July 2016 By Punya Srivatsava A sound immune system can shield you in wellness regardless of the cosmic soup of bacteria and viruses whirling around us, says Punya Srivastava What is immunity? Where is the immune system located in our physical bodies? What does it consist of? These are valid questions to ask at a time when the word is gathering a buzz around it, mainly of fuzzy facts and dubious logic. For instance, we are today besieged by the sudden influx of health supplements in the market that promise a fighting-fit immunity just by popping pills twice a day. This is an oversimplified version of reality. Our immune system is not a specific organ or gland which can be fortified with a few chosen compounds. It is a deeply entrenched system of various organs and tissues that works 24 x 7 to keep our body healthy. Meet the immune system Our immune system is an extensive and complex network of biomolecules, cells, tissues and organs, usually all working in harmony. It is located throughout the body and includes tonsils, adenoids, the thymus gland, the spleen, bone marrow, and a vast network of lymph nodes. The first and foremost function of this system is to continuously detect and prevent foreign invasions (pathogens) in the body and then eliminate them without a specific physiological impact on the body. Our skin, mucous-lined nasal passage, caustic tears in our eyes, saliva in the mouth – all these are the anatomical barriers that stand guard against the entry of foreign materials. Next in line is a physical response like inflammation which indicates that the system is up in arms against pathogens trying to infiltrate the defenses of the body. A fever is a signal that the body’s defense mechanism has kicked in. A runny nose indicates that toxins are being discarded from the body. Febrile or feverish temperature is usually accompanied by heat, pain, swelling and redness which are the usual symptoms of our body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is normally a healthy response to injury or pathogen invasion, but in some autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, it can be painful. Then there are groups of biochemicals, produced by the liver, which help or complement the ability of antibodies and phagocytic cells (cells that engulf dead cells and infected cells) to clear pathogens from an organism. Hence, our immune system is not restricted to a singular entity which can be recharged through a single food group or a super-food or health supplements. There are various entities that need replenishment through various different sources. “According to ayurveda, the immunity is directly linked to the quality of dhatus (tissues) and their essence called ojas. The food that we eat, after digestion, gets converted into seven dhatus, namely plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, bone marrow and reproductive tissue. The essence of all these dhatus is called ojas, and this can be considered to be our immunity,” says Dr Partap Chauhan, a renowned ayurveda expert and founder of Jiva Ayurveda. In other words, a person brimming over with ojas has strong immunity. Confounding myths A disease is nothing but the absence of health. As Naturopath Dr NK Sharma, founder of Reiki Healing Foundation, says, “Nature intended for the human body to remain fit and healthy, and that is why it is blessed with a solid immune system. It is man himself who, in his ignorance, adopted an unnatural lifestyle and eating habits, and gradually started losing his vitality.” Each human being is born with an innate body intelligence and capacity to heal the body without any external tool like medicine or health supplement. These products had to be introduced into our lives because, over the years, we distanced ourselves from nature, resulting in the dis-ease of the body. All the chronic and acute diseases that we battle today have their roots in lifestyle disorder. According to Dr George C Pack, MD, cancer specialist at Cornell Medical School, almost everyone has cancer cells present at times in their bodies. He observes that if our immune system is working properly, these cells are killed or reabsorbed by our defense system before they begin to grow and threaten our health. “The only real defense against cancer is the immune system. Everyone gets cancer every day but if the immune system is where it should be, those cancer cells are eliminated and we never even come to know about it,” says he. Apparently, a healthy body routinely destroys 10, 000 cancer cells every day. However, an overload of antibiotics, antacids, immunisations, cortico-steroid drugs, and environmental pollutants eventually affect immune system balance to the point where it cannot distinguish harmful cells from healthy cells.“There may be a time down the road when 80 per cent to 90 per cent of infections will be resistant to all known antibiotics,” had said Nobel Prize winner, Harvard Professor Walter Gilbert. “Whenever the immune system deals successfully with an infection, it emerges from the experience stronger and better able to confront similar threats in the future. Our immune system develops in combat. If, at the first sign of infection, you jump in with antibiotics, you do not give the immune system a chance to grow stronger,” says America-based physician and renowned holistic health expert, Dr Andrew Weil in his blog. Certainly, it is increasingly true that a mindless popping of pills, our sedentary workstyles, technology-intensive lifestyles and a host of unnatural practices is decimating the immune system in seemingly healthy people. The way forward The human body is wonderfully designed. It is equipped with various systems and functions that can help the body to stay healthy. “It is very important for newborns to be breast-fed as the colostrum carries the most important antibodies that line the infant’s gut, supplying him or her with protection from diseases such as tetanus, pneumonia, e.coli infections, gastroenteritis, typhoid, dysentry, flu and many other viral attacks,” says Dr Sharma. “My strategy is to stop the assaults on the body – to reduce the number of factors your immune system has to deal with by cleaning up your diet, healing your gut, lightening your toxic burden, treating your infections, and reducing your overall stress,” writes Amy Myers in her book, The Autoimmune Solution: Prevent and Reverse the Full Spectrum of Inflammatory Symptoms and Diseases. The foremost step in the direction towards building a strong immune system is to detoxify the body of all the toxins accumulated over the years. A guided ayurvedic or naturopathic detoxification proves to be a great first step in cleansing the digestive tract. The accumulated ama is the cause of a lethargic and coagulated system which in turn causes different diseases. Ayurveda principles indicate that the body functions best when it is fed with natural foods and herbs because our system is programmed to recognise them. “Parents should make sure that their children eat natural food. Since most of us battle dis-eased bodies, I would recommend ayurvedic rejuvenating tonics to boost the immunity. Fruits, vegetables, milk, ghee, honey, nuts and grains are good source of nutrition, and can build the immunity prowess in kids,” advises Dr Chauhan. This is all one needs to steadily maintain his or her immune system – a balanced diet, an ama-free gut and a detoxed body and mind. To further boost the immunity, there are different food groups with different essential nutrients that ensure its proper working. California-based Dr Bharat Aggarwal, founder of Anti-inflammation Research Institute in San Diego, suggests a steady and routine intake of turmeric as a natural immunity booster. “When taken with pepper, turmeric gets quickly absorbed in the body,” he says. Dr Aggarwal also swears by the old Indian practice of having haldi-doodh to heal internal injuries and wounds. “Curcumin, the component that gives turmeric its golden yellow colour is fat soluble and works best when turmeric is combined with milk or ghee,” he adds. This is why Indian households till recently used a poultice of ghee-fried turmeric on external wounds. Vitamin C present in limes and lemons and amla fortify the white blood cells and helps in triggering the initial response during viral and flu. Juice of half lemon taken with a little honey in lukewarm water on an empty stomach not only boosts the immunity but detoxifies the body too. Munching on fresh ginger and ingesting two to three cloves of garlic daily also fortifies the immunity. According to a 2011 study by Oregon State University, regular intake of green tea ensures an increase in the regulatory T cells – white blood cells that play a key role in cell-mediated immunity. Dr Chauhan further says that the simplest way to take care of the immune system or maintain good quality ojas is to understand one’s constitution and follow a suitable regimen. Hence, a person with pitta constitution should not partake of foods or activities that generate heat in the body. In this way, people need diets according to their constitution, and lead a lifestyle that does not create imbalance. “In ayurveda, the concept of ‘balance’ is very central and we suggest six types of ‘tastes’ or shath ras to be included in the diet. Our body has different types of tissues – blood, bones, fats, muscles – whose quality ultimately affects the immunity. Just one group of foods cannot nourish all the tissues, so we need to have variety. And most importantly, one should be able to digest what one eats. One may eat the best supplements or super foods but if it is not digested well, it will not convert into dhatus and ojas,” says he. Another significant change one can adap
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