Your wonderful immune system protects you in dozens of ways, with antibodies, T -cells, your skin, breast milk, and more. Read about natural remedies to support your immune system.
Blood Lymph and Bone Marrow
Blood is your delivery service.
Blood consists of cells, in a fluid called plasma.
Red cells carry oxygen. White cells are immune cells. Platelets are cells for blood clotting.
Plasma carries all kinds of things such as nutrients, heat, vitamins and minerals, and hormones.
Your recycling and refuse collection service.
Lymph is a clear fluid, circulating in its own system of vessels parallel to the blood vessels. Your lymphatic system gathers the fluid that collects around your cells, and returns it to your blood circulation. It also carries valuable things round the body, such as fats, fat-soluble vitamins, and immune cells and antibodies.
Amazing Fact: Having ‘swollen glands’ means your body is working to defend itself from infection.
Along the lymph vessels are small lymph nodes which act as filters. During certain illnesses, these become active and swell, and make antibodies to repel invaders.
Lymphatic tissue includes tonsils, adenoids and spleen, bone marrow, and the thymus gland. Some people believe that removing the tonsils makes us more open to infection travelling deeper.
'Lymphatic drainage' is a type of massage which encourages the circulation of your lymph back to the heart.
Cleavers (Goosegrass; Galium Aparine) is one of the best tonics for the lymphatic system. It promotes detoxification, and is a mild diuretic. It can safely be used for swollen glands including tonsillitis and adenoids. Improving lymphatic drainage sometimes helps skin problems such as psoriasis and leg ulcers.
Not recommended during pregnancy or lactation, or with other diuretic medicines.
Cleavers is not recommended to be taken alongside diuretic medication.
A fatty substance inside some bones. Bone marrow contains stem cells – cells which can grow into many other types of cell. From your bone marrow you get red blood cells, platelets, and most of your white blood cells, including B cells and T cells.
White blood cells
White blood cells
White blood cells (leukocytes) are a hugely important part of our immune defence.
Amazing Fact: Every mm3 blood contains a staggering 5-10,000 white blood cells!
Counting certain kinds of white blood cell is important in monitoring the progress of certain diseases, including AIDS.
There are 5 main types of White Cell:
The first three types have a kind of granule inside, so are called Granulocytes.
These are Eosinophils, Neutrophils and Basophils - terms which refer to how they look under a microscope. They destroy pathogens including parasites, and defend agains allergy. Eosinophils are first on the scene to fight infection.
The second two types don’t have these granules, so are called Agranulocytes. They are:
Macrophages ('big eaters') also known as phagocytes or monocytes. These incredibly versatile cells can attract and eat foreign cells, cancer cells and dead cells, and help repair damaged muscles. Macrophages also produce chemical messages to attract killer cells, start a fever, help make red blood cells,and warn your immune system next time. Multi-taskers - we couldn’t live without them.
Lymphocytes are mainly found in the lymph – surprise surprise!
There are three kinds of lymphocyte: B Cells, NK cells, and T Cells (of several kinds).
Lymphocytes make antibodies, molecules we make to help us recognise, remember and neutralise disease cells and toxins. They help recognise and destroy pathogens, diseased cells and cancer cells. Failure to distinguish between disease cells and our own cells increases auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease and diabetes type I.
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What the Long Words Mean
Natural Remedies to Help Fight Infection
binds to macrophages and T cells; promotes T cell activation; increases interferon and macrophage action; inhibits enzyme Hyaluronidase, so helps maintain tissue integrity. Aso stimulates glycosaminoglycans and fibroblast growth for wound healing.
Antibacterial both internally and externally. Research shows Echinacea is effective in reducing severity of cold symptoms, and improving time between infections. It increases resistance to candida, parasites and fungi, by improving cell-mediated immunity. Take as tincture or capsules; avoid in auto-immune conditions.
Contains Berberine, a powerful anti-microbial with a wide range of action against bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. Research evidence for its use against Chlamydia, E. Coli, Candida, Shigella, Vibrio Cholerae and Diplococcus Pneumoniae.
Oregon Grape can also prevent adhesion of bacteria to mucous membranes, eg. bladder, throat.
It may help diarrhoea due to infection, and also blocks the action of some toxins produced by intestinal bacteria in diarrhoea.
Amazing Natural Antimicrobial:
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Do not confuse GRAPEFRUIT Seed with GRAPE SEED Extract, a powerful antioxidant.
Antibacterial with a broad action against streptococcus, staphylococcus, and enterococcus.
In one trial Grapefruit Seed was effective against 194 bacteria and 93 fungi. It was effective at a concentration of 0.5% against almost all; at 1-2% it was also effective against Klebsiella and Pseudomonas.
It is a more effective disinfectant than chlorine or iodine.
It has been validated by the Pasteur Institute in France, where it has been used for many years as a natural anti-viral for colds.
Reduces pathogens in intestines such as E coli or Candida.
Useful as a mouthwash against plaque and tooth decay (but is very bitter); a safe disinfectant for areas used by children or animals; can be added to carpet shampoo; can be added to Jacuzzis; used in a rinse it stops mould growing on sprouting seeds like alfalfa!
No contraindications or interactions. Important to use in the right concentrations.
Widely available as Citricidal®.
Amazing Fact: The United States Department of Agriculture tested Grapefruit seed extract, and found it effective against four animal viruses: Foot and Mouth Disease, African Swine fever, Swine Vesicular Disease, and Avian influenza.
Antimicrobial with action against viruses, bacteria, fungi including Candida, and parasites.
Especially known for its antiviral activity: Olive Leaf interferes with their amino acid production, and helps prevent virus replication and penetration of cells.
Note: The use of potent anti-microbial agents in Candida can cause a ‘die-off’ response known as ‘Herxheimer’ effect, a flu-like reaction due to the sudden release toxins from the destroyed organisms.
Skin a natural barrier, though cuts and scratches are more vulnerable.
The acidity and natural secretions (sebum) of the skin inhibit or destroy bacteria and fungi.
Natural shedding of dead skin cells also gets rid of pathogens.
Even sweat contains enzymes that destroy bacteria.
Amazing Fact: skin makes its own antibiotics, called antimicrobial peptides. These kill many invading bacteria, such as E Coli, including some strains resistant to conventional antibiotics.
In sunlight, skin manufactures vitamin D, a potent vitamin for your immune response including cancer defence.
Lungs naturally expel pathogens with cilia – tiny moving hairs that move mucus up and out. Coughing and sneezing also clear the tubes. Smoking destroys the cilia.
Herbs to assist your body to clear mucus.
expectorant and antiseptic. Take as drops in water.
Elecampane is also anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-biotic, and anti-bacterial.
Not for pregnancy or lactation.
expectorant and decongestant. Make a tea from dried or fresh herb.
Not for pregnancy or lactation.
Mucous membranes such as mouth, nose, throat, eyes, bladder: natural secretions such as saliva and tears contain enzymes that destroy bacteria. Mucus in the respiratory tubes is sticky and traps pathogens. U
Stomach is naturally very acidic (pH around 3) and destroys pathogens. Protein digesting enzymes also do this.
The female vagina is naturally acid which repels pathogens. The male semen contains enzymes which destroy pathogens.
Take as capsules or juice, beware the juice usually contains either sugar or sweeteners. Prevents E coli adhering to urinary tract lining; significantly reduces recurrent bladder infections. Avoid if using blood thinning medication.
Friendly bacteria live in a healthy balance, on or inside us. They are called your ‘normal flora’.
Amazing Fact: A healthy body has more bacteria than body cells: one hundred billion (1013) body cells and one thousand billion (1014) bacteria. You might say that more than half of you isn't you!
Friendly bacteria produce many compounds to defeat pathogens; they also digest carbohydrates and dairy products.
Amazing Fact: friendly gut bacteria actually manufacture vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin K and biotin.
Friendly gut bacteria also help prevent inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and cancer formation. So never say all bacteria are bad!
Dangerous bacteria may be the same bugs you normally live with in harmony, but something is out of balance. Eg. an injury or cut allows bacteria to enter. Or your immune system may be lower, or antibiotics can sometimes kill off the friendly gut flora, as well as the bacteria they were aimed at.
Pro-biotics and Pre-biotics
Pro-biotics are cultures of friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. They increase white blood cell activity, and reduce further growth of harmful bacteria.
Pre-biotics are certain foods eaten by the friendly bacteria. They include FOS (fructo oligo saccharides) and inulin, found in oats, onions, leeks, apples, and jerusalem artichokes. Also available as supplements.
Many hundreds of receptors, specific to certain pathogens, are passed down the generations: a gift from your ancestors. You are born with these already in place.
Some immunoglobulins cross the placenta to the baby and give it protection for 3-6 months from birth. Breast milk also contains defence mechanisms.
Acquired Immunity - Antibodies
This is how your wonderful immune system adapts to new germs.
Your lymphocytes or B-cells produce antibodies, or immunoglobulins. They work in these ways:
- Complement fixation - Antibodies fix to antigens and makes holes which destroy them. This is called ‘cell lysis’, apoptosis, or cell death.
- Neutralization - Antibodies occupy the sites the antigens want, and prevent them attaching.
- Agglutination - Antibodies make antigens stick together in lumps
- Precipitation – Antibodies force the antigens to settle out.
This presents an antigen, so that you can produce an antibody to fight it. This may help protect you, the next time you meet that particular antigen or disease. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it is not always 100% effective. It is also not as long lasting as natural immunity.
There isn't enough space on this page to go into the arguments for and against vaccinations!
There is now documented evidence for some illnesses that homeopathic prophylaxis may be as effective as the conventional kind. eg. see www.homeopathy-soh.org/research/research-and-the-society/research-news/cuban-vaccine-test/
The Society of Homeopaths does not endorse the use of homeopathic medicines as an alternative to vaccination for the prevention of serious infectious diseases. Homeopathy should be used as part of a healthy lifestyle, and it is each individual's own choice whether that includes vaccination.
Injected Gamma Globulin
This gives immediate but temporary protection by injecting the antibodies of one person into another.
This is your 'rapid response' to injury or infection. Inflammation = warmth, redness, swelling and pain. Sounds bad, but it is designed to help you:
- Stopping bleeding by blood clotting at the surface.
- Histamine causes swelling and increased blood flow, and attract macrophages to the site to destroy any invaders. Too much Histamine in allergic responses.
- Cytokines, signalling chemicals. (Overstimulation of cytokines is called a ‘cytokine storm’ and can be dangerous.) Interferons are cytokines: they stimulate killer cells to fight viruses and cancer cells. They are produced by cells infected by viruses, and also by some white cells, immune cells. In addition, interferons are manufactured as drugs.
Pain is useful! It alerts you to damage, so you naturally protect that part of the body. One reason diabetes and leprosy are so dangerous is that they damage the nerves that alert us to pain, so injuries go unnoticed.
A plant compound that inhibits excess inflammation in allergic response, eg. hay fever. It stabilises cell membranes, reducing swelling. It inhibits hyaluridonase (which breaks down collagen) and inhibits excess histamine.
Quercetin appears to have anti viral properties against herpes, polio, and Epstein Barr, by inhibiting their replication. Caution in diabetes.
Fever means our internal temperature increases. This may be a response to infection.
Amazing Fact: Fever appears to speed up some immune responses, and also makes your body an unpleasant place for some pathogens to live. Hence, you should not be in a hurry to reduce a mild fever.
High fever is 40–42°C /104.0–107.6°F
In children you may prefer to keep it to 102°F at night.
Really serious fever is over 42°C /107.6°F.
Keep yourself comfortable, avoid sudden chilling and maintain a good fluid intake. In babies, and if you take prescribed medication, consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking anything else. See also Children’s Illnesses 3.
Natural Remedies for Fever
Beta Carotene (pro-vitamin A)
A good research record both for prevention of infectious illness, and for treating certain diseases such as measles. Beta Carotene increases white blood cells, including killer cells, especially combined with vitamins C and E. Essential for healthy mucous membranes, one of our first lines of defence.
Carrot juice contains lots of vitamin A; small amounts with water are good during a fever and suitable for children. Large amounts may make you feel nauseous. Significant amounts of beta carotene are in dairy products, eggs, carrots and other red/yellow vegetables. Cod liver oil contains around 3,000IU per tablespoon!
Avoid with anti-coagulants or if you are a smoker; Vitamin A is dangerous in pregnancy, though Beta Carotene may be suitable, please take advice.
Chamomile, Yarrow, Elderflower, Blessed Thistle, Elder
may reduce fever naturally by making it more effective – they increase sweating.
Echinacea: see above
little and often, is safe for children and adults. Vitamin C powder can easily be added to drinks and a low-acid form like Acerola does not taste sour.
This usually begins with inflammation, which stops bleeding, and then draws fresh blood and healing immune cells into the site. Neutrophils remove dead cells and kill bacteria. Macrophages finish the clean-up job.
New cells are built, and collagen strengthens the weak spot.
Amazing Fact: in a large wound, active healing may continue for over a year, and the wound site may regain up to 80% of its former strength. It really is miraculous.
Controls bacteria in several ways. It draws water from them. It contains hydrogen peroxide which is an antibiotic. And it is quite acidic, which some bacteria do not like.
Amazing Fact: There’s even a Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand!
Hyaluronic Acid (HA)
Binds water to the tissues and cushions nerves, cartilage and muscles.
Maintains skin structure and elasticity; nourishes collagen, the basic structure of skin, joints etc. Provides nutrition in wound healing, especially rebuilding tissue after trauma.
(Chondroitin, widely available, works by raising HA production in the body.) Vitamin C is also needed to build collagen.
Warnings: Take plenty of fluid. Avoid in hypertension, or lymphoedema following cancer. Avoid orally in RA. due to an autoimmune reaction to HA. Caution with diabetes.
Marigold extract, used as a lotion or cream. Calendula has anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti-HIV activities have been demonstrated in test-tube.
Contains allantoin, which stimulates new cell production, and guards against incorrect scar formation. Also stimulates osteoblasts, which form new bone, hence its old name ‘knitbone’. Comfrey is known to reach deep tissues from surface application. Safe for external use, as creams, lotions or poultices of the leaves.
Rose-hip oil (not rose oil) has excellent research evidence for scar healing and reduction, even on old scars, and radiation burns.
What the Long words Mean
a substance your body produces to fight pathogens. Antibodies help us recognise, remember and neutralise disease cells and toxins.
a substance that your body recognise as foreign – may be a pathogen.
Amazing Fact: Your body can recognise over a million antigens!
kills or inhibits the growth of small organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoan, parasites and viruses.
kills or inhibits growth of bacteria
kills or inhibits growth of fungi eg. candida.
reduces chances of infection or putrefaction.
kills or inhibits growth of viruses
another word for antibody. Abbreviated to Ig, for example, Immunoglobulin G = IgG.
a small piece of a living thing, a tiny self-contained blob, with a membrane around it, and its own energy-generating and reproduction systems. Cells can also communicate with each other. Each part of your body has its own type of cell, and bacteria and viruses have their own types of cell.
protection by special white blood cells called T cells, which attack disease cells, which attack disease cells, or our own cells infected by disease.
a word-ending that simply means ‘cell’.
natural chemicals that increase the rate of certain body processes.
natural chemical messenger, taking a signal from one part of the body to another.
protection mainly by antibodies, travelling in the body fluids, blood and lymph. The word ‘humoral’ comes from ‘humours’, an old word for fluids.
any disease-provoking organism or substance, such as bacteria, virus, fungus or toxin. The live ones are commonly called ‘germs'. Many bacteria and fungi exist around you, or even on and in your body, in a natural balance. They are not in themselves causes of disease unless the system is unbalanced and the immune system is overcome. Rather like the weeds getting out of hand in your garden.
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