Your immune system is your body’s defense system. Its fundamental role is to protect the life of the body by distinguishing ‘self’ from ‘non-self’ and recognizing what needs to be destroyed (a cancer cell, virus, bacteria, environmental toxin, internal toxin). The stronger your immune system is, the more resistant to breast cancer you will be. It’s function is intimately connected to what you think and feel. (What is truly you and what is not you, and what do you need to destroy in your life?)
Emotions of faith, hope, joy, and a fighting spirit enhance immune function, while depression, lack of purpose, and repressed anger deplete it. Yoga and meditation can help your immune system to assist recovery after breast cancer. One study of 82 breast cancer patients who had undergone lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation found that women who practiced Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction had a more rapid immune cell recovery (specifically of T cells) after a 6 week intervention program than controls.[i]
If we define self as the “unique qualities and soul direction of an individual in relationship to the universal energy field,” then the immune system is a powerful barometer for how connected we are to our life’s meaning and purpose. Though we can have a well-paying job, status in our communities, a busy schedule, and outward success, our immune systems will let us know when we are not living our truth. We may become sick. Illness is the messenger, the catalyst for change.
Components of the Immune System
The Thymus Gland
- sits behind your upper sternum
- is the commander-in-chief for many of your white blood cells, training them and telling them what to do
- located in the upper left part of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and behind your stomach
- it is the largest mass of lymphatic tissue in the body, filled with white blood cells that are on duty to filter the blood, removing toxins
- macrophages in the spleen engulf and destroy foreign particles such as bacteria, viruses and circulating endotoxins as they are carried in the blood through the spleen
- Blood-purifying herbs activate the macrophages and help them do their job of devouring toxins. These include burdock root, goldenseal and echinacea.
- it contains Kupffer cells, which are white blood cells that surround, engulf and destroy toxins
- the liver manufactures one sixth of all the lymph in the body, which circulates everywhere
- lymphatic fluid can be circulated more efficiently through exercise, rebounding, deep diaphragmatic breathing and hydrotherapy
- contains lymphatic tissue and white blood cells that protect the intestines from infection
- If you have managed to keep them, your tonsils can be seen on either side in the back of your throat. They are composed of masses of lymphatic tissue, filled with macrophages that protect you from bacteria roaming around in your eustachian tubes, mouth, and throat.
Specialized Cells of Your Immune System
- the complement system is composed of proteins manufactured by the liver and spleen
- these orchestrated proteins are able to destroy cancer cells, viruses, bacteria and immune complexes
- This system is enhanced by herbs containing inulin, which include echinacea, burdock root and dandelion root.
White Blood Cells
There are several different types of white blood cells, each with its unique function.
- engulfs and digests debris that enters the bloodstream
- when it encounters a foreign organism, it summons helper T-cells to the scene
- Open and close your hands in front of you as though you are a macrophage engulfing and destroying foreign particles. Repeat the following phrases out loud, 3x each as you continue the arm movement.
- identifies the foreign substance or “enemy” and rushes to the spleen and lymph nodes where it stimulates the production of other cells to fight the infection
- Move your arms as though you are beckoning helpers to come to your aid and repeat the following phrases out loud, 3x each.
- this cell type is recruited and activated by the helper T-cell and specializes in killing cells of the body that have been invaded by foreign organisms, as well as cancer cells
- move your arms and hands as though you are shooting or targeting foreign organisms or cancer cells as you repeat the following phrases out loud, 3x each.
- these cells are housed in the spleen or the lymph nodes and are activated to replicate by the helper T cell
- Produce potent chemical weapons called antibodies that are protein molecules. The B cell rushes to the infection site with its antibodies and either neutralizes the enemy or marks it for attack by other cells or chemicals.
- Punch out with alternate closed fists as though you are knocking down any enemies while you repeat the following phrases out loud, 3x each.
- slows down or stops the activity of B cells and other T cells, playing an important role in calling off the attack once an infection has been conquered
- too few suppressor T-cells will be linked to an overactive immune system, resulting in autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and lupus
- Use your hands to make the “time out” hand gesture with the left hand flat, palm down and the right fingers perpendicular touching it underneath to form the letter “T”. Repeat the following phrases out loud, 3x each.
- is generated during an initial infection and may circulate in the blood or lymph for years, allowing the body to respond more quickly to future infections
- Make circles with the fingers of each hand and place them around your eyes, as though you are looking through binoculars. As you look around you, repeat the following phrases out loud, 3x each.
[i] Lengacher CA, Kip KE, Post-White J et al. Lymphocyte recovery after breast cancer treatment and mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy. Biol res Nurs 2013 Jan;15(1):37-47.