It is seemingly possible for the immune system to go somewhat "haywire" and attack the body itself. The various diseases that are produced by this phenomenon are known simply as "auto-immune" disorders. Such disorders occur whenever the body is attacked by its own immune defense system. The immune system is extremely strong and effective, and can produce much havoc when misdirected. The name and nature of the particular disease varies, depending upon which part of the body is under attack. However, the basis of the problem is similar in each case, in that it is mediated by the immune system. They can be the result of a genetic disturbance in the immune system, or even derived from a situation whereby the immune system actually tolerates an antigen invader instead of neutralizing it. An auto-immune response can also be triggered by the perception of something that is normal to the body, such as an antigen. In this case, an antigen-antibody is formed which, if toxic, can then injure bodily tissue.
Many chronic diseases are auto-immune disorders, including some forms of anemia, certain allergies and asthmas, arthritis, Addison's disease, cystic fibrosis, insulin-resistant diabetes, myelin disorders, some types of kidney disease, thrombocytopenia and Graves' disease. Various examples of certain auto-immune disorders of neurological disintegration include Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, Raynaud's syndrome, muscular dystrophy, neuromuscular degeneration, lupus, vasculitis, psoriasis and ulcerative colitis, to name a few. In addition, some of the disorders associated with human leukocyte antigen (HLA) include ankylosing spondylitis, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, insulin-dependent diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosis and certain forms of multiple sclerosis.
The widespread use of synthetic antibiotics and vaccinations is among the primary causes of auto-immune disorders. According to Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, "there is a growing suspicion that immunization against relatively harmless childhood diseases may be responsible for the dramatic increase in auto-immune disorders ever since mass inoculations were first introduced". For example, the majority of individuals with AIDS or lupus have also had extensive histories of synthetic antibiotic usage, while others have developed MS only a few months after a series of smallpox vaccinations. It is more than reasonable to suspect that all the tampering and "boosting" and chemical intervention in the immune system can produce such damage, especially over an extended period of time.
Allergies are the most commonly known types of immune reactions, even though many so-called allergies are actually "sensitivities". A food sensitivity (e.g., shellfish, wheat, dairy products, red meat, etc.) are quite commonplace, and may simply indicate a difficulty with proper metabolism (leading to the accumulation of metabolic waste products and subsequent fermentation, putrefaction and autointoxication or alimentary toxemia). The mechanism involved in a true allergy usually results in "tissue injury" by virtue of a number of interactions between antibodies (or lymphoid cells) and "antigens" (or the invading agents). After the initial exposure to the antigen, an alteration in sensitivity to that antigen usually occurs. Upon the second or third exposure to this same antigen, a more harmful reaction occurs to the change in sensitivity that results in actual tissue damage. For example, during the first reaction, the initial contact between antigen (or allergen) and antibody may alter the body's sensitivity by producing additional histamine. The antigen then releases the histamine after the second contact, resulting in the well-known symptoms of hayfever. This highly simplified analogy cannot justify the complexity of the mechanisms involved, nor does it attempt to explain why this form of defensive reaction has evolved. In various other interactions between antigen and antibody, the cells to which the antigen is affixed are destroyed or else the resulting complexes usually become toxic in nature.
A streptococcal infection, known as rheumatic fever, that commonly affects children (with resultant reactions by the immune system), has been identified as part of a distinct syndrome in which the defense mechanism attacks the body itself. The resultant inflammation often affects the large joints, the brain, and particularly the heart (causing valvular damage). Malnutrition and genetics may well be contributing factors in this disorder. On the other hand, there may be a significant interrelationship between these symptoms and those observed in cases of arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis, gout or lumbago, where excessive uric acid accumulations (from the excessive consumption of red meats, dairy products and peanut butter -- all of which contain extremely high concentrations of this substance) are absorbed from the bloodstream into the muscle and bone tissues (due to sedentary lifestyles), where they subsequently become crystallized into sharp, needle-like crystals, resulting in symptoms of muscle and joint aches or pains, inflammation and stiffness.
Inflammation of the joints is a specific symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, which is another example of auto-immunity. In this case, the tenderness and observable thickening of the joints appears to be the direct result of "colonization" of the synovial membrane in the joints by lymphocytes and plasma cells. A virtually universal symptom involves stiffness in the joints, but fatigue and depression are also often present. As the colonization process continues (usually on both sides of the body), these joints readily lose their range of mobility, and disabling deformities may develop quite rapidly. However, if we observe this same process from another perspective (that of uric acid accumulation or contamination in the joints and muscle tissue), then this may possibly explain the presence of these lymphocytes and plasma cells, who consider this potentially harmful by-product of animal proteins to be a major threat or "invasion".
Recent research has revealed the interrelationship between the immune system and the slowing down of the aging process. This process can be delayed simply by maintaining the healthful function of the immune system. Aging is characterized by a decrease in the reserve capacity of all organ-systems. The aged white blood cell has a significantly reduced capability to produce the products it requires in order to destroy harmful bacteria, and the deficiency is usually aggravated by nutritional variables.
The diseases of aging include the auto-immune disorders. As humans increase in age, their immune systems become disorganized and prone to attacking the body's own vital substances. T-cell shortages occur in both aged humans and animals, resulting in reduced immunity. The dysfunction of the immune system is generally caused by a failure of the T-cells, which usually follows the deterioration of the thymus gland. This gland produces the hormone thymosin, which is required for the normal function of the T-cells. As lesser amounts of thymosin are produced in order to maintain the health and active functioning of the T-cells, these cells then become abnormal and begin attacking and aging the body. However, these threats can be inhibited by restricting the intake of calories.
An habitual, lifelong adherence to a low calorie diet offering adequate quantities of essential nutrients can preserve one's youth and prevent immune failure. Furthermore, those who maintain a restricted caloric intake are generally more youthful and more resistant to the diseases of aging, including cancer, late-onset diabetes, arthritis, heart and vascular disease, and severe cases of dementia.
The immune system can be strengthened and rejuvenated merely by reducing one's daily caloric intake by approximately 40 percent (from 2500 to 1500 calories). In order to maintain a fully functional immune system and prolong our lives and youthfulness, we should restrict our daily caloric consumption to no more than 15 times our normal lean body weight. It is also suggested that this regimen be supplemented with a daily multi-purpose vitamin-mineral tablet, as well as with the broadest variety of different foods. The use of those nutrients that are supportive to the immune system is also important, as well as consuming the source foods for these particular nutrients. Be sure to eliminate excessive fats and obtain most of your calories from complex carbohydrate foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Furthermore, the thymus gland of those on restricted caloric intake also remains functional for a longer period of time. It is also important to preserve the ability of the thymus to secrete thymosin in order to further enhance the production of T-cells. Therefore, it becomes increasingly obvious that the proper function of the thymus gland must remain consistent throughout our lives in order to insure continued T-cell effectiveness.
Another aspect of proper thymus activity involves a substance known as co-enzyme Q, which is a vital link in the metabolic process of living cells. It apparently functions as a stimulus on the mitochondria of the cells. Mitochondria are tiny organ-like parts of the cells that provide the necessary energy for cellular function. It is common knowledge among medical practitioners that humans suffer from a shortage of co-enzyme Q as their thymus gland atrophies. The introduction of this enzyme into the body in the form of a supplement will provide greater resistance to disease. The use of co-enzyme Q supplement will usually result in a reversal of the age-dependent suppression of immunological responsiveness. In other words, the use of this substance in supplement form will restore the immune function and simultaneously forestall the aging process.
A decline in the immune function is not caused primarily by the aging process, but can also occur whenever an individual is deficient in essential vitamins and minerals or under severe or continual stress.
Diseases have many causes, including microorganisms, genetic defects, injuries, toxins (such as poisonous metabolic waste products or allergens), carcinogens (such as environmental pollutants) or nutritional deficiencies. Many disorders seem to make their appearance after frequent suppression (by chemical means) of the minor imbalances and discharges caused by an improper diet. Among the most common of these involves the various symptoms of indigestion that are often relieved by the use of commercial antacids. The heavy metal known as aluminum is present in many of these medications and, through autopsies, has been discovered in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Various other common sources of aluminum include commercial salt (if it contains sodium silico aluminate), baking powder (and therefore all baked goods that contain it), anti-perspirants, and aluminum cookware. In addition, free radicals are produced by oxidation during the metabolic processing of an unhealthy diet. These substances are capable of damaging the cellular membrane and the cell's genetic material, thereby weakening the entire immune defense system. A healthful, healing diet can allow the self-healing process to proceed unencumbered when the damage is minor. However, whenever the immune system is seriously damaged by the use of suppresive synthetic chemicals or drugs, it is often extremely difficult (although not impossible) to repair the bodily functions through the use of good nutritional regimens, for the overall effectiveness of food as a medicine rests solely on its ability to stimulate and support the immune system.
Undernourishment is generally regarded as the most frequent cause of immuno-deficiency throughout the world. Although research that relates nutritional status to immune function has historically concerned itself with severe states of malnutrition (i.e., kwashiorkor and marasmas), attention is now shifting towards marginal deficiencies of single or multiple nutrients and the effects of over-nutrition. There is ample evidence to support the conclusion that a single nutrient deficiency can profoundly impair the proper functioning of the immune system.
is not limited to third world countries. In 1965, a
randomly-selected sample of the United States population was
analyzed for its vitamin levels. Even though the extremely
conservative Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) was used as the
standard for adequacy, the survey demonstrated that 88 percent of
the group tested had at least one deficiency and 59 percent had
two or more deficiencies. These results have been repeatedly
supported by population studies conducted by the
U. S. Department of Agriculture. Several studies have estimated that from 19 to 66 percent of the elderly in various parts of North America consume approximately two-thirds or less of the RDA for various essential nutrients. The significance of these findings is substantial, as demonstrated by the following examination of overall nutrient effects upon the immune system.
The importance of adequate protein intake in relation to proper immune function has been extensively studied. The most severe effects of protein-calorie malnutrition (PCM) are on cell-mediated immunity, although all facets of immune function are ultimately adversely affected. However, PCM is not a single nutrient deficiency. It is normally associated with multiple nutrient deficiencies, and certain immune dysfunctions attributed to PCM are most likely due to these other factors. Partial deficiencies of dietary vitamins produce a comparatively greater depression in immune functions than do partial protein deficiencies. Nevertheless, adequate protein is essential for optimal immune function.
The ingestion of 100-gram portions of carbohydrates (such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey and orange juice) all significantly reduced the ability of neutrophils to engulf and destroy bacteria. In contrast, the ingestion of 100 grams of starch had no effect whatsoever. These effects began less than 30 minutes after ingestion, and lasted for over five hours. Typically, there was at least a 50 percent reduction in neutrophil activity only two hours after ingestion. Since neutrophils constitute anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the total circulating white blood cells, then any overall impairment of their activity leads to depressed immunity. On the other hand, we can look at this process from another perspective. Since the ingestion of health-promoting foods reduces the accumulation of harmful microorganisms, then the necessity for neutrophil activity would be significantly alleviated.
Furthermore, the ingestion of 75 grams of glucose has also been shown to depress lymphocyte activity. Various other parameters of immune function are also undoubtedly affected by the consumption of sugar. It has been suggested that the ill effects of high glucose levels are a direct result of competition between blood glucose and vitamin C for membrane transport sites into the white blood cells. This is based upon evidence that vitamin C and glucose appear to display opposite effects upon immune function, and the fact that both require insulin for membrane-transport into many tissues.
When we consider the fact that the average American consumes 150 grams of sucrose (plus various other refined simple sugars) each day, then the inescapable conclusion is that most Americans have chronically depressed immune systems. It is apparent (especially during an infection) that the consumption of simple sugars (even in the form of fruit juice) may be deleterious to the hosts' immune status. Fasting should be encouraged during the first 36 to 60 hours of an acute infectious disorder, since this usually results in a significant (up to 50 percent) increase in the phagocytic index. However, the fast should not be continued for an excessive period of time.
This condition is usually associated with such imbalances as atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and various joint disorders. It is also associated with decreased immune status, as evidenced by the decreased bacteria-killing activity of the neutrophils, as well as increased morbidity and mortality from infections. Cholesterol and lipid levels are usually elevated in obese individuals, which may explain their impaired immune function (see below).
Increased blood levels of cholesterol, free fatty acids, triglycerides and bile acids all significantly inhibit immune functions, including the ability of lymphocytes to proliferate and produce antibodies, as well as the ability of the neutrophils to migrate to those areas of infection in order to engulf and destroy any infectious organisms. Therefore, optimal immune function is dependent upon the control of these serum components. Even minimal concentrations of L-carnitine has been shown to neutralize lipid-induced immuno-suppression. This is most likely due to L-carnitine's role in the removal of fats from the blood.
This substance can adversely affect the immune system by interfering with the proper absorption or assimilation of all essential nutrients. Alcohol increases the susceptibility to experimental infections in animals, and alcoholics are known to be more susceptible to pneumonia. Studies of human neutrophils indicate a profound depression after ingestion of alcoholic beverages, even in those individuals displaying normal nutritional (or nutrient) levels.
The term "stress-induced illness" is certainly not a misnomer, since many significant studies have clearly demonstrated that stress, personality, attitude and emotion are definite causative factors in many diseases. The overall reaction to stress is entirely individual, thereby reinforcing the fact that all people differ significantly in their overall perceptions and responses to various situations and events. These variations in response usually account for the wide diversity of stress-induced illnesses. Stress promotes a significant increase in the secretion of adrenal gland hormones, including cortico-steroids and catecholamines. These hormones inhibit the formation of white blood cells and cause the thymus to shrink (involute), which leads to a significant suppression of the immune function. This, in turn, leaves the host more susceptible to infections, as well as the development of cancer and various other disorders.
The level of immune suppression is generally proportional to the amount of stress experienced. The most powerful example of this fact is the death of an individual within six months of their spouse's demise, for the immune function is strongly suppressed by a combination of zinc deficiency and the stress of bereavement. According to researchers at Ohio State University, men and women who are separated or divorced (or who remain in unhappy marriages) have a greatly weakened immune system compared to those who enjoy happy and fulfilling marriages or relationships. In addition, these same researchers discovered that those who unburden themselves on personal subjects (such as intense personal problems, unhappy relationships, family difficulties, homesickness, loneliness, etc.) will immediately manifest a stronger immune response. It was also discovered that medical students on the verge of an examination revealed decreases in a certain form of T-cell, while the practice of relaxation exercises significantly increased their production of T-cells. Inasmuch as stress reduces immune function, the deliberate reduction of stress through relaxation exercises may decidedly influence the discouragement of disease or the altering of its course in the body.
Mental depression usually results in a suppressed immune response, whereas a positive mental attitude is of great importance in strengthening the immune system. A positive attitude may be able to prolong the life of cancer patients, since positive thoughts definitely stimulate the vital force (or Chi) that permeates every cell throughout the body. On the other hand, any negative thought-patterns or attitudes (such as depression, dejection, despair, hopelessness, helplessness, fatigue, inertia, tension, anxiety, confusion, worry, distress, etc.) will increase one's overall vulnerability or susceptibility by providing a strongly adverse affect upon this same vital force in the body.
Stress produces an increased stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "flight or fight" response. The immune system functions much better when the parasympathetic nervous system is well toned. This portion of our nervous system assumes control over the bodily functions during periods of rest, relaxation, visualization, meditation and sleep-states. During the deepest levels of sleep, extremely potent immune enhancing compounds are released and many immune functions are greatly increased. The value of good quality sleep-states and relaxation techniques for counteracting the adverse effects of stress (as well as enhancing our immune system) cannot be overemphasized.
Many nutritional factors have been shown to prevent the negative effects of stress upon the thymus gland. Specifically, vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, zinc and other antioxidants prevent both stress and free radical-induced damage to the thymus while enhancing proper immune functions. The mind and emotions exert a strong influence upon the immune system, and can predict the extent of wellness or sickness in an individual's future with a great deal of accuracy. This ultimately places us in a much stronger position of personal empowerment, for we are then capable of selecting the type of mental or emotional state that best reflects our desires towards the achievement of true health and well-being.