Enhancing Your Immune System the Natural Way ...

With Food
By Gary Rosard December 2002 When I found out I was HIV-positive, suddenly the words "immune system" took on a new sense of relevance and urgency in my life. I decided right away on a path of natural means to keep my immune system strong. I did some research and decided that acupuncture appealed to me as a place to start. When I first went to see my accupuncturist, we talked in depth about all aspects of my health history. Chronic allergies and various gastrointestinal problems were conditions I had been tolerating for years. I never thought about these in relation to my immune system before, but I soon discovered the important connection. I thought I already ate a pretty healthy diet, and I exercised regularly, but my symptoms were a signal that not everything was up to snuff. My acupuncturist encouraged me to make diet changes a major part of my healing program. I started eating as if my life depended on it. Within about two months, my digestive problems had improved at least 90 percent, my allergies were gone, and I felt more energetic than ever.

Immune Systems Under Siege
Our immune systems face a daily onslaught of stresses. In an otherwise healthy person, common signs of a weakened immune system include frequent colds, as well as chronic allergies. Allergic reactions occur when the body perceives allergens (such as pollen, dust, molds) as poisons so it secretes histamine, creating familiar allergy symptoms. They're not really poisons,

but if your immune system is already compromised, your body reacts as if they were. Allergy suffering has greatly increased in the past 30 years, yet the allergens haven't really changed -trees, grasses, pets, dust and molds have always been around. But our environment has changed. I think one of the most devastating changes is in our food supply. Livestock have been increasingly treated with antibiotics and growth hormones. They are fed with heavily sprayed feed. Our diets are more heavily dependent on processed convenience foods full of additives and dyes, and new synthetic foods with hydrogenated or artificial fats and artificial sweeteners. These are all substances that the body doesn't recognize as nourishment, but rather as toxins that have to be eliminated. The immune system is busy dealing with these foreign substances, and may not have the reserves for the common allergens, germs and viruses. A poor diet and poor quality foods also create a digestive system that gets out of balance, resulting in partially digested proteins being absorbed into the body fluids, and causing the immune system to overreact, using valuable energy that could be used elsewhere in its fight against HIV. A compromised digestive system may lead to poor absorption of important vitamins and minerals, as well as food allergies. If you are HIV-positive, you really don't want to waste your immune system's energy dealing with common allergens or problem foods. A healthy diet is really the foundation of long term health maintenance and a strong immune system. It helps with medication tolerance, maintenance of body weight and muscle mass, and overall energy and quality of life. An optimal diet will reduce the risk of disease and strengthen the body's defenses and natural healing power. It will help you to reduce the other daily stresses to your system, and even positively affect your moods and sense of wellbeing. So here's what you need to know to get started.

The Bad Guys
Sugar: There is strong evidence that sugar has a negative effect on the function of the immune system. When white blood cells are exposed to high levels of sugar in the bloodstream, they have a decreased ability to engulf bacteria and have weakened systemic resistance to all infections. What is a high level of sugar? The normal sugar level in the bloodstream is approximately one teaspoon. A single can of soda or a bowl of ice cream has 12 teaspoons of sugar. The digestive system is overtaxed trying to prevent all that sugar from entering the bloodstream all at once, and the pancreas is also working hard to produce enough insulin to process the sugar. This is a lot of stress on your body. Refined carbohydrates, such as most breads and baked goods act pretty much like sugar in the body. These refined foods also lack the beneficial nutrients and fiber that are present in whole grains, and actually cause a depletion of minerals in your body. Try finding foods that are more gently sweetened with fruit juice, rice syrup or barley malt. Coffee: Caffeine is a diuretic that contributes to the body's loss of important nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Caffeine places stress on the adrenal glands (already stressed out from our hectic lifestyles) and adversely affects the nervous system, resulting in anxiety, hyperactivity, and insomnia.Healing occurs when the body is relaxed and its energy can be channeled inward. Regular consumption of caffeine deprives the body of this relaxed state. The acid in coffee eats away the villi of the small intestine, reducing their effectiveness in supporting nutrient assimilation. Thus the acids in coffee may cause as much problem as the caffeine. Try milder forms of caffeine such as green tea, or try the various caffeine-free coffee substitutes. Mix them with your coffee to gradually reduce your caffeine dependence.

Alcohol: When consumed in excess, alcohol is a poison to every system of your body. It depresses the nervous system, inhibits the bone marrow's ability to regenerate blood cells, is toxic to the liver, depletes B-vitamins, and is dehydrating. If you are taking protease inhibitors, which place significant stress on the liver, alcohol intake must be very moderate. Anyone with chronic hepatitis B or C should pay particular attention to this added stress to the liver, and try to avoid alcohol as much as possible. Raw foods: Foods such as clams, oysters, sushi, very rare meats, and undercooked eggs contain infectious bacteria and intestinal parasites. Infections that would not bother most people can be life-threatening for those with compromised immune systems. Even alfalfa and bean sprouts, which are usually associated with "health food," contain a natural toxin that can harm the immune system. They really should be cooked before eating. Raw fruits and vegetables should be well washed before eating. Rancid fats and oils: These create free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can initiate chain reactions of chemical disruption, injuring cell membranes, enzymes, and DNA. They have a negative impact on a wide range of conditions such as aging, cancer, inflammation, degenerative disease, viral infections, and AIDS. Common sources of rancid fats and oils are nuts, chips, baked goods, and fried foods. At higher temperatures and exposure to light, oils and fats turn rancid more quickly. When foods are deep-fried, the fats used reach very high temperatures, and if the oil is re-used, as is invariably the case, the oxidative effect is magnified. Most polyunsaturated vegetable oils, unless cold-pressed, are heated to high temperatures during processing. Hydrogenated vegetable oils, including shortenings and margarine, are also heat processed. These are all sources of free radicals. In addition, nitrates have been shown to cause cancer and should be avoided; they are found in hot dogs, sausages, salami and smoked meats.

Food allergies: Many people are sensitive to certain foods, which can result in symptoms including intestinal distress, fatigue, and even weight gain. Common foods that create such problems are dairy, eggs, gluten (the protein in wheat), soy, corn, and food additives. Individuals that experience any of the above symptoms should experiment with eliminating these foods from their diets for a few weeks to see what changes occur. Then, reintroducing one at a time will give a good indication of which foods may be causing the problems. Eating for a strong immune system starts with focusing on whole rather than refined foods. Eating organic foods as much as possible will make a big difference. You really don't want to be adding the burden of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and feed, antibiotics and growth hormones to your system.

The Good Guys
Whole grains: Brown rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat (kasha), oats, barley, and other whole grains are a valuable source of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that are an essential part of keeping the immune system healthy. Fiber helps cleanse the colon of toxins and helps prevent intestinal infections. Intact whole grains, not the flour products made from them are what really strengthen the digestive system. Cooked grains make a great breakfast or a substitute for pasta, white rice or white potatoes. Vegetables: Eat as many vegetables as you can. These are really the immune-boosting heavyweights. They are the best source of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are known to protect the body against many diseases, including cancer. Especially try to have dark leafy greens, such as kale and collard greens. And include as many of the yellow and orange vegetables as possible for beta carotene, an important antioxidant. Carrots, winter squash, and sweet potatoes are also great for satisfying the sweet tooth in a healthy way. If you are

prone to diarrhea, which is common among those with HIV, avoid raw vegetables (and fruit). Lightly steam or saute them instead. Fresh fruit: Providing the same benefits as vegetables, fruits can be eaten as snacks, separate from protein for better digestion. Berries are particularly noted for their cancer preventative abilities. Fruit though is very high in sugar, so large quantities should be avoided, especially tropical fruits such as bananas, mangoes, etc. If you are prone to yeast infections (thrush, candida), avoid fruit juices, since the high concentration of sugar promotes the growth of yeast in the digestive system. Protein: Generous amounts of high quality protein are important for maintaining rapid production of cells to support the immune system, preventing loss of lean muscle mass and boosting energy. As much as possible, look for organic meat and poultry, have plenty of fish, especially those high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for building the body's immune response. These include salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout and tuna; flax seeds are another good source of this important nutrient. Dairy products may not be the best protein source since they create digestive problems for many people, such as excess gas, loose stools, mucous and congestion. Yeast infections and thrush also thrive on dairy. Vegetarian sources of protein include soy products such as tofu and tempeh, and beans and legumes, having the added benefit of fiber, which animal foods do not provide. Other helpful foods include onions, garlic (unless you are having liver problems), ginger, and turmeric (a spice that is a good antiinflammatory). Mushrooms such as shitake, oyster, and other Asian varieties, are noted for their immune-enhancing abilities. Sea vegetables are rich in minerals such as immune-boosting zinc, as well as calcium. Small quantities of fresh almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are also good sources for zinc and healthy fats.

Water: This is the essential "ground zero" for regulating all of the body's systems. It eases the job of the kidneys and liver to process and eliminate toxins from the blood. It helps keep mucous membranes moist enough to combat the viruses they encounter. And it is a little known tool for reducing sugar cravings. Sugar cravings are often a sign of dehydration. Try a big glass of water the next time you are craving sugar, then wait a few minutes and see if the need for the sugar is really still there. Water, as well as other beverages, really should not be ice cold. Your body will have to use a lot of energy to warm it up to that 98.6 degrees it tries so hard to maintain. Try to have 6 to 8 glasses of pure water every day. Supplements: Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and herbs are an important part of making sure your nutritional needs are met. But taking a lot of supplements while maintaining a poor diet will not have the desired effects. If you want to plant a garden, you could just dig a few holes, plant the seeds, and wait for something to happen. Maybe a few things would grow, but the crop would probably not be very bountiful. But add compost and nutrients to the soil, water it properly, and you would reap the rewards. Think of a good diet as your way to amend your soil, then if you add a few supplements, there's a good environment for growth.

Staying Well
Nine years after my diagnosis, I'm still not taking medications and have no allergies, good digestion, no illnesses, and almost never even get a cold. You can make a start toward a more healthful life right now. The important thing is to start on a path that you can continue and expand to keep yourself healthy. Try small changes at first. Start with breakfast, the most important meal of the day. In the morning, we begin to burn energy at a high rate, and need to provide adequate fuel. (A cup of coffee

isn't the kind of fuel we're taking about here!) The immune system is the most sensitive system of your body to your energy level. The ideal breakfast should contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, some protein and some fat. A whole grain porridge with soy milk for example, would provide all of those requirements. Look for support that will encourage you and strengthen you along the way. Begin to eliminate or reduce one or two of the most harmful foods, and at the same time, add more of the beneficial ones. Notice how this starts to affect your digestion, your energy level, even your moods. As you start to feel better, you will be more motivated to keep making changes. As you integrate more healthful foods into your diet, you will discover the natural tastes and sweetness in simple foods. What are you going to try today? Gary Rosard is a certified Holistic Health Counselor with offices in Manhattan and South Orange, NJ. He offers nutritional and lifestyle counseling in a supportive, caring way that focuses on the whole person, not just the symptoms. Visit his Web site at www.calminthestorm.net/ or call (917) 494-9574 to discuss your health concerns.

Immune System Maintenance http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A586631
There are any number of books that promise you'll be able to live to 200, run marathons, and never catch a cold in your life... if you follow their rules. In reality, all you need in order to enjoy a healthy immune system is a lifestyle that recognises your body's basic requirements and some iron will for a few months, while you clear your body out and let it get back to a more 'natural' state. Then just continue to eat decent food and you'll be fine, assuming that you are otherwise in good health.

What is the Immune System?
Your immune system is, to all intents and purposes, your lymph system. Remember that liquid that comes out of cuts? Or when you had mumps when you were a kid? That lymph system, with its focused nodes under your chin and arms is the thing that keeps you together. Research suggests that those people with Lymphagioma or Cystic Hygroma (defects in the growth of the lymph system) end up with a compromised immune system as a result of abnormal growth and operations on those lymph nodes. So if you can, be gentle with them! And if you have to be rough on them, it's worth following the diet below. If you want to know more about the medical background of the immune system, there are some great resources on the web.

Compromised Immune System
There are several things that can affect your immune system and a lot of them link in to symptoms of full blown diseases; or they can become diseases if your initial symptoms aren't checked. Two primary linkages happen here; one is with diabetes and another is with a condition known as candida, which in a frustrating way also shows signs of diabetes (just to confuse matters). Your hormones can also be affected by extreme tiredness, so you might get some odd symptoms as a result of that. There is a (C) next to symptoms more allied to candida in the list below:

▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪

'Background' tiredness all the time: you feel like you're keeping yourself going on adrenaline only. Carbohydrate or sugar craving in the afternoons particularly (about 4pm) when you've run out of energy (C). Sore throat all the time (C), but particularly when feeling run down. Athletes foot, but you can't work out why (C). Can't walk uphill or stairs without your legs feeling like you've run a marathon (C). Feeling dog tired when you go to bed and still feeling tired when you wake up, no matter how long you slept. Possibly a bit depressed. Possibly putting on weight in a really weird way that you can't really justify in your diet.

Why is Candida Important?
Sometimes we forget that we are biological entities and have living things, like digestive flora and bacteria that aren't actually helping to keep us going. Candida is actually fungal and is present in just about all human beings. In a healthy person with a good balanced diet it's kept in check by bacteria, such as those associated with live yoghurts and the like. As soon as your immune system starts to become compromised, however, it can start running riot. Candida also lives for carbohydrates and it loves sugar; so it wants you to eat pastry and encourages you indulge yourself. Once you've become run down enough for it to take hold, it'll grab you and drag you down faster. Ironically, it is its own worst enemy, in that it shows itself to you quite unmistakably; but it's also hellishly difficult to get rid of. There is some advice below that will keep it in check; but you will need professional help to get things put back in order. If you have any of the symptoms above, then go and see your doctor; and be prepared for a long haul. The good news is that it's not desperately awful to have it lurking in the background, trying to catch you unawares, as long as you know it's there and can keep an eye on it.

Other Problems
'How could I end up compromising my immune system other than with candida?', you may ask yourself. In a word: stress. An important association with stress is adrenaline, which can have a deleterious effect on your body if you drive yourself on it all the time. Actually, there's other important stuff about eating and drinking chemicals in food that actively contributes to your body not working properly. But it's very, very important to realise that we are animals and our bodies don't seem to like working 12-hour days behind desks, getting no exercise, and eating processed food that's been sprayed with weed killer, colourant, and preservatives. The human body's evolution has been a gradual process over many thousands of years. It is only in the last couple of hundred that we've been bombarding our bodies with so many new experiences - both mentally and physiologically - that we are finding it difficult to cope. One of the consequences of modern living is that your vital mechanisms, including your immune system, begins to deteriorate after years of being hammered with junk food and over work.

The Solution
Well... it's not too bad. It can be tough at the beginning though; but you might find your evangelical zeal gets you through the first couple of weeks; and after that it's a doddle. First things first - and this is a good tip for anyone to do regularly; it will really stop candida in its tracks, as well as shock your body into feeling healthy again. You need to do a good long stretch of 'detoxing'. This doesn't mean drinking weird drinks that you can buy over the counter in the hope that they will solve your problems overnight, but at least a month (longer if you can stand it) of trying to give your body only the kind of food that it's evolved to cope with and nothing that's been introduced in the last couple of centuries. So here's a long list of things you shouldn't eat. Grit your teeth - it is possible; and it does bring back your energy and well being.

Caffeine - We all know about the problems with caffeine; so no need to go into them here. Peppermint tea is a reasonable alternative, or perhaps caffeine-free tea or coffee... but they could leave you craving for the real thing. A quick word of warning; you can get headaches for a few days when you come off caffeine, but it passes. Alcohol - Yup. We know red wine can be good for us, but alcohol is a depressant; and you want your body to find its own natural level. Not only that, but it contains some sugar; so candida loves it, unlike your immune system, which is trying to help your blood sugar level stay even. Sad but true, but there are an awful lot of chemicals in factory-produced alcoholic drinks. Refined sugar - If you think you've got candida, then anything sugary is right off the menu. But either way, refined sugar is something our bodies really hate. The system simply can't cope with that amount of carbohydrate pumping its way into your system all at once. As a result, you can have a huge slump in your blood sugar only hours later; and, as all dieters know, you'll be craving something energising to eat again, which just makes things worse. Wheat - Sounds weird, but the wheat that we make bread, pastry, just about anything with is something that your body finds very irritating in large amounts. Remember seeing 'gluten-free' products in supermarkets? It's the gluten in wheat that helps it bind together, but it also acts as an irritant to the body. What can you eat instead? There's a number of wheat free breads on the market - you can even get them in supermarkets, as well as health food stores. An alternative for breakfast is good old fashioned porridge... works wonders; and, contrary to popular belief, it only takes a couple of minutes to cook. Read the ingredients on the package carefully as some porridge may contain wheat, you're looking for those brands that are made from oats. Cows' milk products - Cows' milk isn't really liked that much by your body. While you're well and your body energy is high, you're able to cope with this sort of food without any problems; but when you're struggling, it's far, far better just to cut it out. And the shock news is that the kind of fresh, semi-skimmed goats milk that you can get from supermarkets tastes... well, to be frank, it tastes an

awful lot like cow's milk. Once you look into it, there is a plethora of delicious sheep and goat's milk cheeses out there, including the king of cheese, Roquefort. Because candida is fungal, you want to steer clear of mushrooms, yeast, and anything fermented (soy sauce is an example). Fruit juice is a no-no, because there's enough sugar in it to help your little bugs to keep going even without the cake and sugar. But try not to weep too hard remember, it doesn't last forever. Granted, if you actually have got candida then you need to keep going for a bit longer with abstinence... but you can do it.

What Should I Eat Instead?
Try to think that you want your body to have real food. So, when you're buying any food to eat or (better still) buying ingredients to cook at home, think of those magic words 'no additives'. Everything that's in the food should be simple, 'natural', non-tampered with or chemically derived, and 'primary', as whole food is. Once you get into the home cooking aspect of this, it becomes something positively enjoyable getting to know your body again and giving it the decent stuff it really wants to have as fuel. The second big point to remember here is that buzzword du jour is 'organic'. There's a reason organic foods are growing in popularity. Organic foods really are very, very good for your body. When humans were evolving, they were genetically mutated to eat the only food that was available at the time - and that was organic by default, there being no crop spraying available at the time. Factory made chemicals genuinely do mess up your immune system. And that's as good a reason to eat organic as any other considerations. For that reason as well it's worth at least remaining cautious of genetically modified crops.

Quick Note for Vegetarians
You will probably have eaten less and less decent protein and more and more take away pasta and pizza over the years; and put many a load of vegetables into the oven for a fashionable roasted veg supper. In doing that you're getting virtually no protein in your diet; so you will have to really bolster up your pulse and nut eating. Don't go mad and eat 15 eggs a week; but make sure you've got protein in every meal you eat. Your body needs it to help keep the immune system boosted.

Supplements and Extras
Water is almost the most important thing in this entry. If you're rich enough, you should try to drink mineral water (still, not fizzy) from glass bottles. Try to buy a standard bottle of mineral water every day; and when it's empty, refill it from the water cooler at work or, better yet, buy another one. Again, it is worth remaining sceptical of the claims made by our water companies. Even filtered tap water contains chemical residues that can't be removed in the normal treatment process. If you're trying to give your body a clear run for a while, it's worth making the investment in buying good mineral water1. There are many herbal supplements, such as echinacea, that are known to have a positive effect on your immune system. These should be treated with a great deal of respect, as they are often potent medicines, which may do serious harm to your body if taken improperly or in large doses. Do your homework before prescribing any medicine for yourself. Or, better yet, talk to your doctor about the possible side effects associated with herbal supplements. Traditional practices, such as acupuncture, are gaining a wider acceptance in Western medicine. There are parallels between acupuncture energy points on the body and lymph system function. Acupuncture attempts to focus on the body's energy and balance, key areas that tap straight back in to how you are coping with stress, how tired you are, and possible candida symptoms. In Chinese medicine it is recommended that you eat, among other things, plenty of spring onions, ginger, and melon if your Chi is low, all of which have been confirmed by Western medicine to be very beneficial to the immune system.

It should be noted that tests of bottled water occasionally determine that the pure spring Elysian goodness of the product contains more contaminants than ordinary tap water.

by Victoria Anisman-Reiner:

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