1. Adequate exercise
2. Sufficient sleep
3. A positive attitude
4. Balanced nutrition
As far back as ca. 450 BC these conceptss were known. Hippocrates, the Greek physician
regarded as the father of modern medicine, stated, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” And as scientific study progressed, we learned that sleep and a positive attitude affect our
health as well. You’ve probably heard this from your mother, your grandmother, your teachers and your doctors all of your life.
Nutritional immunologists primarily focus on the balanced nutrition aspect of good health. In the case of the disease scurvy, the development of the nutritional knowledge needed to understand and
overcome it spanned centuries. In 1753, British naval doctors first recognized that lemons, limes and oranges cured scurvy, a deadly disease. But it wasn’t until 1932 that scientists recognized that a factor in these fruits, which they called vitamin C, was essential to sustain life. Today, we know vitamin C as
L-ascorbic acid or L-ascorbate and understand that the body needs it as an antioxidant to protect against oxidative stress, and as a cofactor in at least eight enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of collagen.
These days, one hardly hears of scurvy and many don’t know the disastrous effects of this disease that killed more sailors than all battles, storms and other diseases combined from the 16th to 18th centuries1. And this is all because nutritional immunologists, who were simply doctors and scientists then, wanted to understand the link between diet and health.
Today, Nutritional Immunology is a full-fledged scientific discipline with departments in many universities around the world. Simply stated, Nutritional Immunology is the study of the link between food and health, and knowledge in this field is increasing almost daily as more and more researchers study the foods we eat and how and why they affect our bodies.
Nutritional ImmunologyNutritional Immunology has grown from looking for those elements in foods that can cause death if not consumed to looking for those elements in foods that don’t just keep us alive, but keep us healthy. At the Tufts University Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, nutritional immunologists investigate how dietary components interact with environmental factors and genes in age-associated changes of the immune system. The belief is that if we can truly understand how the elements of our diet affect our body’s systems—in particular the immune system—we can learn how to live longer, happier, healthier lives. This is the goal of Nutritional Immunology.
Hippocrates believed that “natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” Perhaps he had an inkling of what we now call the immune system. He certainly knew that food made a difference in a person’s life, and he prepared foods and herbs as medicines for his patients.
Just as Hippocrates used the local foods and herbs of his country to help a patient’s own immune system fight off illnesses, so, too, did ancient Chinese physicians. Through thousands of years of study and observation, they passed down their traditional medicines made primarily from plants. In a way, they, too, practiced Nutritional Immunology, not through Western scientific method, but through observational studies, watching how various fruits, vegetables and herbs benefited their patients.
Today, the West studies Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and in many cases not only discovers they are beneficial, but why they are beneficial as well. Take for instance, Angelica sinensis, better known as dong quai. TCM uses dong quai to enrich blood and activate blood circulation, among other things. Western studies show that dong quai lowers blood pressure and can cause less plaque formation in the arteries. Studies also indicate, as TCM has long advocated, that dong quai may be helpful in cases of dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) due to dong quai’s ability to regulate the muscle contractions of the uterus.
Nutritional Immunology investigates foods that can provide a strong foundation of balanced nutrition for your immune system. But don’t forget the other three cornerstones! You need to provide strong foundations for exercise, sleep and a positive attitude to build a healthy life with Nutritional Immunology!