What is the immune system?
So, let’s get a better understanding of our immune system and what we can do to support it. Our bodies have three important systems to regulate our health: the nervous system, hormone system and immune system. Of course, they don’t work in isolation, so sometimes we refer to them as the neuroendocrine immune axis to acknowledge how closely they’re interconnected. Various cells and tissues, as well as certain naturally produced chemicals and our genes, influence how well our immune response is working. The main function of this system is to recognize and keep out what’s not wanted inside our bodies. Think of it as a barrier like the skin or the wall of your gut. If things sneak by the initial defense, our immune system has a range of smart tools to respond to the invasion and attempt to control it—most of the time successfully—so you wouldn’t even notice.
Conventional medicine doesn’t offer anything to support natural healthy immune function. It is more focused on either eliminating pathogens with antibiotic, antiviral or other antimicrobial drugs, suppressing fever and inflammation, or preventing infection with vaccines. These approaches can be life-saving but they don’t do anything to help you develop a more competent immune system. So, what does?
It’s in our genes
It’s important to realize that our species has survived and thrived for a very long time, so our bodies have developed the intelligence to deal with environmental challenges successfully. Humans are very adaptable and have learned to live in different, sometimes very challenging circumstances. What we haven’t learned very well, though, is to live in a world where we are exposed to tens of thousands of toxic chemicals, noise and stress, and a lack of healthy food. Many of us rarely get to spend time outside in nature. We also often don’t feel like we’re part of communities that are supportive and meaningful to us.
You’re probably realizing by now that I’m not about to impart some radical knowledge or the holy grail of immune resilience to you but to offer some food for thought as you are considering steps towards better health and immunity.
How can you move toward improved immunity?
For starters, it is often more effective and important to dial back things in your life that are detrimental to your health than to look for the magic cure in the form of herbs or supplements. Sure, I will often recommend specific botanical prescriptions or nutraceuticals to my clients, but not before we’ve taken inventory of what’s going on in their lives. A couple of easy ways to reduce exposure to unhealthy chemicals is to eliminate processed foods from your diet, switch to organic, cook at home, and make sure that your elimination is functioning properly. Often, people don’t realize just how dehydrated or constipated they are. That’s not good. Also, see if you can get rid of artificial chemicals in your home and workplace, such as skin care and cleaning products. One of the most useful resources for good information is the website of the Environmental Working Group. The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists can help you go after the low-hanging fruit.
Next, think about your life practices. How well do you sleep? Are you feeling rested and energetic? Are you exercising? How are you doing emotionally? What’s your life’s purpose? We all have different inclinations and preferences, but it is well documented that good sleep and sufficient exercise have a profoundly positive effect on your immune system. Being able to manage stress, feeling connected to others, spending time in nature and finding meaning in life can affect your resilience and longevity, so don’t brush off these topics.
Now, after all this introspection you may feel like you’re doing all you can on your own but you’re still not able to reach a place where you are experiencing health and happiness. That’s where you should start thinking about expanding your team. This can include friends and family or actually enlisting the support of professional providers of natural health care. You are lucky to live in New York City where you have so many choices and access to top-notch practitioners. As a doctor of Chinese medicine and naturopath, I focus on using acupuncture and botanical therapy to accelerate natural healing in my clients. But I cast my net wider by including detoxification strategies, nutrition coaching, aromatherapy or homeopathy, when appropriate. I encourage men and women who work with me to practice yoga, tai chi or meditation and to seek out other body therapies such as massage, physiotherapy and chiropractic. Many will consider psychotherapy, counseling or coaching as well. Others have started volunteering for a nonprofit.
Harness the power of your mind
With all this information percolating in your mind, sit down and visualize yourself as the happy, healthy person you want to be, then make a plan and put it into action, one step at a time, to get there. Feel free to get in touch with me if you want to pick my brains for ideas that can work for you personally.
Christiane Siebert, DACM, LAc is a doctor of Chinese medicine, a licensed acupuncturist and a naturopathic practitioner focused on helping women create reproductive health naturally. She is the founder & director of Serenity Health Arts, a center for integrative holistic medicine in New York. Read more about how to stay healthy naturally on our blog or sign up for Serenity Health News, our monthly newsletter.
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