.  Any bacteria or virus attempting to enter the body would first have to make it past these defenses.

Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system (or lymph system) works to defend the body against foreign, harmful substances such as bacteria, virus, germs, microorganisms, or the body’s own cells that have gone bad.  The lymphatic system works toward killing or eliminating destructive invaders within the body.  Elimination is accomplished through fluid, vessels and nodes sweeping the toxins and harmful substances to the liver for cleansing and to the kidneys for excretion.

Lymph Node
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are laced throughout the body along the lymphatic routes.  Lymph nodes contain filtering tissue and lymph cells.  When fighting certain bacterial infections, the lymph nodes swell with bacteria and cells fighting the bacteria, resulting in swollen lymph nodes that can be felt.  Once lymph has been filtered through the lymph nodes, it then re-enters the bloodstream.

The spleen filters the blood looking for foreign cells or for old red blood cells in need of replacement.  A person who is missing their spleen will get sick much more often than one with a spleen

The thymus is located in the chest between the breastbone and the heart.  It is responsible for the production and maturation of T-cells (see below).  This organ is essential to the survival of newborn babies, but adults can live without it.

Bone Marrow
Bone marrow produces new red and white blood cells.  Red blood cells are fully formed in the bone marrow and then enter the blood stream.  White blood cells are produced in the marrow, but may mature elsewhere.  All blood cells are produced from stem cells, which are generic cells that have the potential to become many specific types of white blood cells or leukocytes.

White Blood Cells
White blood cells are the most important part of the immune system.  In fact, they are used as a measure of the immune system health.  A “strong immune system” or “suppressed immune system” may be determined by a count of different types of white blood cells in a blood sample.

The reason that white blood cells are so important to the workings of the immune system is that they are a whole group of different kinds of cells that work simultaneously to destroy bacteria and viruses.  All white blood cells begin in the bone marrow as stem cells.  White blood cells are not like other cells in the body.  They cannot divide and reproduce on their own.  They act as independent, living single-cell organisms that are able to move about and capture or engulf other cells and bacteria.

Markers of Self
At the heart of the immune system response is the ability of the white blood cells (and other parts of the immune system) to determine what to attack and what to leave alone.  Every body cell carries distinctive molecules that distinguish it as “self”.  Normally the body’s defenses do not attack tissues that carry a self-marker; rather, immune cells coexist peaceably with other body cells in a state known as self-tolerance.

Antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins and gammaglobulins) are produced by white blood cells.  They are Y-shaped proteins that each respond to a specific antigen, which is a bacteria, virus or toxin.  Each antibody has a special section at the tips of the two branches of the Y that is sensitive to a specific antigen and binds to it in some way.  The binding generally disables the chemical action of the toxin.  When an antibody binds to the outer coat of a virus particle or the cell wall of a bacterium, it can stop their movement through cell walls.  A large number of antibodies can bind to an invader and signal to the complement system that the invader must be removed.

Complement System
The complement system consists of a series of proteins that are activated by and “complement” the antibodies in destroying bacteria.  Complement proteins work together to puncture bad cells and signal the need for their removal.

Some components of the immune system generate hormones, known generally as lymphokinds.  Certain hormones in the body suppress the immune system, such as steroids and corticosteroids.  Tymosin is a hormone that encourages lymphocyte production.  Other types of hormones, such as Interleukin-1, produce fever, which is known to kill some bacteria.  Still others are able to kill tumor cells and promote the creation of new blood vessels, which is important to healing.  Hormones work in various ways to contribute to the functions of the immune system.

A Weakened Immune System
In a healthy body, this system of checks and balances works very well to maintain health and ward off invaders.  However, when the immune system is weakened over time, it becomes unable to destroy the viruses, bacteria and toxic chemicals that invade the body.  Infections become more frequent and there is a greater likelihood of health problems ranging from minor illness to cancer.  The body’s protection has become inadequate.

The conditions causing a weakened immune system are cumulative.  Although health often seems to deteriorate quickly, disease doesn’t happen overnight due to the “sudden attack” of a bacteria or virus.  There may be some predisposing factors beyond the control of a person, but in most cases, it is the collective effects of a person’s lifestyle that bring about illness. Health-destroying conditions ar allowed to go on for prolonged periods of time, either by the choices that we make or the choices that we allow others to make for us.  This long-term abuse comes in the form of the foods we eat, the drugs we take and other emotional and environmental factors that are a part of our lives.  These abuses all work in combination to compromise the immune system, resulting in illness and disease.

Diet-The Foods We Eat Can Contribute to Immune system Suppression
Many people, including health professionals, think that Americans have the safest food in the world.  The truth is that Americans are the most over-fed and under-nourished people on the earth today.  There are very few foods in our supermarkets that don’t have sugar, preservatives, artificial colors and artificial sweeteners added.  We have processed the goodness out of our foods, increased our fat intake, decreased our dietary fiber and added harmful ingredients and chemicals to an incredible amount of what we eat.  Following is a summary of many of the worst enemies to the immune system in the average American diet.

The ingestion of only 100 grams of refined sugars reduces the ability of the white blood cells to destroy bacteria.  There is at least 50% reduction within two hours after eating sugars.  The average American ingests at least 150 grams of sucrose in addition to other refined sugars every day.  It is easy to conclude that most Americans have depressed immune systems.  When a person eats simple sugars, the immune system is compromised.  Refined white sugar triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas.  With daily consumption of sugar, the blood stream is always laced with insulin, which suppresses secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary.  Growth hormone is a prime regulator of the immune system.  In addition to being an immune system suppressant, sugar also feeds candida by helping yeasts to thrive.

Following are several reasons why sugar and sweeteners are destroying your health:
• Sugar can suppress the immune system.
• Sugar upsets the minerals in the body.
• Sugar can cause hyperactivity, anxiety, concentration difficulty and crankiness in children.
• Sugar can produce a significant rise in triglycerides.
• Sugar contributes to the reduction in defense against bacterial infection.
• Sugar leads to chromium deficiency.
• Sugar leads to cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate and rectum.
• Sugar can increase fasting levels of glucose.
• Sugar cases copper deficiency.
• Sugar interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
• Sugar raises the level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin.
• Sugar can cause hypoglycemia.
• Sugar can produce an acidic stomach.
• Sugar can lead to alcoholism
• Sugar can cause tooth decay
• Sugar contributes to obesity.
• High intake of sugar increases the risk of Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
• Sugar can cause changes frequently found in persons with gastric or duodenal ulcers.
• Sugar can cause arthritis
• Sugar can cause asthma.
• Sugar can cause candida albicans.
• Sugar can cause gallstones.
• Sugar can cause appendicitis
• Sugar can cause hemorrhoids
• Sugar can lead to periodontal disease
• Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis
• Sugar can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity
• Sugar leads to decreased glucose tolerance
• Sugar can decrease growth hormone
• Sugar can increase cholesterol
• Sugar can increase the systolic blood pressure
• Sugar can cause drowsiness and decreased activity in children
• Sugar can cause migraine headaches
• Sugar can interfere with the absorption of protein
• Sugar causes food allergies
• Sugar can contribute to diabetes
• Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy
• Sugar can contribute to eczema in children
• Sugar can impair the structure of DNA
• Sugar can change the structure of proteins and alter the way they act in the body
• Sugar can make our skin age by changing the structure of collagen
• Sugar can cause cataracts
• Sugar can cause atherosclerosis
• Sugar can promote an elevation of low density proteins (LDL)
• Sugar can cause free radicals in the blood stream
• Sugar lowers the enzymes ability to function
• Sugar can cause loss of tissue elasticity and function
• Sugar can increase the size of the liver by making the liver cells divide
• Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney
• Sugar can over-stress and / or damage the pancreas
• Sugar can increase the body’s fluid retention
• Sugar can compromise the lining of the capillaries
• Sugar can make the tendons more brittle
• Sugar can cause an increase in delta, alpha and theta brain waves
• Sugar can cause depression
• Sugar increases the risk of gastric cancer
• Sugar can be a risk factor of gallbladder cancer
• Sugar can increase your risk of getting gout
• Sugar increases bacterial fermentation in the colon
• Sugar increases the risk of colon cancer in women
• Sugar can cause platelet adhesiveness
• Sugar can cause hormonal imbalance
• Sugar can lead to the formation of kidney stones

Aspartame – Nutrasweet, Equal, Spoonful, Diabetisweet, etc.
The U.S. Department of health and Human Services (DHHS 1994) released a listing of adverse reactions to aspartame reported to the FDA.  The most common reactions include; abdominal pain, anxiety attacks, arthritis, asthma, bloating, blood sugar control problems, breathing difficulties, burning eyes and throat, irregular urination, chronic cough, chronic fatigue, confusion, depression, dizziness, hair loss, headaches/migraines, heart palpitations, hives, high blood pressure, infections, impotency, insomnia, irritability, itching, joint pain, memory loss, hormone imbalance, seizures, muscle spasms, nausea, numbness or tingling of extremities, allergic attacks, panic attacks, tremors, tinnitus, vertigo.  These reactions on this one chemical accounted for more than 75% of all adverse reactions reported to the FDA’s Adverse Reaction Monitoring Systems (ARMS).

Aspartame overuse mimics symptoms and worsens the following diseases:  fibromyalgia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease, lupus, diabetes, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue, lyme disease, lymphoma, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and depression.  It often takes at least 60 days without aspartame to see significant improvement, as it is a chemical drug that stays in the body for a very long time without a dramatic cleanse such as detoxification.

Following is an article that helps explain why such a dangerous product became so popular, and how it was allowed to be marketed to the public as a safe low calorie substitute for sugar.

Click here to read “The Aspartame/NutraSweet Fiasco” By James S. Turner 

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is also know as gelatin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured protein and yeast extract.  Sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid or glutamate is an additive used to enhance the flavor of foods.  MSG by itself does not have any flavor, but stimulates glutamate receptors on the tongue to enhance the taste.  Side effects of MSG include:  headaches, weakness, muscle aches, numbness, tingling, flushing and allergies.

Found in sodas, drugs and coffee, the diuretic properties of caffeine rob the body of potassium and other important minerals and cleansing fluids.  In addition, while robbing our bodies of necessary liquids as a diuretic, we often drink even less water because we do not feel thirsty after a soda or cup of coffee, which further dehydrates the system.

Remember the days when we used to talk about out problems over a cup of coffee?  Well, now coffee is the problem.  Rather than getting the edge, we’ve found that coffee makes us edgy.  Some people drink three cups of coffee, a few Cokes, and take a couple of Excedrin all in the course of a morning.  That amounts to over 500 mg. of caffeine.  Is it any wonder that tranquilizers are one of the most prevalent drugs prescribed in America?  In fact, one in seven adult Americans take some sort of tranquilizer to calm their nerves.  Taking stimulants and tranquilizers is like driving with your foot on the gas and the brakes at the same time.  It’s all too easy for doctors to misdiagnose a case of out-and-out caffeinism as anxiety neurosis caused by emotional factors.

Coffee is the number one drink in America with six of ten adults drinking it every day.  Caffeine is one of the most widely used drugs in America, and it has absolutely no nutritional value.  With this wonder drug, people think they can get the jump on their fellow man.  Teenagers love cola, and account for 25% of the total caffeine consumption.  It is estimated that 30% of Americans take between 500-600mg. of caffeine per day, and 10% use more than 1000 mg. per day.  The average person, including children, consumes 200 mg. per day.  One cup of coffee contains 100-150 mg. and one to two cups exceed the level at which your brain can be adversely affected.

For more information on the effects of caffeine on the body, read: “Fibromyalgia Living Symptom Free”

What About Caffeine Free?
A chemical used in making decaffeinated coffee (TCE-trichloroethylene) has been known to cause liver cancer.  The National Cancer Institute also warned against using three possible substitutes to TCE.  Replacing a chemical with a carcinogenic risk with another chemical of unknown risk may result in a more hazardous alternative.  In other words, all the side effects of the chemicals used in decaffeinated coffee are still unknown.  Caffeine free soft drinks and sugar-free soft drinks still have substitutes and chemicals.  It’s best to try to develop a taste for healthy beverages.  Think about how much beverage you consume every day and in a lifetime!  It’s the fluid your body uses to trigger every chemical reaction and enzyme activity in the body.  If you don’t think a few chemicals in the beverages you consume make any difference in how you feel, try putting one percent water in your gas tank and see how well your car runs.  The bottom line is that health is a choice-your choice!

To Conquer Caffeine, Try These Tips To Lower Or Avoid Intake: 

  • Question the impulse: are you thirsty?  Drink water.  Do you need to wake-up?  Breathe deeply, take a brisk walk, do quick calisthenics.
  • Do you need to feel better?  Regular exercise produces more of the natural brain chemicals that improve mood.
  • Are you chronically sleepy and tired?  Get more sleep!

Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
An ingredient in almost all processed foods, baby formulas, non-dairy creamers, and dressings, these artificial fats rapidly oxidize in the human system, releasing a deadly barrage of free radicals which can destroy cells and cause genetic damage.  They impair the immune activity of white blood cells and have been conclusively linked to increased risks of cancer.  Fried food are heavily saturated with fats, partly responsible for high blood pressure and heart disease.  They can shut down the body’s immune mechanism and bring on cancer-causing free radicals as well.

Antibiotic And Steroids in Animal Products
Antibiotics, steroid hormones and other drugs are routinely fed to animals when they are being raised as a source of food.  These drugs are then absorbed by those who consume the meat, milk and eggs of such contaminated animals, throwing the endocrine system off balance and impairing immunity.  Organic animal products do not contain such drugs.

Normally our bodies are fit and healthy enough to fight an infection with our immune system doing its job.  Antibiotics are chemicals that were developed to help the fight by assisting in the destruction of bacteria, and their use for serious infection is often necessary.  However, antibiotics have become the most abused class of drugs today, and the consequences are very harmful.  Antibiotics not only kill the “bad” bacteria in the body, but also the good and necessary bacteria in the body.  In addition, the “bad” bacteria mutate or change to meet different conditions in the body and environment, simply to survive the assault from antibiotics.  As modern medicine must then produce more powerful antibiotics to kill of the mutated bacteria, bacteria in general are becoming more resilient.  This is a danger to the population as a whole.

For an individual on an immediate basis, it is important to understand that as friendly bacteria is destroyed in the intestinal tract, candida and other harmful yeasts that are normal living in small, well-controlled numbers proliferate throughout the system.  There they further inhibit immune functions.  Additionally, antibiotics can be “stuffers”, that drive the virus and bacteria back into the tissues of the body, from where they re-emerge in a future immune system crash.  With antibiotics, we might be solving one problem but creating others.  For a runny nose or minor infections with low risks, it is best to let the body’s own defenses do their job without antibiotics.

Steroids-Cortisone Or Prednisone
Steroids are immuno suppressive drugs, as it is their prime task to stop the natural defenses from working adequately-in other words, to suppress the immune system.  On a short-term basis, steroids seem to be a “miracle cure” for many people suffering from arthritis, asthma, and a variety of other health issues.  Because of this, doctors often turn to steroids as the first, rather than last, line of attack for anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.  The biggest problem is that in purposely suppressing the immune system to treat a specific symptom, the immune system as a whole is weakened and the body become prone to other illnesses and infections when it is unable to fight off new antigens.  Once again we are solving one problem and inviting others.

One widespread use of steroids is in the contraceptive pill.  The long-term use of this type of medication is devastating to the immune system, and it allows yeasts to proliferate in the body.

Nicotine is the substance found in tobacco that creates mild intoxication.  It is found in all tobacco products such as cigarettes, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and cigars, and is now also found in certain types of chewing gum and bottled water.  Nicotine is extremely addictive and is poison to the body.  Some of the effects are; an increase in blood pressure, increase in heart rate, thickening of blood, narrowing of arteries, decrease in skin temperature, and increase in respiration and stimulation of the central nervous system.  The long term use of nicotine seriously weakens the ability of the immune system to protect the body from illness, while damaging the lungs and respiratory system.

Alcohol impairs the functioning of the immune system, weakening the body’s ability to fight off infectious disease.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services in its seventh Report to Congress, this is because “alcohol may have an adverse effect on killer cells which are important in the body’s defense system.” (1990) Alcohol is a poison that causes metabolistic damage to every cell, including those in the skin, brain, gastrointestinal tract and the reproductive system.  It also can disrupt sleep patterns, further depressing the immune system.  Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, constipation and strokes.

Only recently has Western medicine begun to realize the role that emotions play in health.  In the past, the belief was that the immune system regulates itself, responsive only to the battle between antigens and immune cells.  Research has now established that anger, anxiety, grief, fear, depression and other psychological processes directly influence the body’s immune system.  All of these emotions work together to create what is arguably the primary cause of immune deficiency in the modern world-STRESS.

Everyone experiences stress.  The human body is equipped to deal with stressors that require a fight-or-flight response, where heart rate accelerates, blood flow to muscle increases and production of adrenaline and other powerful hormones rise.  When the stressful situation is over, the body naturally recovers its energy and endocrine balance.  On a short-term basis, this type of stress is often considered a good thing, affecting the body as much as exercise does.  In today’s society, however, stress has become a chronic issue-it never seems to go away.  The body is not well equipped to handle stress on a continuous basis, and the immune system suffers as a result.

Many factors contribute to chronic stress, including frustration with career, being over-worked or under worked, marital strife, financial problems, bad news on the television, peep pressures, issues with children or the hazards of modern life.  The list could go on and on.  These are not isolated experiences, and they are working together continuously.  The accepted response to stress is for a person to repress rage, fear, frustration and other negative emotions provoked by stressful situations.  One is thereby failing to utilize the powerful hormones and aneurochemicals released into the blood.  These potent biochemicals quickly break down into various toxic byproducts that poison the system, suppress immunity and impede other vital functions.  Under sustained stress, the body never has a chance to excrete these toxins thoroughly and restore proper balance to the body.  Sleep is often disrupted which further compromises the system.  Drugs, whether in the form of painkillers, sleep aids, anti-depressants, alcohol or illegal drugs, are sometimes taken to alleviate stress.  These also contribute to the decline of immune system function.  Now the body is even less able to handle the invasion of yeast, viruses, bacteria and parasites that come our way, due to the inability of the body’s defense system to ward off these antigens.  Chronic or serious health problems result, which then contribute to an increase in the stress level.  A vicious cycle has developed.

Are you drinking enough water each day?

  • 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated
  • In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger
  • Even MILD dehydration will slow down one’s metabolism by up to 3%
  • One glass of water reduces midnight hunger pangs almost 100% of the time
  • Lack of water is the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue
  • Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers
  • A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page
  • Drinking just five glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, breast cancer by 79%, and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.