Introducing Your Immune System

Introducing Your Immune System

As your body's official Defense Department, the immune system protects against all enemies. Toxins in the air. Viruses and bacteria that get into the body. Everything.

And immune system headquarters is smack-dab in the middle of the most interactive, butt-into-everybody-else's-business system known to man, the endocrine system.

Neither, I might add, is a system in the sense of being separate from other systems. In our bodies, everything affects everything else, and we have systems within systems within other systems, all acting and interacting at the same time.

The only way to get a handle on all this complexity and interaction, though, is to discuss each piece of the puzzle separately. But keep all that connectedness in mind as we go.

The endocrine system controls health. Once thought to be a small group of glands off in a corner somewhere, it's now recognized as the ruler of our inner universe.

Here are the endocrine players and their assigned roles:

• The hypothalamus is part of the brain, though unfortunately not protected by the blood-brain barrier, that controls and coordinates the endocrine system and the nervous system.

• The pituitary leads the endocrine band, telling each part when to act and when to be at ease. It resides just below the hypothalamus, behind the bridge of our nose.

• The pineal lives in a custom-fit cave deep in the brain and maintains our body's interior clock, which tracks both hours and seasons.

• The thyroid, found in our neck by the Adam's Apple, controls metabolism. What with the environment, our diets and such, it goes south fairly readily, leading to more than 300 diseases you don't want to be led to.

• The four parathyroid glands are sort of behind the thyroid, but rather than deal with metabolism as their name might imply, they work at keeping our calcium in balance.

• The thymus, behind our upper breast bone, is headquarters for the far-flung immune system, organizing and deploying the troops all day and all night.

• The two adrenals, one atop each kidney like a little beret, control energy and fight-or-flight responses. Big-time buddies of the thyroid, the adrenals also get into lots of trouble.

• The pancreas, front and center near the bottom of our rib cage, balances blood sugar levels.

• Leptin, grehlin and their hormone gang, have no home to call their own, but live in our body fat. They control appetite and work particularly closely with the pancreas.

• The testes and ovaries control our reproductive function, producing testosterone and progesterone, which are well-behaved, and estrogen, which isn't. In fact, when estrogen gets on a tear, it creates chaos throughout the body.

• Our bones were added to the list of endocrine glands a few years back. They work with the thyroid in creating new bone cells.

Want an example of the interaction I mentioned? The pineal gland manufactures melatonin to handle it's body-clock functions, but also to send along a supply to the thymus, leader of the immune system, so it can do its thing. The thymus, in turn, sends some melatonin to the adrenals.

If we let fluoride in our lives, though, the pineal can turn to stone, unable to produce any melatonin. Then the thymus and the adrenals don't get what they need, and their functions falter. At some point, autoimmune diseases can show up.

And we may be adding to all the endocrine kerfuffle. For instance, if you devote yourself to the diet recommended by dietitians and doctors-no saturated fat, no salt, plenty of grains, etc-your endocrine system, including your immune system, is going down.

Signs of a weakened immune system:

• You get sick all the time. Colds drag on forever, the flu moves in for the season, etc. A healthy immune system can defend against colds and flu.

• Allergies are the body's way of holding up a sign that says, "There's trouble in thymus paradise."

• Depression means your endocrine system, including the thymus, is out of whack.

• Heavy-duty sweating for no particular reason can mean thymus trouble.

• Inflammatory diseases

• Frequently swollen lymph glands.

• Muscle testing that reveals a weak infraspinatus, one of the rotator cuff muscles, is a sign of a weakened thymus.

• At the end of the out-of-whack road lies cancer. You'll want to get the parade stopped before you get that far.

What not to do:

• Some doctors insist autoimmune diseases come from a thymus that's "too strong." Well, no. Autoimmune disease means the thymus is in trouble, not too buff.

But they'll suggest ways to slow the thymus down, and may even suggest removing your thymus. Those are really bad ideas, and while they can sound like a quick fix, you end up in worse shape than you were.

Things you need to do:

• Take responsibility for your health; don't outsource it to doctors or various poobahs to fix. Work with them, but don't give them total control. You're the one with the most "skin in the game."

• Discover the toxins in your life and get rid of them. Most of them probably won't be the ones you know about, so some "unlearning" will have to take place.

• Get a good diet going. Again, it won't be anything like what you read. Here are some facts: Caffeinated coffee is a health drink. Good saturated fat blesses your socks off-as it lowers your cholesterol and helps you lose weight. Salt is necessary for life, and there's no research anywhere that suggests limiting it; just use sea salt instead of the processed-t0-death, aluminum-fortified stuff from the grocery store. And so on.

As it happens, everything in this article is what I study and write about. A drunk driver hit my parents' car a month before my first birthday. The crash badly damaged my pituitary-and probably my hypothalamus. Doctors didn't help, and I finally realized it was up to me.

It took me thirty-or-so years, in part because the research I needed was kept hidden from civilian eyes, but I made it.

They told me I wouldn't live, but I did.

They told me I couldn't have children, but I did.

They told me to accept passivity, but my energy returned.

And I even got my hair back.

Along the way, I fell in love with research. And I found that helping others not only pleased me, but also gave meaning to my years of struggle.

I hope you'll let me help you. There's much to learn and much to gain.

God is good,

Bette Dowdell