The Worlds Your Oyster…you’ve Got Your Health!

Thursday Feb. 25th, 2010

Wasn’t it the old Gershwin song that said, “you say “oyster,” I say “erster,” let’s call the whole thing off”?  I’m not sure where “the world’s your oyster” phrase got started, but I sure do agree that health is one of our primary blessings, and what a daily challenge to maintain it, eh? Let’s not call the whole thing off!

True health can be attained only by maintaining a healthy, properly functioning immune system. We’ve seen a big early start this year to the cold and flu season. It’s the eternal circle: kids at school, bring it home, everyone else gets sick; kids get better, go back to school, start all over again!

A little knowledge of the immune system may help break this chain. In the simplest terms, the task of the immune system is to identify those things that are “self” (naturally belonging to the body) or “nonself” (foreign or otherwise harmful material).

The immune system is functional at birth, but not yet functioning well. Immunity develops as the system matures and the body learns to defend itself against different foreign invaders, termed antigens. (Is this beginning to sound like a video game?) The immune system has the ability to learn to identify and then remember specific antigens it encounters.

But what exactly is it? The immune system is a specialized network of cells and organs that defends the body against foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. If the system malfunctions and is suppressed, your body becomes susceptible to infection and illness. It’s that simple. It has the unique ability to distinguish between friendly cells and unwanted invaders that can cause infection and illness.

Now, immune cells need enough nutrition to perform their best. Nutritional deficiency plays a big part in how disease starts by suppressing the immune system.  So it’s important to replenish missing nutrients on a regular basis. This improves your ability to fight off infections and keep diseases at bay.

Remember the term “free radicals”? These are the reactive substances that destroy cells and cellular structures. They hurt immunity and magnify inflammatory reactions. So let’s look at some ways to “keep the world our oyster” by having a strong immune system.

Vitamins C and  E are known as antioxidants that can blunt these inflammatory reactions. They can improve your immune response to viral, bacteria and parasite invaders. Research shows that when vitamins drop in our blood, we become more prone to illness.

Those of us who always seem to be sitting ducks for the next cold or virus are often also lowest in vitamin C and beta carotene, the nutrient found in fruits and veggies that our bodies make into vitamin A. Vitamins C, A, and E can help people whose immune systems function at too low a level.

And here are some minerals for strengthening your immune system: zinc, selenium, iron and copper. They help heal oxidant-inflicted tissue injury and aid in production of particles that bump off free radicals.

Because our bodies are sensitive to even mild deficits of zinc, it’s really important for the elderly, children and pregnant women, as well as people with chronic illness, stress, diarrhea, and vomiting.

In fact, zinc seems to be the new star for zapping colds, flu, and infection. Zinc lozenges for the first sign of coughing and congestion can nip a cold in four days, versus eight days without the zinc lozenges.

And what about herbs for immune building?

How about garlic, with its antibiotic, antifungal and antioxidant action? Of course, there’s echinacea, which helps our bodies fight off viruses and bacteria. And also ginseng, a root believed to relieve fatigue, muscle weakness and stress while increasing natural killer cell activity.

So-called “green foods” like spirulina are supposed to enhance mineral absorption, acting as an anti-inflammatory and perhaps killing viruses.

Our immune system only works if cared for properly.   We need to get the right nutrients, provide the right environment, and avoid those things that depress immunity. Things that can compromise your immunity are chemicals in household cleaners, overuse of antibiotics and drugs, pesticides, and the myriad of additives present in foods. And the ever-popular stress!

So it’s an intricate balancing act, this “oyster” thing. When it comes to immunity, if you neglect to consume the right nutritional ingredients, you may have difficulty creating that perfect “pearl” of health!

Robert Worobec is the Owner of Oak Street Natural Market & Deli in
Bozeman and FoodWorks Natural Market in Livingston.