Immune System - What it can do. Good and Bad.

What it can do. Good and Bad.

Avoiding viruses, bacteria and the like is nearly impossible in the modern world. potential infections are everywhere, and new ones spring up all the time, or at least find their way beyond previously insurmountable geographic and biological barriers. You can almost hear some of those exotic viruses singing, "It's a small, small world."

You have probably noticed how often I talk about the importance of building up your immune system. This is because your general health is based on your ability to fend off disease. I'm not just speaking about the common cold, flu viruses and allergies. As our understanding of immunity increases, so does the list of serious immune-related diseases, among them psoriasis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, Epstein-Barr virus and chronic fatigue syndrome. Even arteriosclerosis and chronic infections like nephritis and colitis may belong on this list. With some conditions, such as allergies and asthma, the problem is not that your immune system is suppressed, but that it is overactive and responding overaggressively to harmless foreign substances such as pollens or dust.

Several autoimmune disorders actually cause your immune response to work against itself. The immune system is composed of many different parts working together to protect the body. This system has built-in regulators that tell it when to turn on and when to shut down. Autoimmune disorders occur when your immune system falsely identifies normal substances in the body as invaders and attacks them, injuring tissue. Examples of such disorders include lupus; rheumatoid arthritis; pernicious anemia, a severe blood disease; and Addison's disease, which is caused by partial or complete failure of the adrenal glands. According to medical researchers, it is quite possible that some cases of diabetes and infertility, chronic hepatitis, atopic dermatitis (an intensely itchy swelling of the skin caused by an allergic reaction), some cases of asthma and many other inflammatory and several degenerative disorders with no other known causes may also be autoimmune problems.

The term "immune stimulant" was coined by German researchers to describe herbs that help put your immune system in gear. It may seem that immune herbs simply crank up your immune system, but this is not necessarily true. The immune system is complex, and immune herbs can play many different roles. German scientist Hildebert Wagner, ph.D., who has studied immune herbs extensively, prefers the term "immunoregulator." These herbs not only stimulate an underactive immune system, but also help prevent the immune system from overreacting to invaders or to substances the body falsely identifies as invaders.

Many of the herbs discussed in this chapter increase the production and activity of macrophages-cells that the immune system sends to digest foreign invaders. Some herbs also stimulate the production of defense substances, such as interferon, which protect noninfected cells from viruses. Herbs can also enhance the production and function of T-cells, vital immune cells that kill viruses, fungi and certain bacteria. There is even a special type of T-cell called a natural killer that is in charge of destroying cells already infected with a virus or a cancer.

Your natural immunity is lowered by emotional or physical stress, poor diet, smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol. Of course, laughter and positive imagery can boost your immunity. Be on an immune alert when the chances of getting sick are high-say, when the kids go back to school or when you visit a foreign country. Also look out for a stressful situation on the horizon, such as school exams, a job change, a move or a legal battle. Even "good" stress, like a vacation or getting married, can lower your immune response. Use herbs at these times to bolster your immune system.

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