Immunity, Inflammation and the Thymus Gland
the influence of diet, lifestyle & attitude, on immune system health
Copyright… Kathie Strmota, LoveLight Co-Creative HealthCare
- dietary choices for good immune function (foods, antioxidants, food vitality)
- inflammation and anti-inflammatory foods
- acid-alkaline diet
- fasting & immunity
- immune-supportive herbs & nutrients
- lifestyle, attitude & metaphysical factors affecting immunity
- the role of the thymus gland
- affirmations for immune health
The immune system has a multitude of complex roles within the body and, at the end of the day, the overall health of the immune system is an influencing factor in just about every illness … both our likelihood of succumbing to an illness and our ability to recover from it.
Most people are well aware of immune involvement in infections of all kinds, bacterial & viral, fungal & yeast. It kicks into action to fight every external & internal threat to the body’s harmonious operation… the common cold & flu, bowel flora imbalances such as candida (thrush), infected wounds, allergens, and so on.
However, the immune system actually plays a crucial role in simply maintaining overall good health, as well as the prevention & healing of diseases and repair of injuries. It is involved in the day-to-day clean-up and recycling of dead tissue matter and metabolic waste products. It continuously monitors and removes abnormal cells, preventing the development of tumours and cancers. It helps to keep the body’s natural bacterial populations in balance.
If your immune function is poor, both your quality of life and your physical health will deteriorate. Also, if your quality of life and mental outlook are poor, your immune system’s function will be lowered as well. These factors both influence, and are influenced by, each other.
Think of supporting the immune system when you have any condition which has a name ending in ‘itis’ (infections & inflammation), as well as almost every other condition which doesn’t!
While the health of the immune system is obviously affected by physical factors, particularly diet, your emotions, attitudes, and beliefs about your life, also have a huge impact on immunity. In light of this, the following information covers various ‘lifestyle’ approaches as well as physical treatments which can support immune function. The focus here is on maintaining a strong and efficient immune system to prevent the manifestation of illness.
You can, of course, apply any of these suggestions when you are ill, to enhance immune function and help you recover more quickly, but when it comes to immunity, prevention truly is better than cure.
The Thymus Gland is intimately involved with immune function.
On the physical level, it nourishes and supports the growth and differentiation of immune cells.
On the metaphysical level, it is associated with our ‘will to live / will to survive’, an attitude which determines how well the immune system can function.
The thymus is discussed in more detail towards the end of this article.
Dietary Choices for good Immune Function
You will find, as you read or hear about different nutritional supplements, that many are listed as helping immunity. In fact, just about any food, nutrient, herb or supplement which is ‘good for the body’ will benefit the prevention of illness and have an immune-supportive effect, so this would be a very long list.
Here, my focus is on making a few basic suggestions which will have a wide-ranging benefit for overall immune health.
Nutrient Content, Antioxidants & Food Vitality
Adequate supply of nutrients is the most important factor in the health of the immune system.
Immune function is complex and most of the time you won’t necessarily know exactly what is needed. If you give the body a good spread of useful nutritional ‘building blocks’ it will be able to take what it needs to ‘do its own thing’… so the better your diet, the better your immunity.
Eat a healthy diet, with a large proportion of fresh fruit & vegetables (with at least 30% raw) for a good spread of vitamins and anti-oxidant substances.
Include lots of oily fish, whole meats (not processed sandwich meats), and a variety of seeds & nuts, and legumes (beans, peas, lentils).
Eat a smaller amount of grain flour-based products (and then only whole-grain & seedy).
Throw in a good mix of fermented and pickled foods, as well as some pre-digested dairy (‘good quality’ cheese, unsweetened natural yoghurt, etc) and you’re on your way.
This is, by far, the best way to keep your basic immune function strong and efficient.
In contrast, a ‘fast food’ diet is not only deficient in the nutrients required for immune health, but it also adds greater toxic load to the body, causing an already-struggling immune system to have to work even harder.
Sugar, in particular, depresses immunity, reducing the system’s ability to maintain general health, so avoid ‘added-sugar’ packaged foods, soft drinks, and excessive intake of sweets, cakes and biscuits. Basically, just avoid foods with a high GI (glycaemic index of carbohydrate foods) and choose low GI foods wherever possible.
Along the same lines, anything toxic that you put into your body – drugs (both pharmaceutical and recreational), environmental pollutants, food additives & chemicals, etc – all increase toxicity and create additional work for the immune system. For optimum immunity, reduce toxic input and try to keep the things you put into your body as ‘clean’ as possible.
The ‘life vitality’ of foods is also a supportive factor.
Wherever possible, go for freshly picked fruit & vegetables, (rather than those stored in a warehouse for months, or those which travel thousands of miles to get to you), go for free-range ‘happy hen’ eggs instead of factory eggs, prepare meals from raw basic whole ingredients rather than pre-prepared packed meals or frozen dinners, and so on.
You can enhance the energetic nutritional & vitality content of your foods by blessing your food and giving thanks for the meal, by cooking ‘with love’ and attention to creative details, and by flushing your food (using intention) with purifying & energising white light. (The article Healing with Water explores the effect of energy & attitudes on food vitality and how to improve the quality of your foods.)
You can also increase the amount of nutritional benefit you receive from your food by fully engaging with the meal you’re eating, and giving the process of chewing & enjoyment your full attention, rather than watching TV or reading while you eat.
Antioxidant substances help to protect the integrity of body tissues and cells against oxidation and degradation in the presence of toxins and ‘free radicals’ (oxidising substances). They protect immune cells and also indirectly reduce the workload placed on the immune system.
Each type of antioxidant substance has its own specific role, and area of effectiveness, so it’s best to give your body a good variety.
There are many supplements available now, containing antioxidant vitamins and combinations of antioxidant substances. However, these are often less effective, and sometimes even detrimental to the body, when not in their natural state (in whole foods) where they have all their balanced ‘friends & partners’ to support and monitor their action in the body.
The best way to support your immune system with antioxidants is to eat a diet rich in raw fruits & vegetables. That way, you can get a wide variety of natural antioxidants, in balanced amounts, rather than just one or two in large amounts.
Inflammation is a normal immune response to irritation, injury & infection, and allergens. It stimulates the breakdown of damaged tissues, foreign matter and toxins, the disposal of microbes, and the increased activity of tissue repair-related factors.
Visible symptoms of inflammation involve tissue reddening, heat, sometimes swelling and loss of movement, and pain. You see it on the skin, with irritations caused by things such as insect bites and allergic reactions, and it is a major part of any illness whose name ends in ‘itis’.
While inflammatory responses are natural, and beneficial in these short-term situations, excessive or chronic inflammation causes tissue destruction and damage of all kinds, in amounts beyond the body’s ability to make repairs. It can have a negative impact on overall immune function and the body’s natural biochemical processes, and can increase the potential for developing many serious and chronic illness patterns.
Today’s common processed-packaged-fast-food diets contain many inflammatory substances (stimulate systemic inflammatory responses in the body). To reduce destructive inflammatory processes, it’s a good idea to eliminate inflammatory and chemical-laden foods from your diet, and choose to include at least one anti-inflammatory food with every meal and snack.
Anti-inflammatory substances, and foods which contain them, encourage a more balanced response within the body’s natural inflammation pathways. They reduce unnecessary tissue damage and mitigate immune-inflammatory allergic responses to reduce their severity. At the biochemical level, many anti-inflammatory substances also have protective antioxidant effects.
There are many individual herbs, foods and nutrients with anti-inflammatory effects, and some are listed below. It’s not enough, however, to simply focus on one or two specific ‘super foods’ (although every little improvement brings some benefit). It’s more that your overall diet needs to change in this direction:
1. Improve the acid-alkaline balance to favour neutral and alkalising substances.
2. Remove junk foods & fried foods.
3. Remove packet / processed foods containing chemical additives.
4. Reduce sugar intake and remove all packet foods containing added-sugar (or other chemical sweeteners).
5. Replace ‘bad’ fats with ‘good’ fats.
Meat & Fish / Protein
Inflammatory: processed meats (sandwich meats, salami, hot dogs, sausages, fatty bacon) and chemical-hormone-added farmed meats
Better choices: whole meats … preferably organic and free-range (if you know any hobby farmers do some bartering for clean meats), but whole meats of any kind are better than processed … make sandwiches with home-cooked roast beef, pork and chicken rather than buying processed sandwich meats
Inflammatory: red meat, in general, is more inflammatory than other protein sources so, while it is an important nutritional food, it shouldn’t be your only or main protein source
Better choices: if your diet is high in red meat, replace some serves with other protein sources like fish & seafood, poultry, legumes (beans, chick peas, lentils), nuts & seeds
Anti-inflammatory: oily cold-water fish (eg. salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines, etc), as well as fish oils and cod liver oil, contain omega 3 fatty acids which have many important functions in the body & brain, being both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
Fruits & Vegetables
Inflammatory: fruit & vege are generally not inflammatory, although the chemicals used in growing and preservation may well be … however, in some people, plants of the nightshade family (eg. tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants) can increase inflammatory symptoms, and you will know if these foods irritate you because any condition you have will usually be worsened after eating them
Better choices: buy fresh, ripe fruit & vege, and prepare them yourself, from scratch … eat a mix of colours, at least 5-7 serves daily, and at least 30% of that raw
Anti-inflammatory: in general, all fruit & vege contain anti-inflammatory & antioxidant substances … some particularly good ones are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sweet potato, spinach, apples with skin, most berry fruits, paw paw, the spices turmeric & ginger, shiitake mushrooms, and the kelp seaweeds kombu, wakame, and arame (beware of seaweed snacks, which can be heavily salted and coated with vegetable oil)
Fats & Oils
Inflammatory: diets high in refined or hydrogenated polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as those found in many margarines, potato chips, baked goods, and deep-fried foods … polyunsaturated vegetable oils are unstable, turning from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ very easily when heated or exposed to light, and are really only safe if they’ve been created by cold-pressing (no heat), stored in light-proof containers in the fridge and used very quickly (which cancels out most of the oils you’ll get in your local supermarket)
Better choices: mono-unsaturated and saturated vegetable oils are much more stable and don’t lose their fatty acid integrity as easily … use butter instead of margarines … choose olive oil or cold-pressed nut oils for salads & light cooking, and coconut oil or rice bran oil for frying or roasting … remember, too, that you don’t actually need to use oil to roast, fry or saute ... you can start roasts with a small amount of water in the pan, until the natural juices begin to flow out of the meat to take over, and you can use water instead of oil to brown meat, saute onions, and stirfry
Anti-inflammatory: olive oil contains anti-inflammatory substances … fish oils and cod liver oil contain omega 3 fatty acids (see ‘meat & fish’ above)
Sugar & Carbs
Inflammatory: refined sugar (table sugar) is highly inflammatory and also immune-suppressive (aside from its unbalancing effects on blood-sugar management in the amounts our normal diet includes it) … avoid adding sugar when preparing food & drinks … avoid packaged / processed foods with added sugar (soft drinks, sweetened cereals / juices / yoghurts, etc, pastries, confectionary)
Better choices: get used to using ‘less sugar’ in the foods & drinks you make … sweeten your recipes with more ‘whole’ alternatives like fruit (fresh or dried), natural fruit juice, or honey, which all have a slightly lower GI and are less inflammatory … buy packet foods & tinned products without added sugar (check the ingredients list) but bear in mind that many foods which advertise ‘no added sugar’ actually have an increased fat content to compensate (and that usually consists of ‘bad fats’) or artificial / chemical sweeteners
Inflammatory: high GI foods … these are the refined carbohydrates, sugar and highly processed grains & flours which cause blood sugar to rise & drop too quickly after eating … avoid ‘white’ anything and added sugars (bread, pasta, cakes, etc, and any recipe that measures sugar in ‘cups’)
Better choices: medium & low GI foods … these are the complex carbohydrates which release their sugars slowly and maintain more stable blood sugar levels … choose wholegrain products (whole wheat breads, mixed grain breads, wholemeal & vegetable pasta, cakes made from whole meal flour / almond meal / oatmeal&bran) … use alternative sweeteners (like fruit & fruit juice) in cake & biscuit recipes … for snacks, choose nuts, seeds, fruits, vege sticks & dips
Gluten / Wheat Protein
While low GI grain foods are better than high GI foods, it is actually better to reduce grain foods overall.
The protein ‘gluten’ (found in wheat, rye and barley) is often treated by the immune system as a foreign allergen and triggers inflammatory and auto-immune responses in the body. It is not an immediate allergic response such as those which can produce anaphylaxis. The damaging effects are gradual and stealthy, developing from the cumulative intake of gluten in the diet.
So the problem is not the wheat bread sandwich you eat today. The problem is that you have toast or wheat flakes for breakfast, a fruit muffin (wheat flour) for morning tea, a salad sandwich on rye bread for lunch, a ‘healthy’ fruit & nut bar (containing wheat flour) for afternoon tea, a couple of dinner rolls with your evening meal, and then some cheese & crackers (wheat flour) for a late-night snack … all day, every day, the gluten keeps pouring in.
People who have an obvious gluten intolerance (like coeliac disease) will avoid gluten foods because the detrimental effects are immediately obvious. Its hidden auto-immune responses can gradually develop into any number of serious diseases which should be just as much of a concern.
Inflammatory: regular daily intake of ingredients made from wheat, rye or barley, and other gluten-containing grains (triticale, bulgar wheat / burghul, semolina, couscous)
Better choices: reduce your intake of gluten-foods by at least 50% to begin with, and gradually change your eating habits and meal styles … once that new routine is established and rolling comfortably, consider reducing your gluten intake even further … if you reduce grain-based foods overall, this will have the additional side benefits of improving blood sugar metabolism and causing natural weight reduction / balance
Gluten-free foods: nuts, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, etc), chick peas, lentils, split peas, chia, rice, corn, buckwheat, tapioca, quinoa, amaranth, teff, flax seed, millet, sorghum, oats (uncontaminated by wheat processing machinery)
Spelt: a ‘re-discovered’ ancient variety of wheat … this grain does contain gluten and so is still a problem food for coeliacs … spelt seems to be treated as a lesser allergenic threat by the immune system because its gluten protein has a far simpler molecular structure than the highly complex gluten molecule in modern wheat … I still think it’s better to reduce all gluten foods overall, but you may wish to switch to spelt flour bread and pastry while you gradually make the overall dietary changes
Inflammatory: alcoholic drinks have a similar effect to sugars and also put an unnecessary load on liver and kidneys (reducing the body’s efficient detox processes) … soft drinks, sweetened fruit juices, and flavoured milks bring in excessive sugars … caffeine drinks also encourage inflammatory processes
Better choices: drink plain water as your main source of fluids, and flavour it occasionally with a bit of natural juice for a change … choose unsweetened fruit & vege juices and dilute them by half with water to reduce the concentration of natural sugars … make your own vege juices and fruit-vege smoothies … choose herbal teas over ‘normal tea’ and coffee (both of which contain caffeine) … green tea contains anti-inflammatory substances, but also contains some caffeine
Defining a food as acid-forming, neutral, or alkalising refers to the effect of that food, on the overall pH of body tissue fluids, once it has been eaten and processed in the body.
While certain body areas have their own ideal pH balance (which may be either acid or alkaline according to the specific function), generally most biochemical processes work best when body tissue pH is neutral to very slightly alkaline, and a healthy diet should support that pH balance.
Acid-forming foods are often the same as inflammatory foods and, in general, a diet which is anti-inflammatory, will also be one that supports a neutral-alkaline body pH.
You don’t need to avoid all acid-forming foods as some contain very good nutrition. It’s more important to simply reduce the unhealthy acid-forming foods, which create additional problems without offering any benefit. For example, protein foods are acid-forming, but if you eat clean, good quality protein foods, along with a good supply of fruit & vegetables, a healthy balance will be maintained.
Acid-forming foods: sugar & sugar-added packaged foods, artificial sweeteners, soft drinks, alcohol, vinegar, medicines, caffeine products (coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa) and carob, deep fried foods, margarines, hydrogenated oils, animal fats, protein foods (meats, fish, seafood, processed cheese), factory eggs, white rice
Neutral-reaction foods: most fruits, nuts, legumes (beans, lentils, etc), dairy foods, free-range eggs, honey, molasses, maple syrup, most grains, seeds, breads & pasta (wholegrain are more alkalising), brown rice, water, unsweetened fresh fruit & vegetable juices
Alkalising foods: most vegetables, citrus fruits (you can add lemon slices or lemon juice to your drink of water, occasionally, for an extra bit of alkalising)
Intermittent fasting is a wonderful support for the immune system’s clean-up function.
The body has a continuous need for nutrients to power its biochemical reactions and provide building blocks for renewal and repair. During an extended period of fasting, the lack of nutrient supply from digestion drives the body to accelerate the immune system’s scavenger & clean-up functions. While this function occurs continually, it occurs much more strongly during periods of fasting.
Immune cells travel into all areas of the body, looking for obsolete & dysfunctional tissues which can be broken down and re-cycled into nutritional components. This process supplies the body with much-needed nutrients and other supportive elements to continue its normal functions while food is not available.
An important benefit of this situation is that, while replenishing the nutrient supply, the immune cells are also cleaning out any potentially disease-forming and pre-cancerous tissues, and reducing your chances of developing serious disease.
And while there are a larger number of immune cells ‘out there’ on their scavenging missions, the chances are greatly increased for uncovering and sorting out hidden pockets of disease, or cancerous cells which haven’t yet been discovered.
This disease-preventative and protective immune activity is a great reason to incorporate a fasting routine into your life.
Another very important consequence of fasting is that is provides the time and space for digestive tract repair.
The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) contains the highest number of repair-signalling tissues & cells in the whole body. It takes in so many substances from the ‘outside world’, and has the most corrosive environment, so tissue damage is greatly increased and repair functions are in high demand.
However, continuous ingestion of foods and liquids throughout the day limits available repair time to the latter part of sleeping hours, as the most efficient repair occurs when food is absent from the GI tract and digestive activities are dormant. Thus, periods of fasting enable more efficient repair and clean-up in the GI tract.
While the body can certainly go a long time without food, I recommend fasting with caution. You must still have a fairly good supply of stored nutritional components in various organs of the body to fuel the immune cells in their scavenger functions.
Fasting works best when your overall diet is healthy. If your body is run-down and malnourished, there may be other functions which suffer during extended fasting, and that means the overall benefit is not worth the cost.
Begin slowly and introduce your fasting routine in stages:
(1) Strengthen your body’s overall function and nutrient stores by improving your diet over a period of 6-12 weeks.
Add extra support with nutrient supplementation if you’re already sick or extremely rundown.
You can also take steps to improve digestive processes so you can get more nutrients from your food (including probiotics and digestive stimulants).
(2) Reduce snacking between meals.
If you don’t have a medical reason which requires you to eat frequently, it is actually better not to snack between meals.
If your meals are nourishing and filling, with low GI ingredients, you won’t feel the urge to snack.
Not only does this allow time between meals for GI tract repair, it also helps to normalise blood sugar management systems.
(3) When you have established a good dietary foundation, introduce fasting in a small way, such as extending the time between waking up and eating.
Drink water and/or unsweetened herbal tea instead of having breakfast. Then have brunch or lunch as your first food and eat freely until dinner time, with no further food following dinner.
Including sleeping time, this can be considered a 16 hour fast with an 8 hour eating window.
(4) Experiment with longer periods of fasting and different fasting routines until you find a level with which you are comfortable.
You can try extending your daily fasting time while gradually reducing your eating window. A 24 hour fast involves eating for one short period each day, with a 2-3 hour eating window.
Another common routine is to have 48 hours of fasting each week. In this routine, you eat normally for 5 out of the 7 days, and fast on the other 2 days, either separately (with two 24 hour fasts) or consecutively (with one 48 hour fast).
It’s important to remember that a lot of your fluid intake comes from food, so when fasting, you may need to drink more water.
Don’t force yourself to drink. Simply listen to your thirst signals and monitor the concentration of your urine colour.
If you begin to feel a strong urge to eat during a fast, firstly sip some water over a period of time (or some unsweetened herbal tea) and see if the urge settles. If it doesn’t, and you find you still can’t ignore it, try taking just a very small (tiny) amount of food – nothing sweet.
Eat 2-3 nuts (no, I don’t mean 2-3 handfuls, just a few single nuts) and then distract yourself with some other activity for a while to see if that’s enough to settle the urge. If not, have another couple of nuts. Don’t get carried away, or you might as well just eat a proper meal and be done with it!
You could also try 1-2 spoonfuls of cooked brown rice or a spoonful of seeds, taken in tiny amounts, nibbled and swallowed, with a minute or so between mouthfuls.
Have these emergency supplies ready before you begin your fast, because you don’t want to spend any time preparing food or rummaging through the pantry while you’re fasting. That would be too suggestive and stimulate the appetite unnecessarily.
Other Supportive Factors
Probably the most effective natural ‘antibiotic’, garlic should be included regularly in the diet, and taken in increased amounts whenever infection or illness of any kind is present (swallow whole or half cloves, like a pill, or take garlic oil capsules).
Like pharmaceutical antibiotics, garlic is most effective against bacterial infections. But unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, which destroy the body’s good bacteria along with the bad, garlic seems to be able to separate the bad from the good. It is an enemy to unfriendly bacteria but actually supports and enhances the body’s friendly bacteria.
Through its high sulphur content, garlic also improves clean-up and waste removal, making the immune system’s job much easier.
This is one of nature’s best. It has a million-and-one other great functions in the body, which I won’t go into here. But I will put it up there with apples and say “a clove of garlic a day keeps the doctor away”!
Use echinacea root & leaves, as a tea or in capsule or liquid extract form, to boost immunity, particularly in the winter months or when you have ‘come down’ with something.
This herb is very specific in its use. It is medicinal only and not an everyday dietary herb. It raises the white blood cell count and is most effective in helping the body fight off bacterial infections. Use it also whenever ‘pus’ is present in the body, as with infected wounds.
If you suffer from an illness where your white cell count is too high, such as leukaemia, then this is NOT the herb for you, as you don’t need further white cell stimulation. Just stick to the Garlic.
Rosehips & Vitamin C
A tea made from rosehips is a wonderful regular addition to your diet.
It is a high source of natural vitamin C, which is a great friend to the immune system amongst other things.
Vitamin C improves circulation of both the blood and lymphatics, and helps to maintain the integrity of tissues (it literally prevents you from ‘falling apart’). It is involved in supporting the body’s ability to recover from illness (major & minor) as well as in the process of wound healing (and tissue healing in general).
Get vitamin C into your body every day by eating lots of fresh, raw, ripe fruits and vegetables, and drinking rosehips tea regularly.
A vitamin C supplement can be used, for more intensive support during times of illness.
The trace mineral zinc supports immune function directly, by influencing the health of specific immune cells and functions.
It increases ‘resistance to invaders’ and is involved in wound healing. It also supports immunity indirectly, through its widespread involvement in many enzyme reactions which affect immune function, and its partnering with the body’s major antioxidant enzyme SOD (super-oxide dismutase).
If your diet is clean & healthy (as described above), you should not need to supplement with zinc, as it is needed only in trace amounts. However, it can be helpful to boost zinc intake at particular times of illness and injury, or as a preventative when you know you will be facing an immune challenge (eg. the winter months or surgery).
This is not a supplement for long-term use, as an excess of zinc can create a variety of problems. You may supplement daily for 2-3 months, if necessary, and then pause for several months.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is simply ensure that your diet supplies you with natural zinc, on a regular basis. The best zinc food sources are generally protein foods (fish, lean meat & animal liver, nuts, ‘good quality’ cheeses and plain yoghurt). Most fruit and vegetables offer small amounts of zinc, but the best plant sources are broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and parsley.
These are a natural component of many foods, including lemon juice, the liquid from your jars of pickles, and vinegars (particularly apple cider vinegar).
Organic acids have their own particular germ-killing effects and can be a wonderful help during times of infection.
When you’re sick, add slices of lemon to your tea and water; regularly take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar; and sip the juice from one of the jars of pickled veges in your fridge.
Do these things right through the day. It’s not necessarily delicious, but your body will love it.
Maintaining healthy bowel flora is an important support for immune health.
Some of the body’s ‘friendly’ bacteria function as part of the immune system and, especially in the bowel which processes a high degree of toxic waste matter, they provide a supportive and nourishing environment for immune cells.
Keeping the bowel flora happy should be a high priority.
Increasing dietary probiotic support can help restore bacterial balance in the bowel. Regularly eat probiotic-rich yoghurt, kefir, soured cabbage, or take a live probiotic supplement. Fermented foods, in general, support bowel flora balance.
Many plant foods, especially asparagus, bananas, leeks, onions, and garlic, and some herbs, like dandelion & chicory roots, supply prebiotic fibre (oligosaccharides), which provides nourishment for ‘good’ bowel bacteria.
Probiotic support is doubly important after you’ve taken a course of antibiotic medication for an infection, as this has a negative impact on the balance of bowel flora.
Green supplements (Spirulina, Chlorella)
These stimulate immune activity against infections in general by encouraging white blood cell production, as well as providing a range of antioxidant substances. Spirulina also stimulates the function of NKC immune cells (natural killer cells) which destroy abnormal tissues, such as tumour cells.
While there may be some additional benefit from taking either of these in the acute stages of illness, they are essentially a dietary supplement. Their greatest benefit can be obtained preventatively, by giving the body a regular boost every now and again.
You may take a supplement daily for a three-month period, every few months or so; or simply keep a tub in the kitchen and just intuitively take some occasionally, whenever you feel the urge, as you would with any other food.
As with any food or treatment, there’s no need to over-do it. More is not always better.
The herbs parsley, yarrow and sage, while not directly influencing the immune system at the physical level, together make a lovely overall body tonic. Drink them as a tea made from the leaves, and include heaps of parsley in your diet (always eat the garnish!)
These herbs strengthen the body physically, improving blood circulation (and oxygenation) as well as nerve signal transmission.
Energetically and emotionally, they lift your energy and give you the ability to ‘give a damn’ and fight for what you want in life. These attitudes enhance immune function (see ‘attitudes’ below).
Lifestyle, Attitude and Metaphysical Factors
More than any other physical system, the immune system intimately reflects your ‘state of life’ and your own attitudes and perceptions about life.
If you are feeling tired and rundown, your immune system will also be tired and rundown. If you are sluggish and inactive, so will your immune function be. If you feel defeated and overwhelmed by life, your immune system will show this response as well, and be unable to tackle its own challenges effectively.
On the other hand, if you feel energetic, optimistic, empowered, strong, and able to face the world, your immune function will reflect this in its own ability to deal with its internal world.
Your own attitudes, perceptions and feelings, are the best indicator you have of how well your immune system is functioning.
The body needs to be adequately rested so that the immune system has enough time and energy to do its complex repair and clean-up work. Approximately 7-9 hours of undisturbed sleep every night is necessary for balanced immunity.
If your lifestyle results in short or disrupted sleep sessions, or irregular sleep habits, you’re more at risk of running your immune system down. Try to create a stable sleep routine, going to bed at roughly the same time each night, and waking at the similar time each morning.
Create stable routines around your preparations for sleep. Going through a similar routine every night gives your mind and body a familiar anchor, triggering the winding down process and ensuring that you fall asleep more easily once you get into bed.
Additionally, minimise exposure to artificial blue light sources (house lights, TV, computer, etc) in the 2-3 hrs before going to bed, so your body can produce sufficient amounts of melatonin.
This hormone not only encourages sleep, but is the major antioxidant for immune activities overnight, particularly in the brain.
The warm end of the light spectrum (red-orange light), as occurs with natural evening light, stimulates melatonin production, while the blue end of the spectrum, as occurs in morning light, is the trigger to stop production.
Create stable morning routines as well. This will help ground you more fully into your body, so you can go into your day with your ‘head fully screwed on’. Creating a space to be present allows you to find a calm, clear attitude so you can make the most of whatever opportunities are presented to you.
Step outside soon after waking and let your eyes experience the morning light to switch off melatonin production, wake you up and energise you for starting the day. This also resets your circadian clock in preparation for evening melatonin production.
Regular physical movement (exercise & activity) supports immunity by improving lymphatic flow and waste removal, by heating and oxygenating the body, and by stimulating the activity of immune cells.
It also encourages all kinds of beneficial healing processes in the body which can counter the damaging effects of inflammation.
Bear in mind that over-exertion (pushing the body too hard) can have the opposite effect, depressing immunity because it over-stresses the body. Having a generally active lifestyle, without going to extremes, is the best approach.
Do lots of walking in lovely environments, use the stairs instead of the elevator, ride your bike, chop wood, hang out the washing, swim, or visit the gym for half an hour 2-3 times a week (if that’s your thing). Just spread your activity out, rather than ‘going hard’ and then doing nothing for ages.
Basically, if you spend more than half of your waking hours in a seated or horizontal position, you can expect some immune dysfunction.
Chronic emotional and mental ‘stress’ leads to immune suppression, particularly through the continuous release of adrenal hormones and the inflammatory processes it triggers.
Most people these days live very busy lives and push themselves ‘to the limit’, both physically and mentally.
To maintain a strong immune system, try to find a balance by including some time for relaxation and release every day.
It’s not enough just to sit in front of the TV for a few hours. This is an ‘escape’ which takes you away from yourself (and does have its occasional benefits). But true relaxation involves staying in touch with yourself, in the present moment, and allowing the body & mind to ‘let go’ of what isn’t relevant in this moment of your life (eg. tomorrow’s ‘to do’ list or this morning’s drama), releasing both physical and energetic toxicity in the process.
Breathe deeply. Spend time in contemplation and meditation. Take up a relaxing creative hobby. Walk in nature. Take regular time out from people and situations that ‘distress’ you. Spend time in the company of enjoyable friends. Make love. Laugh heartily.
Allow yourself a bit of time every day to do something you ‘really feel like doing’ rather than just doing the things you ‘have to get done’ and the things you ‘should do’.
Eating a healthy diet (as described earlier) can help to reduce anxiety and stress perception by improving brain neurotransmitter function. Some nutrients in particular, like the vitamin B group, can improve your tolerance to stressful living.
You can learn more about nutritional support for a stressful lifestyle in the article Emotional Nutrition - Stress.
Fear is another pattern which unbalances immunity.
I’m not talking about practical ‘fight-or-flight’ survival fears which require an automatic physical response. I’m referring to mental and emotional fears (fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of not having enough time, fear of losing someone, fear of poverty, etc).
These unresolvable fears create stress in the body and consequently have immune-suppressive effects. They also send a strong message of weakness to the immune system which tells it that it doesn’t have the resources to deal with the challenge.
When you live at the mercy of your fears, it’s like saying to your immune system: “we’re not good enough (or smart enough, or strong enough, etc) to face this challenge, so let’s pull back and avoid the risk of casualties”. Your immune system responds by pulling back, energetically, and not working as efficiently.
The only way to shift these patterns is through developing the ability to accept whatever life brings and trust that, no matter what, you will be okay.
These attitudes don’t take away the natural feelings of fear, but they do help you not to be a victim to your fears.
When you are able to take action, in spite of your fears, the immune system also gets the message that it should attempt to deal with every challenge and threat, regardless of the odds of success.
Having a healthy relationship with fear also reduces the likelihood of over-reactive immune responses, such as those expressed in allergies and auto-immune diseases.
How you feel about your ability to ‘deal with’ life determines how well your immune system will ‘deal with’ its own challenges because the activity of your physical body responds to the energetic cues you give it.
If you feel a ‘victim’ to life, feel dependent on others, blame others (or the government or God) for the unhappy parts of your life, or feel that you don’t have the power or resources to change things for the better, your immune system will be influenced by this vibrational pattern of victimhood. It will function weakly and ineffectively, almost as if it is also victim to the virus, bacteria, toxin, or cellular mutation, that is ‘invading’ the body, and hasn’t the resources to overcome it.
If you feel powerless, your immune system will also ‘feel’ powerless.
If you’re looking to ‘have an easy ride’ in life, and live off the hard work of others, your self-esteem will deteriorate, and so will your immunity.
If, on the other hand, you take responsibility for the things which occur in your life, and if you stand on your own two feet and take charge of your life, you empower your immune system to ‘take charge’ and easily sort out anything which is ‘not right’ in the body.
Taking responsibility doesn’t mean blaming yourself instead of others. Blame does not even come into it.
Taking responsibility simply means recognising that you, and no-one else, are in charge of your life. It means recognising that, no matter how unexpected or undesirable a situation you find yourself in, you did in some way play a role in getting yourself into it, and therefore you also have the power, and freedom of choice, to get yourself out of it and make change.
Never ask “why me?”
Ask, instead, “what in this situation is not right for me, and how can I make it better?”
As you honour your inner strength and power in this way, it expresses itself as a ‘will to live life fully’ and a ‘will to fight for the kind of life you desire and deserve’. Your immune system responds to this vibration as a command to ‘stand and fight’ rather than give in.
Research has shown that, in people with malignant diseases, it is often this ‘fighting’ attitude that can make the difference between remission (extended life) and early death, because of the positive way it can enhance immune function.
Express Your Truth
Another important psychological factor influencing immunity is the expression (or suppression) of your emotions and thoughts.
Have the courage to speak your truth.
Say what you feel, in as loving a way as you can.
Get things off your chest, rather than biting your tongue, stewing over problems, and becoming angry and resentful.
Research in this area, also, has shown that people who deny and suppress their ‘difficult’ emotions, and avoid speaking up for themselves, have lower numbers (and reduced effectiveness) of immune cells than those people who regularly express their feelings.
Take a Light-Hearted Approach to Life
Being able to see the funny side of life, especially in really difficult situations, has a very positive effect on immunity.
Having a healthy sense of humour, in particular being able to laugh at yourself and your own life situations (as opposed to laughing at others), increases relaxation and reduces the body’s production of ‘stress hormones’ (cortisol & adrenalin) which have an immunosuppressive effect. In doing so, it enhances overall immune function.
Laughter also oxygenates the body, and has been shown to increase the number and efficiency of immune cells. Have a good deep belly laugh every day.
Negative perceptions in general, like pessimism, worry and despair, suppress the immune system.
Feelings of hopelessness, and a pessimistic view of life, can reduce T cell responsiveness & cell numbers, and weaken NKC cytotoxicity. In contrast, people with positive expectations and a generally optimistic outlook show increased immune activation and NKC cytotoxicity.
So do your best to see the silver lining in even the darkest of clouds. Look for the blessings in every experience.
Try to adopt a more playful approach to life, overall, and create opportunities for healthy humour and genuine laughter.
You Provide the Direction
Your attitudes, emotions and outlook on life have a direct impact on immune function overall, and more specifically on the size, number and efficiency of immune cells.
For this reason, it’s worth reflecting on your perceptions and approach to life, and the challenges (or opportunities) it lays before you, as well as the beliefs you hold about your body and what it is capable of.
Consider the ways in which you can change your perceptions, and provide your immune system with strong leadership and direction, so it can be the efficient protective force it was designed to be.
I can recall many occasions where I’ve acted in ways that go against the normal social behaviours around ‘fear of infection and contamination’, such as freely kissing someone with a cold, or eating food without washing my hands after working in the garden.
The people around me often react with alarm, suggesting I should ‘protect myself’ better. But my regular response in these situations has always been to laugh and say “I trust my immune system to take care of me”.
As I reflect on this now, it occurs to me that the attitude of ‘trusting that my immune system will do its job well’ is another important perception which can positively impact immune health.
On those occasions, I’ve effectively reinforced the message to my immune system, that I have no doubt it is completely capable of dealing with the odd rhinovirus or a few pesky soil microbes.
And we all know how strengthening and encouraging it is when someone gives you a vote of confidence. It makes you believe in yourself more, and want to try that little bit harder to succeed.
You can also provide positive direction by consciously using techniques which focus your expectation on the positive outcomes associated with heightened immunity.
Research into meditation, biofeedback activities, and the placebo effect has shown that we have every capability of creating direct changes in metabolic functions.
Affirm your expectations of a positive outcome wholeheartedly.
Focus your intentions and expectations using techniques like creative visualisation.
Tell your body where you want it to go, and trust in its ability to go there.
From a purely medical perspective, the thymus gland is like a ‘nursery’ for immune cells. Undifferentiated immune cells are ‘born’ elsewhere in the body (eg. white bone marrow), and then spend some time in the ‘thymus nursery’ where they grow and develop into very specific types of immune cells with their own specific functions. Once they’ve ‘grown up’, they are sent out into the body to ‘do their job’.
The thymus gland is large and highly active in children, and appears to atrophy as we age. Because of this, the common assumption is that its importance in the body diminishes over time, and adults don’t really need it.
However, it has been shown that when someone is facing a new type of infection or chronic illness with immune involvement, the thymus will increase in activity and begin to grow in size again. This suggests that the thymus is only larger in childhood because, in the early years, the body is facing a lot of new infective and toxic agents and there is continuous work going on to create antibodies and new immune cells to deal with those. Once antibodies for a particular molecule or microbe are created, they generally don’t need to be created again, so this particular demand on the thymus diminishes over time, and only needs to be called on again when something entirely new is encountered.
Although it may not be highly active when we’re older, the thymus never actually stops performing its important immune functions.
Metaphysically, the Thymus Centre is also referred to as the ‘Higher Heart Centre’ and is located midway between the heart & throat chakras in the upper chest area.
It processes the more divine aspects of the energies and emotions associated with the heart chakra, such as love and compassion and gratitude. Through the thymus, these attitudes become more unconditional and come more from the perspective of the unity of all beings.
At the thymus, we express our love and appreciation of life itself, and love for all life, rather than a personal love and appreciation of the things which life brings (such as specific experiences or relationships). Further developing these more unconditional aspects within yourself will strengthen thymus health & function and therefore support the function of the immune system.
The thymus is associated with the will to live and the will to survive.
Its energies bypass the desire for particular experiences or possessions in life, and tap into the very core of the desire to just ‘be alive’, to love life and to revel in the joy of simply being alive (no matter what your physical circumstances).
I believe that in many people who ‘miraculously’ recover from cancers, this aspect is a crucial driver for the immune system’s ability to overcome. It’s like the person has a wake-up call.
A person diagnosed with cancer is suddenly faced with the very real possibility of death and, in coming to terms with that, a lot of the superficial layers of desire are stripped away. They come to the deeper realisation that it doesn’t really matter what they do, what they have, who they relate to, or where they go. What really matters is simply that they are alive, and that they want to continue to be alive, and that they will not die at this time.
I’m not suggesting that it is just a matter of ‘changing your mind’. Even those people who have died from cancer probably felt they didn’t want to die, and there are many different influencing factors involved. However, I do believe that, in the survivors, it is this deep-level realisation of the truth that ‘simply to be alive is what it’s all about’, which strengthens their ability to overcome.
Of course, as with any immune-related issue, prevention is the key.
Work on shifting your priorities and perceptions to develop these understandings and attitudes within yourself, so you can keep your thymus and immune system fighting fit in everyday life and avoid getting sick altogether.
Love yourself. Love your neighbour. Love your world. Love your life. Love all life.
Let go of the little things … what you have and don’t have, how you want people to see you, who upset you this morning, the idea of the perfect relationship, and so on. It’s all just the stuff you’re doing to mark time while you’re alive, but it’s not your reason for living.
Release worry about the unknown future and let go of the resentments and failures of the past.
Just revel in the joy of being alive.
Be accepting of whatever life puts in your path, pleasure or pain, and be grateful simply for the gift of being here to experience it.
You can support the thymus gland energetically by regularly ‘tapping’ the middle of the sternum / upper chest area.
Tap your four finger tips against the area, quite firmly and quickly, 10-20 times. Make it a habit, and remember to do it several times a day, and more often when you are sick.
This simple action stimulates energy movement in the thymus centre, and supports immune function.
Affirmations for Immune System Health
My immune system is fighting fit and effortlessly maintains my health with efficiency, passion and vigour.
My thoughts are peaceful, calm and centered. Life is safe. I am safe. I trust my immune system to take care of me.
I take responsibility for my life experiences. I take charge of my life and my immune system confidently takes charge of its own tasks. Together, we face all challenges with balance, enthusiasm and success.
I love my life. I revel in the joy of being alive. I fearlessly dive into every experience knowing that every moment of my life is a blessing.
I will live. I will survive. My deep inner resilience sees me through every challenge, and life is easy.
I acknowledge that my reason for living is simply to be alive. I recognise this deep core truth in all beings, in all of nature. I respect the will to live and the right to live, in myself and in all others.