A healthy body has a strong immune system and won’t get sick. If the body’s sick, the immune system is sick.
The only permanent way to good health is via the immune system, and nutrition gives the immune system the firepower to keep the body well.
Under the right conditions, the body will naturally strive to maintain balance within - it's armed with it's own complete detox system, specifically the liver, kidneys, lymphatics, skin and lungs to do this very thing. No matter what stage of life the body is in, all naturally-occurring substances in the body work towards this end.
In this modern time, we know a bit about the role of the Immune System. 50-odd years ago, we didn’t, because there wasn't the technology to measure or identify it. However, today there are more and more studies talking about breakthroughs in immunotherapy, and how the immune system is now being tapped into in a very specific manner, instead of a global symptom-treating monopoly practice.
Pulling all this together, and unless we’re talking about a physical injury, we have to clean up the whole body during illness - you can't keep one disease and fix another. We do this with three steps:
- Alleviate the symptoms, i.e. pain/inflammation.
- Detox - clear out the toxins. And here's a top tip - if we don’t detoxify the body regularly, there will be too many accumulated toxins in the way for the body to function correctly.
- Fortify - nourish the body by feeding the right foods which contain the right nutrients to fuel the immune system.
The Immune System
The immune system is the key to health. It's comprised of a series of glands and organs which promote the immune response which is controlled by the nervous system. The majority of the immune system comes from the digestive system, yet it all rests upon the vitality of the nervous system.
The immune system, the nervous system, and all the different senses communicate together with the outside world, all paying attention to every detail. It’s actually a difficult system to define anatomically – the immune system as a whole is involved in all the body’s systems and in all aspects of the body – it’s not just in the lungs or the gut or the liver, and so on. All the organs even have their own immune systems, for example, when a liver is dissected, the naked eye can actually see blue cells, the macrophages, which are the liver’s own white blood cells (the toxin-busters) which are the liver’s own immune system.
The whole immune system is monitoring and modulating every activity inside, and outside, the body, the body’s response to what’s going on everywhere, how it's feeling, what's being eaten, drunk, inhaled. It’s a regulatory mechanism; something comes in, it rises to meet it, deals with it and settles back down again. It’s all about my favourite word, everything in perfect balance.
The Immune System serves as the body's greatest defence mechanism; immunity is designed to protect the body from any kind of pathogen or other foreign substance. Yet it's much more than a system fortress; immunity represents an ecological interface between the inner and outer environments.
The immune system is the absolute key to homeostasis. It's comprised of a series of glands and organs which promote the immune response which is controlled by the nervous system. The majority of the immune system comes from the gut tissue, yet it all rests upon the vitality of the nervous system. As a whole, it should work harmoniously together like cogs in a wheel.
The immune system, the nervous system, and all the different senses communicate together with the outside world, all paying attention to every detail. It’s actually a difficult system to define anatomically – the immune system as a ‘whole’ is involved in all the body’s systems and in all aspects of the body – it’s not just in the gut or the liver, and so on.
All the organs even have their own immune systems; i.e. when a liver is dissected, the naked eye can actually see blue cells, the macrophages, which are the liver’s own white blood cells (the killer army) which are the liver’s own immune system.
The whole immune system is monitoring and modulating every activity inside, and outside, the body; the body’s response to what’s going on everywhere, how it's feeling, what's being eaten, drunk and inhaled. It’s a regulatory mechanism; something comes in, the immune system rises to meet it, deals with the visitor and settles back down again.
The Immunity Alliance comprises:
- Lymphatic System
While it’s natural to think of the immune system as a stand-alone entity, the lymphatic system plays a major role in keeping the body healthy. This network system touches almost every part of the body system. It’s comprised of key organs and lymph nodes, transporting the body's draining system via lymph fluid, which also carries critical immune cells throughout the body, as well as digested fats, fat soluble vitamins and more. To support equine lymphatic health, brushing regularly stimulates this vital circulatory system.
- White Blood Cells
These are the front-line Killer-Army cells. Created in the bone marrow and stored in the blood and lymphatic system, these cells are essential for supporting immunity and fighting infections.
Considered the largest organ in the lymphatic system and located in the abxominal cavity, the spleen mostly acts as a blood filter and a storage system. Red blood cells carry oxygen to active muscle cells but when your horse is resting, around a third of the trillions of red blood cells are stored in the spleen. During strenuous exercise, or when the flight-or-flight response is triggered, the spleen contracts and releases the extra required red blood cells into circulation.
- Bone Marrow
This spongy tissue resides inside the bones and produces blood cells (erythrocytes and leukocytes), and platelets which help with clotting and white blood cells which fight against infection.
This gland is part of the lymphatic system which produces T cells, or lymphocytes, which help the adaptive immune system respond to pathogens.
Supporting Immune Health
Many things can compromise the immune system, and when that happens, the horse is at an increased risk of illness. For starters, over 80% of the body’s immunity is built in the intestinal tract by the friendly bacteria community that live there, so a healthy gut fed with appropriate, healthy nutrition is vital. Factor in stress, environment, work overload and age, and you have just some of the key factors where the immune system can become compromised.
When a horse is stressed, more nutrients are required and those available may not be in the proper proportion for the stressful situation. Stress can also increase steroid production, which will suppress the immune system.
If horses are malnourished, this impacts cell production. Even the well-fed horse can be at risk of suppression if his diet doesn't contain the necessary vitamins and minerals. Remember grandma saying ‘eat your vegetables’? Well, she was right.
Age can have an effect in both the young and the old. In the very young horse, the immune system is still developing: in the veteran, immunity diminishes as part of the ageing process. Whatever the age, a compromised immune system means less resistance to disease.
Prevention is the best route, and unless your horse needs a full body detox, tonics can be beneficial. With a carefully balanced boost to the immune system, the equine system will be better able to fight off illness and disease.
General tonics should be fed periodically and are especially beneficial in the spring and as we come into winter. Spring brings with it the new grass and seasonal allergies, and we've seen our own horses purposefully forage for new spring growth of herbs, particularly nettles, cleavers, hawthorn and yarrow especially.
Winter brings its own issues, with diminishing natural nourishment twinned with colder weather, so an immunity tonic is especially useful, particularly if the horse is elderly, has experienced a stressful experience, illness, or if the system is fatigued and compromised.
Note: If your horse's overall health is significantly compromised, see our DETOXING
page for more information.
So now let's look at the role of the gut, and how it can all goes wrong via The Leaky Gut Syndrome