HOW TO BOOST THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
and PROTECT AGAINST EBOLA and OTHER INFECTIONS*
Ebola virus disease (EVD), Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), or simply Ebola is a disease of humans and other primates caused by an ebolavirus. Symptoms start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches. Typically, vomiting, diarrhoea, and rash follow, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys. Around this time, affected people may begin to bleed both within the body and externally.
Today, there is probably no-one in the Western World who has not heard of "Ebola" and the projected threat of a world-wide epidemic. Management of this highly infectious disease, with at least a 50% (and up to 90% in some earlier epidemics) mortality, for which there is no specific treatment, is posing a major challenge.
The purpose of this newsletter is not to discuss management specifics such as diagnosis, isolation of infected patients and their contacts, therapeutic support and nursing care, or all the appropriate precautions needed by those who attend and care for the Ebola infected patients that are so crucial in containing the spread of the disease.
Not everyone who has some form of contact with an Ebola infected patient catches the illness. Not everyone who is infected will die (50% mortality means 50% survive). Why? This is where the immune system comes into the picture. A healthy, strong, non-compromised immune system will give added protection against contracting the illness and make it more likely for those with the illness to have a positive outcome.
Ebola is the present worrying infection. The possibility of other epidemic infections, like the avian flu, as well as the 'ordinary' flu, are always with us, and a healthy immune system will also give protection as well as accelerate recovery.
How to Boost the Immune System
The immune system is complex and has been described in detail in my June 2007 newsletter The Immune System and Immunity.
On the whole, the immune system does a remarkable job of defending against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and make your immune system stronger?
The immune system is a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response.
A different scientific approach looks at the effect of certain lifestyle modifications on the incidence of disease. If a study shows significantly less disease, researchers consider whether the immune system is being strengthened in some way.
As a result, quite a number of researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, herbal supplements, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. Although interesting results are emerging, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Based on these studies, there is now evidence that even though we may not be able to prove a direct link between a certain lifestyle and an improved immune response, we can at least show that some links are likely.
How Important is it, to Boost the Cells of the Immune System?
Attempting to boost the cells of the immune system is especially complicated because there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists do not know all the answers. What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells. Certainly it produces many more lymphocytes than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis - some before they see any action, some after the battle is won. It is not known how many cells or what kinds of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level.
Scientists do know more about the low end of the scale. When the number of T cells in an HIV/AIDS patient drops below a certain level, the patient gets sick because the immune system does not have enough T cells to fight off infection. So there is a bottom number below which the immune system can’t do its job. But how many T cells is comfortably enough, and beyond that point, is more better? We don’t know.
Many researchers are trying to explore the effects of a variety of factors - from foods and herbal supplements to exercise and stress — on immunity. Some take measures of certain blood components like lymphocytes or cytokines. But thus far, no one really knows what these measurements mean in terms of your body’s ability to fight disease. They provide a way of detecting whether something is going on, but science is not yet sufficiently advanced to understand how this translates into success in warding off disease. This is 2014 ... we still have a long way to go to fully understand the incredible innate ability of the body and its immune system to 'do the right thing'.
The following is a summary of some of the areas that can be addressed to 'boost' the immune system. It is in part based on publications by the Harvard Medical School (www.health.harvard.edu). All my newsletters referenced are available at www.huntlycentre.com.au.
· Healthy Living Strategies
The first line of defence against infectious disease is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is probably the single best step you can take towards keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Although obvious, they are listed as reminders of what to do, and what not to do:
o Do not smoke. See my January 2010 newsletter Smoking Statistics - How to Quit Forever.
o Eat a good diet (see below).
o Regularly exercise. See my November 2010 newsletter The Health Benefits of Exercise and my April 2013 newsletter Exercise - The Secret to Better Health.
o Maintain a healthy weight, a BMI 20-25. See my June 2008 newsletter Health Benefits of Weight Reduction and Exercise.
o Limit alcohol intake. See my September 2012 newsletter What is a Standard Drink? - Guidelines for Alcohol Intake.
o Have adequate sleep.
o Treat conditions such as hypertension.
o Avoid infection, pay attention to hand washing etc.
· A Healthy Diet
The immune system requires good regular nourishment. Scientists have long recognised that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition’s effect on the immune system, however, is not certain .... though it is generally accepted that malnutrition adversely affects the immune system.
The ideal diet is made up of 75-80% alkali-forming foods and 20-25% acid-forming foods. Details of this diet are set out in my September 2005 newsletter Acid / Alkaline Balance - The Ideal Diet and my March 2009 newsletter Foods for Health.
Regular juicing should be part of a healthy diet. See my April 2009 newsletter Raw Juice Therapy - Juice Fasting.
If only one life-style change were to be embraced, the ideal diet is without doubt the most important one.
The body is constantly undergoing detoxification as the result of the excretion of waste via the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and skin as well as the breakdown of toxic substances, mainly in the liver. See my June 2009 newsletter Detoxification.
It is possible to accelerate detoxification by the judicious use of fasting. See my April 2009 newsletter Raw Juice Therapy - Juice Fasting and my March 2014 newsletter Fasting for Health.
Recent studies have shown that regular fasting actually stimulates the immune system.
· Micronutrient Deficiencies
The diet is made up of macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates, which supply calories) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, trace elements, antioxidants, phytochemicals etc which supply no calories but are essential for optimal health).
There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies - for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, the various B vitamins, especially B6, C, and E - alter immune responses in animals, as measured in the test tube. However, the impact of these immune system changes on the health of animals is less clear, and the effect of similar deficiencies on the human immune response has yet to be assessed. But the research at this stage is promising, at least for some of the micronutrients.
If it is suspected that there has been, or continues to be, a poor intake of micronutrients, especially the minerals and vitamins listed above, appropriate supplements should be taken. See my January 2010 newsletter Phytochemicals, my February 2012 newsletter A.N.D.I. - Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, my June 2013 newsletter A Vegetarian Diet - How to Ensure Nutritional Adequacy and my October 2013 newsletter Trace Elements.
· Vitamin D
For many years, doctors have known that people afflicted with tuberculosis responded well to sunlight. An explanation may now be at hand. Researchers have found that vitamin D, which is produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, signals an antimicrobial response to the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Sunlight is essential for good health. The vitamin D produced by the skin, in response to sunlight exposure, has many benefits, including bone health and stimulation of the immune system giving some protection against infection and cancer. See my November 2007 newsletter Sunlight and Health and my September 2009 newsletter Vitamin D - Heart Attacks, Cardiovascular Deaths and All-Cause Deaths.
This mineral (really a trace element) is essential for the cells of the immune system, and zinc deficiency affects the ability of the T cells and other immune cells to function as they should. Paradoxically, while it is important to have sufficient zinc in your diet (15-30mg per day), too much zinc can inhibit the function of the immune system. This is another example of the importance of getting good nutrition from the diet, rather than just taking a supplement. See my January 2009 newsletter Zinc.
· Herbs Beneficial to the Immune System
Health food stores have a plethora of herbal preparations that claim to support immunity, or otherwise boost the health of your immune system. Some degree of scepticism should apply when shopping for herbs that are said to support immunity. Read beyond the commercial 'hype' and only consider the active ingredients, including the actual amounts and formulation (eg powdered whole root etc) before buying such products. Reputable suppliers such as www.iherb.com set out full details of the contents, both the active ingredients and the inactive ones, of their products.
o Echinacea is said to be an "immune stimulant" and is probably one of the best known herbs marketed for this purpose. It is especially promoted for its purported ability to prevent or limit the severity of colds.
o Garlic has some infection-fighting capability. In laboratory tests, researchers have found antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties of garlic.
o Ginseng has a wide spectrum of therapeutic claims, including its ability to stimulate immune function.
o Other herbs that are said to have some immune stimulator properties include aloe vera, astragalus and glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice root).
Many of these herbs also have natural antibiotic properties, and thus contribute to protection against infections of all kinds. See my September 2004 newsletter Natural Antibiotics.
Many of the studies on herbs have been done in combination with other herbs, so it is often not possible to verify what the therapeutic effect is actually due to.
Some combination herbal preparations have been shown to be efficacious. This author has found that “IM Support” (from www.safe.com.au) is beneficial to the immune system. It contains plant extracts of Echinacea, astragalus, grape seed and pau d'Arco. It is said to provide "synergistic support to the immune system".
· Barley Green and other Greens
Barley green, wheat grass, chlorella, spirulina, alfalfa and other greens such as bok choy etc, when juiced, supply a high micronutrient intake, which is highly alkalinising and supportive to the immune system. See my November 2005 newsletter Green Barley Powder.
· Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf extract has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties, as well as being a general tonic, and hence beneficial to the immune system. See my April 2009 newsletter Olive Leaf Extract.
Trillions of healthy bacteria, of multiple species, are essential for the healthy functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Resent researchers, including some at the Harvard Medical School, are finding evidence of a relationship between the good bacteria in the gut and the immune system. For instance, it is now known that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of certain T cells, though precisely how the bacteria interact with the immune system components is not known.
Probiotics are good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which can safely dwell in your digestive tract. It is possible that taking a supplement of probiotics could be beneficial for the immune system. Caution should be exercised in the choice of the probiotic, since the quality of such products is not consistent. If you choose to take a probiotic in moderation, it will do you no harm, and the scientific evidence may ultimately show some benefit.
Modern medicine, which once treated the connection between emotions and physical health with skepticism, has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body. A wide variety of maladies are linked to the effects of emotional stress. But although the relationship between stress and immune function is being studied by a number of different types of scientists, so far it is not a major area of research for immunologists.
Some researchers place animals into stressful situations, such as being trapped in a small space or being placed near an aggressive animal. Different functions of their immune systems, and their health, are then measured under such stressful conditions. On the basis of such experiments, a definite negative effect has been shown to impact the immune system. To give but one example: experimentally created “stressful” situations delayed the production of antibodies in mice infected with influenza virus, and suppressed the activity of T cells in animals inoculated with herpes simplex virus.
Social stress can be even more damaging than physical stress. Again, to give but one example: isolation can suppress immune function. Infant monkeys separated from their mothers, especially if they are caged alone rather than in groups, generate fewer lymphocytes in response to antigens and fewer antibodies in response to viruses.
Most scientists studying the relationship of stress and immune function in humans do not study a sudden, short-lived stressor; rather, they try to study more constant and frequent stressors known as chronic stress, such as that caused by relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, or sustained challenges to perform well at one’s work.
Many researchers report that stressful situations can reduce various aspects of the cellular immune response. A research team from Ohio State University that has long worked in this field suggests that psychological stress affects the immune system by disrupting communication between the nervous system, the endocrine (hormonal) system, and the immune system. These three systems “talk” to one another using natural chemical messages, and must work in close coordination to be effective. The Ohio State research team speculates that long-term stress releases a long-term trickle of stress hormones - mainly glucocorticoids. These hormones affect the thymus, where lymphocytes are produced, and inhibit the production of cytokines and interleukins, which stimulate and coordinate white blood cell activity. Cellular communication and the importance of adequate levels of glyconutrients as an essential for health, are discussed in my March 2007 newsletter Glyconutrients.
It is clear that stress management, when stress is present, is essential to reduce the adverse effects on the immune system. Stress levels escalate when a threatened epidemic is present. Techniques of relaxation should be practiced routinely.
The power of the subconscious mind is one of the keys in coping with stress. See my October 2013 newsletter The Power of your Subconscious Mind.
Age and Immunity
Researchers believe that the ageing process somehow leads to a reduction of immune response capability, which in turn contributes to more infections, more inflammatory diseases, and more cancer.
While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are far more likely to contract infectious diseases. Respiratory infections, influenza, and particularly pneumonia are a leading cause of death in people over 65 worldwide. No one knows for sure why this happens, but some scientists observe that this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells, possibly from the thymus atrophying with age and producing fewer T cells to fight off infection. Thymus function declines beginning at age 1; whether this decrease in thymus function explains the drop in T cells or whether other changes play a role is not fully understood. Others are interested in whether the bone marrow becomes less efficient at producing the stem cells that give rise to the cells of the immune system.
Thus it is especially important for older people to ensure that they do all they can to boost their immune systems.
Optimal nutrition, combined with a healthy lifestyle, is the basis of a healthy immune system. Supplements are appropriate where indicated. The seven requirements for health, including a healthy immune system, as set out in chapter 2 of my book How To Stop Feeling So Awful (see homepage) are:
· Proper Nutrition
· Pure Air
· Pure Water
· Positive Thinking.
Another way of expressing these seven requirements for health is:
· A plant-based diet, which emphasises fresh, raw fruits and vegetables
· An environment which includes pure air, pure water, healthy working conditions and aesthetic beauty
· Appropriate activity, including balancing exercise, rest, work and play
· A sound psychology based on self responsibility, self acceptance, self awareness and self mastery.
The stronger and healthier your immune system is, the greater will be your resistance to becoming infected. If infected, with whatever virus or bacteria, a more rapid and successful recovery is likely.
*Copyright 2014: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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