The Healthy Immunity Defense

Your body relies on a phenomenal immune system that kicks in to quickly detect harmful invaders and build natural vaccines called antibodies to protect the body from infection.

The first lines of defense are the skin and the mucous membranes found in the mouth, nose, and respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts. Both the skin and the mucous membranes work together to prevent harmful germs from entering the body.

In addition, bodily fluids—, tears, sweat, saliva, and gastric juices—, have potent antibacterial properties. The body also benefits from good bacteria (probiotics) in the gut that keep bad bacteria in check.

Together, the skin, mucous membranes, bodily fluids, and intestinal bacteria form a powerful barrier against infection.

But when the immune system breaks down, it may be difficult to defend the body against even the most harmless germs— -- and the immune system quickly becomes overwhelmed. Repeated bombardment can even cause it to malfunction.

The Birthplace of Infection: Germs

Germs are everywhere: in the air, soil, water, food, plants, and animals—even in and on the body. They include larger parasites and worms, and the more common single-celled bacteria, viruses, and fungi discussed here. Understanding more about these can help you better arm your immune system and avoid infectious illnesses.

Fungi. Fungi—like molds, yeasts, and mushrooms—are often single-celled organisms that are slightly larger than bacteria and reside in the air, water, soil, and plants. They can also live in the body. Some fungi, like penicillin, are beneficial. Breads, cheeses, and yogurts are also derived from fungi. Other fungi, like Candida albicans, can cause systemic infections in the gut, mouth, throat, toenails, vagina, and more.

Bacteria. One-celled organisms that can be seen through a microscope, bacteria are self-sufficient and multiply by subdivision. Although many bacteria can survive in unusually harsh conditions, most not only thrive in the body but they actually help the body. Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus), for example, helps digest food and aid in nutrition while destroying disease-causing organisms. Learn more about probiotics


But infectious bacteria can enter the body and rapidly reproduce. Many produce cell-damaging toxins that make you sick. Some of these invaders include strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) which cause gastrointestinal upset and often come in through contaminated food.

Viruses. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria and contain the genetic material DNA or RNA. While their primary mission is to reproduce, unlike the self-sufficient bacteria, viruses require a host. They invade a cell, then take over and cause that host cell to reproduce, eventually destroying the host cell in the process. Common viruses include the common cold, the flu, Hepatitis (A-E), Epstein-Barr, and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). 

Minimizing Infection and Illness

Most healthcare professionals agree that a healthy lifestyle promotes a healthy immune system— -- and keeps infections at bay. Here are a few ways to keep your immune system healthy.

Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Giving your body the nutrition it needs to fight infection is one of the best things you can do. But recognize that what you’'re eating may be contributing to the problem. Research indicates that poor nutrition can actually increase your chances for viral infections.3 A well-balanced diet with healthy proteins, complex carbohydrates, and good fats can effectively boost your immune system.

Exercise the infection away. Some theories suggest that physical activity can help excrete infectious organisms through urine and sweat while others suggest that increasing blood circulation helps “warn” of threats to the immune system. One thing’s for sure: exercise decreases your chance of infection by slowing the release of the stress hormone cortisol.4

Get plenty of restful sleep. While you’re dreaming of paradise, your immune system is busy re-building and repairing itself. But if you have trouble with sleep, don’t start counting sheep. A quality melatonin supplement can help you fall asleep, while a sustained-release melatonin can help you stay asleep.

Wash your hands regularly. Proper hand washing is the most effective barrier against the spread of infectious diseases. Use warm water and lather your hands with soap. Wash for at least 20 seconds and rinse, letting the water run down from the wrist to the fingers. Go easy with antibacterial soaps as overuse can lead to drug-resistant superbugs.

Build up healthy intestinal bacteria. For a healthy immune system, ample amounts of good bacteria help keep bad bacteria at bay. Increase your good bacteria by drinking raw, unpasteurized milk and eating plenty of organic, unpasteurized yogurt and kefir with live, active cultures. You can also supplement your diet with high-quality probiotics to make sure you get all the good bacteria you need for a healthy intestinal flora.

Add quality herbs and antioxidants to your diet. Many herbs -- —including garlic, barberry, bee propolis, black walnut, cat’s claw, cinnamon, clove, coriander, fennel seed, ginger root, goldenseal, grapefruit seed, holy basil, mint leaves, neem leaves, olive leaf, oregano, thyme, and turmeric— -- have the potential to kill off foreign invaders and boost the immune system. In addition, antioxidants attack free radicals in the body. Choose foods such as acai, mangosteen, green tea, pomegranate, blueberry, and cranberry—or look for quality supplements with their extracts.

Detoxify your liver several times a year. The liver filters toxic substances from the blood. When the liver isn’'t working right, foreign invaders bypass the liver, enter the bloodstream, and overtax the immune system.

Consider breast feeding or supplementing with colostrum. A mother’s first milk -- —colostrum— contains immune factors that immunize a newborn child against many foreign invaders. Bovine colostrum is actually four times richer in immune factors than human colostrum and can help keep gastrointestinal bugs from attaching to the bowel lining.

Try colloidal silver. Colloidal silver has long been known to have antibacterial properties and has been traditionally used to help heal wounds. It may also be effective against E.coli and Staphylococcus infections.

Practice safe sex. Many infections—such as human papilloma virus (HPV), gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis—are spread through sexual transmission. Using a condom greatly reduces your chances of infection.

Protect yourself from mold. Household mold is a hidden invader that can weaken the immune system and cause respiratory illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and other diseases. If you suspect mold, have a professional evaluate your home. And wash or replace pillows and mattresses to remove any hidden mold that you may be inhaling during sleep.

Be careful when handling and preparing food. Cross contamination of food—like cutting a raw chicken, followed by lettuce, on the same cutting board—is a major source of food-related illness. Cut on clean surfaces, and bleach cutting surfaces regularly. You may even consider a food handling course that teaches healthy food handling techniques.

Building up your immune system and protecting it should be a daily priority. Without it, you cannot survive. With a healthy, multi-faceted approach, you can learn to bolster your immune system and feel a lot better.


Cited Sources:

1) “From bacteria to parasites: Understanding the germs that cause infection,” MayoClinic.com,
http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/germs/ID0002/METH...
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2) “Survey Shows Americans Are Unaware of the Role the Immune System Plays in Maintaining Health”
(press release), Business Wire, 9/15/2004.

3) “Nutrition and Newly Emerging Viral Diseases: An Overview,” Nutrition.org
http://www.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/127/5/9...
Accessed Jan. 2006

4) Singh, Rajbans Dr., “Tip-top immune system the answer,” New Straits Times, 9/28/2004.

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