ow important is your immune system? Consider this scenario. A woman with the flu boards a plane. During the flight from New York to London, 150 passengers are exposed, and 80 of them consequently come down with the flu. What was the difference between the people who got the flu and those who did not? Strong immune systems.
After years of the public’s overuse of antibiotics, many strains of bacteria have mutated and become resistant to those same antibiotics, which makes it ever so much more important to strengthen our immune systems. Here we briefly examine what we can do to make a more powerful army. The key is that immune-boosting must be an ongoing process, not merely popping a few extra vitamin C tablets when a cold hits.
As we learned in Part 1 of this article, our bodies are constantly on the watch, ready to squelch any invasion. How can you make your immune system more powerful and vigilant? Let us explore what you can do to help yourself.
Nutrition is what fuels our fighter cells. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are all part of a diet complete in essential vitamins and minerals. Since pesticides and fungicides can inhibit immune function, try to choose organic foods whenever possible. Nutrient-dense, pure foods are important for us all, but are especially essential for growing children.
Vegetarians do not have to worry about one health-damaging food—animal products. Meat and dairy products carry residues of antibiotics and steroid hormones that can weaken immunity (not to mention diseases that tax the immune system). Dairy products also contain milk protein which is a common irritant of the immune system. Milk products are especially harmful to an individual who is prone to allergies or autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Daniel understood that eating the king’s meat and other rich foods would weaken his physical powers and decrease his mental capability. (Daniel 1:8–20).
Recent research has found that plant fats, particularly sterols, help immunity. Plant sterols help perform a balancing act by boosting an underactive immune system and decreasing an overactive one. Sterols increase the amount of natural killer cells and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. A vegetarian diet contains more plant fats than does the average American diet.
Interferons (IFNs) are important chemicals our bodies produce that play a complex part in our immune systems. IFN stimulates a cell to resist viral invasion, induces production of antibodies, and makes infected cells more recognizable to leukocytes (white blood cells). IFN is also very important in keeping a healthy cell from turning into a cancer cell. Recent research has shown that certain mushrooms—particularly reishi and shiitake—help the body with IFN production. Health care practitioners in China and Japan have been aware of the immune-enhancing properties of these mushrooms for a long time. Western medicine is focused on development cell-killing drugs to fight cancer—hoping that more tumor cells will be destroyed than healthy cells. Western scientists are just beginning to research other models of medicine in exploring therapies that work by strengthening the host’s defenses instead. What a novel concept!
Vitamins A, C, E, and B complex are among the immune-enhancing nutrients. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that work by protecting against infection and neutralizing free radicals that damage cells. A diet low in vitamins A and E increases the risk of infection.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are known to enhance the immune system. Zinc increases the size of the thymus gland, an important immune organ, and improves the function of certain immune cells. When a diet is low in zinc, wounds take longer to heal. Low iron intake increases the risk of infection and disease, so it is important to eat foods with lots of iron. A mineral deficiency will suppress the immune function.
A Positive Mental Attitude
Our emotions play a critical part in immunity. As noted in Part 1, stress increases the likelihood that we will become ill. Our attitudes alone may mean the difference between getting sick twice a season and four times a season. Healthier people have been found to have a positive mental attitude, being health-focused—and seeing illness as merely a hitch in an otherwise healthy life—than being illness-focused. "All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15. Both rest and exercise work toward keeping the mind relaxed. Ellen White stated:
"By the beauty of flower and field, their minds will be diverted from themselves, from their aches and pains, and they will be led to look from nature to the God of nature, who has provided so abundantly the beauties of the natural world. The convalescent can lie in the shade of the trees, and those who are stronger can, if they wish, work among the flowers, doing just a little at first, and increasing their efforts as they grow stronger. Working in the garden, gathering flowers and fruit, listening to the birds praising God, the patients will be wonderfully blessed. Angels of God will draw near to them. They will forget their sorrows. Melancholy and depression will leave them. The fresh air and sunshine, and the exercise taken, will bring them life and vitality. The wearied brain and nerves will find relief. Good treatment and a wholesome diet will build them up and strengthen them." Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, 255, 256.