Cooperating with Your Body’s Defenses
THE auto was going 115 miles an hour when it crashed into the rear of another car going 55 miles an hour. One of the victims of the accident, not content with the compensation he received, sued the manufacturer of the auto that had been driven so fast. He charged that the manufacturer was responsible because he made the car capable of going at such a speed. However, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that heard the case ruled otherwise. It held that a manufacturer’s “duty is to avoid hidden defects and latent or concealed dangers. He is not bound to anticipate and guard against grossly careless misuse of his product.”
There are some authorities in the field of medicine that might be said to view the human body as that accident victim viewed the car by which he was injured. But not all do so. Some appreciate the wisdom reflected in its design. Thus scientist W. B. Cannon wrote a book entitled “The Wisdom of the Body.” Wisdom in design, however, does not mean that abuse will not result in harm, and this is where many persons manifest a lack of good judgment. As Dr. Linus Pauling expressed it: “We constantly insult ourselves by doing things for which our bodies were never intended.” And what is the result? An acceleration of the process of aging, disease and death.
No question about it, as we examine the body we find that the Creator made wonderful provisions for its well-being. Man is not a robot but, rather, has the ability and freedom to choose between a wise and a foolish course and to take the consequences. In a large measure the health of our bodies is subject to the divine law: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” If we cooperate with our body’s defenses we can minimize the likelihood of poor health and disease.—Gal. 6:7.
Among the defenses by which the body preserves its soundness are its immunological defense systems (including the white blood cells and the antibodies), interferon, the hormones and even the skin. All these might be likened to soldiers, policemen and fire fighters that serve to protect a family, a city or a nation from threatened dangers. Reason and good sense, of course, would indicate that citizens cooperate with these defenses if they would enjoy protection and security. And so, too, an individual must do his part, must cooperate with his body’s defenses if he would stay well.
The Immunological Defenses
“Immunity” has been described as “an everyday word, ordinarily applied to the elaborate set of responses by which the body defends itself against invading microorganisms.” Involved in these responses are a number of different kinds of white blood cells or corpuscles that serve as defenders of the purity of the bloodstream. These greatly multiply when foreign, noxious or virulent agents invade or attack the body. Thus the diagnosis of appendicitis can at times be confirmed by what is known as the “blood picture.”
What triggers these white cells to act, what enables them to recognize these various invading foreign foes, also known as antigens? Well, the gamma globulins, one of the blood proteins, produce antibodies, which fasten themselves to the antigens, thus labeling them as intruders and causing the white corpuscles to attack and destroy them by means of enzyme action. It was once thought that an antigen caused the plasma cells to produce an antibody especially made to fit it. But now it is understood that the plasma cells have potentially thousands of different kinds of antibodies, and so when bacteria attack the body they unite with any of a certain number of antibodies that happen to fit them rather closely.
The process has been illustrated in this way: Instead of the antigen’s being like a man that went to a tailor to have a suit made to order (as was once thought), it is like the man that goes to a large clothing store that has thousands of suits of various shapes and sizes and picks one from several that fit him rather well, but not necessarily perfectly.
Then what happens? A signal is sent out by the body and the plasma cells start producing that particular antibody by the thousands. That antibodies need not fit perfectly can be seen in the fact that inoculation by cowpox (which is quite similar but not identical with smallpox virus) can produce immunity against smallpox.
It takes time for the body to produce all these antibodies and so sometimes the body succumbs to the invaders and becomes sick. However, given the needed time, the body generally wins out, and as a result of the increase of antibodies, the body likely will be rather immune to future attacks. So there is a saying, “There is no immunity like convalescent immunity.” For example, a person having chicken pox as a child is then immune to that disease. By means of inoculations, however, men have often been able to provide the body with artificial immunity, as for such well-known diseases as diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and others.
The bloodstream of some persons seems to be without gamma globulin and, as a result, does not produce antibodies, thus making such persons susceptible to all manner of bacterial infections. These are rare exceptions, however. By and large, human bodies do have this very effective defense mechanism. Why, then, do some people get sick when exposed to harmful bacteria while others do not? Because more than one factor is involved. To begin with, there is the matter of genes. It is known that predisposition to certain ailments is inherited and so it may largely depend upon the inherited susceptibility or resistance as to whether one does or does not get sick. Obviously, if both of one’s parents were diabetics, one would be more likely to succumb to infectious diseases that plague diabetics. Such a one would therefore need to exercise far more care than another whose parents enjoyed abundant health.
A related factor that helps to account for the fact that some do and others do not succumb to infections is the fact that infections and diseases are not solely a matter of virulence, that is, the strength of the bacteria, as was once thought. Infection is also a matter of ecology, that is, the condition of the host, your body. Thus experiments with mice have shown that when they are starved or overfed with certain foods they very quickly succumb to certain infections. But when the mice are again fed properly, in just a few days their resistance becomes normal. So also with humans: much depends upon the body’s general powers of resistance.
Cooperating with the Immunological Defenses
How can you cooperate, how can you strengthen your body’s immunological defense system? By just using good sense. Do not content yourself merely with not being sick. Give thought to maintaining good health by proper diet, which means not only seeing to it that you get sufficient proteins, fats and carbohydrates (sugars and starches), but also that you get the needed vitamins and minerals. A hamburger and a bottle of soda pop are not a balanced meal. Unrefined foods, such as whole wheat, unpolished rice, molasses and fruits and vegetables in abundance will help you greatly in this regard. Then there is the matter of getting needed rest and sleep, regular exercise if you are a sedentary worker, and avoidance of overindulgence of all kinds—these are the things that will help you to strengthen your body’s immunological defense system.
Being abstemious at the table will in particular help your immunological defenses. Thus experiments with mice have shown that if they were provided with only one third the normal amount of food, but it was nutritious and well-balanced, they lived much longer. This is said to be due to the changes such a diet makes in the immunological system of the mice. While these results were had with mice, immunologist Dr. R. L. Walford of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, said that this indicated that humans would be wise to eat less, and that for such a diet to be truly effective it should be instituted early, soon after a child is weaned.—New York Times, August 4, 1971.
Another of the body’s defense mechanisms is interferon, a substance discovered rather recently, and at present under intensive investigation. It is produced by the body’s cells as a defense against viral infections and differs from antibodies in a number of respects. It becomes effective at once, whereas antibodies take time to multiply. Thus it is said that “interferon is present at the right place, at the right time and in high enough concentration to play an important role in recovery from viral infections.”
Secondly, interferon is not specific, whereas an antibody is, working only against a certain antigen or one very nearly like it. An invading virus causes cells to produce interferon that acts not just against the one particular virus but against a wide range of viruses. Thirdly, the interferon does not act upon the invading virus in the way an antibody acts upon an antigen, but upon the body’s cells themselves, enabling them to neutralize the effect of the virus.
Further, though interferon is a protein particle, it is not treated as a foreign substance by the body’s immunological system. Because of this, interferon can be implanted from another body or even another species without causing any antibodies to be formed. However, to produce interferon from blood for medical use is so costly a process as to be prohibitive. For this reason medical researchers have been experimenting with substances that would stimulate the production of interferon in the body’s cells. They have come up with such a substance which they have designated “poly I:C.”
In experimenting with this substance on mice they have found it to be extremely effective. Thus three hours after seventeen mice were given poly I:C and thirty-two others were given a placebo,* all of them were inoculated with a lethal dose of mouse pneumonia virus. At the end of fourteen days all seventeen mice that had received poly I:C were still alive, but only one of the thirty-two that had received the placebo lived. As for the use of poly I:C on humans, this is still in the experimental stage.
How can you cooperate with the interferon ‘system’? Since interferon is aimed at viral infections and the more common of these are those that plague our noses and throats in the wintertime, anything that would work against the common cold may be considered as cooperating with one’s interferon defense system. There are a number of ways in which this can be done. The generous use of citrus fruits, especially grapefruit, lemons and limes, before one gets a cold, may protect one against it. Also avoiding rich and over-refined foods, especially pastries, rich puddings, and so forth, has helped many others to be free from the common cold. And quite recently the use of vitamin C in fighting the common cold has been given wide publicity.
The Hormonal Defenses
Rightly the hormones have been described as “another aspect of the natural defenses of the body.” They come to our aid when we are threatened with violence, helping us either to fight or to take to flight. For anger or fight the body produces noradrenaline, and for fear or flight or depression (this latter termed, “anger directed toward oneself”) the body produces adrenaline.
When faced with the choice of fight or flight, various hormones cause the lungs to breathe more deeply, and the heart beats more rapidly, the blood pressure rises, the blood is shifted away from the internal organs to where it is most needed, to the muscles, heart and brain.
How, then, can you cooperate with your body’s hormonal defense system? Primarily in two ways. All you do to keep good health (eat nutritious food, getting sufficient rest and sleep, and so forth) will give you a better reserve that the hormones can call upon in the case of danger. And, specifically, the better you learn to control your emotions the less you will be taxing or straining your vital organs. The Bible proverb is true: “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism.”—Prov. 14:30.
The Skin as a Defense
Not to be overlooked is the skin as one of the body’s defenses. It does indeed protect the body against invasion by harmful substances or organisms. It is well adapted for this purpose, having a dead yet antiseptic outer layer that is kept moist and pliable by perspiration and oily secretions. What can you do to cooperate with this defender of your body?
In the case of a cut or other wound, a good cleansing is of prime importance. For good skin there is also the need for proper nutrition. Thus we are told that severe skin disorders “appear early and conspicuously” in many cases of “nutritional deficiency.” And while daily showers or baths may have their aesthetic merits, they can harm when harsh soap is overused. According to one of America’s leading allergists, “a patient can take his daily baths without soaps and cleanse his body sufficiently by gently rubbing the skin with a dry towel after the bath.”
Good sense and modesty dictate that we credit the all-wise Creator and thank him for the defense systems in our bodies. Since good health is a most desirable state, wisdom on our part indicates that we cooperate with these defense mechanisms.
‘An inert preparation given to satisfy a patient or used in making experiments.’