With the advent of central heating, hot water and food abundance, modern man has forgotten how to protect the immune system effectively from seasonal bugs including coughs, colds and flu.
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How did our ancestors survive?
With this question, I am not suggesting for one minute that we all go back several hundred years! I too love my home comforts. The question is more about building immune health to live in our populated cities and towns as well as when commuting and travelling on trains, planes and in other forms of transport that can be rife with any seasonal bug that might be going around.
The immune system is a network running throughout the body that includes the lymph nodes and vessels, the skin, as the first line of defence and the thymus gland. It is divided into two aspects, and can be likened to an army – the first line of defence which is the nonspecific immune is present at birth and is activated as the baby passes through the birth canal as the new born takes a gulp of the bacteria present in the canal. It is further developed through breast-feeding when the mother passes her own immunity on to the baby. The first line of defence is quick to respond by attacking antibodies, breaking them down and removing them from the body.
The second line of defence is the specific immune. This is slow to respond as it distinguishes between friend and foe and then having identified the antigen as foreign, it raises antibodies to fight the identified antigens. Once the antigen has been removed the memory is stored in the system and if the same antigen attacks again, the immune responds from the first line of defence, the nonspecific immune.
What compromises the Immune System?
The immune is working actively most of the time to identify antigens and protect us from foreign antibodies. Essentially protecting us from deadly threats. A couple of hundred years ago, there were no chemicals, electromagnetic radiation, and the level of stress that we experience in our daily lives. The immune mostly had to work with the effects of poor nutrient depleted diets, and perhaps some sensitivities. Stress existed when there was real danger from a wild animal, but once the situation passed, everything went back to normal.
With modern day lifestyle the immune system is compromised in different ways.
The main compromising factors are:
- Poor dietary habits – eating dead food that has no nutritional value, such as processed foods, microwave meals etc
- Sensitivities from foods, dust, pollens ……
- Levels of stress due to lifestyle and life’s curveballs
- Poor or lack of sleep
- Lack of movement and exercise
- Exposure to electromagnetic radiation within the office and home environments from Wifi, mobile phones, Smart metres, telephone masts….
- Pollutants in the air and water from household chemicals, agricultural chemicals and industrial waste
- Over use of antibiotics
What are the markers of a poorly functioning immune system?
There are several markers of a poorly functioning immune. Some of the markers include:
- Feeling run down or under par for most of the time
- Poor resistance – repeated colds, regularly contracting flu
- Inability to shake off a cold or flu
- Repeated bouts of urinary tract Infection
- Exhaustion and weariness
How do you maintain a healthy immune system with a Western lifestyle?
Maintaining a healthy immune assumes that it was formed correctly from birth, and that the immune system is functioning correctly in general. It is our day-to-day lifestyle that weakens the immune. The following are some key points to consider in order to maintain good immune health:
Manage stress effectively:
- Identify what causes you stress and put steps in place to minimise it
- Think positively replacing any negative thoughts with positive ones
- Communicate assertively and positively. Be ready to forgive.
- Get outside and walk in nature. Even if you live and or work in a city, getting outside into a local park is generally possible
Hydrate and eat a healthy diet:
- Water is essential for the flow of blood and for a healthy immune. Drink a minimum of 1.5 litres of plain water daily, preferably without gas
- Include herbal teas into your day
- Eat seasonal foods. Nature has the intelligence to produce foods that we need for each season including the vitamins and minerals important at that time
- Eat a combination of raw and cooked foods. Too much raw can make the body cold and vice versa
- Exercise and movement increase the flow of lymphatic fluid whilst conditioning the heart and lungs. The immune system is the only system in the body that does not have its own pump. It relies on movement to function effectively - something our ancestors did plenty of whilst hunter-gathering.
- Dry skin brush to remove any dry skin, ensuring the skin that is part of the first line of defence, is functioning correctly
- Hot and cold hydrotherapy – have the courage to switch the hot off and have 30 seconds or more of cold-water therapy. To finish, switch back to hot water. Hydrotherapy is very effective for stimulation of lymph flow and boosting immunity whilst also enhancing the function of the eliminatory organs. Something our ancestors would have done naturally.
- Get a good night’s sleep to help the body get adequate rest and make the necessary repair
- Avoid pushing yourself when you are suffering from a cold or flu to enable the body to recuperate quickly. Take bed rest if needed
- The gut is also part of the immune system therefore ensure your gut is healthy and there is no digestive weakness that can weaken immune health.
There are many naturally occurring herbs that boost, support and build a healthy immune. However, talking to a medical herbalist before taking them is important to ensure they will not interfere with any medication you might have been prescribed. *Echinacea is a safe herb that is a natural immune stimulant as well as having immune support properties and is commonly used for infections. Echinacea can be used once a cold or flu has taken hold or can be used as prevention during the change of seasons. (Do not take for more than two weeks at a time).
Certainly, our ancestors would have eaten wild berries – elder, rosehip, sloes and blueberries. All are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, as well often having natural antiviral properties.
*Avoid if on immune suppressive medication.
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH
The Complete Herbal Tutor, Anne McIntrye
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