By Megha Bajaj
A healthy individual should get no more diseases than two colds a year. If you fall ill more often, and succumb to every passing infection, read this
Even as an epidemic hits a city, and thousands lay low, a few remain miraculously untouched. While you cough and wheeze when summer shifts to monsoon, a few annoying colleagues breeze through their days, smiling, eating ice-cream at zero degree temperature (your favourite rum and praline, to add insult to injury!), and the spiciest of delicious curries in summer. You eat a single vada pav off the roads, and your stomach complains for days, while there goes a friend, sixth vada pav in his hand, waving joyfully at you. You mumble, grumble and wonder, What’s he got that I haven’t?
The answer, very simply, is a strong, well-working immune system. From common cold to serious diseases like cancer, all can trace their cause to an ineffective immune system. The immune system can be compared to an army. Strong and powerful, it drives away disease; weak and vulnerable, and your body succumbs to every sneaky infection passing by. Shobha Bisani, a Chennai-based dietician, shares, “The immune system is an army, with each division having a specific job, depending on the enemy it is fighting. It consists of about a trillion lymphocytes (white blood cells), and about 100 million trillion antibody molecules, interferons, and other chemical weapons manufactured by the body.”
She adds, “White blood cells are the body’s hard working soldiers on the front lines. These cells guard the body’s bloodstream, preventing germs from gaining a grip. There are millions of these microscopic fighters in each drop of blood. Most of the infectious agents get into the body during inhalation or swallowing; a few enter through the genitals or through a cut in the skin, owing to injury. For the more sophisticated enemies, there are specialised units like tonsils, adenoids, thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, appendix, certain areas of the small intestine, and the bone marrow, that work from the nooks and corners of the body to gobble up harmful invaders.”
Your army and you share a relationship of great interdependence. Care for your soldiers, and they will protect you for years to come. Ignore them, and they will fail your body, no matter how young you are. The good news is they are a non-fussy lot, and even a little time and effort can strengthen these fighters tremendously. Here are just a few simple, yet powerful, pointers:
Childhood, for Mumbai-based Lavina Gulati, consisted of being bed-ridden time and again. Prone to allergies, she would often fall ill. While she happily missed school, when all the children went to the garden to play in the evenings, she would sadly look out from the window, and curse her immune system. Ten years ago, Iyengar yoga came into her life, and everything changed. Her body, her mind and her spirit. And yes, the immune system too. She shares, “There are several asanas in yoga that help blood circulation, and thereby improve the functioning of the immune system. Further, there are also poses that contract and expand internal organs, again boosting the immunity. Pranayama soothes the body, and stress, being the greatest cause for suppression of the immune system, simply drops away.” She adds that yoga is a great practice for the spirit, and after a one-hour session, she feels so light and joyful that disease, a permanent resident of her body, has left for good. It’s been nine months since she last fell ill, and the feeling of being able to do all that she wants, without even remembering that she has a body, is a superb feeling. While she suggests four hours a week of yoga as ideal for boosting immunity, she warns that it must be done under the supervision of a good teacher.
A joke goes, “Hello, and welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline. If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5 and 6. If you are paranoid-delusional…” If you laughed, you just gave your immune system a great boost. Dr Madan Kataria is known the world over – both for his initiative of creating laughter clubs across the world, and his own loud booming laughter. He says, “Laughter stimulates the immune system. Laughter lowers levels of the stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. At the same time, the immune system appears to grow stronger as the body’s T cells, natural killer cells and antibodies, all show signs of heightened activity during laughter.” He ends with a chuckle, for no obvious reason, and adds, “Even if you have no reason to laugh, fake laughter, and in time it will become real laughter. Also, your brain cannot differentiate between real and fake laughter, so whenever possible, just laugh away!” About 15-20 minutes of laughter a day can do wonders for the immune system. So go ahead, laugh out aloud. Chuckle. Giggle. It costs nothing, and gives you a great immunity boost.
Mumbai-based Usha Thakore has been doing self-Reiki regularly for more than a decade. She says that 45 minutes of this each day, relaxes her like nothing else can. During the process, she places her palms over all the seven energy chakras in the body, and along with affirmations of health and happiness, heals each one. Stress and toxins, according to her, are the two main causes of diseases, and with Reiki, both can be effectively handled. With regular practice, the energy channels open, the immune system strengthens, and the regenerative power of the body magnifies.
After being treated for breast cancer, Chennai-based Neerja Malik’s immune system had drastically weakened. Although she was cancer-free, her body was vulnerable, and every month, she would be down with some illness or the other. She started taking Reiki, and within five sessions, her immune system strengthened so much that she began regular practice. Today, she even teaches Reiki, and her radiant smile and lithe body speak of great health.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Nature cure is so simple, easy and cheap… this system of treatment should be used.” Mumbai-based Ameeta Shah nods in agreement, her conviction born of a 27-year-old practice. Naturopathy is a system of medicine aimed to diagnose and treat any human ailment through the use of natural elements, mainly space, air, fire, water and earth. It also works on the belief that all forms of disease are due to the same cause, that is, the accumulation of waste materials and toxins in our bodies that are steadily piling up. “So naturally,” says Ameeta, “the very first step towards strengthening the immune system is to detoxify. This can be done by increasing the amount of raw vegetables and fruits one eats, or even going on a diet that includes only these for a few days, if required.”
She also recommends hydrotherapy, which includes detoxification with the use of water, be it in the form of water fasting for a few days, going for a sauna bath, or even a colon therapy treatment. The treatment would be recommended by a naturopath, and differ for each patient, after they learn their medical history and ailments.
However, there are certain things that each one can start taking immediately to boost their system. The most important, Ameeta says, is Vitamin C. Whether it is in the form of amla, lime or fruits like oranges, cherries, peaches – intake has an immediate benefit on the immune army, which loves the citrus taste. Other simple diet intakes that could help are tulsi leaves, onions, garlic, and also a quarter teaspoon of flaxseed oil, twice a day. Also, noni juice (made of a fruit called noni in Hawaii, also known as Indian mulberry), a new product available in all health stores, has amazing effects on the immune system. It has 150 nutrients, and Ameeta shares that for the last four months, she has been recommending it to her clients, and none of them have fallen ill since. She warns that the immune system gets weaker during the rainy season, and as protection, she recommends that we ensure that any meal consists of at least 60% fibre. “Go eat that pizza if you must, but follow it up with a lot of salad to neutralise its harmful effects,” she smiles.
The website www.abchomeopathy.com states that homoeopathy, the second most widely used medical system in the world, is effective in strengthening the immune system, because it works in harmony with your immunity, unlike some conventional medicines which suppress it. (For example, cough medicines suppress the cough reflex, which is your body’s attempt to clear the lungs). Also, homoeopathic remedies are safe, as they are not addictive – once relief is felt, you should stop taking them. Finally, homoeopathy is holistic. It treats all the symptoms as one, which in practical terms means that it addresses the cause, not the symptoms. This often means that symptoms do not recur.
Ayurveda too treats the cause, and has been approached by many as their manna for good health. Dr Deepali Jyotin, working for Ayushakti Ayurvedic Centre, Mumbai, for five years, says, “A healthy immune system is possible only after panchakarma or a detoxification programme.” One needs to visit a good Ayurveda centre where the expert will check your pulse, weight, discover your body type – vata, pitta or kapha – and accordingly give you a complete detoxification plan, which could last from one week to a month.
This plan would constitute intake of ghee to loosen all the toxins, fermentation to collect all the toxins in the stomach, and finally purgation, usually by giving herbs that induce vomiting or enema that helps defecation. Once this is done, says the doctor, your system will be squeaky clean, and your immune system will give you peak performance. For elderly people or children, who cannot go through this programme, the Ayurveda herb called pratishakti, discovered 6,000 years ago, helps tremendously.
Your army is waiting for you to nurture it. Go ahead, strengthen it. So much of life remains to be explored, who has the time to fall ill?
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