The Immune System

Have you ever wondered why most people seem more concerned about the way they look rather than the way they feel? I have. And the irony, of course, is that the latter is really the true measure of one’s health… How many times have you heard someone say, “He died? I just saw him last week and he looked great…!”

Well, it’s time to wake up folks…! Plastic surgeons work on the outside, not the inside. It’s up to us to take care of our health, and believe me — how, what and when we eat can and will prolong our quality of life. There’s no question in my mind that we should be able to live a disease free existence for 120 years or longer (our “maximum life span”), but because of the silly damage we insist on projecting on ourselves, human life expectancy has a way of averaging out at about 73 years (our “mean life span”).

When are we going to wise up and realize we’ve been given a magnificent gift — an envelope of flesh called the body — and it’s our responsibility to respect and treat it with care…? It’s so sad to me, that when it comes to nutrition, the majority of us fall prey to what big business labels as “fun and easy” rather than what’s really good for us. But you know what…? I wish I had a dime for every ailing geriatric that’s cried out, “God, if I had only known more about health when I was young…” My answer is that we may not be able to turn back the clock, but we sure as hell can do our best to stop it… Especially when it comes to the repairing and strengthening of our immune system.

We might as well face it. The immune system, and how well it’s working, is the key to our overall health and how we feel. Made up of the thymus gland, white blood cells (which make antibodies), bone marrow, the spleen, lymph nodes, interferon, complement and other disease-fighting molecules that do their best to maintain our physiological well-being, the immune system is sort of the “police force” that protects us from bacteria, viruses, cancer cells and atherosclerotic plaque cells.

We may not want to hear about it, but the real problems begin as we age — when it becomes harder and harder to fight off the body’s enemies without giving our immune system the ammunition it needs. “So,” you might ask, “what can we do to keep the wolves away…?” Well, it’s pretty simple really. In order to build a stronger and healthier immune system, we need to include foods and supplements in our every-day diet that are rich in “antioxidants” such as vitamins A, C and E, the minerals zinc and selenium, and the amino acids arginine, ornithine, cysteine and glutathione.

For those of you who don’t already know, the term antioxidant means exactly what it implies: “against oxygen.” It was given that name because of its ability to combat our normal course of oxygen metabolism wherein the body takes in chemical compounds that, unfortunately, possess unpaired electrons called “free radicals” — so-called Tasmanian devils that like to bang into, enter and destroy healthy living cells, not to mention their deteriorating effect on the non-living world such as plastics, rubber, paper petroleum and food.

It may sound contrary to what we’ve learned (that oxygen is a necessity of life), but believe me, over-exposure to it can cause damage or even death. For example, in the case of fats, too much oxygen will allow fatty acids to become rancid, and rancid fats can become carcinogenic which is why an overweight person who has a large amount of peroxidized fats in his or her body (fats which have combined with oxygen via a free radical catalyzed reaction) is likely to develop cancer and atherosclerosis.

In addition to protecting us from such illnesses, our immune system also plays an important role in the dreaded aging game itself in which there are two basic types of events: “random” and “planned.”

Unlike planned aging where our body has a series of natural programs which simply turn off, in random aging, our body becomes an unwanted victim of environmental damage or our own self-inflicted abuse… By that I mean, not all our wrinkles and sagging tissues are part of a natural aging process, and it’s up to each of us to combat the pollution, toxins and chemicals that we come in contact with by eating the right foods and taking the proper supplementations. For example:

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble antioxidant that we can find in nature in two forms: “preformed vitamin A” and “pro-vitamin A” (aka beta carotene). Preformed vitamin A is concentrated in animal products in which the animal has metabolized the beta carotene contained in its food into vitamin A… For example, one of the richest natural sources of preformed vitamin A is fish-liver oil, which is classified as a food supplement. Beta carotene, on the other hand, is found in plants and is abundant in carrots (from which its name is derived) and certain leafy green vegetables such as beet greens, spinach and broccoli… Unlike preformed vitamin A, beta carotene, my favorite, only converts to vitamin A when the body requires it, so you don’t have to worry about suffering from the toxic level known as “hyper-vitaminosis A.”

Vitamin A not only aids in the growth and repair of our body tissues, it’s also essential in the formation of “visual purple,” a substance in the eye which is necessary for proper night vision.

The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances of vitamin A are 1,500 International Units (IU) for infants, 3,000 IU for children and 5,000 IU for adults. These amounts increase accordingly during disease, trauma, pregnancy and lactation, and requirements vary for those of us who smoke, live in highly polluted areas, or easily absorb vitamin A. I personally take between 25,000 and 50,000 IU’s per day.

Vitamin C, in the form of ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient known not only for its stimulating effect on the immune system, but also for its ability to maintain collagen, a protein necessary for the formation of the connective tissues in our skin, ligaments and bones.

If possible, try and find a brand of Vitamin C that contains Rutin and Hesperidin in its formula. They are bioflavonoids and are essential for the proper absorption and use of vitamin C, and play a key role in the strengthening of our capillaries and blood vessels. If you don’t have any luck, you can always pick up a separate supplement or get your daily dose by eating citrus fruits, grapes, plums, black currants, apricots, buckwheat, cherries, blackberries or rose hips.

With respect to vitamin C, I personally take 10,000 milligrams over the course of each day, which I tend to increase if I’m overly stressed, sick or training heavy. According to scientist Dr. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner, “The more vitamin C you take, the better off you are.”

It’s pretty hard to overdose on vitamin C because our body doesn’t manufacture it, and what we don’t use, we either urinate or sweat out, which is why I like doing myself and my immune system a favor by ingesting (through food and supplementation) a minimum of 2,000 milligrams of Vitamin C at least five times a day.

Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin (aka tocopherol), plays an essential role in the cellular respiration of our cardiac and skeletal muscles, thereby increasing their endurance and stamina. Without it, our skin and red blood cells would begin to deteriorate, there would be an epidemic of gatrointestinal disease, men would become sterile, and women would have extreme difficulty giving birth.

In the form of oil or ointment, Vitamin E also makes for both a great skin cream and salve for burns and cuts.

I take at least 3,200 IU’s a day of dry vitamin E in the form of d’alpha tocopherol acetate, which I augment by eating such foods as grains, wheat, oats, rice, wheat-germ, sunflower seeds, peanuts, safflower oil, peanut oil, corn oil and olive oil.

Zinc, an essential trace mineral, is required for proper growth and the healing of wounds and burns, and may also play a vital role in the synthesis of DNA, which is the master substance of life, carrying all of our inherited traits and directing the activity of each of our cells. Because of its strong antioxidant qualities, the medical profession often uses it in the controlling of cancer, dandruff and hair loss.

My supplemental intake of zinc averages out at about 25 milligrams a day, which I tend to enhance by eating natural unprocessed foods, preferably those grown in organically enriched soil, such as whole-grain products, wheat bran, wheat germ and pumpkin seeds.

Selenium, also an essential trace mineral, works closely with vitamin E in many of its metabolic actions, and is a natural antioxidant which appears to preserve elasticity in our tissues by delaying oxidation of the polyunsaturated fatty acids that have a tendency to age our skin by solidifying tissue proteins.

A minute amount of Selenium goes a long way, so I usually try to stay under 500 micrograms (.5 milligrams) per day through supplementation and the eating of foods such as bran and germ of cereals, broccoli, beets, onions and tomatoes.

Arginine, Ornithine, Cysteine and Glutathione, known as non-essential amino acids, work together to induce the release of growth hormone as we grow older, enhance the production of our body’s T-cells, help maintain our skin’s flexibility and texture, and aid in protecting us from dangerous levels of toxicity, including ammonia and the aromatic hydrocarbons commonly found in air pollution.

In addition to my protein meals, I like taking a 3-5 gram pharmaceutical grade supplement of 21 different amino acids each day (including the four listed above) along with a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, some of which we’ve already discussed… It’s very important to take amino acids with vitamins and minerals (especially B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, copper and zinc) if you want your body to properly transport and absorb them.

As a precaution, please bear in mind, people suffering from Herpes simplex or schizophrenic tendencies should stay away from Argenine, and people with diabetes should use Cysteine with caution… So use good judgement, and if you have any doubts or questions, be sure to consult with your physician or nutritionist.

Anyway, until next time, here’s a couple of tasty recipes destined to keep the doctor away…

4 servings
Fat per serving: Approx. 14 g

Here’s a refreshing, nourishing fruit salad guaranteed to cool you off on those hot, muggy nights.

1/2 pineapple, cubed
1 papaya, cubed
1 mango, cubed
2 kiwis, cubed
1/2 cup raw almonds (soaked for 24 hrs.)
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds (soaked for 24 hrs.)
1/4 cup fresh bee pollen (optional)

Combine fruit in a large bowl, sprinkle with almonds, sunflower seeds and bee pollen, then refrigerate until ready to eat.

I’ve found the easiest way to cube papayas, mangos, kiwis and avocados is to cut them in half (lengthwise), remove the seeds or pit, then make small cube cuts in each half, scooping them out with a spoon.

8 servings
Fat per serving: Approx. 4 g

This makes a great afternoon carb meal, and is especially good with warmed wheat bread rolls and a chilled glass of non-alcoholic beer. Watch out, though, because this will really clean you out.

2 medium beets, peeled and grated
4 carrots, grated 1/2 red onion, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1 large cucumber, quartered and sliced
1 yellow crookneck squash, quartered and sliced
1 avocado, cubed
4 – 6 cloves of garlic minced
6 oz. natural rice vinegar (more can be used depending upon your taste)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, toss, then refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.

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