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Protecting the Immune System

By Dr. L. Lee Coyne, the Healthy Professor

Dr. L. Lee CoynePhrases using the words “immune system” are common in discussions about health particularly with the recent SARS scare and the West Nile Virus intrusions and now the impending Flu Pandemic threat. Now more than ever, with global travel and global trade, it is imperative that we take the responsibility of protecting our immune systems.

Effective immunization requires us to have an effective immune system to respond appropriately to the stimulus of immunization. Immunization is merely the introduction of mild or even dead versions of viruses designed to stimulate the immune system to produce the correct anti-bodies that will protect the body when a live virus attack occurs. Even the popular practice of taking Echinacea when we get the flu or cold requires an active and strong immune system to be effective. Echinacea “stimulates” the immune system but in order to stimulate the system you must have an effective system to stimulate. Therefore building and effective system is your responsibility and it won’t occur on a diet of beer, pretzels, potato chips, soft drinks, white bread, processed meats and excess sugar.

Magazines, supplement manufacturers, health practitioners, self-help consultants advise on how to “strengthen, support or activate the immune system". Certain ailments are the  result of a “weakened” immune system or “immune deficiency”, or “auto-immune” conditions. Physical activity, food choices, toxins and certain behaviors  “challenge” the immune system. Many consumers wonder where is this immune system?

The immune system, is not a single or even a group of anatomical structures anatomically  located in certain areas of the body. Rather this system is a collection of cells and biochemical activities conducted by tissues and organs throughout the body. Constantly challenged by foreign substances, this system isolates, destroys and generally defends the healthy cells.

Without an immune system, we die. To understand the power of the immune system, think about  what happens to anything once it dies. That sounds gross I know. When something dies its immune system shuts down. In a matter of hours the body is invaded by all sorts of bacteria, microbes, parasites etc. None of these things are able to multiply when your immune system is working, but the moment your immune system stops the door is wide open and it only takes a few weeks for these organisms to completely dismantle your body.

Thousands of times each day, clusters of bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, allergens, unidentified, micro-organisms and toxic chemicals try to take up residence in some part of the body and therefore present challenges to the immune system.

A healthy body is one that provides a rapid response to the challenges presented by these various “perpetrators” so you are able to carry out normal human activity with vigor, ease and surplus energy.  When the immune system if functioning well we don’t notice it. However there are occasions like scabs on the skin following an intrusion or  inflammation  which are side-effects of the immune system doing its job. When a mosquito bite gets red and itchy, it means the immune system is working. Allergies are an example of the immune system overreacting to certain stimuli.

Bacterial infections like streptococcus (strep throat) and viral infections leading to colds, flu, polio, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia are examples of the immune system not responding adequately to certain invaders.

Auto-immune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis are examples of the immune system becoming confused and overreacting or attacking the body it should be defending. 

Even cancer and heart disease have an immune deficiency connection.

Nutriton – Nature’s Protector

Good nutrition  is the foundation of a healthy immune system. Nutrition provides the body with enough building material to create all of those cells discussed so far. A nourished immune system can respond rapidly, accurately and with endurance.

Anti-oxidants like beta carotene, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, vitamin E, selenium, and grape-seed extract  guard against “oxidative stress” and free-radical damage to prevent or slow the progress of many degenerative conditions including cancer. Essential fatty acids help the body fight heart disease and produce the "super hormones" responsible for controlling other hormones and inflammatory conditions like eczema, psoriasis, asthma, arthritis, and migraines. Fibre helps the digestive system in the elimination of toxic waste. Protein provides the building blocks for that collection of white blood cells described.

In a perfect world all the nutrients required for optimum immune defenses would come from food. The world is not perfect. Therefore responsible supplementation has become a necessity, not an option. So in addition to choosing a wide variety of healthy foods, high in protein, anti-oxidants, essential fatty acids, fibre and friendly bacteria, I strongly suggest supplementation in each of these areas to optimize immune function.

Specific Solutions:

  1. It really doesn’t matter why the immune system is depressed. What really matters is, how to protect the immune system, based on what we know about building healthy systems.
  2. Allow for adequate recovery from high intensity exercise or other stressful events. That should include rest and the ingestion of a high quality, protein / carbohydrate recovery drink. This action will boost the glutamine levels, replace the damaged branched chain amino acids, and replenish the glycogen levels to restore normal energy metabolism and prevent further breakdown or inflammation.
  3. Consume a diet of adequate protein. High intensity exercise demands more protein and consensus now says that endurance athletes require more protein than even body builders. Take one gram of protein per pound of desirable body weight if you engage in high volume, high intensity training.
  4. Consume liberal quantities of anti-oxidants like vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin E, selenium, CoEnzyme Q10 and grape seed extract. These are known as the “free radical” scavengers and prevent oxidation of free radicals thus preventing potential damage.
  5. Use essential fatty acids supplements to improve fat metabolism and prevent inflammation.
  6. Add calcium/magnesium supplements. These minerals are used in every nerve and muscle action that occurs in the body.
  7. Be sure to get adequate rest, engage in frequent mild to moderate training days and hydrate by drinking water frequently. Realize that all of the good thing developed because of exercise occur when you stop exercising. Recovery, recovery, recovery.
Author:

Dr. L. Lee Coyne, Ph.D is a former Professor of exercise physiology and nutrition and the nutrition coach to many high performance athletes including several Canadian Olympic teams. Tanya Dubnicoff, Olympic cyclist, Michelle Morton, Olympic speed skater, several Olympic Biathletes, skiers and hockey players, Jamie Clarke, Everest Summiteers and Neil Runions - 2 time finisher of the Badwater 135 Mile ultramarathon.

His writing appears regularly in a bi-monthly health and fitness magazine "Impact" and monthly in "Elements Fitness & Nutrition" - Oklahma City. His books include "Fat Won't Make You Fat", "The Sports Nutrition Coaches Handbook" & "Nutritional Symptomatology, the consumers handbook". His most recent release is "The Little Book of Nutrition Nuggets".

He is the President of Lean Seekers International and he is the nutrition coach for the endurance program "Critical Speed". He may be reached at 1-800-668-4042 or by e-mail dr.coyne@leanseekers.com

Copyright Lee Coyne, Ph.D., reprinted with permission.

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