Immune Series - Part 1
THE IMMUNE RESPONSE SYSTEM
Our immune systems are truly amazing, every day keeping alert for foreign pathogens in the body. On occasion, they must suddenly identify, and respond correctly to, any of the countless enemy microbes that may be trying to invade.
Our immune systems are so incredibly clever, because they have to distinguish between what is good, and what is bad in our bodies (our own cells versus foreign cells), kill what doesn’t belong whilst also being careful to leave behind what does. Split into 2 halves really, the first part of your immune system is the defences you were born with. These form before birth and are what are known as the innate system. The innate system spreads all over your body, through your blood, cells, and organs. The second part of your immune system is known as ‘immunity’, and it develops as you grow/age, once you’ve been exposed to pathogens such as bacteria, illness etc… Because it develops as we age, there is always the opportunity to make it stronger! Your ‘immunity’ gives you protection against specific pathogens, but both systems ultimately work together to prevent organisms from entering and causing damage within the body. These immune mechanisms also help to eliminate the abnormal cells of the body, that can develop into chronic disease like cancer. Your body puts up a really good fight for any pathogens looking to invade. Our immune cells, if strong, are typically quite brilliant at recognizing altered or foreign cells, and then swiftly disposing of them.
Your skin and mucous membranes are the first lines of defence, but if anything does manage to get past them, these pathogens will be met by white blood cells. White blood cells are found in your bloodstream, and are a collection of different cells that work together to destroy and engulf bacteria, viruses etc…The mechanism that the body uses to protect itself against disease and infections, is known as the immune response. Each day, in our busy lives, we are surrounded by these viruses, bacteria and pathogens, and our wellness and overall health really depends on having a system that’s strong enough to fight off these forms of infection. A person with a healthy immune system, that may rarely get sick, is protected by several lines of defence that include physical barriers, cells that secrete proteins to destroy pathogens, and strong fit cells that ingest pathogens.
The coronavirus that emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has since caused a large scale COVID-19 epidemic, and spread to more than 70 other countries worldwide. It's obvious to say that it has affected all of us in some way, but are we any clearer on what the virus really is, and indeed how it started?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging widely in severity. The first known severe illness, caused by a coronavirus, emerged with the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China. A second outbreak of severe illness began in 2012, in Saudi Arabia, with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). In December 2019, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization about the outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus causing severe illness, which was subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 or, as we know it, Covid 19.
A virus is a parasitic microbe, so tiny, that hundreds of millions could fit onto the head of a pin. It's a coiled strand of genetic material, embedded in a protective coat of protein, that invades healthy human cells and actually hijacks them, using the cell's genetic machinery to duplicate itself. The current virus, with which we are all familiar, is a type of coronavirus, a family of viruses covered with knobbly spikes that are used to latch onto cell membranes. Their appearance suggests a crown, or "corona," which gives it the name. Many coronaviruses are fairly harmless, depending on your sate of health, like the ones that cause common colds and leave you feeling a little under weather, while others are deadly.
If a person becomes infected with the virus, they can, quite literally, carry trillions of microbes. When they cough, sneeze, kiss, talk, or even just breathe heavily, they emit droplets that are laden with germs. To give you an idea of how easily the virus can spread, one sneeze can launch as many as 40,000 droplets; and if they land on someone, the virus can infiltrate the eyes, mouth, or nose, launching a potential infection, and penetrating the immune system rapidly. They can continue on to leave a nasty trail on doorknobs, buttons, touch screens, surfaces, handles etc... You can see how easy it is for us to touch something, and then perhaps absent-mindedly, touch faces, or other surfaces, as we go about our day. This is why frequent hand washing is so crucial. Once the viral particles gain access, they travel to the back of the throat and nasal passages, and latch onto our cells. This is the beginning of the disease coronavirus!
Once the virus is in, and attaches itself to a healthy cell, it sets about its work and begins multiplying. About 80 percent of cases are relatively mild, as we know, and the infection stays largely in the upper respiratory tract. As the immune system makes antibodies and activates T-cells that neutralize and clear the virus, recovery then takes a couple of weeks, with no further complications. In more severe cases, the invader pushes on to the lower respiratory tract, where serious problems can set in. "The lungs are the major target for this disease," says Martin Hirsch, part of the infectious disease unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves? We can begin by supporting our immune system as best we can, taking care and being aware when outside our houses, washing hands and surfaces frequently, reducing stress, and maintaining as healthy lifestyle as possible.
We also need to focus on diet. Shift the attention to high-fiber, clean proteins, lots of color, an abundance of fruit and veg, and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Feeding your body certain foods can help keep your immune system strong. Plan your meals to include powerful immune system boosters. For example, wild salmon, ground flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seed. I also encourage you to add fruits and veggies - rich in antioxidants, to help stimulate your immune system, which consists of organs, cells, tissues, and proteins. Together, these carry out bodily processes that fight off pathogens, which are the viruses, bacteria, and foreign bodies that cause infection or disease. Keep up your vitamin C, Vitamin D, zinc, a nutrient dense diet. Limit processed and sugary foods, reduce alcohol and stress, get good quality sleep and enjoy your daily walk in the fresh air.
Below I have listed some recipes for helping with immunity:
IMMUNE BOOSTING QUINOA SUPER SALAD (Serves 4-6)
You will need:
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, tightly packed
2 cups chopped fresh basil, tightly packed
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1⁄3 cup walnut/sesame oil
1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp freeze-dried wheatgrass powder
1 tsp nutritional yeast
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp minced garlic
4 cups cooked quinoa
2 cups baby spinach, tightly packed and cut thinly
Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 30 minutes or until soft. Slice thinly.
Use a food processor to blend the basil, hemp seeds, both oils, wheatgrass powder, nutritional yeast, sea salt, and garlic into a pesto sauce.
In a large bowl, toss some of the pesto (use as much as desired) with the quinoa, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach. Serve cold, or gently heat.
BASIC QUINOA COOKING METHOD:
1 part dry quinoa, scant 2 parts water
1 cup dry quinoa = 3 cups cooked quinoa
Rinse the quinoa (some quinoa is sold pre-rinsed) using a fine mesh sieve, or strainer.
Combine the quinoa and water in a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated, and the quinoa is slightly translucent and tender.
Sneezing, a runny nose, itchy, watery red eyes – these are all symptoms of hay fever allergy, which is extremely common, and affects 2 in 10 people in the UK each year. Like other reactions I have covered this week, an allergic reaction is an immune response, and hay fever is no different. The most common trigger is, as we all know, pollen, dust mites, some pets, and also mould. During the high-flying, crazy pollen months, your immune system is working extra hard for you, even though you may feel like it’s given up. By boosting your immunity all year round, but particularly during allergy season, you can help to reduce those pesky hay fever symptoms.
Protocol to manage - There are certain things we can do to help support our bodies if you are suffering from hay fever.
To bring down any inflammation in the body, I especially like turmeric root. Add it to foods such as curries, eggs, stews, and soups, or take it as a supplement.
• Follow an anti-inflammatory diet, consuming lots of wholefoods, healthy fats like oily fish, avocados, cold pressed olive oil, fruits and veggies, legumes, organic free-range eggs, and clean proteins.
• Limit your intake of processed inflammatory foods, such as white flour, pastries, cakes, sugar, vegetable oils, deep fried foods, most packaged goods, and some sauces and condiments (always check your ingredients).
• Prioritise your health and wellbeing all year round. Take time out for you, reduce stress, limit alcohol and cigarette consumption, get plenty of good quality deep sleep, and eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
• Boost your immunity with a cup of hot dandelion tea.
• Consider herbal supplements such as nettle leaf. Not only is this herb abundantly mineral rich, nourishing the adrenals, and providing shiny healthy luscious hair, but it also doubles as a natural antihistamine. You can drink the tea or take it in capsules (I like the tea!) Red clover is equally as mineral, and vitamin dense, as nettle leaf. This herb improves circulation whilst also clearing excess mucus, due to its resinous substances (this is really great for blocked noses and runny eyes). Eye bright is an amazing herb, rich in vitamin B, C, E, and beta-carotene alkaloids and antioxidants. It’s amazingly nourishing, natural astringent-tannins, reduce mucus discharge.
• Keep windows and doors shut during high pollen season.
• Avoid cutting grass, and spending time in large, grassy places.
• Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors, especially after going to the countryside.
• Wear sunglasses when you are out, to protect your eyes.
• On car journeys, keep windows closed, and consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents in your car.
• Use traditional hay fever medicine, if needed, to relieve your symptoms. These include antihistamines, nasal sprays, and eye drops.
RECIPE TO HELP - HONEY AND NETTLE TEA
1 cup of fresh nettles
4 tbsp of water
1 ½ tbsp. of raw organic/good quality honey
Collect some nettles and cut of the leaves with as little stem as possible (older-looking nettles are much sweeter so look for these). You need roughly a cupful. Wash them thoroughly in warm water. Put the nettles in a large saucepan, with 4 cups of water, and add the honey. Place the pan on the hob and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the tea and add more honey if needed.
Also lovely on a hot Summer’s day, to relieve any allergies: Make as before. Put the tea on the side for 30 minutes, then transfer to the fridge for 2 hours. Serve with ice.
RECIPE - VITAMIN A RICH BBQ SWEET POTATO FRIES (Serves 4-6)
You will need:
2 lbs sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp maca powder
1⁄8 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp coconut sugar
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Cut the sweet potatoes into long fries, about 1/2-inch thick. Toss with melted coconut oil, and spread out flat onto two baking sheets. Place in the oven and roast for about 15–25 minutes, until fries are cooked through, and begin to brown. (Cook for an additional 5–10 minutes for crispier fries.)
While the fries are cooking, mix together all the spice powders, and remaining dry ingredients, in a small bowl.
When the fries have finished roasting, remove the pans from the oven, and immediately sprinkle some of the spice mixture on top (use amount to taste), tossing the fries around with a spatula to ensure even coating. Serve warm, with organic ketchup, hummus, or guacamole!
Rosemary Ferguson (@rosemaryferguson_) is a successful model of the 90’s turned nutritionist, founder of the 5 Day Plan, co-founder of Pure Filth, author, writer and Mum of three beautiful girls! From a homeopathic background, Rosemary has always had an interest in what food can do for you, this lead to her studying at The College of Naturopathic Medicine. She is now qualified in naturopathy and nutrition and runs a clinic London.