The Immune system plays an important role affecting the health and quality of life among people. Nature-sourced products with functions of immunomodulation are more and more in the reckoning as frontline therapeutics .
This has also come to become possible due to the fact that boosting ones immune system through several natural methods and a diet enriched with specific herbs and plant based derivatives has become more acceptable and recognised as a process that calls for a reorientation of better lifestyle management , and diet rather than resorting to medical interventions later when sickness comes knocking.
This article aims at presenting the key elements of life which are directly linked to Immune System regulation and boosting .
The key issues which drive the human immune system ( but subjected to a huge compromise with every passing year) are :
- The Environment
- The Mind Body connection
- Exercise and
We will delve into each of the above aspects to present an overall picture of their individual and collective importance â€“ to ensure that the Immune System functions in its best capacity thereby warding off and protecting the body from a host of illnesses.
The present situation with the Global pandemic of the COVID 19 virus has now warranted a deeper understanding of the various but simple possibilities that were always available to us but long forgotten.
Time now for a sort of a revisit to the annals of the above listed pillars on which we are dependent more than ever .
Environment, here encompasses all the things we eat, drink and breathe â€” from food to industrial chemicals and the drugs we put into our bodies. Scientists refer to this entire landscape as the exposome â€” all of the exposures that come from outside a person’s body. And combing the exposome for disease triggers is a huge job.
Here it is clear that the various aspects of industrialisation , sedentary lifestyles , poor water and environmental pollution along with colonised living in closed spaces in the urban jungle have wrecked havoc on our immune system and the body has to constantly ensure its defences are on top gear to fight off the threats from the antigens from the environment .The Macrophages and Cytokines are under severe stress here apart from the front line defence mechanisms like the T cells . Exposures to toxic and polluted air, effluents, bacterial invasions in closed spaces â€“( offices and homes) within Air Conditioned environments, non ionised radiation issues arising out of the pandemic of Wi fi and mobile technologies , all have contributed to the growing pandemic of the huge stress on our immune system and we need to find appropriate corrective solutions to these issues and other environmental conditions ( including food) to ensure the proper functioning of the immune system.
THE MIND BODY CONNECTION
Although the mind and the body might once have been seen as separate domains, the research during the last three decades demands an appreciation of the interconnection between mental states and physical well being.
Anxiety and stress for instance reduces the amount of Immuniglobin A ( IgA) which is an antibody in the front line defence of the body- making one extremely susceptible to a weaker immune system and thereby leading to sickness.
Why do we feel the feelings in our gut? Candace Pert, Ph.D. extensively researched and wrote about the molecules which create our feelings. These molecules are called neurotransmitters (more specifically neuropeptides.) Her book, Molecules of Emotion, clearly and concisely explains how these molecules create the feelings we have in our bodies. One of the biggest revelations of Molecules of Emotion is that neuropeptides are not just in the brain and central nervous system, as originally thought. Neuropeptides are free-floating throughout your entire body. Every cell in your body is bathed in neuropeptides. The surface of your immune cells, white blood cells, T-Cells, etc. have the same receptors for neuropeptides of emotion as the receptors in your brain. Dr. Pert’s research provides some of the hard scientific evidence of mind-body connection. The new paradigm is to think of the two as one unit- not as separate entities.
One of the theories of ‘gut feelings’ is that roughly 80% of our immune system is located in our intestines. Food absorption takes place here so we need extra immune system functions. When we get a ‘gut feeling’ we viscerally sense many billions of immune cells being activated by neuropeptides. But, we still can’t explain the intelligence that creates this – at least not (yet) with science.
One of the important conclusions of the discovery of free-floating neuropeptides is this: when you are happy, so is your immune system. And when you are depressed, your immune system is down also. Proneness to illness and disease is more often when people are down or depressed.
Mental stress and the connection to our bodies and our health is a well documented fact. We are connected in a psycho-somatic way. Our body constantly responds to the messages of our mind. And our minds are more stressed than ever before.
The mind and body are connected in an intricate and intimate way. Science is proving what philosophers and preachers have known for ages â€“ the mind and body are one. And to treat one without consideration of the other is to act in a way that is fundamentally contrary to the very design of the human being.
Meditative techniques to relieve stress , yoga , and a host of other therapeutic tools which help the achievement of a balance between ones thoughts and emotions go along way in addressing this problem . Today’s lifestyles have largely contributed to a vast section of our population /s going through and experiencing a host of conditions that exacerbate stressful situations leading to the body’s compromised immune systems .
Fear is another major factor that finds mention here particularly in today’s times, the fear of contracting infections runs large in our society and this has to be offset by a more helpful outreach by all the authorities which will help mitigate the release of the stress hormones and reinstate immune defences .
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
So said the eminent Greek Physician -Hippocrates
It cannot be more true when it comes to building your body and enhancing our health day after day. In the search for food man has come a long way -from the early hunters to today’s industries churning out processed food by the tons.
Farming has also shifted from what was originally ‘organic’ to the growth of Genetically Modified crops and weedicides with potentially disastrous consequences on our health. Most of the Non Communicable Diseases of today arise from the main problems of the lack of nutrition in the foods (read water also) the more economically stronger sections consume to the poor nutrition in the foods (read water also) of the economically weaker sections .
The body’s defences after being subjected to huge stressors by the â€“ Environment and The Mental issues plaguing the developing world, now have to seek other answers as they won’t be able to look to food and water for help.
The West continues to talk about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet- and in spite of our very own powerful and nutritional food and food cultures in India we have become more westernised as has China in our food choices .
Seeking to learn from Japan we should try to maintain our traditional food culture of eating right â€“ albeit with fermented foods that provide the fuel to the body and strengthen the defence mechanisms at a time of any external onslaught on our health.
It is here that a combination of specific foods available even today if consumed will provide the much needed fuel for the immune system. And in some cases supplementation with lost micro nutrients and vitamins have proven to be the panacea to this problem .
A few specific powerful immune boosting elements available in food that help rebuild or enhance the powers of the immune system are
ASHWAGANDHA, ZINC, CURCUMIN ( from Turmeric) ,
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, fam. Solanaceae) is commonly known as â€œIndian Winter cherryâ€ or ‘Indian Ginseng’. It is one of the most important herb of Ayurveda (the traditional system of medicine in India) used for for its wide ranging health benefits. Among the Ayurvedic herbs, Ashwagandha holds the most prominent place. It is known as ‘Sattvic Kapha Rasayana’ Herb . Most of the Rasayana herbs are adaptogen / anti-stress agents.
Ashwagandha is commonly available as a fine sieved powder that can be mixed with water, ghee (clarified butter) or honey. It enhances the function of the brain and nervous system and improves the memory. It improves the function of the reproductive system promoting a healthy sexual and reproductive balance. Being a powerful adaptogen, it enhances the body’s resilience to stress. Ashwagandha improves the body’s defense against disease by improving the cell-mediated immunity. It also possesses potent antioxidant properties that help protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals.
Zinc is an essential mineral that also supports immune function by regulating the production of T cells by the thymus glands.
After about age 40, the thymus gland begins to shrink and blood serum levels of zinc begin to slide, falling by about 3 percent every 10 years thereafter. This decline is mirrored in the thymus glands declining output of thymulin, the hormone responsible for stimulating the production of immune-system T cells, the killer cells responsible for keeping tumors in check and protecting us from infections. By age 65 the thymus gland shrinks so much that it can only release about 10% of the thymulin it did in our youth, greatly impairing our ability to stave of diseases.
Human studies conducted with the supplementation of zinc showed a remarkable reinforcement of the thymus glands and most importantly, thymulin output and T cell counts returned to youthful levels. Dosing with Zinc
Showed that people aged 65 and older, taking 15 milligrams of zinc per day soon evidenced the restoration of youthful levels of thymulin and T cell activity. Studies with Downs Syndrome patients who are very prone to infections showed similar results, cutting the number of new infections by over 50 percent after treatment with zinc supplements
The adult recommended daily intake for zInc is 15 mg. per day. Daily dosages above 150 milligrams may actually depress the immune system and increase susceptibility to disease. Continued intake of 25 milligrams per day can also interfere with the body’s absorption of copper.
Zinc supplementation to healthy human subjects aged 20â€“50 y reduced the concentrations of the oxidative stress=related byproducts malondialdehyde (MDA), 4-hydroxyalkenals (HAE), and 8-hydroxydeoxyguanine in the plasma; inhibited the ex vivo induction of TNF-Î± and IL-1Î² mRNA in mononuclear cells (MNCs); and provided protection against TNF-nduced nuclear factorâ€“ÎºÎ² activation in isolated MNCs (19).
Foods highest in zinc include fish, legumes, meats ,poultry, seafood, whole grains, egg yolks, flax seeds, sesame seeds , almonds ,chickpeas and cashews.
CURCUMIN (from Turmeric)
For ages Turmeric has been a very important part of our life systems with its vast medicinal properties and these are now recognized the world over .
Turmeric was and is an important part of the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India.
The yellow compound found in the root is called CURCUMIN .
With its powerful adaptogen properties this herb potentially is a very powerful tool in the
Management of stress and thereby an Immune booster .
CURCUMIN is a potent immunomodulatory agent that can modulate the activation of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells. Curcumin can also downregulate the expression of various proinflammatory cytokines including TNF, IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-12, and chemokines, most likely through inactivation of the transcription factor NF- kappa b.
This apart from its powerful anti inflammatory powers and the benefits it extends to the management and even the treatment of Cancer has been researched and documented world over .
The CURCUMIN in the Turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body and therefore when
taking Turmeric it would be most beneficial to take the powder mixed with a pinch of black pepper and ghee ( clarified butter) to enable its proper absorption in the body.
These powerful herbs and ZINC in addition are the key Elements to boost immunity.
However a few other herbs that are worth a mention are :
Tulasi ( Holy Basil) and Ginger both of which also when taken in the daily dietary regime will greatly ensure the health of the respiratory system and are powerful immune boosters as well as anti inflammatory agents.
The power of The Indian gooseberry ( Amla) with its rich content of Vitamin C offers a high degree of immune boosting activity and is proven now to be powerful against oxidative stress as well .
Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy? Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Without sufficient sleep, the body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, hence the importance of a 7-8 hours sleep cannot be more emphasised .
During sleep the T cells are also activated which is critical for the front line defence of the body against any antigens .
The research on sleep and the correlation with the circadian rhythm is well researched with several studies available.
Sleep deprivation has led to a host of health issues with a sharp rise in cortisol levels and the resultant stress suppress the immune system .
The human body has an innate ability to heal itself provided
Proper Environment, Mental Health, Diet ,Exercise and finally a good night’s sleep are ensured whereby the immune system functions at its optimal levels .
This article is a precursor to the detailed individual analysis of the above five elements of healthy living and the factors that play a large and important role on our lifestyles, health and well being .