VITAL FACULTY: IMMUNITY
Protecting the Organism from Diseasae
The immune system can't be localized to any organ or part of the body; the immune system is everywhere. Since exogenous pathogenic factors can attack from any quarter, the whole body must be protected.
The immune system defends the Self, or individual organism, from the not-self, or foreign invaders that threaten to attack it. What gives the organism, or physis, the unique stamp of its individuality is its genetic code, or the fact that all its cells, organs and tissues are descended from a single parent cell: the fertilized egg.
Immunity and the Four Faculties
Immunity is a joint effort encompassing all parts of the organism. Although each of the three primary faculties plays its part in immunity, the Vital Faculty is first and foremost among them, because it coordinates the immune response.
Vital Faculty: Vital Immunity and the Immune Response
The Vital Faculty coordinates the immune response, which is the vital, active, energetic manifestation of immunity in the organism. Vital Immunity takes the lead in protecting the organism, and all other aspects of immunity work together to support the vital immune response.
Since attacks and invasions of exogenous pathogenic factors can come from any quarter, the Vital Faculty utilizes its circulatory network, which pervades the entire organism, to coordinate the immune response. This cirdulatory network is the central nexxus of the Vital Faculty, and of the immune system.
The basic immune force of the organism which empowers and coordinates the vital immune response is the Thymos. Thymos means, "proud, bold, fierce" in Greek, which aptly describes its aggressive, defiant attitude as it actively protects the organism from infection and disease.
Thymos is the distilled essence of the vital principles, born of the fusion of the Vital Force and the Innate Heat. Its kinetic aspect is the motive force and biological intelligence that empowers and coordinates the immune response. Its thermal aspect asserts the metabolic presence of the host organism, which keeps exogenous microbes and pathogens, with their foreign energies and metabolisms, at bay.
Thymos is produced in the Thymus gland, the master gland of the immune system, and fed to the heart, from where it is circulated to every organ and tissue in the body. Each principal or noble organ receives its fair share of Thymos, and distributes portions of it to all its subsidiary organs and attendant vessels.
Optimum Vital Immunity depends on the inherent strength and vigor of the supporting vital functions: respiration, circulation and cellular metabolism. Of these, the primary and most important one is respiration; the more completely and efficiently the lungs can infuse oxygen, or fresh pneuma, into the blood, the healthier and more vigorous will be the immune response.
Optimum Vital Immunity also depends on the quality and purity of the humors, especially the blood, which is the vehicle for Thymos and the other vital principles. In this, there's a mutual feedback and influence loop between the Vital and Natural faculties; Natural derivations of the vital principles help generate the humors, which in turn act as physical vehicles for the vital principles.
In modern medical terms, Vital Immunity is roughly equivalent to cellular immunity, or phagocytosis and the activity of leukocytes, or white blood cells, in defending the orgnism against sepsis and infection. The T-cell lymphocytes, produced by the Thymus gland, are the leaders and teachers of the other white blood cells, and embody the active biological intelligence that coordinates the immune response.
Natural Faculty: Humoral Immunity
The Natural Faculty confers Humoral Immunity on the organism. Humoral Immunity supports Vital Immunity as the basic nutritive integrity of the organs and tissues and the nonspecific immune resistance of the organism to infection and disease.
Humoral Immunity is a product of the Radical Moisture, which is the distilled essence of the Natural Faculty and its Four Humors. The Radical Moisture bestows nutritive fullness and integrity to all the organs and tissues of the body, and to the Four Humors, especially the moist, flourishing Phlegmatic and Sanguine humors.
In the Fourth Digestion, a special highly potent and refined essence of all the humors is withheld from the organs and tissues; this is the Radical Moisture. From the liver, it is sent to the heart and then circulated to all the organs and tissues of the body. Each noble or principal organ gets its fair share, and then distributes portions of it to its various subsidiary organs and attendant vessels.
In Greek Medicine, immunity has two opposite yet complementary halves. The active, energetic half is Vital Immunity. Humoral Immunity is its passive, nutritive, Yin complement, and supports Vital Immunity as its material foundation.
In the healthy immune system, Vital Immunity and Humoral Immunity work closely together, hand in hand, mirroring the close cooperation between the Vital and Natural faculties. But in certain immune disorders, this harmonious cooperation begins to break down, and the immune system starts to attack itself.
Since the Radical Moisture is the end product of pepsis, or digestion and metabolism, a strong, efficient digestion is essential to optimal Humoral Immunity. The diet must also be balanced and have sufficient richness and variety; diets that are unbalanced, or too slender and restricted, deplete Humoral Immunity. Since the Radical Moisture tends to decline as we age, particularly past middle age, so does our Humoral Immunity.
In modern medical terms, Humoral Immunity refers to the formation and synthesis of immune globulins and antibodies. The nutritive integrity of the organs and tissues and their nonspecific resistance to infection and disease comes mainly from the immune globulins, the most important of which is gamma globulin, produced by the liver. The action of antibodies is more specific, to attach themselves to particular antigens and microbes.
Psychic Faculty: Psychoneuroimmunology
The Psychic Faculty contributes to, or detracts from, immunity, since positive, cheerful thoughts and attitudes strengthen immunity, whereas negative, gloomy ones and the stress and depression they generate depress or deplete it. This fact has been demonstrated, measured and proven by modern medical science; this is what modern holistic medicine calls psychoneuroimmunology.
Modern medicine explains the psychic dimension of immunity in terms of white blood cell activity and immune globulin formation. Chronic stress and worry also exhaust the adrenal glands, which support the vital immune response.
Greek Medicine explains it energetically and vitalistically. Positive, expansive, uplifting and noble thoughts and the feelings and emotions they generate strengthen and expand the Vital Spirits in the heart, whereas negative, constricting, ignoble thoughts, feelings and emotions weaken the Vital Spirits. As the Vital Spirits go, so goes the generation of Thymos and the other vital principles in the heart, and hence the health, quality and vigor of the vital immune response.
Hygienic Immunity: Toxins, Temperament and Terrain
Hygienic Immunity depends on proper hygiene, which creates both inner and outer bodily cleanliness and an equable balance of the humors and temperaments. Hygienic Immunity is much more emphasized in Greek Medicine than it is in modern medicine.
A body that's clean and in balance with itself is better able to heal itself and fight off disease. Pathogenic parasites and microbes feed on toxic metabolic wastes and morbid, superfluous humors. A body struggling under a heavy toxic load won't have a healthy or vigorous immune response.
Hygienic Immunity is doubly important in today's world of environmental pollution and a refined, denatured, devitalized food supply. With so many exogenous threats, we must give our immune systems every advantage by keeping the body clean and healthy.
Hygienic Immunity is compromised by imbalances of humor and temperament, which invite microbes and pathogenic factors of a similar nature to that of the imbalance to invade the organism. Since the humors hold the qualities and temperaments in place, imbalances of temperament are usually rooted in humoral imbalances.
Modern medicine is enamored with the germ theory of disease; microbes have been blamed for everything from the common cold to cancer. While Greek Medicine doesn't deny that microbes are involved in infectious diseases, it sees morbid imbalances of humor and temperament as being the primary predisposing factor. This is the biological or metabolic terrain, and a pathogenic microbe can easily infect a body whose morbid, toxic terrain is hospitable to it. If the terrain is clean and balanced, immune resistance will be strong, and the microbe won't be able to gain a foothold.
Many people suffer from chronic, low grade infections with vague, nebulous symptoms, which are due to a morbid, toxic terrain and compromised immunity. If allowed to persist, these infections will drain the host vitality and immunity even further.
The microbe involved may be a bacteria, virus, yeast or fungus. Microbes are opportunistic, and one way or another, the right one will arise to exploit the inherent weaknesses of the host's morbid, toxic terrain and its immune vulnerabilities.
A rather bizarre corollary of the immunological concept of the ground or terrain is the theory of pleiomorphism. It maintains that pathogenic microbes are able to "shapeshift" and change form in response to changes in their biological environment. A bacteria may become a yeast, virus or fungus and then return to its original form in order to survive or elude treatment. This is one explanation why chronic infections can be so difficult to eradicate. Although pleiomorphism may seem like a "twilight zone" concept on the fringes of reality, many on the cutting edge of holistic medicine now believe in its validity.
To remedy defects in Hygienic Immunity, we must cleanse the body, both inwardly and outwardly, and put all its humors and temperaments back into balance. Then, immunity will improve, and the organism can fight off infection. This may come in the form of a dramatic healing crisis, or it may happen naturally and gradually.
The Four Elements and Immunity
Since immunity is a joint effort of the whole organism, each of the Four Elements and their respective humors play their part. These elemental manifestations of immunity are as follows:
FIRE: Ignis, Pepsis, Inflammation and Fever
The fiery aspect of immunity depends on having a good Ignis, or Innate Heat of metabolism. If the host metabolism is strong, foreign microbes will be held at bay.
If pepsis and the digestion and metabolism of the humors is strong, toxic residues and morbid, superfluous humors won't accumulate so easily, which benefits Hygienic Immunity.
Having a healthy, adequate secretion of caustic, Choleric stomach acid is crucial to the overall health and immunity of the entire digestive tract. Stomach acids kill foreign microbes that would otherwise cause fermentations and putrefactions in the gut.
The inflammatory response, which is made possible by Choleric residues in the bloodstream, is the main fiery manifestation of immunity. The four main signs of inflammation are Rubor (redness), Calor (heat), Dolor (pain) and Tumor (swelling).
To these basic four, Galen added a fifth: limited mobility. But this can be seen as the result of the histamine-induced swelling.
The inflammatory response is like a smelter's fire, purifying the affected area of debris and pathogenic matter and setting the stage for healing and regeneration. It's a natural protective response of the organism to trauma, infection or chronic irritation. In the healthy organism with a normal immune system, inflammation resolves into healing and regeneration, but in certain immune disorders, inflammation can become chronic and unresolved.
Inflammation is localized heat, but when heat spreads through the circulatory system and goes systemic, it becomes a fever. In Greek Medicine, fever is seen as a natural protective reaction of the organism, a form of systemic pepsis in which the body raises its level of metabolic heat to digest and consume superfluous pathogenic matter. The fire of fever was seen to be such a powerful purifying force that Hippocrates once said that, if allowed to create or provoke a fever, he could heal any disease.
Many fevers are broken through sweating. Sweat, the waste product of the Fire element, releases excess heat from the body.
AIR: Blood, Pneuma, Vital Immunity and the Surface Complex
The blood must be kept pure and free-flowing if it is to be a suitable vehicle for the Thymos and the other vital principles in their activation of the immune response. Stagnant, toxic blood isn't vital and lively, and has a low level of cellular immunity; it's also prone to sepsis and putrefaction.
The respiratory capacity and efficiency of the lungs determines how well the blood is infused with fresh oxygen and pneuma, or the Vital Force; the greater the oxygenation of the blood, the better the immune response will be. Air immunity is Vital Immunity.
The lungs work closely together with the skin, which also breathes through its pores, as the surface complex. This surface complex forms the outermost protective barrier of the organism against pathogenic invasion.
When the surface complex is under attack, the skin's pores will close off against the invader, and transpiration fluids will back up into the lungs, causing coughing and lung congestion. If someone sweats too easily, or has a constant thin, furtive sweat, it's often a sign of a weak Vital Immunity and surface complex. Exogenous pathogens at the surface level of the organism are released through sweating.
WATER: The Lymphatic System and the Mucosal Barrier
The lymphatic system is the Water element's main organ of immunity. Its Expulsive virtue and function purifies the organism and all its vital fluids; this purifying action benefits Hygienic Immunity. The lymphatic system also benefits Vital Immunity by producing lymphocytes, or white blood cells that fight infection in the immune response.
Throughout the body, there are lymph nodes that filter and purify the lymph. The lymphatic ducts carry lymph to the lymph nodes, where high concentrations of lymphocytes consume all offending microbes and pathogenic matter. These lymph nodes and patches of lymphatic tissue are most densely concentrated where the challenges of sepsis and infection are the greatest: the throat (tonsils), the intestines (Peyer's patches and appendix), the neck (submandibular, cervical and subclavicular lymph nodes), the breasts and armpits (mammary and axillary lymph nodes) and the groin (inguinal lymph nodes).
The largest lymphatic organ in the body is the spleen, which is the central hub of the lymphatic system. Through the chelating action of its black bile, the spleen cleanses the blood and lymph of particulate debris and microbes, and so greatly benefits immunity. You may be able to live without a spleen, and your immune system may still be able to function, but its functional reserve capacity will be severely depleted. When a severe immune crisis comes along, those without a spleen may not be able to cope.
The heart, lungs and brain are each enclosed by protective sacks in an internal ocean of serous fluid which also forms an important immune barrier around these organs. The mucous secretions of the respiratory, digestive and genitourinary mucosa also have a cleansing Expulsive virtue, and form important immune barriers against the invasion of exogenous microbes and pathogenic matter. The health, balance and immune viability of these mucous secretions is strongly influenced by the overall balance of humors and the biological / metabolic terrain of the organism.
EARTH: Cysts, Opsonization and Intestinal Flora
The Earth element's Retentive virtue can be seen in the process of cyst formation, which is a protective response of the organism to isolate and marginalize pathogenic matter by encapsulating it in a sack or coccoon of fibrous tissue. The action of Earth can also be seen in opsonization, which is the binding or coagulation of antibody to antigen; this marks the pathogenic invader, making it heavy, bulky, and easy to target and destroy.
Closely related to opsonization is chelation, or the binding of certain substances to pathogenic matter to render it inert and fit for explulsion. Through the chelating action of black bile, the spleen filters and cleanses the blood and lymph of all microbes, debris, pathogens and particulate matter.
The colon, which makes the earthy excrement, feces, is like a garden that grows intestinal flora. If the overall biological and metabolic terrain of the organism is good, beneficial probiotic flora will grow and flourish; if this terrain is morbid and unbalanced, pathogenic microbes and parasites will take over. In protecting the health, hygiene and proper eliminative functioning of the digestive tract, the state of our intestinal flora has a profound impact on our overall immunity.
The Four Temperaments and Immunity
Since immunity is both physical and psychological, Greek Medicine sees a deep connection between immunity and the Four Temperaments, or bodymind types. Each of the Four Temperaments has its own characteristic patterns and predispositions of immunity in both function and dysfunction. These are:
Choleric: A strong Innate Heat, and a tendency to manifest strong fevers and inflammatory reactions. When functioning properly, a strong Ignis and pepsis produce a good ability to neutralize and eliminate toxins; immune reactions are swift and decisive.
When imbalanced or dysfunctional, the Innate Heat goes into overdrive, feeding an agitated, hyperactive Thymos, predisposing the immune system to hyperreactivity, chronic inflammation and various allergic or autoimmune reactions. Over time, a hyperactive
Ignis and Thymos start to consume the Radical Moisture, aggravating immune system hyperreactivity, chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. The sharp, caustic, irritable Choleric disposition is reflected in this type's immune function.
Sanguine: Generally the most balanced, healthy immune function of all. Blood, Sanguine's dominant humor, is the vehicle for the Vital Faculty, which coordinates the immune response. Blood's moderate heat is conducive to a balanced Innate Heat and Thymos; blood's moderate moisture gives Sanguines a good supply of the Radical Moisture. This balances both Vital and Humoral Immunity. Psychologically, the joyful, optimistic, sociable outlook of Sanguines is conducive to optimal immunity.
However, the Sanguine immunity does have its vulnerabilities. The lungs and respiratory tract can be a sensitive problem area in some individuals, prone to congestion and catarrh. The Sanguine pepsis can be overwhelmed by overeating, leading to metabolic wastes and toxins that can compromise immunity. Excess superfluities of blood can congest and stagnate, compromising its Thymos and immune function. Putrefactions of blood and other humors, caused by excessive warmth and moisture, as well as congestion and stagnation, are another Sanguine vulnerability.
Phlegmatic: Strong Water and weak Fire, weak Innate Heat. Pepsis and the neutralization of toxins tends to be weak and deficient, compromising Hygienic Immunity. Metabolic residues, especially excess phlegm, which increases vulnerability to colds and respiratory infections. These respiratory healing crises are often the way the organism cleanses itself of accumulations of excess phlegm.
Since moisture and anabolic processes predominate in the Phlegmatic constitution, the Radical Moisture is abundant, and Humoral Immunity tends to be strong. These factors, which support the nonspecific immune resistance of the organism, are the Phlegmatic type's greatest strength.
Excess phlegm in Phlegmatics tends to impede the flow of Thymos and the other vital principles, making the vital immune response slow and sluggish. Lymphatic congestion and obstruction can also impede the purification and circulation of lymph and other vital fluids, causing toxicity in the organism that can also compromise immunity.
Melancholic: Since black bile is contrary to blood in its basic qualities, the Melancholic immunity is generally the poorest. Melancholic coldness doesn't favor sufficient Innate Heat and Thymos; neither does Melancholic dryness favor the Radical Moisture and basic Humoral Immunity.
The digestive tract and its functioning is a key problem area for Melancholics. Because digestion tends to be weak or faulty, the Radical Moisture, its end product, tends to be deficient. Intestinal immunity also tends to be poor, making probiotics and the cultivation of beneficial intestinal flora a key concern.
When the Melancholic type takes care of himself, immunity manages to remain modest yet passable. But if the diet, digestion and metabolism aren't well-regulated, morbid, toxic forms of black bile can accumulate, which can derange the immune system and further consume the Radical Moisture, bringing digestive and respiratory allergies and autoimmune disorders.
The moody, morose Melancholic mental and emotional outlook doesn't favor healthy immunity either. Austerity, loneliness and withdrawal also take their toll, and deplete immunity.
Immunity and the Four Stages of Life
The immune system is usually at its most vulnerable in the very young and the very old. In the very young, the immune system is still growing and developing; in the very old, the immune system is degenerating.
The foetus doesn't have its own immune system, otherwise it would reject its mother. The immune system is activated, along with the Vital Faculty, when the newborn takes his/her first breath.
Since the immune system was nonexistent before birth, it must grow and develop very quickly during infancy and early childhood. From birth until age seven are the critical years, when the child's sense of selfhood is developing, along with his/her immune system.
Fortunately, Nature has provided an important and valuable way for the mother to nourish and aid the growth of her baby's immune system. It's called breast feeding, which is immunologically vastly superior to synthetic baby formulas. Particularly important is the colostrum that flows in the first few days after birth; it's incredibly rich in nutritional immune factors.
After infancy and breast feeding, the child's immune system must be exercised and programmed through actual contact with various microbes and pathogenic factors to acquire immune resistance. During this process, the child will inevitably catch some colds, respiratory infections, and even some childhood diseases. But this natural way of exposure is the best way to exercise and develop immunity, and ultimately there's no substitute for it.
By young adulthood, the flame of Ignis has reached its peak output and efficiency, and so has the immune system. During the Melancholic years of maturity and middle age, the flame, and the immune system, start to decline, and immune vulnerabilities start to creep in. In old age, the reserves of Radical Moisture get very low, and immune decline accelerates into degeneration.
In old age, the immune system is so delicate and vulnerable that what would have been an ordinary cold in one's prime can become full-blown, life-threatening pneumonia. Other degenerative disorders of the immune system, like rheumatoid arthritis, are also common.
To the immune system, life is a battle that must be fought. In the course of life's battle, there may be some blows that will knock the immune system for a loop, but Nature has provided it with the means of recovery and regeneration.
Modern Medicine and the Immune System
From the natural, holistic perspective of Greek Medicine, modern medicine has several treatments and practices which, immunologically, are questionable at best, and downright dangerous at worst. In general, these practices either weaken or suppress the immune system on the one hand, or pervert or unnaturally stimulate it on the other.
The modern medical establishment hails vaccination as one of the great advances of modern medicine in combatting the scourge of infectious and childhood diseases. But this practice is questionable and mixed in its effects at best.
Although vaccination does stimulate and program the immune system to produce antibodies against various potentially life threatening diseases, it does so through routes of exposure that are basically unnatural. Many holistic physicians claim that vaccination unnaturally hyperstimulates the immune system; they cite the rapidly increasing incidence of autoimmune disorders in aging baby boomers, who were the first recipients of mass vaccinations. And adverse or debilitating reactions to vaccinations are quite common.
Vaccination also provides the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccines with a great marketing vehicle. For every new dreaded disease that comes along, they can create and sell a new vaccine.
Rather than develop an endless array of specific immunizations, Greek Medicine prefers to strengthen and assist host immunity and the cathartic and immune responses of the organism by natural means. These include herbal medicine and hygienic purification treatments. Homeopathy is another great way to stimulate the immune response naturally, especially in colds, flu and childhood diseases.
Antibiotics, once the wonder drugs of modern medicine, are starting to show their shortcomings. Originally meant to be used only in life threatening infections, antibiotics are now vastly overused. This overuse and overexposure has led to the rise of "superbugs" resistant to multiple antibiotics. Since antibiotics were developed from fungi, they can also cause secondary fungal or yeast infections. The current abuse and overuse of antibiotics has also allowed our natural immune defenses to weaken and atrophy.
And there's a lot of immune suppression going on in modern medicine also. Massive immune suppression keeps an organ transplant recipient from rejecting the transplanted organ. But this is ultimately a value judgement: when our very life is at stake, most of us would choose life over our immune systems.
But a lot of the immunosuppressive treatments of modern medicine are largely unnecessary. In autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, for examp9le, modern medicine has no better solution than to suppress all immune responses of the organism, both good and bad. But many medicinal herbs are powerful immunomodulators that strengthen healthy immune responses while reducing destructive allergic and autoimmune responses. Unlike dead chemicals, herbal medicines are living substances, endowed by their Creator with the biological intelligence of Life.
Keeping the Immune System Healthy Naturally
The best way to keep your immune system healthy is to do it naturally - in diet, lifestyle and medication. Fortunately, Greek Medicine offers many ways to do this.
To improve your Vital Immunity and keep it healthy, you must exercise the Vital Faculty regularly. Aerobic exercise is the best way to do this, and will better oxygenate the blood to vitalize the immune response. It also helps to breathe plenty of fresh air, and to have your living quarters well ventillated. Eating a diet of blood building foods and drinking blood cleansing herbal teas regularly help to keep the blood healthy. Sweats and saunas open up the peripheral circulation, and also cleanse the blood.
The best way to ensure healthy Humoral Immunity is to eat a sufficiently generous and varied diet. Dietary deficiencies and imbalances can lead to deficiencies of important nutritional immune factors. Certain herbal tonics and superfoods nourish the Radical Moisture that underlies Humoral Immunity. These include Royal Jelly and Spirulina.
Proper stress management is essential for keeping both Vital and Humoral immunity healthy. Keeping regular, sensible hours, getting sufficient sleep and rest, and doing stretching, relaxation and meditation are all good practices in this regard.
Hygienic Immunity is improved by periodic fasting, cleansing and purification treatments. To keep its immune function in good order, the human organism needs to be cleansed and overhauled periodically.
Think positive thoughts and maintain a healthy mental attitude. Stay socially committed and involved at home, at work, and at play. Find and pursue a constructive and worthwhile life purpose. And above all, don't give up hope and sink into despair.
Use natural herbal medicines whenever possible, and take herbal teas and tonics regularly. Avoid taking synthetic pharmaceutical drugs unless absolutely necessary. Literally hundreds of medicinal herbs have some beneficial effect on immunity, although some, like Echinacea or Goldenseal, are superstars in this regard.
Live a life of harmony and balance, following all the guidelines for your constitutional type, or temperament. When the humors and temperaments are all in balance, so is the organism. And when the whole organism is in balance, so is its immunity.