The immune system represents a complex network of organs, tissues, and blood products whose role is to identify, locate, and destroy foreign pathogens that could lead to illness within the body. The health of one’s immune system is highly dependent upon a variety of factors and systems within the body.
The innate and acquired immune systems work collectively to produce antibodies that protect the body from foreign invaders. Organs and systems that are involved in this process include the lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, adenoids, respiratory system, and the gut among various others (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020).
When the immune system is not functioning properly the immune system can either initiate an immune response too slowly, initiate an immune response too quickly, or fail to initiate an immune response altogether.
When the immune system is not responsive enough, immunodeficiency diseases can occur, often resulting in recurring and life-threatening infections. An overactive immune system can be caused by a failure of the immune system to distinguish between self and non-self in the case of autoimmunity, initiating an attack on one’s own tissues or by an over-reaction to the environment in the case of hypersensitivity (Carter, 2018).
The Role of Lifestyle in Keeping Immunity Strong
The lifestyle choices we make have the potential to significantly impact the health and strength of our immune system. There is a paradigm in health that suggests our behaviors, diet, exercise patterns, stress, and sleep hygiene among other lifestyle choices can either optimize or breakdown our immune system.
If we make poor choices, such as poor diet (i.e. heavy sugar intake and overconsumption of processed foods), poor stress management, and failing to get adequate sleep, we can influence our immune systems negatively.
This then leads to breakdown and dysfunction making us more susceptible to illness and less able to fight illness we do get. On the other hand, if we make good choices such as regular fitness, a healthy diet loaded with lots of fresh vegetables in various colors, and stress management, we can positively influence our immune systems and promote immune functions in the body.
When healthy lifestyle choices are made, those choices work in tandem with other immune optimizing actions thereby minimizing the impact of stressors and maximizing the impact of a positive immune response.
Alternative Medicine Options for Boosting Immunity
There are various ways to go about boosting the immune system, but alternative medicine is quickly becoming a popular means of pursuing health goals. There is a wide array of alternative medicine options one can pursue in order to boost immunity. The following outlines several of those options and the ways in which it promotes and supports immune health and function.
A naturopathic approach to immunity emphasizes both prevention and the self-healing process via the use of self-healing natural therapies. This approach combines a thorough understanding of the body with the idea that nature is the most effective healer, with a main principle of naturopathy being the importance of education.
It’s believed that sharing information about good health practices empowers people to make better choices and have the right tools at their disposal when needed. In essence, they can choose quality natural medicines, quality whole foods, quality company, and quality time to improve their immune function and wellness. Via this approach, one aims to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.
There is also an emphasis on the prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, heredity, and susceptibility to disease, and then making appropriate interventions to prevent illness (Richmond Natural Medicine, 2020).
The therapeutic modalities used in naturopathic medicine (including physical manipulation, clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, and hydrotherapy) integrate conventional, scientific, and empirical methodology with the ancient laws of nature. They also account for any individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathy also encourages individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development (Richmond Natural Medicine, 2020).
Strategies that fall into naturopathic medicine include diet and nutrition, exercises, sleep maintenance, and stress management. These strategies improve the immune system by promoting foods and nutrients that support immune function and encouraging behaviors that boost immunity.
2| Music Therapy
Music therapy when employed for immune purposes is a form of treatment that uses music to influence the immune properties of the immune system.
Music therapy harnesses the ability of music to alter mood and emotional state, noting that mental and emotional states have the ability to impact autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance and activity.
As a result, the ANS can modulate nearly all aspects of immune function via both direct innervation of lymphoid tissues and via its regulatory influence of immunomodulatory hormones (McCraty, 1999).
Recent studies have explored the physiological and psychological effect of music that integrates specific rhythmic patterns, tone textures, chord progressions, and harmonic resonances specifically designed to help reduce stress, facilitate the experience of sustained positive emotional states and enhance the benefits of stress management interventions.
The results have revealed that when the music therapy was used regularly in conjunction with an emotional self-management program, the scientifically designed music increased DHEA, reduced cortisol, improved autonomic balance, and increased coherence in the ANS, facilitating the entrainment of physiological systems (McCraty, 1999). Ultimately this revealed that music can be used to potentiate the immune enhancing effects of positive emotional states.
3| Spiritual Mind Treatment
Spiritual mind treatment, also referred to as affirmative prayer or scientific prayer, is the process of realizing that there is a single infinite universal presence that permeates everything, and thus this presence resides within an individual.
This attitude then empowers individuals to accept new possibilities and manifest the good that is desired. Whereby the universe is then free to make those things a reality (The Centre for Spiritual Living, 2020).
The treatment involves five primary principles: Recognition, Unification, Realization, Gratitude, and Release. Recognition involves recognizing the universal being and the aspects of that being specifically tied to the goal of treatment (i.e. peace, love, wholeness, etc.). Unification requires a declaration acknowledging the truth about one’s self and oneness with the ultimate being. Realization involves forming a new idea, thought, or feeling about the good desired.
Gratitude is the expression of thanks with the understanding that the manifestation already exists. Finally, release involves releasing the spoken declaration to the law knowing that what was spoken has been done (Center for Spiritual Living Asheville, 2015).
This type of treatment boosts the immune system by impacting our thoughts. By shifting from fear or doubt based thought processes to hope or expectant thought processes, we can literally change our physiology.
The body responds to our thoughts meaning that a more positive, expectant thought pattern induces a physiological immune response in the body that mirrors our thoughts. We can essentially manifest wellness and immunity by forming a true and deep spiritual belief in it (Renee, 2020).
4| Therapeutic Touch
Therapeutic touch is a form of treatment that facilitates relaxation and a sense of well-being.
According to the Free Medical Dictionary By Farlex, the idea behind the therapy is that the body is an extension of an energy field, or aura, several inches to several feet from the body. When illness occurs, it creates a disturbance or blockage in the vital energy field. A Therapeutic Touch practitioner uses her/his hands to sense the blockage or disturbance. In a series of gentle strokes, the practitioner then removes the disturbance and rebalances the energy to restore health.
There is generally no touching of the physical body, only the energetic body or field. It is usually performed on fully clothed patients who are either lying down on a flat surface or sitting up in a chair.
Research has shown that Therapeutic Touch boosts immunity by facilitating the body’s natural healing processes such as wound healing, mending fractures, and fighting infections.
An individual’s perception of pain is positively altered, and the body can mobilize its own healing energies to restore balance and order. There’s also evidence to show the stimulation of the immune system and decrease of side effects related to particular illnesses (Therapeutic Touch International Association, 2012).
Herbalism, also referred to as botanical medicine or herbal medicine, is simply the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Herb plants and plant extracts create and contain various chemical compounds that act upon the body and can be used to promote immune health, as well as prevent and treat illness and disease (Disabled World, 2014).
Herbs for Immunity
Some of the most potent herbs for the immune system include garlic, ginger, turmeric, ginseng, and milk thistle.
- Raw garlic boosts the immune system, fights inflammation, and fights viral and fungal infections.
- Ginger contains gingerols that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
- Turmeric has powerful antimicrobial, anticancer, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
- Ginseng works to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. While milk thistle detoxifies the body and has anti-inflammatory properties.
6| Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture is an ancient and traditional form of Chinese medicine that involves the insertion of thin needles throughout the skin at specific points on the body.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as chi or qi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
There is a theory in traditional Chinese medicine, which proposes that acupuncture can strengthen the human body to resist diseases by puncturing needles at certain points. The characteristic that acupuncture enhances resistance is closely related to the immune system, which functions in defense, homeostasis, and surveillance.
Research has gone on to suggest that acupuncture can regulate immunity for the purposes of enhancing anti-stress immune function and exerting anti-inflammation effects.
A 2015 study on acupuncture and immunity published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the anti-inflammation effect of acupuncture may be a very important underlying mechanism of acupuncture in treating diseases.
Additionally, it found that preconditioning by acupuncture, or stimulation with acupuncture before the onset of diseases, had promising implications with regards to preventing diseases (Liang et. al., 2015).
7| Alexandrian Inhibition
Alexandrian Inhibition is the process of taking a moment to stop, gather clarity about internal direction, make intentional decisions based on that clarity, and then resume movement.
More deeply, this process isn’t actually about stopping action but rather stopping the habitual method of doing a particular action within larger action. This can then serve as a pedagogical device, offering a deconstructing of a dysfunctional way of being in order to permit a re-integration of a deeper and more functional way.
This can be transferred to immunity in the sense that we can often stop patterns of behavior or lifestyle choices as a means of shifting and initiating a deep neurological shift in our bodies that will promote health and wellness and subsequently promote immune functions in our bodies (Fertman, 2012).
8| Applied Kinesiology
Applied kinesiology was created by a chiropractor Dr. George Goodheart in 1964 based on his experiences in Chinese meridian theory, joint mobilization, myofascial therapy, reflexology, chiropractic, nutrition, and craniosacral techniques. It uses a variety of assessment and treatment techniques to address weakened and strained muscles.
Force challenges, motion analysis, and precise muscle testing are used to find strengths or weaknesses in the musculoskeletal organ, nervous, or energetic body systems. The results of the testing then inform the specific holistic health practices and techniques that will be used.
Specific joint manipulation, mobilization, myofascial therapies, osteopathic cranial techniques, meridian therapy, clinical nutrition, dietary management, and reflexology procedures can be used (National Health Practitioners of Canada, 2020).
When these techniques are implemented, they can support the immune system by regulating hormone, gland, and cellular imbalances, activating immune cells that protect against and destroy pathogens, and boosting anti-inflammatory responses.
9| Autogenic Training
Autogenic training was first published in 1932 after being developed by psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz. The relaxation technique involves daily practice approximately 3 times a day for 15-minute sessions each.
During sessions, a set of visualizations is repeated to induce a state of relaxation. This practice benefits the body by influencing the autonomic nervous system. Via autogenic training the balance between the activity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is restored, which ultimately promotes the functions of the immune system (The University of Melbourne, 2019).
A 2019 study conducted on a group of early stage cancer patients looked at the autogenic training effect on stress-related behaviors and immune system responses. The study was a randomized trial with 31 early stage breast cancer women, having received a lumpectomy and adjuvant radiotherapy. The women were randomized into two groups.
Group 1 received a home visit only. Group 2 received a home visit and 2 months’ weekly Autogenic training. At the beginning and end of the 2 monthly periods, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and T and B cell markers were measured to give an indication of changes in immune system responses and measurement of anxiety and depression (Hidderley & Holt, 2004).
By the study’s conclusion, HADS scores and T and B cell markers remained similar in the women who did not receive AT. The women receiving AT showed a strong statistical difference for an improvement in their HADS scores and those women observed in a meditative state as opposed to a relaxed state were found to have an increase in their immune responses. This study suggested Autogenic Therapy as a powerful stress relief and immune boosting option (Hidderley & Holt, 2004).
Ayurveda, also known as ayurvedic medicine is a traditional form of Indian medicine with preventative and curative aspects. The preventative component focuses on the need for a strict code of personal and social hygiene based upon specific personal, climatic, and environmental needs.
This can include the use of herbs, yoga, and other exercises, as well as medical measures. The curative component involves herbal medicines, external preparations, physiotherapy, and diet. These measures are tailored to each individual based on their specific needs (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020).
Ayurvedic treatments and interventions can aid the immune system by acting as a cure for viral infections, detoxifying the body from harmful toxins, and increasing the immune function of the immune system, making it more powerful and better able to ward off pathogens (Desk, 2020).
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback defines biofeedback as a process that allows people to alter their physiological activity in order to improve health or performance.
More simply put, it is a mind-body technique whereby visual and auditory feedback is used to gain control over involuntary body functions. Typically, the process involves being connected to a device with sensors that provide feedback about specific aspects of the body (Cherry, 2019).
Research suggests that there is a link between the brain and modalities such as biofeedback and the immune system, specifically referred to as psychoneuroimmunology.
Various studies showed that there are significant immune parameter changes in response to relaxation techniques, biofeedback assisted strategies, and similar modalities (Halley, 1991).
12| Mind-Body Practices: Yoga, Meditation, Tai Chi
Mind-body practices are activities that draw an awareness and link between the mind and the body. These practices can include meditation, yoga, and tai chi, among others. These practices can either be administered or taught by a trained professional.
Each of these practices is known for its stress reducing and relaxation promoting effects. As a by-product, immunity is enhanced.
Research has shown strong scientific evidence for the use of mind-body medicine for affecting immune outcomes. Evidence showed Immunoglobulin A had the strongest scientific evidence for positive effects from mind-body medicine (Wahbeh et. al., 2009).
Yoga specifically was shown to improve quality of life for people with chronic diseases, while tai chi was shown to improve quality of life for those with heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
13| Guided Imagery and Visualization
Visualization is a technique within meditation that involves focusing on images and ideas as a means of bringing positive energy into the mind, body, and spirit. The process of visualization involves concentrating on breathing, generating an image or idea, and then using the breath to become aware of the body and manifest the image or idea into the present (Gaiam, 2020).
This practice has powerful implications for the immune system according to research.
A randomized 2008 study conducted by Lengacher at. al. looked at this link. 32 breast cancer patients were recruited (28 completed the study) and randomly assigned into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group received training in guided imagery and relaxation while the control group received standard care (Absenger, 2014).
The study looked at NK cell cytotoxicity (the ability to detect cancer cells) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) enhanced NK cell (a.k.a. lymphokine activated killer cell or LAK). Results showed that there was no difference between the experimental group and the control group in baseline measures (pre-surgery).
However, 4 weeks of guided imagery, short-term relaxation and guided imagery had beneficial immunological effects on NK cell cytotoxicity and IL-2 activation of NK cells, or LAK activity1 (Lengacher et al.)
One study supports the notion that presurgical mind-body intervention, focusing on relaxation improved immune function (as measured by NK cell and LAK activity) in women undergoing surgical treatment for breast cancer (Absenger, 2014).
Osteopathy is a type of alternative medicine that emphasizes physical manipulation of muscle tissue and bones. Osteopathic physicians believe that a problem with one system or part of the body affects the entirety of the body and its ability to heal itself. So, any treatment that is delivered is measured accordingly, to take into account and work the entire body.
As a result, the benefits of osteopathy are often felt not only throughout the musculoskeletal system of the body, but mentally as well (Cochrane, 2018).
Osteopathic therapy can benefit the immune system by increasing lymphatic drainage and improving thoracic mobility. When the lymphatic system is properly drained it is boosted, which in turn helps to regulate the body’s organ functions and overall immunity.
Osteopathy can also aid in rebalancing the body’s nervous system and restoring joint mobility and motion which in turn boosts overall immunity (Cochrane, 2018).
Additionally, osteopathic lymphatic techniques are associated with an increased repair response in cellular tissues and an overall improved immune response. Research suggests lymphatic techniques may enhance treatment by increasing lymphatic flow and fluid removal and enhancing filtration and removal of inflammatory mediators and waste products (Blumer, 2014).
Hypnosis which is sometimes referred to as hypnotherapy is a trance-like state involving heightened focus and concentration. It can be used to help gain control over behaviors, cope with anxiety, or manage pain among other reasons.
Researchers have found that focused hypnosis can prevent the weakening of the immune response that often comes after periods of acute stress.
Research from the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 2001 suggests that hypnosis actually enhances the immune status in some people compared to similar individuals who don’t use self-hypnosis. Individuals in the study who had not used self-hypnosis as a relaxation technique prior to their stressful event showed a 24 percent decrease in T-lymphocyte proliferation compared to a 2 percent increase in the hypnosis group – T-Lymphocyte white blood cells are important to the immune response. The more frequently subjects in the hypnosis group practiced their technique, the better their immune response was (Immunity and Hypnosis- Hlife, n.d.).
Reiki is a Japanese technique used for stress management and to induce deep relaxation that uses the body’s natural healing powers to develop and improve the emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being while also invoking immense happiness in a person’s life.
A treatment is administered by laying on hands and is based on the unseen concept of life force energy which flows through people When life force energy is low there is greater likelihood of illness and stress. However, if life force energy is high, we are more capable of being healthy and well (The International Center for Reiki Training, 2019).
Via the reduction of stress and the promotion of relaxation immunity is boosted therefore increasing the functioning of the immune system.
Reflexology is a practice related to ancient Chinese methods of healing and preventative medicine via touching and pressing on specific pressure points. Reflexology strengthens the body’s natural resistance to disease and makes the body stronger so it can naturally resist illness and pain.
Specific pressure points on the body are especially good for activating an immune response. Large Intestine 11 is used preventively for colds, flus, and other immune-compromising conditions. Lung 7 is good for bolstering your body’s defensive energy, helping to keep your immune system strong.
Additionally, stomach 36 is one of the most effective acupuncture points for strengthening the immune system and recovering from fatigue (Mukherjee, 2018).
18| Thymus Tapping
Thymus tapping is the simple act of gently tapping on the thymus gland to generate vibrations that stimulate an increase in the maturation and release of white blood cells.
This can be done by using the fingertips to tap up and down the sternum, between and above your breasts.
The thymus is part of the lymphatic immune system and one of the functions of the thymus is to process and mature T cells (also known as killer cells) (Remedy, 2016).
19| Home Remedies
Home remedies can be defined as self-prepared tonics that may or may not have medicinal properties designed to prevent or treat an ailment.
Typically, remedies are passed down within families or cultures, and can vary from person to person. This is not to be confused with a homeopathic remedy which is an FDA approved remedy made from plants, minerals, animal products, or other substances (University of Minnesota, n.d.).
What makes home remedies valuable with regards to immune health is that they often involve the use of herbs and modalities that have been shown to improve and support immunity.
Adding items to the diet like ginger and turmeric or engaging in practices like meditation and yoga can increase anti-inflammatory properties, boost immunity, support healthy cells, and promote relaxation (Disabled World, 2014).
Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer many health benefits for the immune system.
The probiotic bacteria in the intestinal tract, particularly lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, activate immune system components such as T and B lymphocytes, which are the immune cells necessary for fighting against and preventing infection.
These probiotics have been shown to prevent and reduce the severity of colds and flu and may help protect against certain cancers.
Probiotics are also known to stabilize gut bacteria which is a vital function since 80% of the function of the immune system occurs in the intestinal tract (Moday, 2020).
Best Immunity Boosting Supplements
Supplements, pill substances that offer health benefits, can be quite beneficial for the immune system. Supplements such as Vitamin C and D, as well as B-complex offer especially strong benefits. Vitamin D reduces proinflammatory cytokine production, which plays a protective role during infections.
- Vitamin C works within the body to find and kill free radicals while also protecting against infectious disease.
- B complex regulates cell function, assists with the creation of red blood cells, and is involved in DNA synthesis.
All of this, when functioning as designed, ensures the immune system is able to fight off illness and remain strong.
Alternative medicine can be a great route to pursue when trying to boost immune health. Alternative medicine offers natural, noninvasive approaches to immune health and wellness that often amplify knowledge and education, prevention, and primarily adopting lifestyle changes as a means of influencing physical health.
This kind of approach empowers people to take their health into their own hands and influence their own health before resorting to more extreme or harsh methods of treatment.
Alternative medicine should be considered as an option in the pursuit of immune health and wellness.
Stay well, safe and take care!
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