The Healthy Immunity Defense

The Healthy Immunity Defense

Your body relies on a phenomenal immune system that kicks in to quickly detect harmful invaders and build natural vaccines called antibodies to protect the body from infection.

The first lines of defense are the skin and the mucous membranes found in the mouth, nose, and respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts. Both the skin and the mucous membranes work together to prevent harmful germs from entering the body.

In addition, bodily fluids—tears, sweat, saliva, and gastric juices—have potent antibacterial properties. The body also benefits from good bacteria (probiotics) in the gut that keep bad bacteria in check.

Together, the skin, mucous membranes, bodily fluids, and intestinal bacteria form a powerful barrier against infection.

But when the immune system breaks down, it may be difficult to defend the body against even the most harmless germs—and the immune system quickly becomes overwhelmed. Repeated bombardment can even cause it to malfunction.

A good example of an immune system gone bad is an autoimmune disease: the immune system misinterprets the body’s own cells as foreign invaders. As a result, the immune system starts attacking the body. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, the immune system—acting on misinformation—starts attacking healthy cells in the joint capsules causing joint deterioration, inflammation, and pain.

But before we get too far, let’s start where every infection starts: germs.

The Birthplace of Infection: Germs

Germs are everywhere: in the air, soil, water, food, plants, and animals—even in and on the body. They include larger parasites and worms, and the more common single-celled bacteria, viruses, and fungi discussed here. Understanding more about these can help you better arm your immune system and avoid infectious illnesses.

Fungi. Fungi—like molds, yeasts, and mushrooms—are often single-celled organisms that are slightly larger than bacteria and reside in the air, water, soil, and plants. They can also live in the body. Some fungi, like penicillin, are beneficial. Breads, cheeses, and yogurts are also derived from fungi. Other fungi, like Candida albicans, can cause systemic infections in the gut, mouth, throat, toenails, vagina, and more. Read more about Candida.

Bacteria. One-celled organisms that can be seen through a microscope, bacteria are self-sufficient and multiply by subdivision. Although many bacteria can survive in unusually harsh conditions, most not only thrive in the body but they actually help the body. Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus), for example, helps digest food and aid in nutrition while destroying disease-causing organisms. Read more about L. acidophilus and how it helps keep intestinal bacteria healthy.

But infectious bacteria can enter the body and rapidly reproduce. Many produce cell-damaging toxins that make you sick. Some of these invaders include strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) which cause gastrointestinal upset and often come in through contaminated food.

Viruses. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria and contain the genetic material DNA or RNA. While their primary mission is to reproduce, unlike the self-sufficient bacteria, viruses require a host. They invade a cell, then take over and cause that host cell to reproduce, eventually destroying the host cell in the process. Common viruses include the common cold, the flu, Hepatitis (A-E), Epstein-Barr, and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).

Dis-ease: Feeling the Infection

The signs of an acute infection are all too common: body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, fever, and fatigue that leave you too weak to get out of bed. Or maybe you have a gastrointestinal bug with upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.

No matter where it attacks, an acute infection can be very intense with obvious symptoms. But it is always short-lived, staying just long enough to make you miserable.

Chronic infections, on the other hand, usually last a long time with continuing and recurring symptoms which are often difficult to identify and treat. If you’ve seen a healthcare professional for symptoms that just don’t add up and the healthcare professional says “it’s really nothing,” then chances are good that you’ve got a chronic infection. Read more about infection and its symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic1, there’s a clear difference between infection and disease. When germs invade the body and begin to multiply, that’s infection.

In response, the immune system sends out an army of white blood cells, antibodies, and other “soldiers” to stop the infection and keep the germs from reproducing. The symptoms that you ultimately feel—a runny nose, cough, sore throat, and aches in the case of a cold—are signs that your body is fighting the infection.

When the infection moves on and damages cells, disease happens and signs and symptoms of an illness appear. A chronic infection, left undiagnosed and untreated, can severely and negatively impact your health for years to come.

Some Common Chronic Conditions Caused by Infections

Underlying Causes of Infection

A recent survey of 1,000 American consumers showed that 34% don’t know about or think of their immune systems at all, while just 2% think about their immune health on a daily basis.2 Given these findings, and our modern lifestyles, it’s easy to see how the immune system can become compromised and allow infections take hold.

Illness. Being already sick means that while your immune system is busy fighting infection, you’re vulnerable to attack by even more germs.

Unhealthy diet and/or obesity. Excessively eating highly processed foods and drinking alcohol causes nutritional deficiencies that compromise your immune system. Find out how a virus may trigger weight problems.

Stress. When the body senses stress, it goes into “fight or flight” mode. In this mode, the immune system shuts down and the adrenal glands kick in to release cortisol as a way of coping with stress. Repeated or chronic stress keeps the body in “fight or flight”—and suppresses the immune system leaving it unable to fight additional infections.

Antibiotics. While antibiotics may help bacterial infections, many antibiotics—especially broad-spectrum antibiotics—kill not only the offending bacteria, but ALL bacteria including the good bacteria that helps fight infection. Without the organisms necessary to help the body fight infection, you become vulnerable to additional infections. Read “Probiotics: The New Antibiotics.”

Insomnia. A deep, rejuvenating sleep allows the body to repair itself and produce hormones that help rebuild the immune system. Without sleep, the immune system is left in a weakened—and vulnerable—state.

Age. Newborns and infants have immature immune systems that can’t fully protect them, making them more vulnerable to infection. Likewise, older adults are more susceptible to infection since the immune system declines with age.

Environmental toxins. Mercury and other heavy metals from dental fillings, vaccinations, fish, industrial processes, and the environment—and the chemical additives, preservatives, pesticides, and herbicides often found in our food supply—can weaken our immune systems and open the door to infections. Learn more about heavy metal toxicity.

Transfusions and transplants. Sometimes the body will react negatively to new blood or organs and cause the immune system to shut down.

Medical therapies. Many intensive drug therapies like chemotherapy not only kill damaged cells but healthy cells, too—thus, increasing your chances for developing other illnesses.

Minimizing Infection and Illness

Most healthcare professionals agree that a healthy lifestyle promotes a healthy immune system—and keeps infections at bay. Here are a few ways to keep your immune system healthy.

Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Giving your body the nutrition it needs to fight infection is one of the best things you can do. But recognize that what you’re eating may be contributing to the problem. Research indicates that poor nutrition can actually increase your chances for viral infections.3well-balanced diet with healthy proteins, complex carbohydrates, and good fats can effectively boost your immune system.

Exercise the infection away. Some theories suggest that physical activity can help excrete infectious organisms through urine and sweat while others suggest that increasing blood circulation helps “warn” of threats to the immune system. One thing’s for sure: exercise decreases your chance of infection by slowing the release of the stress hormone cortisol.4

Get plenty of restful sleep. While you’re dreaming of paradise, your immune system is busy re-building and repairing itself. But if you have trouble with sleep, don’t start counting sheep. A quality melatonin supplement can help you fall asleep, while a sustained-release melatonin can help you stay asleep.

Wash your hands regularly. Proper hand washing is the most effective barrier against the spread of infectious diseases. Use warm water and lather your hands with soap. Wash for at least 20 seconds and rinse, letting the water run down from the wrist to the fingers. Go easy with antibacterial soaps as overuse can lead to drug-resistant superbugs.

Build up healthy intestinal bacteria. For a healthy immune system, ample amounts of good bacteria help keep bad bacteria at bay. Increase your good bacteria by drinking raw, unpasteurized milk and eating plenty of organic, unpasteurized yogurt and kefir with live, active cultures. You can also supplement your diet with high-quality probiotics to make sure you get all the good bacteria you need for a healthy intestinal flora.

Add quality herbs and antioxidants to your diet. Many herbs—including garlic, barberry, bee propolis, black walnut, cat’s claw, cinnamon, clove, coriander, fennel seed, ginger root, goldenseal, grapefruit seed, holy basil, mint leaves, neem leaves, olive leaf, oregano, thyme, and turmeric—have the potential to kill off foreign invaders and boost the immune system. In addition, antioxidants attack free radicals in the body. Choose foods such as acai, mangosteen, green tea, pomegranate, blueberry, and cranberry—or look for quality supplements with their extracts.

Detoxify your liver several times a year. The liver filters toxic substances from the blood. When the liver isn’t working right, foreign invaders bypass the liver, enter the bloodstream, and overtax the immune system. Read more about liver health.

Consider breast feeding or supplementing with colostrum. A mother’s first milk—colostrum— contains immune factors that immunize a newborn child against many foreign invaders. Bovine colostrum is actually four times richer in immune factors than human colostrum and can help keep gastrointestinal bugs from attaching to the bowel lining.

Try colloidal silver. Colloidal silver has long been known to have antibacterial properties and has been traditionally used to help heal wounds. It may also be effective against E.coli and Staphylococcus infections.

Practice safe sex. Many infections—such as human papilloma virus (HPV), gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis—are spread through sexual transmission. Using a condom greatly reduces your chances of infection.

Protect yourself from mold. Household mold is a hidden invader that can weaken the immune system and cause respiratory illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and other diseases. If you suspect mold, have a professional evaluate your home. And wash or replace pillows and mattresses to remove any hidden mold that you may be inhaling during sleep.

Be careful when handling and preparing food. Cross contamination of food—like cutting a raw chicken, followed by lettuce, on the same cutting board—is a major source of food-related illness. Cut on clean surfaces, and bleach cutting surfaces regularly. You may even consider a food handling course that teaches healthy food handling techniques.

Building up your immune system and protecting it should be a daily priority. Without it, you cannot survive. With a healthy, multi-faceted approach, you can learn to bolster your immune system and feel a lot better.

Cited Sources:

1) “From bacteria to parasites: Understanding the germs that cause infection,”,
Accessed Jan. 2006

2) “Survey Shows Americans Are Unaware of the Role the Immune System Plays in Maintaining Health”
(press release), Business Wire, 9/15/2004.

3) “Nutrition and Newly Emerging Viral Diseases: An Overview,”
Accessed Jan. 2006

4) Singh, Rajbans Dr., “Tip-top immune system the answer,” New Straits Times, 9/28/2004.


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