The level of stress in our lives has a negative effect on our immune system. Research has shown that an increase in the level of emotional stress causes a decrease in the production of white blood cells in the body, which are responsible for our immunity. When our defence system is weaker, not only do we get sick more often, but also it takes us a lot longer to recover. Allergies occur when the body's immune system wrongly detects a harmless substance as a threat to the body. By attacking the wrong suspect, it triggers the release of a substance called histamine, which causes the respiratory inflammation symptoms we know only too well.
Our main immune weapon is located in a small gland in our chest, slightly above our heart. The thymus gland produces white blood cells called T lymphocytes, which are responsible for locating and destroying bacteria in the body.
Unfortunately, the thymus gland's ability to produce these very useful defence tools is affected by the level of the stress hormone cortisol in our blood. An increase in cortisol levels causes a decrease in the production of T lymphocytes, and a subsequent weakening of our immunity. In other words, the more we are stressed, the less we are able to fight infections and allergies. The production of these white blood cells (WBC) by the thymus gland is also affected by our diet and age.
The role of that little gland in our immunity and survival wasn't discovered until the early 1960s. The Australian immunologist J. Miller was the first to recognise that newborn mammals, including human beings, couldn't survive without a functioning thymus gland.
The body builds its own immune system through contact with the environment. In a form of natural vaccination, gradual exposure to dirt and other sources of bacteria help strengthen the thymus and the whole immune system functions. Our thymus gland starts shrinking after the age of 20. As we get older, our immune system becomes progressively weaker, which explains why older people get sick more easily. In addition to stress, our diet can have a major impact on our immunity.
The Australian herbalist Dorothy Hall, in her bestselling book What's Wrong With You? recommends using herbs like echinacea, thyme, liquorice, rosehip and oregano, which stimulate the production of the thymus gland hormone thymosin. A range of vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are also highly beneficial.
Even specific emotions like depression can have an impact on our thymus gland. Kinesiologists claim to have developed a test that shows negative emotional feelings weaken the gland. This is not surprising, considering that statistics have shown that depressive patients get sick more often and have a much shorter life span than the rest of the population.
In Europe, thymus hormone supplements, which are routinely prescribed to cancer patients, have been linked to dramatic improvements in a wide range of medical conditions including asthma, hay fever, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.
Modern Thymus Therapy (MTT) uses extracts from the thymus gland of six month old calves, which can be taken in capsule form. Although thymus extracts can now be easily bought over the Internet, they are not suitable for everyone, and one should consult a medical practitioner first. Also, do you want to take calves extract for the rest of your life?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, our immunity is associated with a form of protective energy called Wei Qi, which circulates at a superficial level throughout the channels and organs of the body.
An ancient Chinese medical principle is, "There is no disease without an existing weakness in the body." For example, acupuncture can help control the body's inflammatory reaction to allergens, but the patient who gets hay fever from pollen allergies has a chronic weakness in their respiratory system, which has to be treated as well. Some Chinese medical herbs can be very successful in the treatment of allergies. For example, the herb Astragalus or Huang Qi has been used for centuries due to its powerful effect on the immune system. Herbal concoctions with chrysanthemum flowers and cassia seeds can also help lower histamine production.
The Western treatment method has often been criticised for treating the symptoms of allergies without addressing the initial cause of the dysfunction - a weakening of the immune system. Many patients who were using Western medicine to treat their allergies have found that by introducing alternative medications in increasing dosage while, at the same time, slowly withdrawing from their conventional treatment, they could gradually substitute one form of treatment for another - and feel all the better for it in the long term.
Olivier Lejus MHSc.BHsc. is a registered acupuncturist practising in Sydney.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com