The Immune System
Improbable as it might seem, there is one positive effect of the pandemic of HIV-AIDS: it has, for the first time, made the general public aware of our body’s immune system and its absolutely vital role in human health.
Think of your body as a fortress under siege. You can’t just pull up the drawbridge and shut out the world. Food, air, water – everything that sustains us – comes from outside. But in opening the gates to the things we need, our bodies also admit a host of hostile organisms bent on doing us in. Viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites – the list is endless and constantly changing.
The forces that defend your body are organized somewhat like a fortress guard. You have a first line of defense called surface membrane barriers: your skin, nasal hairs, cilia (tiny hairs that line the respiratory passages), mucus in your mouth cavity and the acid in your stomach. All have some capacity to resist invaders.
But harmful organisms do get through the net, and when they do, highly specialized immune cells take over. These are the shock troops, cells that work together with the lymphatic system to destroy and eliminate pathogens from the body. (If you are sick with the ‘flu’, you may experience swelling and tenderness in the lymph nodes under your jaw. That’s your immune system at work.)
When it is running smoothly, your immune system protects you from a wide variety of conditions, including many of the most serious diseases. Unfortunately, however, the immune system itself enjoys no special immunity from the things that make us unhealthy.
If you smoke, over-indulge in alcohol, eat poorly, don’t exercise, suffer from stress, get too little sleep, your immune system will be weakened along with the rest of your body. You will become one of those people who catches every cold and ‘flu’ that goes the rounds and, in time, you stand a good chance of contracting a more serious illness. For example, cancer, rhuematoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome. This is only a small list – the list is continuing to grow.
Treating these diseases may entail therapies which are themselves damaging to the immune system. Antibiotics, for example, have a scattergun effect, hitting beneficial organisms as well as the targeted pathogen.
Prevention is always a better alternative, maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Or, in the case of a weakened immune system, restoring it with benign therapies that get at the root causes of unhealth.
Look after your immune system and it will look after you.
©Dr. Ashely Gordon, 2004.