One of the paramount challenges of living in the twenty-first century is maintaining a healthy immune system. Chronic illness including autoimmune diseases, arthritis, Crohn's disease, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, autism, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, allergies, environmental sensitivities, mental illness, heart disease, and chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia syndromes are on the rise. The current methods offered by conventional medicine are grossly inadequate in both treating and preventing these conditions. To find more effective methods one must look to the periphery of health care and research where there are some exciting advances being made that address this challenge.
There are a number of theories postulated on the cause of the rise of chronic illness. Number one is that we live in an environment of increasing chemical toxicity. Our foods are grown with herbicides and pesticides and are highly processed; our drinking water is contaminated by industrial and agricultural waste and the chemicals we use to purify our water supply contain by-products that are harmful to our health; the air that we breathe is polluted by many sources including green house gases; and we are exposed to environmental stress from man-made radio frequencies (RFs) and electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The second often sited cause of the rise of chronic illness is the overuse of antibiotic drugs that destroy healthy microorganisms or bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract essential for maintaining a strong immune system. A third factor referred to as the "hygiene hypothesis" postulates that our immune systems are weak or suppressed because of our overly hygienic and sanitized environment and lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, parasites and symbiotic microorganisms. A fourth more controversial cause of modern chronic illness is the "weaponization" of naturally occurring microbes that began during World War Two with the development of biological warfare resulting in "super bugs" like the bacterium Borrelia burgdorfericause that causes Lyme disease and mycoplasma fermentens which can cause neurodegenerative disorders.
Common sense approaches to maintaining a healthy immune system include avoidance of antibiotics and pharmaceutical drugs, eating a diet that consists primarily of organic whole foods, drinking purified water, exercising regularly, and acquiring stress management and relaxation skills. This however may not be enough to prevent or reverse chronic illness.
The nutritional supplement industry is rife with claims that a healthy diet alone cannot supply the necessary antioxidants and nutrients for maintaining good health and that we should supplement our diet with supplements but the jury is out on this claim. When we consume nutritional supplements we often interfere with the body's own natural balance. Taking a particular supplement every day will eventually result in the body producing less of that nutrient itself. This may explain why people initially may feel better when they take nutritional supplements and then over time the supplements become less effective. Alternative health practitioners promote the practice of various detoxification regimes employing the use of herbs and other substances, special diets, fasts and colonics as a means of cleansing the body of toxins. There is not much scientific evidence that these regimes are effective in treating chronic illness. To read about my experience with this go to my post "Detoxification". http://fibrofriends.typepad.com/fibro_friends/2009/05/detoxification.html
The human gastrointestinal tract contains billions of beneficial bacteria that aid in the digestion and absorption of food and protect the body against microorganisms that cause infection. When a person takes antibiotic drugs both harmful and beneficial bacteria are killed. This can lead to an unhealthy microbial balance in the gastrointestinal tract and a weakened immune system. Probiotics are live microorganisms that purport to improve a person's beneficial microbial population or microbiome. They include various strains of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Lactobacilus acidophilus that are obtained from foods and cultured milk products such as yogurt. The benefits of eating fermented and cultured foods with these bacteria has been observed for centuries. Today many people take supplements that are supposed to contain probiotics but most of these products do not have active cultures in them. A recent study from Bastyr University found that commercial probiotic products typically do not contain the bacteria listed on the label, are contaminated with other microoganisms and are often competely dead. http://www.bastyrcenter.org/content/view/664/ . The majority of benefical gut bateria are anaerobic and can thrive only within the colon, another reason why probiotic supplements are not that effective in supporting the immune system.
Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) is a term for the medical procedure of transplanting normal bacterial flora obtained from the stool of a healthy donor and infusing it via an enema or colonscope into patients suffering from Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) caused by damage to the microbiome by antibiotics. FMT has proven to be highly effective in resolving the symptoms of CDI which include diarrhea, cramping and urgency. The procedure is extremely safe and now is being extended to treat other chronic health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, neurological conditions and autoimmune diseases. Leading research on FMT is taking place at the Centre for Digestive Diseases in Sydney, Australia. http://www.probiotictherapy.com.au / Changing people's bacteria may prove to be an one of the best strategies in the treatment and prevention of chronic illness and the use of FMT and related treatments is expected to grow significantly in the future.
Not only does the gastrointestinal tract have its own immune system, it also has its own primitive brain referred to as the "second brain" or enteric nervous system. 95% of the brain's serotonin is made in the bowel and we have more nerve cells in our gut than in our spine. Independent scientist Dan West has been working for over 20 years developing supplements which he calls "Human Probiotics" that can restore healthy microflora in the gut. Microbes are sourced from the saliva of healthy young women, animals and plants and fed various chemicals. Dan prescribes custom supplements containing amino acids and peptides taken no more than once a month to his clients. He thinks that the supplements can affect receptors in the gut and the brain, correct methylation problems, restore serotonin levels, improve brain function, promote emotional and physical balance and improve genetic regulation.
Helminthic therapy is the use of human adapted parasitic worms known as helminths to treat hyperinflammatory disorders including allergies, iritiable bowel diseases, Crohns, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. It has been observed that the incidence of these disorders is significantly lower in less developed countries. Parasitic worms have coevolved with human beings and secrete compounds that keep our immune system in balance and prevent it from overreacting. Helminths are also thought to interact positively with the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Some scientists believe that the extinction of parasitic worms in the human digestive tact has left us vulnerable to new epidemic diseases. The solution is infestation of helminths. A growing body of research indicates that helminthic therapy can cure chronic inflammatory disease. For more information go to: http://www.helminthictherapy.com/index.html
Sometimes rediscovering health treatments of the past can lead to improvements in our health today. Turpentine and petroleum distillates like kerosene have been used since ancient times for the treatment of diseases. Both were used as a cure-all by American farmers, slaves and seaman in the eigthteenth and nineteeth centuries, and are still widespread in poor areas of eastern Europe. The oil of turpentine is composed of hydrocarbons as is kerosene which appear to supress candida, viruses, fungi and cell wall deficient microbes while not harming normal gut bacteria. These substances have been used for the treatment of infectious and autoimmune disease as well as cancer. Dr. Jennifer Daniels, MD has developed a successful "Candida Cleaner" using doses of teaspoons of 100% pure gum spirits of turpentine mixed with a teaspon of white sugar taken for short periods several times each year. An interesting article on the therapeutic use of kerosene and turpentine was written by Walter Last http://www.health-science-spirit.com/kero.htm
Oral Systemic Balance also known as Oral Systemic Biology is a therapy that employs oral appliances to help patients with oral function facilitating ease of breathing, speaking and swallowing. Developed by a TMJ dentist named Farrand Robson the therapy not only improves oral function but restores balance to the autonomic nervous system and resolves many chronic health disorders. When a person's air passage is compromised in any way the body accommodates for this with adaptations in posture and cardiovascular function. OSB doctors do not claim that they treat specific health conditions or diseases, rather they say that by restoring oral balance the body is perfectly designed to heal itself. This has been observed in people with a whole host of conditions including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia syndromes, anxiety disorders, heart conditions and autoimmune diseases. I have personally experienced the most significant improvements in my health with OSB and it has impacted my immune system. Prior to treatment I was plagued by chronic intestinal infections and at one point was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Since undergoing OSB therapy and wearing appliances on an ongoing basis I no longer have these problems.
A lot has been postulated about the role of genetics in the development of chronic illness and disease but I am not sure that genetic research will provide us with the tools to improve the genetics we are born with. In my opinion the two most important approaches to maintaining a healthy immune system aside from diet and lifestyle are preserving a healthy microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract and being able to breathe well and have optimal oral function. Fortunately the treatments to accomplish these things are available today thanks to the work of some dedicated individuals. Their further development will mostly likely change the course of medical practice in the future.