Category: Health Yourself Written by Thomas Peterson Views: 1210
Immune systems are complicated. Explaining every part of the immune system would take far too much time and it wouldn’t necessarily help you understand how to “boost” it. The immune system itself can be broken down into multiple parts - there’s the adaptive immune system, the innate immune system, the neuroimmune system, and more. How well your immune system works will also depend on several factors that affect your health. For example, good circulation helps white blood cells reach foreign invaders.
We must be very careful when we talk about “boosting” the immune system. Immune systems need to strike a delicate balance. When immune systems are overactive, they may begin to target the body’s own healthy functions - this is what causes autoimmune diseases. Immune hypersensitivity is another problem - when your immune system reacts to harmless foreign invaders, like pollen, you develop allergies.
The reason we’ve gone through the trouble to discuss the functioning of the immune system is so we can zero in on how complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can support healthy immune functions. We’ll look at three different categories of CAM - dietary and lifestyle changes, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and miscellaneous methods. Each of them serves a role in helping restore proper immune function.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
One of the biggest advantages of CAM is its holistic approach. Rather than simply attempting to address symptoms, CAM practitioners will look at what you eat, what you do every day, your thinking patterns, and more. Diet and lifestyle both play an incredibly important role in immune function, so changes to those are an excellent start if you’re getting sick more often than you’d like.
On the lifestyle front, there are a number of changes you can make. Smokers, you’ve probably heard this a million times - if you stop smoking, you’ll probably see improvements to your immune functions. In the same vein, getting exercise regularly has a lot of benefits for your health, including supporting immune function.
Dietary changes are tricky and will vary from person to person. When you’re vitamin deficient, your immune system may be impaired. You should take a thorough look at your diet to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients - naturopaths and dietitians may be able to help you with this. Vitamin D, one of the most important vitamins, is mostly acquired through exposure to the sun. When you live in a particularly cold, northern environment, you may not have enough sun exposure; supplements can be very helpful.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM incorporates a wide range of different practices that date back thousands of years. The efficacy of these practices on promoting a healthy immune system is hard to calculate for two reasons. First, it’s almost always difficult to figure out how effective something is at promoting a healthy immune system. As we discussed, immune systems are complex, and we can’t ethically make people sick to see how techniques boost their immune systems. Second, many of the practices in TCM are hard to study, for a variety of reasons (mainly, that the underlying mechanisms which make the practices effective are hard to single out).
There is, nonetheless, evidence that TCM is useful in regulating immune functions. For example, there is some evidence that acupuncture can help with inflammatory diseases like asthma and allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever). On the flip side, acupuncture has not been shown to help with other inflammatory diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis. Understanding what types of TCM work for what kinds of immune disorders is one of the reasons it’s so important to consult with your whole medical team before beginning any treatment.
There is further evidence that a number of TCM techniques and medicines might help reduce stress. This evidence isn’t comprehensive and further tests are required. For example, there is evidence that acupuncture reduces some markers of stress in humans. Traditional herbal medicines, including Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang and Sheng-Mai San, may reduce stress in mice. Animal trials are not conclusive for humans, which is why further studies are needed; they do, however, show some promise. Many TCM herbal remedies may also contain herbs with anti-inflammatory properties.
They say that laughter is the best medicine. Incredibly, there is some indication of a deep, biological truth to that notion. The immune system has a number of different cells; one kind is known as the natural killer (NK) cell. There is evidence that mirthful laughter (joyful laughter) both reduces stress and increases the number of NK cells. Have a chuckle with your naturopath!
There are a wide variety of alternative treatments for cancer. An important note: cancer and cancer treatments are not to be taken lightly. There are a variety of alternative cancer treatments that have shown some likeliness to be beneficial. These include mistletoe extracts and high-dose vitamin C. There are, however, a number of alternative cancer treatments that can be actively harmful and have shown almost no benefit, including IV hydrogen peroxide.
Cancer is intimately tied to immune function because it’s one of the few diseases our immune system can’t properly cope with. Be extremely careful when pursuing CAM for cancer. Talk with your whole medical team. Keep in mind that the C in CAM stands for complementary - this means any CAM treatments you pursue should be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments. Alone, none of them have been shown to be more effective at treating cancer than conventional medicines.
This post has only been a brief overview of the complex and interconnected world of CAM and how it can help your immune system. It’s important to find methods that work for you and to consult with your whole medical team before taking new drugs or starting lifestyle changes. From your naturopath to your physician, the members of your medical team have your best interests in mind.
Thomas Peterson loves reading new things and enjoys working as a writer. He is keenly interested in alternative medicine, astrology, and health-related topics. Some of his favourite pieces can be found on Dr. Nathan Newman’s website.
This article was submitted exclusively to CrystalWind.ca by Thomas Peterson.
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