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Boost Your Immune System and Beat the Bugs
They're everywhere—on your skin, in the tub, on the kitchen sink. They're lurking between the fingers of the person you shook hands with, floating in the air, and even lounging in the fruit salad. And they're looking for you, tracking and hunting you down in order to make you their next victim. You can't hide from them.
No, you're not paranoid. This is the reality. Disease bugs are everywhere, even thriving several feet under the Antarctic ice and within boiling natural springs. But don't be too terrified. Over millions of years of evolution, the human body has developed a good relationship with many of the bugs on this planet. Hundreds of different bacteria now live in harmony with your body, as permanent residents in your gut, helping to break down some foodstuffs and even helping to make nutrients such as the vitamin biotin. And any bugs that are your enemies have quite a challenge to overcome: the highly evolved and powerful human immune system.
Even considering the wonderful way in which the immune system fights off invaders, some bugs will find ways to penetrate the defenses. A major premise of The Common Cold Cure rests on ways to boost the power of the immune system in order not to give these bugs the opportunity to make an effective landing on your respiratory tissues. If they do land and try to get a foothold, your strengthened immune system can swiftly give them the boot. And if by great persistence they do start making inroads, many of the nutrientsdiscussed in this book will batter them unconscious. Let's start with learning some basic facts about our natural defenses and how we can help them to function better.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Dr. Sahelian went through the normal process of medical education and residency just as all medical students do. He was taught about the immune system—how T cells work, the role of the spleen and the thymus gland, and many of the intricate details of this complicated system. But he doesn't recall ever being taught how to improve the immune system. It was always assumed that if you left it alone, the immune system would function optimally. There was no reason to think that any nutritional manipulation could influence it. In fact, Dr. Sahelian remembers asking his immunology professor if there were any dietary or nutritional changes we could make to boost the fighting power of immune cells. The professor's blank stare showed that this was the first time he had ever even entertained the thought.
As Dr. Sahelian continued his medical education, he fell into the traditional medical trap of thinking that a specific antibiotic, antiviral, or antiparasitic medicine was the only option in treating infectious diseases. Although such medicines have enormous benefits in treating and curing many of the infections that previously incapacitated or killed countless people, they are not the only answer. Many of the individuals who are afflicted with infectious agents have weak immune systems. Instead of focusing exclusively on killing the germ, why not take a more comprehensive approach by finding ways to stimulate the immune system to do some of its own killing of these undesirable intruders?
Although traditional medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds in certain areas, it is still in the Middle Ages when it comes to incorporating nutritional and immuneboosting approaches to its armaments. But we're living in an exciting age—a revolution has started with consumers demanding that their physicians learn about and keep up with natural approaches and alternatives to toxic drugs. We're finding natural, healthy ways to make our bodies better fighters. The immune system can be improved.
The Birth of the Immune System
The primary purpose of the immune system is to prevent unfriendly germs from getting a foothold in the body. The maturing process of the immune system begins in the womb. Within the bone marrow of the fetus, a single primitive type of cell called the stem cell begins to differentiate into lymphoid cells and myeloid cells, which go on to form additional cells of the immune system.
Lymphoid stem cells mature into T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and natural killer cells. All of these are white blood cells. T lymphocytes are so called because they first go to the thymus gland (hence the "T") in order to mature. B lymphocytes are so called because they remain in the bone marrow (hence the "B") in order to continue with their development. Finally, the natural killer cells are lymphocytes that serve in the active fight against viruses and cancer cells.
Myeloid stem cells mature into neutrophils, eosinophils, and red blood cells. Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cells, which fight disease and infection. Eosinophils are responsible for killing parasites and are also involved in allergic reactions. Finally, red blood cells carry the oxygen that is needed to feed our tissues and organs. (See Figure 1.1.)
The Immune System After Birth
At about the time of birth, the immune system has almost fully matured. A number of immune cells are now present in the blood, thymus gland, spleen, skin, mucous membranes, and the lymphatic system. It is absolutely necessary that the immune system be developed by birth, for otherwise the vulnerable infant would quickly fall prey to the countless germs of our environment. Breastfeeding is extremely important, since breastmilk contains a number of immune components, such as immunoglobulins, that are not present in formula. These components bolster the infant's resistance to infection.
During the first few months and years of life, infants and children are constantly exposed to new viruses and bacteria. Each germ has specific proteins or compounds, called antigens, that can be recognized by the immune system. With each exposure, the T and B lymphocytes mount an attack by making and releasing antibodies, which are proteins that attach to the antigens, making it easier to destroy the foreign substance. Once the immune system makes antibodies against these antigens, it remembers (almost forever) how to make them again very quickly when re-exposed to the germ. Hence, as we get older, we tend to come down with fewer colds and infections because the immune system can quickly put out specific antibodies that thwart the invading germ.
THE COMMON COLD
As you may already know, the word rhino means "nose." It follows that rhinoviruses are viruses that infect the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, sinuses, mouth, and throat (pharynx). Upper respiratory infections, referred to as URIs, are the most common acute illnesses in the United States and the Western world. They constitute what are referred to as common colds. The usual symptoms of the common cold are nasal discharge and obstruction, sneezing, sore throat, cough, and hoarseness.
Although URIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses are much more likely culprits. There are at least 200 different viruses that cause colds. Most of these are rhinoviruses, but coronaviruses, influenza, and other types also cause URIs.
Once the cold virus gets a foothold in the upper respiratory system, a person begins to experience symptoms within two to three days. The earliest symptoms are a feeling of uneasiness or malaise, sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat, slight fever, and a decrease in the senses of smell and taste. These symptoms get worse over the next two to four days, and it is during this time that transmission of the virus to another person is most likely. Later symptoms of a cold include hoarseness and cough. Most symptoms last one week, but in certain individuals they can go on for two weeks. Sometimes a dry cough is the last symptom to go away.
For practical purposes, it is not necessary to identify the exact type of virus causing a particular cold. The most important role for a physician is to make sure the cold has not progressed to a more severe infection. Sometimes the damage to the upper respiratory lining from the cold virus allows more virulent germs to attack, and then a simple cold can turn into a bacterial infection. Such an infection can spread to the sinuses and lead to sinusitis, go through the Eustachian tubes to cause an ear infection, or progress down to the lower respiratory tract and result in pneumonia. (The lower respiratory system includes the trachea and the lungs.) A secondary infection by a more virulent bug is more likely to occur in certain populations: children; the elderly; individuals who have existing lung diseases, such as those with asthma or emphysema; individuals who have compromised immune systems, such as those with AIDS; and individuals who are on medicines that interfere with immunity, such as prednisone.
Resistance Over Time
When Dr. Sahelian started his medical internship back in 1984, he often came down with colds—particularly when he worked in the pediatric unit. Internship was a stressful time and the doctor always seemed to be sleep deprived. And on top of everything else, the hospital food wasn't that healthy. Hence, the combination of a poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, and exposure to children with infections was enough to overwhelm his immune system. Yet as the residency progressed, even though the stress continued, Dr. Sahelian didn't seem to come down with colds as frequently. Apparently he had become exposed to quite a number of bugs and had built up antibodies against them. Usually, doctors who have been in practice for many years rarely come down with colds because they have been exposed to almost all of the different types of rhinoviruses.
Most adults come down with a cold between two and four times a year, while children usually average six to eight colds a year. Since the most common way to transmit a cold is through human contact, most families are exposed to cold viruses through children who bring them home from school. Daycare centers, in particular, are hotbeds for colds. The children are in close proximity, and they often touch each other on the hands and face before and after rubbing their own noses. Cold viruses can survive on the body or hands for several hours, during which time contact with another person gives the virus a free ride. Although viruses can be transmitted through the air, hand-to-hand contact is the most reliable way to transmit these bugs. Many of Dr. Sahelian's adult patients report that the incidence of colds in the family rose dramatically after their children were placed in daycare centers.
Over time, most individuals are exposed to a number of common cold viruses and do not easily succumb to them during subsequent exposure. The odds of catching a cold are thus reduced with age, except for the senior population, as their immune systems often begin to falter.
THE DREADED FLU
The most common cause of the flu is the influenza virus, although other viruses, such as parainfluenza and adenovirus, produce similar symptoms. The two most common types of the influenza virus are identified as types A and B and are clinically indistinguishable. Although there are exceptions, most cases usually occur in an epidemic pattern at varying intervals, usually in the fall and winter. It is difficult to diagnose influenza in the absence of an epidemic, since the disease resembles many other mild, fever-producing illnesses.
Although there's a good amount of overlap in symptoms between the common cold and the flu, these two types of illness differ in some major aspects. The flu syndrome comes on abruptly and causes weakness, tiredness, muscle aches, headache, and fever. Unlike the common cold, during which a person's temperature elevates by only about one degree, the flu virus can cause temperature elevations of up to five or six degrees. Furthermore, the flu is almost always accompanied by a cough. Muscle aches can occur in the lower back, thighs, and arms. There can even be pain behind the eyes.
The flu viruses cause much more misery than the common cold viruses. A person who is suffering from a flu feels like all of the energy has been drained out of him or her. Some individuals even suffer from temporary depression. One of the last symptoms to go away is a cough that can persist for weeks afterwards.
Unlike the common cold, which is transmitted mostly through hand-to-hand contact, the most common way influenza is transmitted is through small particle aerosols in the air that are dispersed by sneezing, coughing, and talking. Once the flu virus gets a foothold, symptoms can start as soon as twelve hours and as late as three days after exposure. Transmission of the virus to another person most often occurs during the first three days after the onset of the flu symptoms.
Each year, flu viruses can undergo slight variations in their protein structures, thus making the antibodies that the body made in the previous year practically ineffective. So at the beginning of each flu season, a committee at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines the types of changes the flu viruses have undergone and recommends a new vaccine. The vaccines help individuals who are at risk for the flu to mount a more effective defense.
Flu vaccines are often given in October and November. They can protect certain individuals with weak immune systems. Good candidates for flu vaccinations are the elderly, those with chronic heart or lung conditions, and certain health-care workers. However, there are also reasons why a vaccine is less than ideal when it comes to fighting off the flu. See pages 26 to 27 for more information.
THE TOP FOUR IMMUNE BUSTERS
Why are some people seemingly immune to colds and the flu, while others have to carry around the tissue box as if it were a teddy bear? Quite a number of factors influence the immune system. Of course, we cannot discount genetics. Some people are lucky to be born with highly evolved immune systems. And then we must take into consideration each child's nutritional development during the stages when the immune system is completing development. Usually, the healthiest babies are those whose mothers had excellent nutritional habits and breastfed them as infants, and whose parents cooked great meals with plenty of wholesome foods and fresh produce.
Notwithstanding genetics and early childhood diet, quite a number of factors can influence a person's current immune status. Over the years, we have observed four common factors that increase a person's risk of coming down with colds and the flu: lack of adequate sleep; stress; poor diet; and smoking.
Lack of Adequate Sleep
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of good, regular, deep sleep. It plays an integral role in proper immune system function. Many of the immune cells, such as natural killer cells, are activated during deep sleep. The first question Dr. Sahelian asks a patient who comes into the office with cold symptoms is, "How are you sleeping at night?" In most cases, the patient will report some event that disrupted his or her sleep patterns, whether it be traveling through different time zones on a recent trip, changing a work schedule, or staying up late at parties. The body cannot recuperate without adequate rest.
Another common cause of immune dysfunction is stress, whether it be psychological (such as relationship difficulties and financial worries) or physical (for example, intense athletic competition and illness). Stress definitely has harmful biological effects. The immune system responds quickly to thoughts and emotions. There are receptors on the surface of white blood cells to which hormones and neurotransmitters attach. When under stress, substances released by the brain attach to these receptors and disturb the cells' regular functioning. The immune system can, in turn, send substances back to the brain, altering the release of neurotransmitters and influencing mood and cognition. At the other end of the spectrum, positive thoughts and emotions are, in some instances, believed to enhance the immune system.
Luckily, we can do something about stress. Much of it is self-induced or self-aggravated. While stuck in traffic, we can either boil with frustration or turn on the radio and hum along with the songs. Most of our daily stress is not necessarily due to external circumstances. Rather it is due to our underdeveloped coping skills.
Walk into any grocery store and you'll see stacks of sodas, potato chips, cookies, and pies within impulse reach. Countless Americans thoughtlessly place these convenience junk foods in their shopping carts at the expense of nutritious foods. There is no doubt that the immune system cannot function at its best when constantly exposed to this junk. Such food is often devoid of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients necessary for the proper function of the immune system. Furthermore, the high levels of sugar and processed fats in junk food interfere with immunity. Having said that, if you normally have a good diet, don't feel guilty for occasionally eating desserts or munching on a convenience food. See this chapter's section on "Healthy Eating Habits" for some good dietary advice.
Cigarette smoking can damage the lining of the respiratory system. When that lining is impaired, the risk increases for germs to gain a foothold. Cigarette smoke contains many toxic chemicals that damage the cilia—hairlike structures that line the respiratory system and constantly sweep out germs that have been inhaled. As a result, smoking could well increase your risk of catching a cold.
HEALTHY EATING HABITS
Much has been written about healthy eating habits. The basics include several easy-to-follow guidelines. First, reduce your intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates. Use the natural, no-calorie sweetener stevia as a partial substitute for sugar. Also, decrease your intake of fried foods, margarine, and baked goods. These foods contain trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated oils that interfere with the function of good fats. Fats make up the lining of white blood cells. If this lining includes healthy fats from whole foods and fish, the immune cells are able to function better.
Be sure to include more omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, particularly through consumption of cold-water fish. If you don't eat much fish and other marine products, take supplements of DHA and EPA, which are two forms of omega-3s. In addition, use more olive, canola, and flaxseed oils, and less safflower, sunflower, and corn oils, in order to get the right type of fatty acids. These fatty acids can improve the function of immune cells by making the cell membranes more fluid and by enabling the immune cells to detect germs more easily.
Vary your fruit and vegetable intakes by purchasing produce that you don't normally eat. Each fruit or vegetable has a unique set of carotenoids and flavonoids. These plant chemicals have powerful antiviral and antibacterial effects. They also have anti-inflammatory abilities that can reduce the risk for allergies. And be sure to add garlic or onions to your salads or other dishes, since they have antiviral components.
It is very important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. This will keep your system cleansed and well-hydrated. Drink one or two large glasses of water when you wake up in the morning, to help empty the colon. Furthermore, drink a variety of herbal teas instead of just regular tea or coffee. Each morning, have a different type of tea, such as ginger, green tea, licorice, peppermint, or elderberry. Herbs contain a number of compounds that fight germs. For more information, see Chapter 6.
Finally, at least two or three times a week, add yogurt with active cultures to your diet. The bacteria in yogurt colonize the gut to prevent harmful germs from getting a foothold. These tips should get you started on your way to a stronger immune system. Dietary changes can make a large difference in your body's ability to beat the bugs.
IMPORTANT IMMUNE-BOOSTING SUPPLEMENTS
In addition to direct dietary changes, you can enhance your nutrition with supplements. Before you begin supplementation, make sure you first have good lifestyle habits, including proper sleep, good diet, exercise, and stress-reduction techniques. Once you have your basic foundation, you can explore the benefits of natural supplements as adjuncts to immune stimulation. We recommend the following nutrients, especially during the winter season:
Vitamin C, 100 to 250 milligrams once or twice a day.
A multivitamin supplement supplying one to two times the RDA for the B vitamins.
Vitamin E, 30 to 200 international units (IU) per day.
A multimineral supplement supplying 50 to 100 percent of the RDA for minerals.
Fish oil capsules supplying between 500 and 1,000 milligrams of DHA and EPA, if you don't normally eat fish. If you are a strict vegetarian and do not want to take fish oil capsules, take a teaspoonful of flax oil daily.
Probiotics, if you're not a yogurt eater. These probiotics contain beneficial bacteria, such as acidophilus and bifidobacteria. (If you do include yogurt in your diet, this supplement is not necessary.)
Garlic pills, one or two capsules a day, if you don't normally consume garlic.
Melatonin, 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams once or twice a week, an hour or two before bed. This substance is helpful if you have trouble sleeping. Remember, deep sleep rejuvenates the immune system.
There is no doubt that if you adopt the healthy lifestyle habits of proper sleep, adequate exercise, nourishing foods, and stress management, your risk for catching the cold or flu will decrease dramatically. Taking additional supplements can provide you with extra protection. Suffering from a few bouts of the common cold or the flu each season is not inevitable. Beat the viruses from the very beginning by boosting your immune system. It's much more preferable than attempting to smother the symptoms once your body has been invaded.
|1. Boost Your Immune System and Beat the Bugs,||5|
|2. Conventional Medicine Versus the Common Cold,||19|
|3. Vitamin C—Gold Medal Infection Fighter,||33|
|4. Zinc—A Cold's Worst Enemy,||45|
|5. Echinacea—Herbal Immune Activator,||59|
|6. The Rest of the Herbal Medicine Chest,||73|
|7. Practical Ways to Conquer a Cold and Fight a Flu,||99|
|8. Natural Remedies for Specific Symptoms,||121|