Immunity is what protects us from potentially dangerous infections. Most babies are born without pathogenic diseases, and the immune system is intended to prevent any occurrences of disease. It is our protector and guardian. It shields your body from the microbes, chemicals and other foreign objects that may cause potential harm to your body. However, not all the microbes are harmful to your body. There are harmless microorganisms living in/ on our body benefiting in certain ways. These harmless microorganisms are sometimes referred to as friendly bacteria or healthy flora. Interestingly, there are about 1013 cells in the body and something like 1014 bacteria associated with them, the majority resides in the large intestine. These microrganisms are also found in great numbers in the skin, nose, mouth, etc. In general, the immune response is orchestrated by the complex interactions and activities of the large number of diverse cell types like phagocytes, but the natural flora is also protecting our body from the pathogens. For instance, Skin’s natural flora produces fatty acids, which discourage other species from invading. Gut bacteria release a number of factors like bacteriocins and colicins with antibacterial activity as well as metabolic waste products that help prevent the colonization of other harmful species. Gut bacteria also release organic acids that possibly support proper metabolism. They also produce B vitamins and vitamin K in amounts that are enough to compensate for poor nutrition. Vaginal lactobacilli maintain an acid environment, which suppresses growth of other organisms that cause infections. The question is whether it would be possible to be healthy without having these normal microorganisms that make up the beneficial flora in our bodies. In a sterile environment, the immune system is less efficient, leaving us vulnerable in the event of exposure to potentially dangerous pathogenic organisms. We acquire beneficial flora during and immediately after birth with the accompaniment of intense immunologic activity because otherwise we may not survive.
The importance of natural flora for health is revealed quite dramatically when undergoing antibiotic therapy. Antibiotics attack both friendly and pathogenic bacteria and therefore have an adverse impact on beneficial bacteria, and the human may then be over-run by introduced pathogens or by overgrowth of the organisms normally present in small numbers. In brief, it can predispose you to virtually any disease. For instance, after treatment with clindamycin, overgrowth by Clostridium difficile give rise to antibiotic-associated diarrhea or, more seriously, pseudomembranous colitis. Overuse of antibiotics also cause antibiotic-resistance. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), antibiotic resistance is a major threat to public health, worldwide, and is a man-made epidemic. Already, antibiotics are losing their effectiveness against some common ailments, and many infectious diseases are becoming uncontrollable due to antibiotic misuse. When it comes to viruses, they make full use of the cellular replicative machinery and therefore antiviral agents facing difficulty targeting the virus without affecting the host cells. As a result, most antiviral agents can adversely affect the host. This means, individuals taking antiviral drugs can end up having the side effects such as bone marrow suppression, renal toxicity and mitochondrial disorders. Hence, antibiotics are not the solution for attacking the infections or strengthening your immunity.
In fact, even “healthy” blood is not sterile. Healthy white blood cells are an indication of healthy immune system. Hence, if you want to boost your immune system, focus on boosting your WBCs, rather than killing the microorganisms.
The above video was filmed using a darkfield condenser on a Zeiss microscope. The red blood cells are the circular objects. Because this was filmed in darkfield, you see the silhouettes, not the colors. The phagocyte is near the center but closer to the upper right quadrant. It is moving vigorously in the direction of two specific red blood cells that have damage to their membranes.
Keep in mind, the body is 100% organic and you are a part of the Mother Earth. She has solutions for almost all your natural ailments. There are many ways to boost your immune system naturally.
- Water is the simplest example. If you have sore throat, gargling with boiled warm water with a pinch of salt and pepper is the first remedy almost all the Sri Lankans would try.
- If you get a cut or wound, washing with turmeric water and applying turmeric paste will help in disinfecting the wound, stopping the bleeding and healing.
- In Native Sri Lankan Medicine, the treatment for measles, chickenpox and mumps, is basically to enhance your immune system by enough resting, eating easily digestible, healthy diet and by using neem, turmeric, lemon, etc.
- There are many traditional methods for boosting immunity in babies in Sri Lanka such as the first feed of “golden milk” – breast milk prepared with a pinch of 24k gold, turmeric and calamus and putting a bracelet made with calamus pieces in baby’s hand, etc.
- The Native Sri Lankan remedy “Ratha Kalka” is one of the best immune boosting remedies used for neonates. It protects the baby from infections and so as to eliminate the risk of infant eczema.
- Ginger juice with a little bit of lemon juice and honey is one of the best remedies for diarrhea. Ginger is considered to have many antiseptic properties and works perfectly in both gastrointestinal and respiratory infections without harming the normal flora.
- Wild oregano is also one of the most famous immune-protective herbs that can be used in many bacterial, viral and fungal infections. One drop of wild oregano oil in warm water alleviates diarrhea, cold, respiratory infections and according to the research done at Georgetown University, it was found to be more effective than penicillin, streptomycin and even vancomycin.
- The South American herb, cat’s claw is also one of the best immune boosting herbs. It’s been used for hundreds of years in traditional folk medicine to treat a variety of health problems such as respiratory infections, joint diseases, fever and is effective in the treatment of parvovirus.
Some might say though the simple infections can be cured by the natural remedies, epidemics can’t be treated without using antibiotics. One of the best examples for alleviating epidemics is the study done in Sri Lanka for treating chikungunya virus using the “Sri Lankan version of Sudarshana powder”. Chikungunya was an epidemic in Sri Lanka a few years ago and Ayurvedic and Native Sri Lankan doctors managed to treat it successfully when the antibiotics failed.
In general the habits of flavoring your food with spices like turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, ginger, having natural yogurt, lassi, curd, drinking turmeric or lemon water in the morning, adding a pinch of cinnamon, turmeric to your natural juices will help to boost your immunity in day to day life.
May all beings be healthy!
Dr. Indunil Weerarathne
BAMS (Hons), University of Colombo
MSc Infectious Diseases (reading), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine