Nov 5, 2013

Onward toward an immune life

The Battle Starts

In the late eighteenth century, an English gentleman observed that milkmaids were generally immune to smallpox. He deduced that smallpox immunity was generated through a cowpox infection, a disease common to milkmaids. To test his hypothesis, he tried it out on his gardener's eight year old son. The test was successful and after testing it on several other children, including his eleven month old son, it was finally accepted. His name was Edward Jenner and he later came to be known as "the father of immunology."

Thus started humanity's war with these tiny little almost invisible creatures that were capable of causing havoc to our biological systems! Centuries on, as the battle between mutating pathogens and exceedingly cunning humans escalates, we can't just depend on that to help us out. New strands in microbes which are resistant to existing antibiotics are regularly discovered and the challenge to find a cure for them is increasing.

How does the body work?

It turns out that there's a better way than using antibiotics or any other drugs for that matter. The human body is a wonderful biological machine which senses that something is off and responds to it by killing off the threat. It's like a battle between your body's immune system and the microbes.

White Blood Cells are the body's first line of defense
There's a downside though- the immune system, in general, works really well once the microbe is identified. That is exactly the philosophy behind vaccination. Dead or weakened pathogens are injected into your body to trigger an immune response, which is enough for your body to learn the signature of that pathogen.

Rest assured, you will be attacked and once you are, your first line of defense is your immune system (naturally, you can't take a random drug before you have identified the cause!) The key to staying fit, thus, is having a strong immune system.

The Immune System:

There might have been a kid in your neighborhood who, you could swear, would never get ill no matter how much he ran around in the cold, had ice creams or even played in the mud. Blame his parents for that. The simple reason is this case is the hierarchical or innate immunity that is inherited from your parents- in other words, it's something that you can't do anything about.

Induced immunity, however, something that you have control over, well, at least partially. The different types are listed in the infographic below.

Tapping the full potential of the immune system:

There are various ways to stimulate your immune system so that it works at the best of its ability. In addition to vaccination as described above, the best practices are listed below.

Adequate Sleep:
Do you feel really cocky when you don't get a full dose of your normal sleep? Blame the internal system. A lack of sleep has been associated with proteins that lead to inflammation, thereby making your body weak, bringing your natural guard down. It's important that you get your fair share of sleep!
Get your Vitamins right:
As children, I am sure you were taught of how the vitamins and minerals help you in keeping your body safe. Vitamins are known immunity boosters. Keeping a balanced diet is a must. Stray away from it and you are inviting unnecessary trouble.

Go for Probiotics:
Probiotics are micro-organisms like bacteria and yeast that are believed to improve health. Stefano Guandalini, Professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medical Center says, "Introducing friendly bacteria in the form of probiotics is believed to challenge the immune system in healthy ways." Recent study relating probiotics and college students (who are sleep deprived and stressed in general) and found that those with probiotic supplements had colds that lasted for a shorter time.

Have a healthy breakfast:
Fruit salad, sunny side up eggs or yogurt- all of them are known to boost your immunity. Top if off with a cup of warm, comforting liquor tea and you should be off to a great day! Oh, and don't forget to drink lots of water!

Ginger- A known antioxidant
Let it be gingerly:
Sage Flower
Ginger is known to warm the body and break down the toxins in the organs, the lungs and sinuses in particular. Ayurveda also says that ginger helps in cleaning the body's lymphatic system, which is responsible to kick our dirt from the body.

Say no to the nasal spray:
The moment I realize I have a blocked nose, the first thing that I do is try and find my nasal spray. As sad as it may sound, life feels incomplete without it now! The right way though, would be try some sage extract in tea or hot water- it helps move the mucus out of the system.

Do it the Samba way:
Graviola, a fruit native to the South Americas, has been traditionally used from killing parasites and treating the flu. Although many websites preach that graviola treats cancer, there has been no evidence or related research that supports the fact. However, it is known to contain acetogenins, which help boost the immune system.

No Smoking:
Smoking adversely affects almost every organ in the body- increasing the likelihood of various diseases including and not limited to cancer, stroke and heart disease. So it's safe to say, the farther you stay from your tobacco, the healthier you remain!

The Chyawanprash:

The Dabur Chyawanprash is a product that is a mixture of herbs and spices prepared as per Ayurvedic traditions. It is believed to boost immunity in children, helping them battle common ailments.

Although it has a sweet-sour-spicy taste, the color is not really encouraging. As a kid, you are bound to be mischievous and your mother running after you with that is pretty natural. However, if Amitabh Bachchan and MS Dhoni tell you to have the Chyawanprash, you do that quietly without asking questions.

The Awareness:

Naturally, I know what I am talking about in this post. You probably do as well. But what about the millions of others deprived Indians who don't? What is the use of all the research if just the top 10% of the population gets the benefits? Doesn't it help in increasing the gap between the rich and the poor? The high population is definitely one of the big factors for this pitiable condition, but there are other factors to blame as well.

The need of the hour is to promote health awareness in the community and the lack of a proper structure is perhaps the biggest hindrance. We need to follow a bottom-up approach where smaller units adapt to the local community and work together rather than a rigid set of rules decided at the top! This is possible when there is proper coordination between the government agencies at the top and smaller NGOs at the grass root levels.

With so many initiatives like Volunteering India or Pfizer, I believe the day is not too far when we can have a healthier and immune India.

This post is written for the contest 'An Immune India' conducted by IndiBlogger and Dabur Chyawanprash.

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