Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Immune System

Did you know that we each have a sophisticated cancer defence system? Every one of us has thousands of cancer cells in our bodies at any one time. The immune system is our body's first line of defence against these cells, and it works constantly to target and eliminate them via the liver and spleen.

When we are toxic, acidic, have candida, parasites, viruses, or are stressed, our immune system is overwhelmed. It can't work fast enough to remove pathogens, let alone deal with cancer. This imbalance (the amount of cancer cells being produced by the body vs the amount of cancer cells being eliminated by the immune system), is what leads to a cancer diagnosis. A tumour with a billion cells is roughly the size of a pea, and by the time it's been found has usually been growing for somewhere between 5 and 12 years. These cells have evaded a compromised immune system. 

T killer cell attacking a breast cancer cell

Now, maybe I wasn't paying attention during biology at school, but prior to finding out that I had cancer there was an awful lot that I didn't know about the immune system. Like the fact that over 70% of it is housed in the gut. It's a body-wide network of cells, tissues and organs, highly specialised in seeking out and eliminating foreign bodies.

There are 6 main cell sub-groups in the immune system: T cells, Natural Killer cells, B cells, Granulocytes, Macrophages and Dendritic cells. Their jobs range from killing tumour cells, parasites, viruses and fungi, to scavenging for invaders. Some cells produce antibodies to alert other immune system cells to the presence of pathogens, others co-ordinate and regulate the entire system.

Then there are the organs of our immune system: the bone marrow, thymus, lymphatic system, spleen and of course the gut. A healthy adult has up to 2kg of healthy flora in their gut, providing a natural barrier which protects against bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins and fungi. This 'good' bacteria plays a crucial role in keeping the immune system active. An imbalance in the gut flora (often caused by anti-biotics, sugar and grains) can create tiny holes in the gut lining. Once the integrity of the intestinal lining is compromised, there is a flow of toxic substances "leaking out' into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and creating extra work for our immune systems.

It may sound simplistic, but boosting your immune system, whilst reducing your toxic burden can help to keep cancer at bay.  As always a multi faceted approach is needed. 
  • Reduce the burden on the immune system by improving gut health: eat probiotics and fermented foods (like kefir and kombucha) rich in good bacteria. Reduce the intake of sugary foods and grains. 
  • Alkalise by eating a predominately plant based diet, rich in potassium (for example, dark leafy greens). 
  • Find ways of de-stressing: meditate, practice breathing exercises or yoga. 
  • Exercise daily to encourage lymphatic movement. 
  • Supplement with high dose vitamin D3 during the winter months. Cancer patients may need up to 10,000 iu's a day. Blood tests are an important way of monitoring levels.
  • Get enough sleep. Melatonin plays an important part in immune system function, and this hormone is produced when sleeping in a darkened room. 
  • Avoid anti-biotics.
  • Finally, boost your immune system through good nutrition; garlic, cartenoids (as found in orange/red foods like carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes), selenium, omega 3 fatty acids, zinc and bioflavenoids (obtained by eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables) are amongst the best.

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