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Medicinal cookery for a healthy immune system

22 July, 2011

Like an aggressive army of complex, highly organised specialist units, our immune system is our attack and defence mechanism, and the keeper of the peace within the challenging and often lurid landscape of our internal environment.

Every single day, we are completely bombarded with a whole host of bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins, and parasites that would all love the opportunity to live and thrive in our organs and tissues.

There are hundreds of ways that these little miscreants can find their way into our body. Thankfully, there are just as many ways for our immune system to keep them out.

The immune system never stops working and, most of the time, we will be completely unaware that anything is going on inside us at all. The only time we really become aware of it is when our immune system is caught “off guard” and we get an infection such as a cold or an infected cut, or when our immune system’s response causes us a physical symptom, such as the itch from a mosquito bite or the symptoms of allergy such as hay fever.

The system as a whole is made up of an immaculately regulated network of cells, tissues, and organs that work in unison to provide a multifaceted defence against all manner of biological and physiological challenges. These include:

White blood cells. Technically called leukocytes, these are probably the most well known part of our immune system, and are responsible for most of the immunological activity in our body. They circulate through the bloodstream, through our organs, and also through the lymphatic system (the filtration system that carries waste away from our tissues).

Leukocytes are divided into two distinct types: phagocytes and lymphocytes. Phagocytes are essentially a type of white blood cell that can identify and destroy a pathogen that can potentially cause a problem. Lymphocytes make up the rest of the white blood cell population.

There are two main types of lymphocyte: B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. The B lymphocytes can be likened to army intelligence. They actually seek out specific invaders and rally the troops. When they identify a specific invader, they begin to make “antibodies” for this invader. T lyrnphocytes get involved in this part of the process by either producing chemical signals that recruit other cells and get them involved in the fight, or by releasing clouds of highly poisonous granules that can actually destroy cells that have become infected by the invader.

White blood cells, like any other body tissue, are drastically influenced by any changes in the internal environment of the body. There are compounds present in foods that can slow our white blood cells right down, almost putting them “to sleep”. On the same note, there are compounds in foods that can drastically stimulate the activity of white cells. When stimulated in this way, white cells actually seem able to move to the site of infection much faster, and also respond to pathogens and infected tissues in a far more aggressive manner. There are also naturally occurring compounds that can stimulate the tissues that manufacture white blood cells to work even harder, increasing the actual production of these cells.

The lymphatic system. This is the filtration system for all of our body’s tissues. It consists of a huge network of vessels, very similar to those in the circulatory system. The lymphatic system also features filtration stations called nodes and areas of lymphatic tissue that help to keep an eye on what is happening in the body.

In all of our tissues, between each and every cell, in all the minute spaces, is a liquid that bathes the tissue called interstitial fluid. This fluid is part of the transport medium that allows nutrients to enter cells and for waste to be removed from the cells. Once a tissue cell excretes its waste, it enters the interstitial fluid. The interstitial fluid flows away from the tissues and into the lymphatic vessels. Once this fluid enters the vessels, it is then known as “lymph”. The lymph is carried along the vessels by contraction of the vessel walls that occur when we move our bodies (another reason why exercise is so important). This fluid and all the waste products it contains eventually finds its way out of our bodies, via the kidneys and urinary system.

Other means of defence

While the mechanisms described above make up the bulk of the body’s defence system, there are other means employed by the body 10 protect itself:

Friendly bacteria. The population of friendly bacteria in the gut is one of our body’s first Iines of defence against pathogens that find their way in through the mouth. Most simple bacteria will be destroyed by the highly volatile and acidic environment of the stomach. Some, however, are able to get through. When these come into contact with the bacterial population of our intestinal system, a battle often ensues, as friendly bacteria assist in the destruction of these invaders.

The skin. Yes, this is another unlikely part of our immune system. It creates a very tough physical barrier to the outside world that very few pathogens can penetrate. The only time bugs can get through the skin is when there is already an opening such as a cut or graze.

There are a number of foods that can help you maintain a healthy immune system. Chief amongst these is Garlic – one of the most renowned antivirals on earth. Garlic contains a very potent group of sulphur-based essential oils – the bit responsible for the lingering smell. These oils do not get broken down by the body, and can only be removed via one waste removal route – the breath. As these essential oils move through the respiratory tract, they are very effective at destroying viruses and bacteria.

This simple recipe also includes manuka honey. Manuka has gathered legendary status in recent years when it comes to dealing with colds, flu, and infections. While there has been a lot of hype surrounding manuka honey, there are certainly some positive attributes.

Like all honeys, manuka is high in a chemical, called hydrogen peroxide, which is a highly reactive substance. When the honey coats the back of the throat, the hydrogen peroxide content will start to decompose bacteria quite rapidly and render it harmless. Please note, however, that this effect is only observed on surfaces that the honey touches directly.

Manuka honey also contains a widely studied compound called UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor – a powerful antibacterial agent that delivers its effects to surfaces it comes into immediate contact with, but also throughout the body as a whole.

Try this recipe below to boost immunity when you have a cold or flu.

Garlic Honey

This is one of the easiest recipes in the world. It is great to make in the midst of a cold, or something that you can make in advance, and store in your medicine cabinet. This recipe doesn’t call for specific measurements, just a simple ratio. It is particularly effective in cases of sore throats and throat infections such as tonsillitis.

You will need:

  • Fresh garlic cloves
  • UMF 15 manuka honey
  • Water

Chop the garlic very finely, as small as you can get it. Then, simply cover with double the amount, by volume, of the manuka honey, and the same amount again of water.

Mix all three ingredients well, and leave for 2-3 days onwards.

The mixture will get stronger and more potent, the longer it is left to infuse.

Dosage: take 1-2 teaspoons of this mixture every 2 hours during cold or flu infection.

 

  • Excerpted from Medicinal Cookery – How you can benefit from nature’s edible pharmacy by Dale Pinnock (Right Way). Dale’s book contains a wealth of health advice and recipes for delicious healing foods. Find out more here.

 

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See Dale in action at the 2011 Neal’s Yard Remedies 30th Anniversary Conference at the Birmingham NEC, 20 July 2011.