In this blog Karen explores the subject of natural immunity and questions why we get ill and how homeopathy can help.
Alive and self-repairing!
The human body. When you stop and really think about it, we are all amazing! We are very much alive and self-repairing with countless processes taking place constantly and imperceptibly to keep us not only alive, but well and active. So how many of us really take the time to understand these processes and what our bodies are trying to tell us?
Are we so conditioned by fear or the rush of modern living that we have forgotten to stop and listen or to trust these natural processes?
Have we been brainwashed into thinking that illness is out there to get us – to be researched, fought, battled – that we are pawns in a great big game of chess, powerless, directed and controlled by the system and professionals who know what’s best if we are unlucky enough to become ill?
We are led to believe that symptoms of illness are malfunctions of our natural process that must be stopped to make us ‘well’ again – but do we ever stop to question why they occurred in the first place or what it means to our health if the aim of treatment is to ‘make them disappear?’
We expect quick results so we can get on with daily living and minimal effort on our part – we are too busy to be ill!
Apologies for the sweeping statements and generalisations but my real point is that each and every one of us has a huge responsibility for our own health and well-being and if we take the time to understand a few basic principles, we can quickly realise that there is a lot we can do to take back control and make the choices that are right for our own personal circumstances and health. There is no judgement here, and I am not saying there is a right or wrong way, but it is all about making an informed choice that is right for our particular circumstances and needs, whether the outcome be holistic or conventional treatment or a mix of the two working alongside. It really depends on the nature, severity and stage of the condition and above all the aim must be to preserve life whilst promoting the best quality of life possible.
Did you know that with the exception of the neurons in our cerebral cortex, all other cells in our bodies have a finite life span and are being replaced constantly? Different cells are replaced at different rates of course but some researchers say that most cells die and are replaced at least once during a 7 to 10 year period. Most are replaced much quicker, for example:
- Red blood cells live for about 4 months
- Skins cells live for 2-3 weeks
- Colon cells only last for 4 days
- Cells that line your stomach and intestine last up to 5 days
- Cells in your liver renew every 150 to 500 days
- Cells in your bones, though constantly regenerating, take 10 years to complete the full process!
Our bodies go to a lot of effort to keep us well and healthy. We build natural immunity over time as a result of direct exposure to pathogens and viruses. We are born with passive immunity which is transferred from our mother during pregnancy to protect us before and shortly after birth, and from birth we start developing natural immunity to the thousands of microorganisms that we breathe in, eat or touch every day.
Though the immune system is still not fully understood and highly complex, we do know that it is efficient and able to protect us from outside threats as well as internal rogue cells.
I really like Trevor Gunn’s explanation of immunity and the immune system. He draws a very clear distinction between what is deemed to be ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ our bodies. Only when something crosses the mucous membranes or pierces the skin is it inside our bodies and entering the internal spaces and blood, with the potential to cause damage to internal organs, tissues, the central nervous system etc. Based on this definition we can see that anything within the respiratory system, digestive system or urinary system is ‘outside’ of our bodies – I’d never thought of it like that before.
Around 80% of our immune system functions in the ‘outside space’ to protect the ‘inside’ and keep out what is not wanted in the first place. This provides the body’s first line of defence and responds immediately to protect the body from foreign substances, whatever they are, with the aim of preventing the entry in the first place. Our skin and mucous membranes are the key structures involved with this.
To protect the ‘inside’ a healthy elimination system is also essential to natural immunity to safely eliminate naturally produced waste/anything unwanted, again getting things from the inside to the outside spaces unhindered to prevent any build-up of toxicity.
Should the external defences fail to protect the individual and the problem crosses to the inside, other non-specific immune processes kick into action in the form of for example:
- Non selective cell eating white blood cells (or similar cells) which trap, surround, engulf and digest unwanted matter such as invading microbes, foreign cells and cellular debris.
- natural antimicrobial substances which prevent the replication of viruses in infected cells or bind to the bacterial cell walls either to damage it and destroy the microbe or to attract the cell eating blood cells
- the inflammatory response which is a physiological response to tissue damage and usually takes place once microbes have overcome other non-specific defence mechanisms. The purpose of the inflammation is to limit damage and initiate repair and healing by isolating, inactivating and removing both the causative agent and damaged tissue.
- immunological surveillance by natural killer cells (a type of white blood cells) which patrol the body seeking out and destroying abnormal cells (whether infected by virus or mutated).
If this line of defence is overwhelmed, activation of the specific defence mechanism / immune system follows. The key differences are that an immune response is directed at one specific antigen and once activated will usually generate an immunological memory of that antigen. This means that if the body encounters that specific antigen again the immune response will be faster and more powerful.
What we can see from all of this is that our immune system goes to great lengths to prevent pathogens from entering the body in the first place, whether they be swallowed or inhaled and that other highly evolved mechanisms take over if these fail to resolve the issue.
What is equally fascinating is our immune system’s ability to learn and develop. As already indicated, a child is born with an immature and developing immune system and the stomach membrane is more porous ‘leaky’ than an adult’s, allowing things into the blood more easily. The learning process that takes place when the body eliminates toxins means that immune cells and the membranes also learn to keep out things it could not before so that once you have had an illness you are less likely to suffer from it again and many aspects of the immune system are also strengthened at the same time. Illness is not therefore necessary or desirable for immune learning and the system can learn effectively from small disturbances. Thankfully this means that we do not need to suffer every disease to become immune – our system is much cleverer than that and will be able to eliminate infection before disease occurs in most cases – like a domino effect creating other memory and immune responses.
To sum that up, if no immune learning is allowed to take place we will be just as susceptible to the disease; if we are able to express illness we become healthier and less susceptible to other illness.
So why do we get symptoms of disease?
Given that we have in-built, self-repair systems and a highly evolved immune system, it’s a good question isn’t it?
As we have already explored, in normal circumstances, when everything is working as is should and the system is in balance, the body is designed to self-repair and within a reasonable range of tolerances, to adapt to the surrounding environment. Disease occurs when there is a disturbance to this equilibrium and the stresses that we are exposed to on a daily basis become too great for us to adapt to and deal with and weaken us. Stress means different things to different people and the way we deal with it and adapt varies considerably – it may come in the form of such things as mental or emotional stress, poor diet, or environmental stress such as heat, cold, damp etc. When our weakened state is combined with the effects of an external influence or stimuli to which we are susceptible, symptoms of the ‘dis-ease’ occur. The symptoms that manifest are our immune system’s best response at that given point in time, always trying to limit symptoms to the most peripheral levels, preserve life and protect our vital organs.
These signs and symptoms are the only way we can perceive the workings of the defence mechanism in its attempt to deal with a disturbance and restore us to health and are intelligent and logical processes. For example, vomiting and diarrhoea are the body’s way of eliminating ingested toxins, whilst the rise in body temperature in a fever has the sole aim of burning off the toxins. Similarly a rash represents an elimination of toxins via the skin.
Of course we do not all succumb to the same illnesses or in the same way as we are all individual with different susceptibilities depending on our state of health and inherited tendencies. What is clear is that unresolved issues influence our susceptibility and that good health means that we are susceptible to less severe types of illness.
We can all boost our natural immunity and resistance to areas of susceptibility through good living conditions, good diet, fresh water, fresh air and exercise, sufficient sleep and rest; and reducing the mental and emotional stress that we are subjected to.
What is equally important is that we allow our immune system to function in the way it is designed as each feature is an essential step in the resolution of disease. Orthodox medicine tends to try and stop what the body is trying to do and suppress it rather than addressing the reason that you might have the symptom in the first place. For example using calpol or paracetamol to reduce fever, anti inflammatories to reduce the inflammation that may be protecting a joint, steroidal cream to suppress eczema, antibiotics to suppress infection, inhalers to dilate airways in asthma attacks – the list goes on, going deeper and deeper into chronic disease.
This suppression results in toxins not being eliminated and therefore having the potential to cause more serious damage by passing deeper to the inside of the body – it’s a bit like keeping all your rubbish in the house rather than putting it outside to be taken away. Then of course there are the side effects that some of these drugs produce – whilst creating the illusion of curing the symptom you wanted rid of, further undesirable symptoms may develop as a result of the drug itself and so it goes on into a spiral of reducing health and long term drug dependency.
Unresolved illness makes us more susceptible to the problems because our immune system has not learnt from it, increasing the incidence of acute and ultimately chronic conditions which in turn can be passed from one generation to the next. Suppression means that health is more likely to generally deteriorate and that susceptibility to other conditions increases. Conversely if we allow symptoms to resolve successfully, our immune system will have learnt from it, developed further and our overall health will be improved.
So how does homeopathy fit into all this?
Simply put, homeopathy is a system of natural health care which recognises that the body is trying to resolve problems through the symptoms that present themselves. It aims to help the body through this process so that issues are fully and properly resolved and that better health is restored. The aim is to establish and address the root cause of the problem because if that is resolved we will get better without the need for ongoing medication – ie; the correct patterns in our body are restored so that improvement can be permanent.
To find the right remedy for you, therefore, your homeopath will need to ask you lots of questions about your symptoms, personal and family medical history, as well as your general health and likes/dislikes. The way you respond to the remedies prescribed will also be reviewed on a regular basis, depending on your condition, to ensure that your prescription is amended as needed. It is not a magic bullet, however. Homeopathy is mild and gentle and depending on how long you have experienced your symptoms, it can take time to work through all of the issues that brought you to where you are now! A little patience and commitment is needed – taking responsibility for our own health is also key to successful outcomes and how we respond to advice about things like diet and lifestyle can play a big part in this. The rewards can be big though – improved health and better quality of life! What could be more important?!
So why the difference approaches?
To answer that we have two look at two key figures from the nineteenth century, Louis Pasteur and Antoine Bechamp and ask ourselves who won the debate?!
They developed two very different interpretations and from this we can see how much of the current medical thinking developed.
Pasteur took a ‘creationist’ view that life and disease can come from nothing. From this he deduced that there must be a micro-organism responsible for each disease and that the microorganism causes disease by entering the body from an external source / infection -the ‘Germ Theory’. His view therefore was that we need to kill or protect from the germ as the germ and disease are one and the same.
Bechamp on the other hand took an evolutionist view whereby the disease process evolved from what was already there. He found that micro-organisms that were involved in disease processes were in fact already present in the body and no outside infection was needed to cause a disease, just a suitable environment. He concluded that rather than causing the illness, these microorganisms merely accumulated if conditions were right to support them, living off the toxic environment and even helping to clear it up. His view was that the state of health of the individual and their internal environment was key and if we improve the ‘soil’ by addressing toxicity, diet, lifestyle, emotional state and mental stress as already discussed, we reduce the incidence of disease!
So who did the Western world go with? Well Pasteur of course, fuelling the fear around those invading micro-organism out to get us!
The two theories place responsibility for health in very different camps and at the time both socially and politically it was much more convenient to blame the germ. It was a time of industrial revolution with awful living conditions in the cities. Although medical texts of the time acknowledged this as a cause of disease, vested interests meant that Pasteur’s theories got the support of the wealthy and therefore the government.
Once again the key missing element to Pasteur’s theory was individual susceptibility – micro-organisms associated with disease being present in healthy bodies all the time!! It did pave the way nicely though for the big pharmaceuticals and the big business that it represents today!
I guess it really boils down to individual choice, the paths we choose to tread in life and how empowered we feel to challenge the status-quo. But hopefully a little knowledge and understanding goes a long way to help ensure we make the choices that are right for us and our particular circumstances at any given time, whatever life throws at us!!!
Soma Wisdom – The Science of Health and Healing by Trevor Gunn
The Science of Homeopathy by George Vitoulkas
CCH course notes
Workshop notes by Sonia Cartlidge