The Green Health Guide to a Healthy Immune System

Hello, intrepid natural medicine lovers. I have decided to offer you, yet another, tasty morsel of information, how to create a healthy immune system. As we discussed in our last show with John Chen, the best way avoid taking a shovel full of antibiotics is to have a healthy immune system and not get sick in the first place. So let’s take a look at a recipe for doing so.

Firstly, let’s break down the immune system briefly so that you can understand how it all works.

The immune system is comprised of the lymphatic tissues (thymus gland, spleen, and lymph nodes), a whole array of chemicals contained in tears, sebaceous glands, gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes (which protect us from foreign invaders) the skin, mucosa, normal flora (good bacteria, mama like) in our gastrointestinal tract, and bone marrow produced white blood cells. In addition, we have active proteins mediators (signaling devices, if you will) called cytokines that help regulate the growth and function of our immune cells.

Sound complicated? It is. And rather poorly understood by most folks. For the purposes of our hungry minds, let’s break it down further by looking at the immune response. This can be broken down to the non-specific immune response which is inflammation and it’s our cells way of dealing with an injury from any source (trauma, organisms, chemicals, poor blood flow, ignorance, etc.).

And the specific immune response, which involves T cells and B cells and is, basically, our little army that we dispatch to crush the Mongol hordes of pathogenic (viral, bacterial, and fungal, etc.) invaders.

This we can further divide into the cell mediated immune response which is the realm of the T-cells produced by the thymus. Without these little lovelies the body cannot protect itself from disease causing microbes. This is why AIDS patients are so susceptible to infections, AIDS crushes this defensive system. T cells lyse (or destroy) these invaders.

The other aspect of this system is the humoral immune response which refers to the B cells. These are little signal devices that identify the foreigners and help to inactivate or remove them.

Why, you ask, have I dragged you through this wonderful labyrinth? Because I am now going to explain how to strengthen the immune system, (at no extra charge).

Firstly, let’s look at the humoral or B-cell aspect. And let’s break this down into diet, lifestyle, and herbs.

Diet: From a Chinese medical point of view, foods that strengthen our spleen also strengthen this aspect of our immune system. Given our discussion above, it just makes sense. The spleen is a master lymph gland.

Foods that strengthen the spleen:

Fruit: cherry, date, mango, papaya, pineapple

Vegetables: carrot, garlic, potato, pumpkin, rutabaga, string bean, sweet potato, squash, yam

Grains: corn, oat, millet, quinoa, rice, spelt

Legumes: garbanzo beans, pea, soybeans

Miscellaneous: black pepper, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, nutmeg

Herbs that strengthen the spleen:

These are the herbs we refer as “qi tonics”: astragalus (huang qi), white atractylodes (bai zhu), gensing (ren shen), codonopsis (dang shen), licorice root (gan cao), and Chinese dates (da zao).

Exemplary Formula: There is a great traditional formula used to strengthen this aspect of the immune system called Yu Ping Feng San, which translated means Jade Wind Screen Powder. This is a reference to its ability to protect you by strengthening the “jade wind screen” around you (your immune system). Is that not poetic?
It is made from 3 ingredients: astragalus (huang qi), white atractylodes (bai zhu), and siler (fang feng). This is a great immune tonic and can really help people who have chronic susceptibility to colds and flus.

Foods to Avoid: Dairy (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, sour cream, etc.) Dairy is disastrous for a depleted immune system. It is full of dead and half dead pathogens. It creates lots of phlegm and mucous which effectively clogs the lymphatic system and most commercial dairy is also loaded with antibiotics which can kill the healthy flora in your digestive tract.

Cold, chilled food and beverages. The spleen and stomach are very sensitive to cold foods. These can damage the spleen over time.

Refined sugar, artificial sweeteners,chemical additives and processed foods. Too much sugar weakens the spleen (a little natural sugar has the opposite effect). Chemical additives can cause a host of health problems too long to detail in this blog entry.

Lifestyle recommendations:

Avoid too many antibiotics and especially broad spectrum antibiotics. Why? These destroy the good bacteria in our intestinal tract that is absolutely essential to a strong immune system. If you have loaded up on these make sure to take a broad spectrum probiotic (acidophilus) to help rebuild this system.

Reduce stress: Research has shown that in some individuals, but not all, stress can make you more susceptible to disease and weaken your immune system. Try meditation, qi gong, yoga or tai chi.

Lay off the coffee: Too much coffee can weaken the T cell aspect of your immune system and people often load up their coffe with loads of milk and sugar (see above).

Eat in a calm atmosphere, don’t eat too late at night.

Final note: Just when you were ready to run out and hammer the foods, and herbs that I recommended, let me add one final note and this is very important.

Don’t take these after you have gotten sick. They may have the undesired effect of strengthening the bugs. Take these when you are healthy and think of them as building your defense system, they are not for treating colds, flus and other infections.

That’s all for now, be sure to check out future blogs on strengthening the T cell aspect of your immune response and for herbs which have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Your humble servant, Marc