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Build Up Your Defences For Winter

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 187 - October 2011

The Germ is Nothing, the Terrain is everything
Louis Pasteur

The famous nineteenth century bacteriologist, Louis Pasteur uttered the above words towards the end of his days.  Having spent his life's work researching the germ theory of illness, even he began to recognize that host resistance was critical.

Since Pasteur, modern medicine has become based on the germ theory. But there are a significant number of people, scientists amongst them, who believe that germs are not the primary cause of illness. If this were true, how can we explain the fact that out of three people exposed to a respiratory germ, only one will get pneumonia, the second person will get minor cold symptoms whilst the third person remains unaffected? This is because whether or not the germ becomes problematic is dependent on the 'terrain' or internal body environment.

Autumn is a good time of year to think about building up the immune system in preparation for winter. Diminishing daylight, the onset of colder weather and the often stressful pre-Christmas period mean the immune system is under more pressure.

The immune system is not only involved in defending the body against infections, viruses, cancer cells, fungi and other parasites. An unhealthy immune system also speeds up the ageing process and is a major factor in fatigue, chronic inflammation and allergies. Immunology (the study of the immune system) is in its relative infancy and is one of the fastest growing fields of medicine today. There is much still to learn about this complex system.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is not concentrated in one particular location but is distributed throughout the body.

  • The outer defences are the mucus membranes in the mouth, nose and throat. These delicate linings are the first protection against invading bacteria;
  • The inner army consists of circulating immune cells. These cells come in several different types with specialized immune functions. White blood cells called B-lymphocytes produced in the bone marrow, make antibodies or 'straight jackets' specially targeted to disable specific invading organisms. Other white blood cells, T-lymphocytes from the thymus gland attack and destroy the invaders. Cells called macrophages gobble up the invader;
  • The army of immune cells is spread throughout the blood and a substance called lymph. The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system as it is continuously cleansing the cells of wastes and toxins. These substances are carried in the lymph which passes through the lymph nodes to be filtered and purified. The purified lymph then flows back into the blood circulation.  Lymph flows through a network of lymphatic vessels all over the body and drains into lymph nodes. These nodes are concentrated in the neck, chest and groin and when there is a lot of immune activity going on, these areas will swell. The thymus gland (at the top of the breast bone), spleen and tonsils are important lymph organs and the small intestine contains lymphatic tissue (known as Peyer's patches). A massive 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut;
  • The adrenal glands are part of the defence system in that they are responsible for helping the body adapt to stress and infection;
  • The liver plays a role in immunity as it contains many macrophages which eat invaders. It is also responsible for detoxifying the body of chemicals and toxins.

Improving the Terrain

  • Poor digestion, too much protein and other acid forming foods will contribute to acid tissues. Excess acidity goes hand in hand with chronic diseases and will weaken the defences.  Eat an alkalising diet rich in good oils, raw vegetables, live sprouts and fruit. Other alkalising foods are avocados, fresh coconut, soya foods, maple syrup and molasses;
  • Protein is needed to make antibodies so is important for immunity, but generally we eat far more than is needed which is acidifying and this will have the opposite effect on immunity. Animal protein such as meat, fish, cheese is a very concentrated source of nutrition and you need less than you think. For example a 120g portion of meat or fish is adequate;
  • Keep your sugar intake low. Sugar blocks the uptake of vitamin C, a key immune enhancing vitamin and it provides ideal food for yeast organisms to flourish in your gut;
  • Having a freshly squeezed vegetable-based  juice (e.g. carrot, apple & celery) is a great way to alkalize you as well as obtain concentrated antioxidants;
  • Strong negative emotions and stress contribute to acidity. Another good reason for stress management. Do everything you can to reduce stress. Try CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or meditation to clear negative mental states which are now known to weaken immunity. The field of psychoneuroimmunology is showing clear links in this area. Tai Chi has been found to improve T-lymphocyte count by 40%. Yoga  encourages a state of deep relaxation in which the immune system works best;
  • Unlike the blood circulation which is constantly activated by the heart, the lymph has no pump. Lymph is dependent on physical movement for its flow. So exercising regularly (and skin brushing with a natural bristle brush) is important for good immunity;
  • Since such a large proportion of the immune system is in the gut, keeping the intestines clean will help resistance against 'flu viruses and infections. A good diet will help in this respect and the occasional colonic or herbal enema;
  • Antioxidants are the most important nutrients for building strong immunity. Vitamins A, C and E and the minerals zinc and selenium are the primary antioxidant nutrients. Fruit and vegetables are the best sources of both these nutrients and special plant chemicals with antioxidant properties such as flavonoids, anthocyanins and carotenoids. Antioxidants defend against unstable destructive substances called free radicals which are produced as the results of normal daily metabolic processes and attack cell membranes. Healthy cell membranes are vital to immunity since they act as protective barriers against foreign invaders.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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