Your Immune System
Originally written in 1994
Updated and revised
It has only been in the last three to four decades that research into the
workings of the immune system has really taken off. Prior to this, the immune system was not
completely ignored by the established medical community; it was used as an indicator of
ones health status. Remember your "white count" tests? A high white blood
cell count told the physician that your body was fighting an infection. Beyond that, it
pretty much was not only ignored, but it was abused, especially considering the innumerable
medical procedures and drug therapies that suppress the immune systemsome procedures
actually decimate it.
Oh, and by the way. A high white count is no
longer just an indication of an infection; it also is a measure of
stress. Our immune system is an amazing mechanism.
In the fifties, tonsillectomies (removals of tonsils) were standard procedure. The
tonsils happen to be one of the first line of defenses against disease and
they are your only
defense against the poliomyelitis virus. In the nineties the medical community began to admit,
though not too loudly, that the polio epidemic of the fifties was iatrogenic (caused by
Another medical procedure responsible for suppressing the immune
system is the appendectomy (removal of the appendix). Did you know that the appendix is
part of your immune system? Did you know there are natural ways of reversing an
appendicitis attack? Did you know that an appendicitis attack is actually a warning of
something even bigger amiss?
Removing inflamed tonsils or an inflamed appendix is
equivalent to tossing out your smoke detector because its making too much noise.
Immunologists tell us that the tonsils are not to be removed under any circumstance, yet
every year over a million tonsillectomies are performed in America, and in some
states, removing the appendix is required by law if the lower abdomen is opened.
Fortunately our bodies know more than doctors and 20% of the time we actually grow back
tonsils and appendices (the plural of appendix) after theyve been removed.
All surgeries depresses the immune system. The greatest cause of death following a
successful surgery is a secondary, or nosocomial infection (one picked up as a result of
the hospital stay). With a depressed immune system, secondary infections are deadly.
Antibiotics depress the immune system by taking over its job. Antibiotics also deplete the
"good" bacteria (probiotics) needed for cleansing toxins from your system.
Corticosteroids, hormones that are naturally created in the body, have been (are still)
administered abundantly because of their anti-inflammatory properties. Over the counter
strengths are now available and their use is wide spread. As with most hormonal therapies,
the use of corticosteroids are a double edged sword: they suppress the initial
inflammatory response to injury or illness, and they suppress the immune system.
Our purpose here is to let you in on the workings of your immune system, its
suppressors, triggers, boosters, and modulators. We are not going to turn you into
immunologists, but rather teach you some of the basics.
One of the reasons it has taken science so long to get a grip on the immune system
is that its parts and interconnectedness are not readily perceivable. We have the
digestive system, the circulatory system, the nervous system, and the respiratory system
to name a few systems. These systems are easily described because they are physically
connected. The immune system, on the other hand, consists of, ostensibly, unrelated parts
and pieces, and much of what connects the whole thing together is molecular.
The immune system is action and reaction. It has
an intelligence of its own, though primitive, working like a mouse in a Skinner Box: the
product of stimulus and response. For example, if a microscopic piece of an organ gets
into the blood stream either through disease or by injury, the immune system will respond
to it as if it were a foreign body, and having done so, the immune system is now trained
to attack the original organ. The suppressor T-cells have to stop this attack or we have
the beginning of an autoimmune response (lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the
immune system actually attacks the persons own body).
When referring to the immune systems physical parts, we call
the collection of these parts the
lymphatic system, though the entire immune system, on a molecular level, goes much
further, for even the tiniest cell in our bodies can create chemicals to aid in the
defense of the entire system.
The lymphatic system consists of two parts, the primary and
secondary organs. Top
Primary Organs: thymus gland (located beneath
the breast bone and functioning at its peak during adolescence) and the bone marrow
(producing specialized lymphocytesT-cells and B-cells and dispatching them through
the lymph vessels to the secondary organs.
Secondary Organs: the lymph nodes,
tonsils, Peyers patches in the small intestines, the liver, and the appendix to name a few.
These are the locations where the molecular parts of the immune system gather in readiness
to do battle with germs, viruses, and allergens (those things causing allergic responses). Top
The thymus gland is the central organ in the development of immune power. Within
its cortex, the bone marrow lymphocytes mature into T-cells helped by thymosin, a hormone
secreted by the thymus gland.
The main job of bone marrow is to produce blood cells, both red and white
(leukocytes and lymphocytes). It is the soft tissue located in the cavities of the bones.
It is the source of stem cells which differentiate (change into) leukocytes and
To sum up things so far: the bone marrow creates the stem cells which become the
cells of the immune system. From the bone marrow lymphocytes are sent to the thymus gland
to mature and are then stored in the secondary organs of the lymph system and in the blood
stream. The bone marrow also sends leukocytes into the blood stream on sentry duty.
Everything stands in a "combat ready" state.
Now lets look at the cellular components of the system. There are two major
cell type of immune system cells: phagocytes and lymphocytes. As you can guess,
lymphocytes have something to do with the lymph system. They are small white cells found
in lymphoid tissues (the secondary organs of the lymph system) and present also in the
blood. They get to the blood stream from the lymph nodes which are small pea sized organs
distributed throughout the body. The lymph nodes trap antigens (substances that trigger an
immune response) and filter them out of the lymph fluid. The lymph fluid is actually
tissue fluids that have been collected from throughout the body for cleaning, and then are
returned to the blood stream via lymphatic vessels. Top
There are two types of lymphocytes: T-cells and B-cells. T-cells are the master
regulators of the immune system. There are three main types of T-cells: helper T-cells
(their quantity being a CD4 count), suppressor T-cells (their quantity being a CD8 count),
and effector T-cells (sometimes referred to as natural killer, or NK, cells). B-cells have
a relatively short life span compared to T-cells. As B-cells mature, they turn into
antibody-producing plasma cells found in lymph nodes and in the spleen. Once the B-cells
have created a specific antibody to attack a specific pathogen, their primitive
intelligence remembers this information and will know it later should they run up against
the same pathogen. This is called "building resistance."
You should note that
sulfur-containing amino acids are necessary in your diet for the formation of antibodies.
These are cysteine, methionine, taurine and homocysteine. Cystein is
found in a variety of foods including poultry, yogurt, egg yolks,
red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, oats, and
wheat germ. Taurine is found in eggs, fish, meat, and milk. Taurine
is also found in some plant foods like seaweeds, but present in very
low levels. It is highly present in sea foods such as clam, squid,
octopus, and oyster. Methionine is found in animal products, and is
important to control fat levels in the liver and the arteries. Plant
foods that contain methionine are beans, seeds, onions, peanuts,
lentils, and some grains. Methionine is also one of the amino acids
Bragg Liquid Aminos.
Ironically, homocysteine levels in most Americans are way
too high which results in cardiovascular disease. Homocysteine is
formed by the breakdown of methionine. We need a good B-Complex
Vitamin to lower these levels, and sometimes that's not enough, and
Betaine and Choline must be used.
High homocysteine levels have been associated with
depression too. For more information on this read
Depression and Nutrition.
You can lower your homocysteine levels with a good B Complex
NK Cell Activity
We have to stop here to take a look at NK Cell
Activity, for it is the primary criteria determining the overall strength
and health of your immune system. NK cells are not, like white blood cells,
measured by their number, for their number stays constant, approximately
15% the number of your white blood cells. NK cells provide the first line of defense
in dealing with any invasion to your body once they invaders have passed
the sentries in your mucus membranes and the tonsils. Each NK cell contains several
small granules that act like explosive charges: when a cancer cell is
recognized, the NK cell attaches itself to the cancer cell and injects
these granules into the cancer cell and they explode, destroying the
cancer cell within five minutes. The NK cell then moves on to another
invader. Healthy NK cells have been know to attack two or more invaders or
infected cells at once.
It is now accepted that individuals with low NK cell activity
are more susceptible to Chronic Fatigue, autoimmune diseases,
cancerous tumors and viral infections. There is a test to determine you NK
cell activity, called the 4 hour 51Chromium-release assay. If you are
dealing with one of the disorders listed above, this test might be a good
For ways to increase your NK Cell Activity naturally, see Your Immune System:
The Rest of the Story, the next article in this series.
Helper T-cells stimulate B-cell production and augment production of more
helper cells and effector cells (natural killer cells). Suppressor T-cells act to diminish
helper T-cell activity, for lets face it, when the battle is over, we dont
want the immune system to keep on fighting.
Normally there are about twice as many helper T-cells as suppressor T-cells. In
immune deficiency diseases, such as AIDS, you will often hear about the CD4 count falling
below the CD8 count. What they are talking about is the helper/suppressor ratio getting
out of whack. When this occurs, the body is ripe for an "opportunistic
Since weve mentioned antibodies, lets discuss them here (well
get back to the phagocytes shortly). Antibodies are protein molecules (called immunoglobulinsIg) produced by the B-cells. There are
five classes of antibodies: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, and IgM. IgA and IgE are referred to as
secretory antibodies because they are found in our secretions. IgA is found abundantly in
saliva and in the mucous membranes of your lungs, intestinal track, and genitals. It is
the first line of defense against invading bacteria. Laboratory studies show increases in
IgA output in people enjoying themselves during exercise, laughter, and love making.
Laughter is the best medicine.
IgE is our first defense against allergies and parasites. It is thought that as
many as half a million IgE molecules can bind to a single mast cell. Mast cells act as
sentinels. They trigger a quick response to an invasion of allergens and parasites, and it
is the immunoglobulin E that triggers the release of histamines (those things we take
antihistamines to suppress). Histamines increase immune response and blood flow. Taking an
antihistamine reduces symptoms, but allows the dis-ease can get out of hand. One of the
best ways to relieve the pressures brought on by histamine production (whether in the
lungs during an asthma attack or in the sinuses) is to increase you consumption of clean,
pure, room temperature water.
Antibodies do not destroy the enemy by themselves, but call in complements.
Antibodies are Y-shaped and travel through the bloodstream seeking invading bacteria,
viruses, and microbes. When an invader is discovered, the antibody seizes it with one of
the upper branches of the its Y and calls in the complements.
Complements, C1 through C9, are complex blood proteins containing carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. When called, they line up, C1 through C9, and attack in a
linear fashion, one at a time, and when all eight are in place, they pierce the
enemys coating causing the insides to spill out and then signal the macrophages and
neutrophils to come and clean up the mess. Complements have the ability to bind to B-cells
and certain immunoglobulins.
Phagocytes (leukocytes) are the second type of immune system
cells; lymphocytes are the other. They ingest other cells, microbes, and foreign particles
in a process of phagocytosis (an ability of only a few types of phagocytes). They move
like tiny amoebas through the blood stream to the site of an injury where they either
destroy the invader themselves, or produce antibodies that can. Please note that
phagocytes cannot destroy viruses.
There are four major steps in phagocytosis:
1. Chemotaxis is the capacity to be attracted to a target and the ability to get
there (motility). Vitamin C enhances motility, but excess zinc levels can suppress it.
2. Opsonization is the capacity to adhere to its target.
3. Engulfment is the capacity of the phagocyte to ingest its target.
4. Cidal capacity is the capacity to destroy the target.
In some cases, such as over-colonization by Candida albicans (yeast), phagocytes
can perform the first three steps, but cannot perform the last and destroy its target.
The actual destruction of a phagocytes target is carried out by the
phagocyte releasing strong free radicals (those things that age us that we battle with antioxidants), such as hydrogen peroxide and
superoxide anion. Interestingly enough, the phagocyte must contain enough antioxidants to
protect itself against its release of free radicals, or each attack will be a Kamikaze
attack. Phagocytes store the antioxidants Vitamin C and the amino acid glutathione as
protection, though it has been discovered that, in some scenarios, excessive amounts of
vitamin C can suppress its cidal capacity (since the free radicals released
to destroy a pathogen are quickly
cleaned up before they can do their job). Thus, this tiny cell must regulate its own generation of antioxidants and
free radicals to enable it to do its job and survive the battle.
There are many types of phagocytes, broken into two groups: myeloid cells
(granulocytes) and monocytes. The granulocytes are cells filled with granules of toxic
chemicals that digest the invaders. Examples of granulocytes are basophils, neutrophils,
eosinophils, and mast cells. Monocytes are short-lived phagocytes that become various
macrophages found throughout the body whose task it is to clean up the waste produced by
the immune system as well as destroy pathogens (disease causing substances). Macrophages (literally "big eaters" in Latin), eventually
die (after eating their fill) producing the mucus and pus we find as the result of an
infection. When you are all stuffed up and coughing up phlegm as the result of a cold,
these cold symptoms (coughing) are the result of your immune system battling the cold virus (phlegm is dead
immune cells). You should note that macrophages require the amino acid L-arginine to
create the nitric oxide they use to destroy bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. (Tumors
protect themselves by producing the enzyme arginase that breaks down L-arginine; thus
supplementing a cancer diet with L-arginine, according to studies in England, seems to be
helpful. [Alternatives, November 1994; 5:17])
It has been discovered that every cell in our bodies has receptors, a spot where
chemicals can attach themselves to the cells. Harvard researchers discovered that our
immune system cells have neuropeptide receptors. Neuropeptides are the chemicals released
by the brain when we feel good (from loving and being loved) and when we feel bad (from
anger and frustration). The conclusion is very simple: our immune system is listening to
and is affected by our emotional dialog. Remember this, for we will explore this even
deeper in the next article in this series: Your Immune System:
The Rest of the Story.
Now if youve made it to here and think youve learned all there is to
know about the immune system, youve forgotten our foreshadowing at the beginning of
this article: every cell in your body participates in the immune system at some level.
Interferon, which is produced during viral infections,
has been touted as the cancer cure of the century. However, tests show that sometimes it
works like a magic bullet, and sometimes it doesnt work at all. And the side
effects, at times, can do you in.
Interferon is now synthesized in laboratories and sold at skyrocketing costs, but
did you know that any viral infected cell can create it? There are many types of
interferons, and their name derives from their function: the ability to interfere with
viral infections. When a cell is attacked by a virus, though it cannot save itself, it can
create an interferon that will warn other cells of an impending infection. Having been
warned, the uninfected cells arm themselves with antiviral substances that keep the virus
from replicating (reproducing themselves) in the uninfected cells. Top
Interleukins are hormones that carry messages between
the immune cells to orchestrate the entire battle. One interleukin attracts T-cells to
their targets and alert them to create interferon (if needed) and create another
interleukin to create helper T-cells to kick the immune system into high gear and call in
the natural killer cells and stimulate B-cells to produce antibodies. Interleukins have
been widely used in cancer therapies, though not very effectively, and if the side effects
dont kill you, the cost might. But did you know there is a way to create millions of
dollars of Interleukins naturally? Your body creates these wonderful chemicals whenever
you do something the excites you, enthralls you, rings all your bells. If Magic Mountain
in Disneyland is something that deeply excites you, one ride can be worth millions. Horse
back riding, making love for hours, racing cars, watching a beautiful sunset: your key to
a powerful immune system is the same key that turns your crank, so have fun!
Interferon and interleukin are classified as lymphokines, the substance (hormone)
that infected cells and T-cells create to stimulate other cells in the immune system.
Studies have shown that natural interferons and interleukins are extremely effective and
have no side effects; as opposed to those that medical science introduces to fight
disease, and this has the medical community baffled. It could take years to untie this
Another recent discovery is TNF, or Tumor Necrosis
Factor, a chemical produced by the macrophages to destroy tumors. In cancer patients,
this can be a good thing, but studies have shown that over a long period of time, high TNF
levels can lead to wasting and eventually death. This, according to some research
weve uncovered, is one of the causes of the wasting syndrome in people with AIDS.
TNF has been synthesized in the laboratory, and testing has begun on new therapies using
TNF for cancer.
Finally we should mention hybridoma, a hybrid cell created
when a lymphocyte fuses to a cancer cell and secretes either a lymphokine or an antibody
specific for just one antigen. Hybridomas are currently being studied in laboratories that
use stem cell assay, a process where a biopsy of cancerous tissue is cloned and
experimented on. Once it is discovered which antibody the patients own immune system
wants to create to fight the cancer, that antibody can be injected in large doses back
into the patient to battle the cancer. Tests, however, are still incomplete.
Now, I have a couple of things to tell you about the preceding discussion of your
immune system: the true workings of the immune system are still not fully known, and what is
known would take up over a thousand pages of very fine print (in other words, this was
only an introduction); secondly, this description is, like all western science, a bit too
mechanistic and materialistic, at least for me, and Ill tell you why, using
acupuncture as an example: Though acupuncture has worked for six thousand years, our
western medical community refused to accept it till they understood its workings (the
mechanics behind it). This after witnessing a lung resection using only acupuncture as the anaesthetic! Additionally, the meridian system was not accepted until modern medical
science, using high tech instruments and western methodologies actually
"discovered" it. This is the materialism of the West: if you cant count
it, taste it, see it, it doesnt exist. Our western scientists eventually discovered
these meridians. The Chinese discovered them over six thousand years ago without the use
of high tech.
When it comes to the immune system, auditing its mechanics and materials
overkill, for as you will learn in the next article on the immune system, developing a
powerful immune system can be as easy as asking.
A Special Note to my Friends with Cancer
Most of the medical community view cancer as a local, specific
disease. However, because of a paradigm shift (brought on by impinging views from the
holistic medical community), many now feel that cancer is not the disease, but rather it
is only a symptom of a disease; an outrageous symptom, but still only a symptom.
Conventional medicine loves to treat symptoms. Today, naturopaths have their
patients learn to treat the cause of the disease,
because it is your disease, and not your oncologist's. And if you
have cancer symptoms, what is the disease? A
dysfunctional and overburdened immune system.
As of this writing (11/13/1998), your author
is quite sick. My immune system is shot. Though I've tried (not always successful) to live
a clean healthy life, eating organic foods whenever possible, I've just been diagnosed
with pesticide poisoning. How could that be? I live in a farming community. When they
spray, I cannot stop breathing. Therefore, I am about to undergo a rigorous detoxication
program. For more info on how you too can detoxify your bodies and rebuild your immune
system, be sure to read Cleaning House, the correct way to detox. Top
and Further Reading
Friedlander, Mark P., and Terry Phillips.
Winning the War Within. Emmaus,
PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1986. (Out of print; but there were a few left for
one cent plus shipping if you click the link supplied.)
Heumer, Richard P. The Roots of Molecular Medicine. New York: W.H.
Freeman & Company, 1986. (Out of print. A very technical book of papers presented at the Linus
Pauling Institute. Not for the weak of heart, but filled with fascinating information by
leading researchers of the workings of the immune system and Linus Pauling himself.)
Principles of Molecular Medicine (Hardcover), by Marschall
S. Runge (Editor), Cam Patterson (Editor)
Marchetti, Albert, M.D.
the Odds. New York: St. Martins Press, 1988. (Out of print, though
there are copies available at the link supplied. Check your local library.)
Power Boosters. West Nyack, New York: Parker Publishing Company, 1990. (Out of
print, though Barnes & Noble has one copy as of this writing. Check your local
Links to More Books
Immunobiology: The Immune System in Health & Disease
Ten Best Tools to Boost Your Immune System
(On last look, this book is on sale for just one cent plus shipping.)
The Body at War: The Story of Our Immune System
On Sugar and the Immune System
Sanchez A, et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1973; 26: 1180-84
Ringsdorf WM jr, Cheraskin E and Ramsey RR jr. Sucrose, Neutrophilic
Phagocytosis, and Resistance to Disease. Dent Surv 1976; 52 (12):
by Wm Dufty
Cancer and Hair Dyes
NCI research revealed that women who used hair dyes (the permanent type
and darker colors seem to be the worst) had a 50% higher risk of developing
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. However, no link to cancer was found in those who went blond.
[American Journal of Public Health, 1992;82: 7] Top
Styrofoam: did you know its biodegradable? If you wait six
billion years! Did you know that any hot liquid poured into Styrofoam releases small
amounts of the carcinogens and toxins from Styrofoam into the hot liquid? This has been
known for years. Personally, I use paper cups. Top
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