Immune System: Our Microbial World 3/3
Our final microbes to evaluate are bacteria and viruses, which are most commonly associated with impacting our immune system. Many bacteria boast necessary functions for our health, however an overgrowth which causes an infection must be treated. Viruses on the other hand are never beneficial and only threaten our immune system. A bacterial infection or virus is often viewed interchangeably, but these two microbes are distinctly unique from one another and require different treatment. Thus, to maximize our immune system it is important to distinguish between the two and identity how to properly treat them. Viruses are the smallest of all the microbes. They are not classified as living organisms because they require a host to survive (human, animal, plant). Within its host a virus will invade a cell, using the cell’s DNA and RNA to multiply itself and spread. Viruses can only survive a few seconds to minutes after leaving the host. They can exit through a sneeze or cough, and reside on door handles, etc. but only for that short window of time before the viruses die. Bacteria are cellular and can live almost everywhere. They multiply by dividing...some as quickly as every 20 minutes. We need the proper balance of bacteria in our body. Often we hear about good and bad bacteria, but even the “bad bacteria” can be beneficial to us when it is in balance. Bacteria are vital to defend our immune system against invading bacteria and other microbes. For example, the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis thrives on the skin and has been studied to help “immune cells fight disease-causing microbes....The investigators colonized germ-free mice with Staphylococcus epidermidis. Adding this one species of bacteria triggered an immune response in the skin and led to production of cell-signaling molecules that help to combat harmful microbes.”  On the other hand, when a strain of bacteria takes over, it can wreak havoc causing a bacterial infection. Bacterial or viral infections manifest very similar symptoms: cold, fever, mucous, muscle aches, sore throat, etc. The only sure way to diagnose the difference is through a culture or blood test. Many individuals want these symptoms treated with a round of antibiotics, which kills bacteria but does not kill a virus. What is the result? If you had a bacterial infection, the infection may be gone but now you have a weakened defense system. You are more susceptible to microbial invaders. If it was a virus, the treatment not only weakened your defense system, but it also failed to eliminate the virus. There are some antiviral medications, however, the best treatment for most viruses is to give your immune system the rest and support it needs to fight and destroy the infection on its own.. This is the devastating cycle that frequently occurs. We are sick. We take an antibiotic. Our immune system is weakened. Then we are susceptible to more bacterial infection and viruses. Antibiotics have their place, but our first action of defense should definitely be proactive: to SUPPORT and STRENGTHEN our immune systems to do their jobs rather than always flushing them of the beneficial bacteria needed to defend future invaders. Earlier this spring, we discussed several herbs and essential oils that support our immune system. Here are a few more that are effective for BOTH a virus and bacterial infection: •Optimizing digestive (gut) health: about 80% of our immune system is in our small intestine. If we have a compromised digestive system, our immune system will not be able to ward off viruses or bacterial infections. (Whole foods, probiotics, and other resources within nutritional therapy are vital to our digestive system and thus our immune system.) •Olive leaf extract (Thorne): helps puts viruses back in remission and kill bacteria. (Thorne is quality brand I recommend) •Calcium (Thorne): helps put viruses back in remission. •Garlic…(and more garlic!): helps to boost your immune system and kill bacteria. (You can take organic garlic supplements and also add the fresh cloves in as many foods as possible.) •Increase temperature, water, rest, and fast. There is a lot going on in our microbial world that is beyond our sight and influence! This exploration of fungi, algae, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses can not only help us appreciate this unseen world but leverage and treat these microbes to support our immune system. As we do so, we will experience sustainable vitality rather than a constant onslaught of invading sickness. If you have questions or comments for Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Maria Adam, contact her at thrivinghealthNY.com.