There are any number of books you can buy that promise you'll be able to live to 200, run marathons and never catch a cold in your life if you follow their rules (all at $16.99, obviously). In practice, what you actually need is something that makes you realise you need to get on top of things a bit, then some iron will for a few months while you clear your body out and let it get back to a more "natural" diet and state. Then just eat decent food and you'll be fine.
What actually is the immune system?
This is not a discussion in great medical detail, for that please look to the link below, but the core of the matter is: your immune system is to all intents and purposes your lymph system. Remember that liquid that comes out of cuts? Or when you had mumps when you were a kid? That lymph system, with its focused nodes under your chin and arms is the thing that keeps you together. Initial research suggests that those people with Lymphagioma or Cystic Hygroma (defects in the growth of the lymph system) actually end up with a compromised immune system as a result of abnormal growth and operations on those lymph nodes. So if you can, be gentle with them! And if you have to be rough on them, it's worth following the diet below.
If you want to know more about the medical background of the immune system, there are some great university lectures on the web such as this one. you can find all sorts if you type in "+immune" and "+lymph" in to any decent search engine.
How would I be feeling if my immune system was "compromised"?
There are several things that can happen, and a lot of them link in to symptoms of full blown diseases - or can become diseases if your initial symptoms aren't checked. Two primary linkages happen here: one is with Diabetes and another is with a condition known as Candida, which in a frustrating way also shows signs of Diabetes (just to confuse matters). Your Hormones can also be affected by extreme tiredness so you might get some odd symptoms as a result of that. There is a (C) next to symptoms more allied to Candida in the list below:
So why is this Candida thing important?
Sometimes we forget that we are biological entities and have living things that aren't actually "us" helping keeping us going - like digestive flora and bacteria. Candida is actually fungal and is present in just about all human beings, and in a healthy person with a good balanced diet, it's kept in check by bacteria associated with live yoghurts and the like. However, as soon as your immune system starts to become compromised, it can start running riot. It also lives for carbohydrates, so it actively wants you to eat pastry, and it loves sugar. Once you've become run down enough for it to take hold, it'll grab you and drag you down faster. Ironically it is it's own worst enemy in that at least it actually shows itself to you, but it's also hellishly difficult to get rid of. There is some advice below that will keep it in check, but if you really want to get shot of it, if you think you can check off any of those symptoms above, then go and see your GP who will be able to do some tests. And be prepared for a long haul. The good news is that if you keep an eye on it, it's not desperately awful if it keeps trying to catch you unawares in the background - as long as you know it's there.
How could I end up compromising my immune system other than Candida?
In a word: stress. Another important association with stress is adrenalin, which can have a deleterious effect on your body if you drive yourself on it all the time. Actually, there's other important stuff too about eating and drinking chemicals in food that actively "help" (if that's the right word) your body to start to not work properly. But it's very, very important to realise that we are animals and our bodies don't seem to like working 12 hour days behind desks, getting no exercise and eating pre-prepared food that's been sprayed with weedkiller.
The logical argument is that the human body's evolution has been gradual over many thousands of years. It is only in the last couple of hundred that we've been bombarding it with so many new experiences, both mentally and physiologically that it's finding it difficult to cope. One of the consequences of modern living is that your vital stuff - your immune system, begins to deteriorate after years of being hammered with dayglo sweets as a kid, through to prepacked food and yawning at your desk at 10pm in front of the computer after finishing the latest work that had to be done by morning. I know, it all sounds very dull and worthy, but these things aren't cliches for nothing.
So what's the solution?
Well... it's not too bad. it can be tough at the beginning though, but you might find your evangelical zeal gets you through the first couple of weeks. after that it's a doddle. First things first, and this is a good tip for anyone to do regularly. It'll really stop Candida in it's tracks as well as shock your body in to feeling heathly again. You need to do a good, long stretch of detoxing. Not drinking weird drinks you can buy over the counter in the hope that that will sort it out in 3 days, but at least a month (longer if you can stand it) of trying to give your body only the kind of food that it's evolved to cope with and nothing that's been introduced in the last couple of centuries. So here's a long list of things you *shouldn't* eat. Grit your teeth - it is possible and it does bring back your energy and wellbeing. So, no more:
And specially for you Candida suffers: this makes the above look like a picnic, frankly, but because Candida is fungal you want to steer clear of mushrooms, yeast and anything fermented (soy sauce is another example). On top of that you want fruit, and fruit juice is a no-no. There's enough sugar in those things to help your little bugs to keep going even without the cake and sugar. But try not to weep too hard - remember, it doesn't last forever. Granted, if you actually *have* got Candida then you need to keep going for a bit longer with abstinence, but you can do it. Many thousands of people have done this in the past out of choice, and you won't be the last.
So. I can't eat 90% of the food I usually eat. What should I do instead then?
Try to think that you want your body to have *real* food. So when you're buying any food to eat or better still, buying ingredients to cook at home, think of those magic words "no additives" - everything that's in the food should be simple, "natural" (contentious word so then we'll say that the ingredients should be non-'tampered with' or chemically derived) and "primary" ie: as wholefood is. Once you get in to the home cooking aspect of this, it becomes something positively enjoyable - getting to know your body again and giving it the decent stuff it really wants to have as fuel.
Second big point to remember here is that buzzword du jour: organic. There's a reason organic foods are growing in popularity, and it's not just because it's a fad (which it obviously is). Organic foods really are very, very good for your body. When humans were evolving, they were genetically mutated to eat the only food that was available at the time - and that was organic by default, there being no crop spraying available at the time. Factory made chemicals genuinely do mess up your immune system. And that's as good a reason to eat organic as any other considerations. For that reason as well it's worth at least remaining sceptical of GMO crops. Though this isn't an entry based on an ideological argument.
Try also to keep to chicken and fish rather than red meats, if only because you're trying to give your body a breather.
Quick note for Vegetarians:
You will probably over the years have eaten less and less decent protein and eaten more and more take away pasta and pizza (tell me I'm wrong!) and putting a load of vegetables in the oven for a fashionable roasted veg supper. Bad news in doing that is you're getting absolutely no protein in your diet, so you will have to really bolster up your pulse and nut eating. Don't go mad and eat fifteen eggs a week, but make sure you've got protein in every meal you eat. Your body needs tht concentrated energy to help itself keep the immune system boosted.
Supplements and extras to keep in mind
Water. And lots of it. Water is almost the most important thing in this entry. If it's even feasibly possible and if you're rich enough, you should try to drink mineral water from glass bottles (still, not fizzy) but given that we live in the real world then try to buy a standard bottle of mineral water every day, and try to not just get through it, but to refill it from the water cooler at work or buy another one. Again, it is worth remaining sceptical of the claims made by our water companies. Even filtering tap water, it is still the case that there are chemical residues and even minute amounts of drugs in the water supply that can't be removed in the normal treatment process. If you're trying to give your body a clear run for a while, it's worth making the investment in buying good mineral water.
That other fad, Echinacea also does work but only if you take it as advised (and tincture is definitely the way to go), as does Cat's Claw which is absolutely excellent. When you do feel a cold or anything grim coming on, whack both of those two in to your system and make sure you're drinking plenty of water - it really helps.
And it's worth reiterating that this whole system really actually works. You genuinely will feel more "at one" with the physical side of yourself, and you'll have more energy too. Who knows, you might even not get that many colds, but there are no guarantees!
Lastly, as a musing point perhaps for anyone who wants to discuss this further, there are enormous parallels to be made between acupuncture energy points on the body and lymph system function. Acupuncture does not attempt to cure, as such, but it does focus on the body's energy and balance - key areas that tap straight back in to how you are coping with stress, how tired you are and possible candida symptoms. With that in mind it might be worth checking out a decent acupuncturist in your area and also doing a bit of reading about Chi - the Chinese word for body strength. If you are low on Chi, it is recommended that you eat, amongst other things, plenty of spring onions, ginger and melon - all of which have been proven by Western Medicine to be very beneficial to the system. All very interesting stuff that warrants individual research and attention.