After understanding the landscape of chronic infections, we need to turn our attention to strategies to boost immunity, treat the infection directly, or both. But how do chronic infections take root to begin with?
With a robust immune system, many acute infections can be overcome efficiently, and recovery, rapid. Such is the case of a young child contracting an upper respiratory infection. After an initial bout of symptoms, and in most cases a high fever, they are up and running in no time. Infection cleared, life goes on. But what about an adult under stress who is sleep deprived and eating a poor diet? What if weeks go by and the body has not fully recovered? What if drugs are given to remedy symptoms (such as tylenol for a fever) in a way which suppresses the body’s immune response?
All too often this is case. Responsibilities to family and work cause us to prioritize pushing through an illness rather then resting until full recovery is achieved. The cost of this behavior, as well as the general suppression of immune function (such as over-consuming sugar), results in a weakened immune system and the potential for our body to never fully recover from an infection. At this point, the infection can be termed chronic, causing a low-level of symptoms that can persist for months to years.
In this instance, the treatment is more general and focused on reviving the immune system to its utmost capacity. The cornerstone of this is getting an adequate amount of sleep. Deprivation of sleep, over the long-haul, may be the single most prominent suppressor of immune system. The consumption of refined foods, especially sugars and grains, are a close second. Dietarily, the focus should be on organic vegetables for their calcium and vitamin C content as well as an abundance of animal fats to get ample amounts of vitamins A & D. For therapeutic amounts of these fat-soluble vitamins, cod liver oil is ideal.
Managing stress is also a top priority as chronic, elevated levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol has an immune-suppressing function. This is the main reason why high doses of steroid drugs such as prednisone are prescribed for a number of autoimmune conditions. One strategy for coping with chronic stress is a long night of sleep (often eight hours worth) but strategies to decompress during the day are equally as important. Meditation, prayer, biofeedback – there are many techniques which are known to increase a number of markers of immune function. One could argue that these methods don’t strengthen the immune system so much as stop it from being suppressed.
Once these lifestyle strategies are in place, you could supercharge your immune system by taking certain nutritional supplements or herbs that have both a historical and an evidence-based record of stimulating immune function. Perhaps the most well researched is Echinacea angustifolia root though there are a number of remedies that may be appropriate for specific immune challenges, such as elderberry syrup, which is a strong anti-viral well-suited for cold and flu season.
For long-term immune support, one of the most overlooked remedies is medicinal mushrooms which offer a host of unique compounds, particularly polysaccharides, which have a range of immune-boosting functions.
Finally, there is a time and a place to go beyond generalized care of the immune system and specifically target a known focus of infection. This is particularly true in the case of chronically infected tonsils or if a tooth that has had a root canal is diagnosed as harboring an infection. Working with a holistic practitioner is essential to uncover and treat these more complicated and hidden infections.
In the case of infections that are either permanent residents or suspected to be lifelong, such as herpes and lyme’s disease respectively, we must accept the fact that it is not the germ but the health of our immune system that is keeping these microbes in remission. Should our efforts wain, symptoms can flare-up and are quickly reminded to get back on course with the lifestyle strategies and remedies that keep our immune system strong.
It is interesting to note that the current model of the hygiene hypothesis, which has given rise to widespread use of antibiotics, is slowly giving way to a new idea, old friends hypothesis, which postulates that a certain degree of parasitic infection need be present for our immune system to stay trained and busy. In the absence of these microbes and parasites, the human immune system becomes predisposed to attacking itself, thereby setting the stage for a number of auto-immune conditions. This viewpoint has most recently been expressed in the work of Moises Velasquez-Manoff in his book An Epidemic of Absence. We need good microbes, but it appears we may need a few bad ones in the mix. The key then is balance whereby our body remains in a state of homeostasis.
In light of this, our task remains the same – keep the immune system strong, treat chronic infections and clear focal sites, and trust the immune system to monitor the rest. Unless reaching a dangerous level, do not suppress a fever or any other immune response from your body. Avoid antibiotics and work to rebuild the gut when it is indicated. To the best of your ability, remove environmental pollutants, toxic metals, and processed foods that suppress innate immunity. Finally, rely on lifestyle and natural remedies to tone the immune system and keep chronic infections dormant.