viruses and any other foreign matter that may try to harm us. It remembers literally millions of different enemies!And when it recognizes one of those enemies, it produces counter measures that destroy it. When the immune system misfires, however, it can cause as many problems as it solves,including allergies, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. And, if the immune system is hampered,other kinds of opportunistic diseases can result. Therefore,our job is to make sure our immune system is balanced with proper nutrition. A strong and balanced immune system can protect and defend us without turning its destructive powers inward on the body it is designed to support.
The Key is Balance!
The body is a perfectly balanced biochemical factory and nutrients are the fuel that keeps that factory running. Different parts of the body require different kinds of nutrients to perform their jobs. If one process breaks down because of lack of fuel, the entire body is affected because the balance is thrown off. The problem is, our body is incredibly complex and many processes are still unknown or misunderstood. Looking at just one aspect of the immune system’s many functions, inflammation, we can clearly see the need for balance.
Inflammation Pros and Cons
Everyone experiences some form of inflammation—from a scratch to a bruise, from allergy to infection, from injury to disease. Inflammation may be so minor that you are unaware of it, such as a paper cut, or it may be as crippling as
arthritis—but we need inflammation!
The immune system goes into gear when it detects an injury or foreign bodies. The inflammatory cascade begins when chemical signals call for white blood cells to come and clearout infection and damaged tissue. Equally powerful and
closely related, anti-inflammatory compounds are signaled to move in and begin the healing process once the threat is neutralized. This combination of destruction and restorationsignifies a well-balanced immune system.
However, an imbalanced immune system can perpetuate an inflammatory state. With no signal to stop, constant inflammation produces a host of problems, such as arthritis,asthma, lupus and other autoimmune disorders. To control the inflammation process, it is crucial for the immune systemto be in proper balance, meaning that those biochemical signals that tell the immune system to stop destroying and start rebuilding are as robust as those that signal the need to attack.
Our bodies need the inflammatory process to hit infections,parasites, bacteria and other foreign matter—and hit them hard before they can gain a foothold. Therefore, drugs that indiscriminately shut down the inflammatory process leave
our bodies open for infections and diseases to establish themselves. Remember, we usually don’t know we have a problem until it is out of control, but a healthy immune system is often able to shut down the problem before we even consciously know it’s there!
For those people with an imbalanced immune system, a vicious cycle may develop. Their immune system is activated by something—even something as insignificant as a sliver.The inflammatory process attacks the problem and clears it out. But because of an imbalance, the immune system never receives the signal to stop the inflammatory process, and inflammation begins attacking healthy tissues and destroying them. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed, which shut down inflammation—completely—leaving the body vulnerable to more infections. Then, when the prescription expires, inflammation sets in again to fight the opportunistic infections, with no way of shutting down except with more drugs.
Nourish Your Immune System!
However, when the body is adequately nourished, specifically at the cellular level where the biochemical signals are produced,the immune system has the capacity for phenomenal success. Nutritional Immunology emphasizes the body’s ability to healitself by strengthening the immune system from within. In addition to vitamins and minerals, the body needs antioxidants, polysaccharides and phytochemicals to perform optimally. All of these nutrients are available in herbs and plant foods. For example, recent studies show how various plants impact the immune system.
• Extracts of lemon and quince are capable of modulating the Th1-Th2 balance. Researchers expect these extracts to have immunotherapeutic affects against allergic rhinitis.Th cells are T helper cells that coordinate immune responses by communicating with other cells. Some stimulate B cellsto produce antibodies; others call in phagocytes or activateother T cells.
• Recent pharmacological studies have shown that Cordycepssinensis possesses a wide spectrum of biological activities including antioxidation, immunopotentiation, antitumorigenesis,and anti-inflammation.
• A study in Evidence-based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine in 2004 analyzed Natural Killer (NK) cell activity after participants ingested extracts of the mushrooms Agaricus blazei and Lentinus edodes. Intake of these extracts was found to augment NK cell activity.
• Panax ginseng appears to both stimulate and suppress immune activities, indicating that it is an adaptogenic herb. Immune system stimulating activities have been attributed to polysaccharides acting on both macrophages and B
lymphocytes. Ginsenosides suppress immune activity by inhibiting cytokine release in macrophages.
Cytokines are signaling molecules used extensively in cellular communication,
particularly as immunomodulating signals.It’s a Balancing Act!
Your immune system is a very complex balancing act that depends on clear signals to communicate and coordinate all its far-flunga ctivities throughout the body. In order to maintain a healthy balance between turning destructive processes and restorative processes on and off, it needs specific compounds from a wide variety of plants and herbs.
When it can’t get what it needs, complex signals falter and may not reach their intended targets, resulting in an imbalanced immune system that cannot effectively fend off infections,viruses, bacteria and other problems.
Keep your immune system in balance with a healthy diet consisting primarily of a rich variety of fruits, vegetables,grains and herbs that supply the nutrition your body needs.
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