Immune function

The immune system is composed of specialized tissues, organs, cells and chemicals that recognize and destroy foreign invaders. The skin and mucous membranes form a barrier against unwanted organisms and substances.

Immune cells include white blood cells such as T lymphocytes, which have many functions including control of other immune cells; and B lymphocytes, which produce antibodies. There are also natural killer cells and scavenger cells known as monocytes andmacrophages, which engulf foreignparticles. The cells of the immune system also produce substances such as interferon, which has antiviral effects.

A well-functioning immune function is essential for good health, as it plays a vital role in protecting the body from the vast numbers of disease-causing organisms and other substances with which it comes into contact. The job of the immune function is to distinguish between normal body cells and foreign or abnormal cells.

Immune functionAs with all body systems, immune balance is the key. Overactivity leads to allergies and autoimmune diseases, and underactivity increases the risk of infections. The immune function is also vital for recognizing and destroying cancer cells.

What makes immune function worse?

• A diet high in refined sugar debilitates your immune defense system by impairing your body's ability to produce antibodies to fight infection and by reducing the killing power of certain types of immune defenders. In medical studies, researchers could detect measurable drops in antibody production after people consumed as little as 18 grams of sugar—that's about the sugar or com syrup content found in half of a regular canned soft drink! Recommendation: Sharply reduce your intake of sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and all products made with these substances.

• Some early research (done in 1972) showed that coffee (specifically the caffeine in coffee) may suppress your ability to produce antibodies against infection. More recent studies have suggested that while coffee intake of greater that 5 cups per day slowed the response of immune defenders to mount an attack against foreign invasion by 30%, it also seemed to stimulate the production of natural killer cells, the white blood cells designed to do the actual job of destroying the invader. So what does that mean to your coffee habit? Recommendation: Since the research seems to point in both directions, 1 would recommend taking the middle ground. If you are currently in good health and trying to stay that way, keep your caffeinated coffee intake to a cup or two a day. If you suffer from frequent infections and your immune system needs all the help it can get, eliminate caffeinated coffee, tea, and chocolate from your diet. Do this slowly if you're much of a caffeine junkie, or risk a severalday stint of the powerful caffeine-withdrawal headache. Refer to Breast Disease, Benign, where we have outlined a regimen for slow withdrawal of caffeine that should prevent your misery as you decaffeinate.

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