Immune System

How The Immune System Works

The role of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. It is an extremely complicated system which uses different strategies to neutralise these invaders. The first line of defence of the immune system is the creation of a barrier, for example the skin produces antibacterial substances; the nose secretes mucus, the mouth produces saliva and the eyes release tears. If foreign organisms succeed in entering the body, they can then be expelled by specific mechanisms such as sneezing or coughing for example, or destroyed by the cells of the immune system before they proliferate and cause infections. Diseases occur when the immune system does not function properly.

The Organs of the Immune System

The bone Marrow:
It produces the cells of the immune system and is therefore an essential organ of defence of the body.

The thymus:
Situated in the chest between the breast bone and the heart, the thymus produces a type of cells called the T cells (see below). The thymus plays an important role in the immune system of babies and young children.

The following organs can be compared to battlefields where the cells of the immune system gather to fight off the enemies:

The spleen:
The spleen is located on the left side of the body above the abdomen. Its role is to filter the blood in search of foreign organisms.

The lymph nodes:
These small bean shaped organs can be found in various parts of the body such as the armpits, the groin, the neck, the gut, the abdomen and the chest. They filter the lymph to rid it of foreign micro-organisms. When there is immune response triggered by the presence of invaders, the nodes swell.

Lymph Nodules:
They include the appendix, tonsils and 'Peyers patches' in the intestine. Unlike lymph nodes, these tissues do not filter the lymph. Their role is to protect strategic areas of the body such as the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.

The Cells of the Immune System:
The white cells, also called leucocytes, arise in the bone marrow as stem cells. They are the soldiers of the immune system. Their number increases when there is invasion of micro- organisms. All white cells carry distinctive molecules that allow them to recognise each others and thus detect foreign substances, this is important because this system prevents the cells of the immune system from attacking healthy cells of the body (see auto immune diseases). White cells also have the ability to remember their enemies and should they reappear they will know how to neutralise them.

Stem cells transform into different types of cells, which themselves develop into different subsets. Each type of cells has a specific assignment: they act by either directly attacking the invaders or by communicating with other cells to launch immune responses.

There are five main groups of leucocytes: the lymphocytes, the monocytes, the neutrophils, the eosinophils and the basophils.

1. The lymphocytes
They represent 20-40% of the white cells. They include the B cells and T-cells and can be found in the lymphoid tissues. Each B cell and T cell is specific for a particular micro-organism or antigen . Lymphocytes also keep a blueprint of the invaders.

· T- cells
So called because they mature in the thymus, they represent the category of white cells which is the most involved in fighting infections. There are divided into the following sub-groups:

T helper cells (CD4+ T cells)
CD4+ T cells don't attack micro-organisms, they are the managers of the immune system: they help regulate the mechanism of immune response and co-ordinate the work of other cells in the most effective way. They are needed to activate many immune cells, including the B cells, which they stimulate to produce antibodies, or the cytotoxic cells (see below). They are themselves activated by macrophages who present them with an antigen fragment. CD4+ T cells release cytokines - chemical messengers that allow other white blood cells to communicate between them. CD4+ T cells play an important role in preventing the growth of abnormal cells such as cancer cells.

The cytotoxic cells (CD8+ T cells)
This type of T cells directly attacks micro-organisms. Each T killer cell carries receptors for one type of antigen. When they come into contact with another cell which they recognise as an antigen they bind to it and destroy it. CD8+ T cells are needed to kill certain tumour cells, viral-infected cells and sometimes parasites, but unfortunately they are also responsible for the rejection of tissue and organ grafts which they identify as foreign cells.

Suppressor T cells
These cells turn off the responses of B cells and cytotoxic T cells once the antigen has been destroyed thus preventing the white cells from attacking healthy cells.

· Natural Killer Cells (NK cells)
Their role is to destroy certain tumours and viral infected cells. Like CD8+ T cells, they kill on contact, but the difference between both cells is that NK cells attack without first having to recognise the antigens, hence their name "natural" killer cells.

· B -Cells
They are produced in the bone marrow and mature there or travel to the thymus where they become T cells. B cells produce antibodies with the help of T cells. Antibodies are specialised proteins programmed to target all types of antigens because they have receptors that can match and counteract each of them. When B cells recognise antigens, they produce antibodies that bind to them, engulf them and digest them. They also signal the presence of the invaders to other cells so that they can help them. Antibodies are subdivided in immunoglobulins: IgA, IgE, IgD, IgG and IgM.

2. The monocytes
They represent 5- 8% of leucocytes. They transform into macrophages, a group of scavengers that destroy micro-organisms. Macrophages continually search for foreign substances and initiate immune responses. When they encounter antigens they engulf them and consume them by releasing chemicals. They display pieces of these antigens on their surface and present them to B cells and T cells, by doing so they activate these cells to produce antibodies or perform other specific tasks. Macrophages are also responsible for getting rid of the debris and dead cells of viruses destroyed by other cells. They are found in strategic places that are not well defended such as the lungs, the abdominal and chest, under the top layer of the skin and the intestines.

3. Neutrophils
There are trillions of neutrophils (45- 70% of leucocytes). They are attracted to the micro-organisms, which they surround, and digest.

4. Eosinophils
This is a small group (1-3% of the white cells population) which kills parasites by releasing enzymes. Eosinophils also control the inflammatory process.

5. Basophils
They represent only 0-0.5% of the white cells. When they come into contact with an antigen they release histamine.


· Innate immunity
This is the immediate ability of the immune system cells to protect individuals against diseases because an immune response is automatically triggered when a foreign substance enters the body. White cells do not need to recognise the invaders or being previously exposed to them.

· Acquired or adaptive immunity
When a foreign substance enters the body the immune system takes several days to prepare its response First the white cells remember their previous contact with the invader and then they launch their attack.

When Things Go Wrong

The breakdown of the immune system:
A strong immune system keeps infections at bay; however there are many factors that can decrease the effectiveness of the immune system:

  • Chemicals: pesticides, herbicides, pollution.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, food intolerances.
  • Abuse substances: tobacco, alcohol, recreative drugs.
  • Stress. · Diseases, viral and fungal infections.
  • Hereditary factors.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Hormonal imbalance.
  • Injuries.
  • Chronic infection.
  • Medication.

Dysfunctions of the immune system:
Auto immune diseases Autoimmune diseases are chronic and debilitating. They are characterised by the inflammation and the destruction of healthy tissues. The immune system loses its ability to distinguish between 'self'' and 'non-self', it turns on itself and starts attacking healthy tissues which it identifies as foreign. Why this happens is still not known, it is believed that some organisms have the ability to expose only those parts of them that mimic the structure of an immune system protein thus causing the white cells to attack similar proteins including the good ones. Individuals with genetic predispositions are also more likely to suffer from auto immune diseases.

There are many different types of autoimmune diseases such as:

  • pernicious anaemia
  • Arthritis and associated forms
  • Asthma
  • Celiac
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
  • Colitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME)
  • Grave's Disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psoriasis
  • Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases

They affect organs connected to the nervous, gastrointestinal (stomach, guts, pancreas), respiratory (lungs) and endocrine (thyroid, pancreas, and adrenal glands) systems as well as the skin and connective tissues, muscles and blood (red blood cells). For example in hay fever the white cells react to pollen, a harmless substance, B cells produce large amounts of antibodies which release chemicals such as histamine thus causing inflammation. In scleroderma there is overproduction of cytokines which contribute to the hardening of the skin.

AARDA (The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association)
National Office
22100 Gratiot Ave.
E. Detroit, MI
Tel: (001) 586776 3900

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Building 31
Room 7A-50
31 Center Drive MSC 2520
Bethesda MD

The British Allergy Foundation
Deepdene House
30 Bellgrove Road
DA16 3PY
Tel: 020 8303 8525

Immuno deficiencies
Immuno deficiency diseases occur when the immune system fails to protect the body from invaders because there is malfunction or shortage of essential cells such as the T cells or antibodies, or overproduction of suppressor cells. The body is left exposed to repetitive infections. Immuno deficiency diseases are either inherited or acquired:

Inherited: primary immunodeficiencies (PIs)
Individuals with primary immunodeficiencies have inherited abnormal changes in cells of their immune system from one of their parents, which means that part of the body's immune system is missing or does not work properly because of a genetic defect. Often there is shortage of B cells and/or T cells deficiencies or complement or macrophage deficiencies.

Children in low age with primary immunodeficiencies generally suffer from chronic infections, but some immunodeficiencies can have an onset later in life and some may not show any symptoms. There are about 70 PIs ranging from mild forms to severe forms. Some are common diseases while others are rare, for example Selective IgA Deficiency occurs once in every 400 to 2,000 individuals whereas 1 in 1,000,000 children is born with Severe combined immunodificiency (SCID).

For further information contact:

Primary Immunodeficiency Association
Alliance House,
12 Caxton Street,
Tel: 020 7 976 7640

The Jeffrey Modell Foundation

National Primary Immunodeficiency Resource Center

Immune Deficiency Foundation
40 W. Chesapeake Avenue
Suite 308
Towson MD

Acquired Secondary immunodeficiencies
These disorders are caused by acquired defects in the immune function in a previously normal person. They can be caused by the HIV virus or malnutrition or aging. They can also affect patients who suffer from a prolonged illness such as cancer, or those with poor liver and kidney functions or whose spleen had to removed. It is believed that long term use of immunosuppressants, steroids, chemotherapy or radiation suppress the immune system because these drugs damage the stem cells in the bone marrow.

Organ rejection
The white cells identify the cells of the organ grafted as foreign and start attacking them, as a result the transplanted organ is damaged and fails. To prevent organ rejection doctors look for a suitable donor who shares the same genetically immunology as the recipient. The patient with the new organ is also given immunosuppressive drugs to inhibit the action of the killer cells. In April 2002 American researchers identified a cell that could help the body accept organ transplants thus avoiding long term use of immunosuppressants.


Conventional therapies
Generally infections are treated with antibiotics which can be given in the form of tablets or intravenously if necessary. Auto immune diseases are treated with drugs that suppress the immune system, whereas patients with immuno deficiencies take drugs to boost their immune system.

Steroids are manufactured versions of the body's natural hormones. They are used in auto immune diseases because of their ability to decrease the immune response by reducing the production of antibodies and inhibiting the action of T cells. Steroids may be given orally or in infusions. Prednisolone is the most commonly prescribed drug.

Steroids should never be suddenly stopped, doses should gradually be reduced or else the body will stop producing its own steroid hormone.

If steroids do not prove effective more powerful types of immunosuppressants such as cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, aziathiaprine and methotrexate can be given.

Side effects:
Long term use of immunosuppressants may cause ulcers, candida, diabetes, weight gain, insomnia, headaches, acne, cataracts, weakened bones and skin, high blood pressure, easy bruising and decreased growth in children. They can also increase the susceptibility to all infections and may cause immunodeficiencies.

The injection of small or non active amounts of a virus initiates an immune response which can be reproduced should the virus re-enter the body. Vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies which keep a blueprint of the antigens so that the next time they encounter them they can recognise them and neutralise them. This process is called active immunisation and is used as a preventive measure.

Sometimes antibodies are injected to produce quick but temporary immunity, this process id known as passive immunisation; for example it is used when an individual has been infected with snake venom. Vaccines containing an active part of the virus provide long lasting immunity but boosters are needed for those containing dead parts of the virus.

Biological response modifiers (BRMs)
Also called immunotherapy, this relatively new treatment involves the administration of cells that are defective in the body. BRMs are natural substances which activate the body's natural defences. They can be reproduced in laboratories through genetic engineering and hybridoma techniques (see below). They include interferons, interleukins, tumour necrosis factor, colony-stimulating factors and monoclonal antibodies. The use of BRMs is at an early stage of development because researchers are still investigating their toxicity; however they are showing promising results in the treatment of cancer.

Side effects
Biological response modifiers may cause flu-like symptoms, fatigue, and blood pressure. Patients need to be closely monitored during treatment.

· Interleukins
These chemical messengers are produced by cytokines (see page 2). Interleukin-12 (IL-12) and Interleukin-2 (IL-2) have been identified to play essential roles in immune responses, they stimulate the production and activity of lymphocytes such as T-cells, B-cells and natural killer cells.

· Interferon
This chemical is created when a cell is attacked by a virus. It signals other cells to arm themselves with antiviral substances in order to stop the viral infection. Researchers believe that some interferons may also stimulate NK cells, T cells, and macrophages. They are used in the treatment of cancer because they can prevent cells from multiplying.

· Tumour necrosis factor (TNF)
TNF is a type of cytokines that trigger inflammation during normal immune responses. Like interferons and interleukins, TNF stimulates the activity of the immune system cells and was also found to destroy tumour cells.

· The hematopoietic growth factors or Colony-Stimulating Factors (CSFs)
Unlike TNF, colony-stimulating factors do not directly affect tumour cells but they stimulate the production of both red and white blood cells in the bone marrow. They are administered to cancer patients because anticancer conventional treatments can damage the body's ability to make white blood cells and red blood cells.

· Monoclonal antibodies
Produced in a laboratory, they are pure antibodies manufactured by hybridoma cells: scientists inject antigens into mice so that their lymphocytes manufacture antibodies specific for these antigens. The lymphocytes are then removed and fused with laboratory-grown cells to create "hybrid" cells called hybridomas. The advantage of this therapy is that hybridomas can indefinitely produce large quantities of these pure antibodies and can be customised to meet the needs of each patient.

Intravenous Gamma Globulin IVGG
Antibody deficiencies as seen in primary immune deficiencies are treated with intravenous antibodies: The patient is regularly injected with antibodies extracted from the blood of healthy donors. The patient is usually tested to detect allergic reactions which may occur.

Gene therapy - Stem cells
It involves replacing a defective or missing gene with normal genes. The missing gene is plucked from a healthy individual and inserted into a harmless virus. Stem cells taken from the individual with the defective or missing gene are mixed with the virus carrying the missing gene and re injected into the bone marrow. Once in the body the virus will spread the gene. In early 2002 four boys with SCID ("the bubble boy disease") were successively treated with gene therapy in Paris.

Bone marrow transplant
Bone marrow transplants have been used for the last 20 years in the UK as a treatment for children with immunodeficiencies. Ideally cells are extracted from a sibling's bone marrow but if this is not possible a donor as closely matched as possible is used because transplantation of alternative donor T-cells can lead to severe Graft-versus-Host disease. This disease occurs when the donor's immune system reacts against the recipient's tissues. The newly transplanted cells do not recognise the tissues and organs as "self" and therefore attack them.

Complementary therapies
Complementary and alternative therapies have immuno-modulating properties: they can boost the immune system when it is depleted or suppress overactive cells in autoimmune diseases. Some therapies help the body eliminate toxins; others stimulate the activity of the white cells or induce relaxation.

The prevention of diseases is the bedrock of complementary and alternative medicine and consequently therapists recommend a few guidelines to maintain a strong immune system:

  • Keep a healthy lifestyle
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Have adequate sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Keep a positive attitude

In complementary and alternative medicine it is not the symptoms that are targeted but their underlying causes. Therapists believe that treating the symptoms solely is a short term solution which doesn't prevent the infection from reoccurring; besides viruses don't always get destroyed by antibiotics because they adapt themselves. Symptoms are perceived as an indication that the body is fighting an infection. Therapists believe that generally the body has the ability to heal itself; they will therefore aim to enhance the body's natural defences. During a cold the body's temperature rises so that heat can destroy viruses; fever indicates that the immune system is trying to neutralise infectious organisms and as such is not suppressed, unless dangerous, as this could lead to further degeneration.

During the first session the therapist will ask a series of questions about the patient's symptoms, lifestyle and environmental conditions. Treatments are individualised because each individual is seen as unique.

Mind techniques

The mind body connection:
Psychoneuroimmunology is a recent field in medicine that investigates the interactions between the brain and the immune system. It is believed that the brain is able to influence the activities of the immune system through the central nervous system and the neuroendocrine system. The cells of the central nervous system and those of the immune system communicate in a two way flow system: neuropeptides - hormones like chemicals - convey messages from the nervous system to the lymphocytes which feed some information back to the nervous system by also secreting neuropeptides.

It is now commonly accepted by most scientists that stress reduces the effectiveness of the immune system because it causes the levels of B cells and T cells to drop. Studies have shown that when an individual faces a stressful situation, the adrenal glands release cortisol, a stress hormone, which is at first beneficial because it provides energy to the brain, ultimately destroys lymphocytes. Equally serotonin and endorphins, two chemicals naturally produced in the body can activate natural killer cells during relaxation, laughter, or exercise and generally in individuals who have a positive attitude.

The correlation between the mind and body is one of the basic principles of complementary and alternative medicine. Patients are treated holistically, which means that the state of their body and mind is taken into account.

Research in Psychoneuroimmunology is now well documented. Recent studies are indicated below.

To read abstracts or view other studies visit the Medline website at click here.

- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, McGuire L, Psychoneuroimmunology and psychosomatic medicine: back to the future. Psychosom Med 2002 Jan-Feb;64(1):15-28.
- Yang EV, Glaser R.Stress-induced immunomodulation and the implications for health. Int Immunopharmacol 2002 Feb;2(2-3):315-24.
- Takahashi K, Iwase M, Yamashita K, The elevation of natural killer cell activity induced by laughter in a crossover designed study. Int J Mol Med 2001 Dec;8(6):645-50.
- Berk LS, Felten DL, Tan SA, Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Altern Ther Health Med 2001 Mar;7(2):62-72, 74. - Seaward BL. Humor's healing potential. Health Prog 1992 Apr;73(3):66-70.
- Mayr B, Mayr A. Interactions between the immune system and the psyche Tierarztl Prax Ausg K Klientiere Heimtiere 1998 Jul;26(4):230-5.

Hypnotherapy is a state that most of us naturally drift in and out of during the course of a day: when we become engrossed in a task or a film, when we drive home on 'automatic pilot', when daydreaming. During these moments, our conscious (critical, ethical, judgmental) mind is still active, but by-passed, so that the unconscious mind, which stores every event and corresponding emotion and is very receptive to suggestion, becomes more active.

Hypnotherapy itself can take several different forms. The most usual form is 'suggestion hypnotherapy', which aims to break patterns of thought and behaviour by means of positive suggestions and imagery.

When the patient is ready to enter the hypnotic trance, the therapist will make them relax by asking them to visualise a place or scene, or a counting method may be used. Depending on the problem, the therapist may proceed straight to implanting positive suggestions, or some analytic discussion may take place.

Hypnotherapy is usually a short-term treatment; up to ten weekly one hour sessions would be typical for many problems. Many therapists will teach the patient the skill of self-hypnosis, so that they may continue to benefit from hypnosis at home.

- Domangue BB, Margolis CG, Lieberman D, Kaji H. Biochemical correlates of hypnoanalgesia in arthritic pain patients.J Clin Psychiatry 1985 Jun;46(6):235-8 "Following hypnotherapy, there were clinically and statistically significant decreases in pain, anxiety, and depression and increases in beta-endorphin-like immunoreactive material."

- Nash MR. Salient findings in the hypnosis literature: April 2002. Int J Clin Exp Hypn 2002 Apr;50(2):202-7 "Four important investigations were reported during the latter part of 2001. Three of these studies focus specifically on if and how hypnotic interventions affect immune functions. In all 3 cases, measurable shifts in immune functioning are associated with hypnotic interventions."

For further information contact:

National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists
Suite B 12
Cross Street
Nelson BB9 7EN
Tel: 01282 716839

British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis
c/o Dept of Psychology
Grimsby General Hospital
Scartho Road
DN33 2BA
Tel: 01472 879 238

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
Neuro-linguistic programming is a form of psychotherapy that was devised in the 1970s by linguist John Grinder and therapist Richard Bandler. The main principle is that our life experiences programme the way we see the world and ourselves, and the way we communicate with others. The way we think is revealed not only by our choice of words, but through our body language and eye movements and even subtle changes in skin colour/perspiration. The therapist draws the patient's attention to any unconscious thought patterns that may be having a detrimental effect on the patient's overall mental and even physical well-being, and attempts to 're-programme' their responses to the situation.

Neuro-linguistic programming has applications in the general contexts of sport, business, sales and education, as it can be a powerful tool in fostering self-confidence and effective communication. However, as a form of therapy, the focus tends to be the patient's attitude towards their illness. For example, a neuro-linguistic therapist would interpret someone who views themselves as 'an asthmatic', rather than 'a person with asthma', as having let the condition take over. Negative patterns of thought are modified, so that the patient feels less limited by their illness, and their body's natural healing systems can be more effective; it is thought that the immune system may be stimulated by such a process.

Although neuro-linguistic programming is related to hypnotherapy, the practitioner does not usually induce a trance state in the patient. The patient and therapist will discuss the desired outcome of the therapy at each session, and what the patient feels they are doing to achieve it. The number of sessions required varies, but results are often seen after a relatively short period.

Many self-help books and videos are available, but it is advisable to consult a practitioner at the first stage.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
1 Regent Place
CV21 2PJ
Tel: 0870 443 5252

United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
167-169 Great Portland Street
Tel: 020 7436 3002

ANLP (Association for Neuro-Linguistic Programming)
PO Box 27071
Tel: 0870 241 3276

For over 5,000 years, different forms of yoga have been practised in India as a form of relaxation, and as an element of meditation. In the West, Hatha yoga (and its variation Iyengar yoga) is the most popular form; this aims to co-ordinate body, breath and mental focus, and is thought to release tension, detoxify the blood, increase oxygen absorption and improve respiration and hormonal circulation, as well as improving suppleness, stamina and strength. In addition, a form of yoga has been developed since the early 1920s to help people suffering from serious health problems - this is known as Yoga Therapy; it is a marriage of traditional yoga with modern medical knowledge.

There are two elements to Hatha yoga: the physical benefits are achieved through the application of asanas, physical postures, the spiritual balance is brought about by breathing techniques, called pranayama, which influence the flow of prana (life energy) throughout the body via channels called nadis. The seven chakras, points of focused energy which form a line down the centre of the body, are invigorated through yoga; these are associated with certain organs and activities within the body. There are about 80 main asanas, some of which focus on the thymus gland.

Yoga has no side effects, other than slight stiffness of muscles and joints when beginning. But it is important not to force your body into positions that are painful. Certain asanas may not be suitable for people with neck or back injuries, high blood pressure, circulatory problems heart disease, or disorders of the brain, eyes or ears. Ensure that a Hatha teacher is a member of the British Wheel of Yoga or the Iyengar Yoga Institute. Yoga Therapists should be members of the Yoga Biomedical Trust.

For further information contact:

The British Wheel of Yoga
25 Jermyn Street
NG34 7RU
Tel: 01529 306 851

The Iyengar Yoga Institute
223a Randolph Avenue
Maida Vale
W9 1NL
Tel: 020 7624 3080

The Yoga Therapy Centre / Yoga Biomedical Trust
4th floor
Royal London Homeopathic Hospital
60 Great Ormond Street
Tel: 020 7419 7195

Autogenic therapy
'Autogenic' means generated from within. The therapy is a form of deep relaxation, comparable to meditation, whereby a state of physical and mental rest is induced by autosuggestion (the silent repetition of a sequence of statements, typically: 'I am quiet and relaxed… my right arm feels comfortable and heavy and relaxed…' - continuing around the body).

The theory behind autogenic therapy is that by reminding ourselves of the feeling of true relaxation (when the arteries in our limbs open up, increasing blood flow and resulting in a warmth and heaviness) we can actually bring about that effect. The 'fight or flight' response to a perceived threat, which includes increased heartbeat, adrenaline secretion, decreased gastric movement and dilated pupils can sometimes be sustained in modern life for prolonged periods of stress; autogenic therapy is a way of switching off this mechanism, which brings both psychological and physical benefits. Through relaxation, the nervous system can tell the white cells to attack the foreign bodies or stop attacking self cells.

In the autogenic state, natural self-regulatory systems are able to function well, leading to balance between the left and right brain hemispheres, and supporting the immune system.

The training courses typically consist of 8 to 10 weekly sessions, alone or in a group, which last 90 minutes. The exercises should then be practised for about 10 minutes, several times a day. Autogenic therapy is practised either sitting in a chair or lying down; once mastered, it may be done in almost any environment.

Autogenic training may not be recommended for those suffering from diabetes, hypoglycaemia or heart conditions; it is also not suitable for some people who have a history of psychiatric problems. Consult your doctor first.

British Autogenic Society
Royal London Homeopathic Hospital
Great Ormond Street
Tel: 020 7713 6336

Other therapies by alphabetical order:

Acupuncture consists of the insertion of one or several small metal needles into the skin and underlying tissues at precise points on the body as a treatment for various disorders. Like Chinese herbalism (see above), acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine. An imbalance of yin and yang is thought to obstruct the vital life force, or the chi, in the body. The fundamental energy of the chi flows through 14 main meridians, or pathways, in the body, each in turn is associated with a major organ (liver, kidney, etc.) or body function.

The actual practice of acupuncture consists of inserting needles into any of hundreds of points located over the 12 basic meridians and over a number of specialised meridians. The typical insertion is 3 to 10 mm (0.1 to 0.4 inch) in depth; in some procedures insertions may be up to almost 25 cm (10 inches). Once inserted, a needle may be twisted, twirled, or connected to a low-voltage alternating current. The practitioner often inserts needles at a considerable distance from the point on which they are to act; for example, a needle inserted into the pad of the thumb is used to produce analgesia in the abdomen. Similarly, successive points on a specific meridian may affect widely different areas or conditions.

Other acupuncture techniques include moxibustion in which the herb moxa is burnt to create heat to stimulate the acupoints. In cupping, glass cups may be placed over the points in order to draw blood towards them. The practitioner can also gain information about the patient from studying the skin before and after this treatment.

Electro-acupuncture was developed in China in the 1950s. A low-intensity pulsing electric current is applied to the needles to stimulate the acupoints and can reach a number of acupoints simultaneously. Laser acupuncture directs a fine, low-energy laser beam on to the acupoint - particularly useful for patients with an aversion to needles.

Based on the theory that the immune system is connected to the nervous system it is believed that the stimulation of acupoints causes responses in the immune system (Mori H, Nishijo K, Kawamura H, Abo T. Unique immunomodulation by electro-acupuncture in humans possibly via stimulation of the autonomic nervous system. Neurosci Lett 2002 Mar 1;320(1-2):21-4)

- Joos S, Schott C, Zou H, Daniel V, Martin E. Immunomodulatory effects of acupuncture in the treatment of allergic asthma: a randomized controlled study. J Altern Complement Med 2000 Dec;6(6):519-25 "The results imply that asthma patients benefit from acupuncture treatment given in addition to conventional therapy. Furthermore, acupuncture performed in accordance with the principles of TCM showed significant immune-modulating effects."

For further information contact:

British Acupuncture Council
63 Jeddo Road
W12 9HQ
Tel: 020 873 0400

British Medical Acupuncture Society
12 Marbury House
Higher Whitley
Tel: 01925 730 727

Aromatherapy combines healing massage with oils that have the medicinal properties of plants. Essential oils, extracted from the roots, flowers, fruits, leaves and stalks of plants and certain trees, are absorbed in the body by inhalation and through the skin. The scents released in aromatherapy stimulate the hypothalamus, the area of the brain influencing the body's hormone system. It is thought that mood, metabolism and stress levels can be affected by smell. Clinical research into essential oils in the treatment of medical conditions is limited. It is not well understood how the oil molecules actually enter the bloodstream, but the psychological effects have been well studied. Essential oils are believed to be uplifting while others have a relaxing and calming effect. They also have analgesic (anti pain), anti - inflammation, antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

A range of oils is used in treatment (some are not appropriate in pregnancy, for young children or for certain conditions). Trained aromatherapists use high-quality, natural oils diluted in a "'carrier" oil or blended into a cream. Lower dilutions are used for sensitive skin and in pregnancy. Aromatherapy massage techniques are based on Swedish massage which aims to relieve tension in the body and to improve circulation as well as stimulating the lymphatic system to assist removal of metabolic wastes from the body. The patient may also be asked to use certain oils under the supervision of the practitioner in inhalations: adding a few drops on a handkerchief or in a bowl of hot water, or by using compresses and baths. Light bulb, candle lit or electric diffusers are also popular and relatively safe.

Essential oils should not be used neat on the skin or applied near the eyes. Although aromatherapy can be beneficial during pregnancy the following oils should not be used by pregnant women:
German camomile, clary sage, rosemary, basil, peppermint, cedarwood, cypress, juniper, hyssop, myrrh, nutmeg, origanum, fennel, pennyroyal, marjoram, cinnamon, and clove.

Rosemary, hyssop, sweet fennel, sage and wormwood should also be avoided by epileptics while peppermint and thyme must not be given to small children. Peppermint and camomile block the therapeutic effects of homeopathy, these oils should be used at least half an hour before taking homeopathy.

Examples of oils that boost the immune system: 

  • Basil
  • Black pepper
  • Eucalyptus
  • Grapefruit
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Niaouli
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Tea tree
  • Thyme

For further information contact:

International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA)
182 Chiswick High Road
W4 1PP
Tel: 020 8742 2605

International Society of Professional Aromatherapists
ISPA House
82 Ashby Road
LE10 1SN
Tel: 01455 637987

The Register of Qualified Aromatherapists
PO Box 3431
Tel: 01245 227957

Western and Chinese herbs can improve blood and lymphatic circulation and thus eliminate toxins. They also have antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties and can stimulate the activity of lymphocytes.

· Western herbalism
200-300 different herbs are used by Western herbalists. The petals, seeds, leaves, flowers, roots, berries and internal gel of plants are all used medicinally - the different parts of the same plant can have quite different properties, so it is important that the correct part is selected. They tend to be dried, but may also be used fresh.

The plants can be prepared in a variety of ways, and are often combined. The most common forms of preparation are:

- decoctions
- tough parts of the plant are boiled in water; the liquid containing the active ingredients is then strained.

- tinctures
- the herb is soaked in alcohol and water for two weeks, then strained in a muslin-lined wine press.

- infusions
- the herbs are covered with very hot water and left to steep for ten minutes. The resulting liquid is much like a tea, and may be sweetened with honey.

- infused oils
- used for massage, these oils may be made by placing the herbs and oil over heat, or they may just be left in sunlight.

- creams
- oil, water, glycerine and herbs are simmered for several hours, before being strained and left to set.

- ointments
- oil and herbs are combined over heat, then strained and left to set. These are particularly useful for when the skin needs to be protected from moisture.

- Tablets/capsules

Therapists ascertain whether their patient's body is predominantly hot or cold, as indicated by blood heat. Heat is symptomatic of over-activity in the functions of organs, and coldness, under-activity. It is also important to learn whether the body is damp (as indicated by clamminess and urine flow) or dry.

Further, 'herbal synergy' is important - this is the idea that the different natural chemicals that are found in a single plant all work together in the body. It is thought to explain why the chemicals, when extracted and used in isolation may have side effects, which do not occur if the whole plant is taken. For example, meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, which is the basis of the drug aspirin - aspirin can cause internal bleeding, but meadowsweet also contains tannin and mucilage, which protect the stomach.

· Chinese herbalism
Chinese herbalists and Western herbalists use many of the same herbs. The differences between the two therapies stem from the fact that Chinese herbalism is just one aspect of Chinese Traditional Medicine - an ancient and complex system of healing, based on the concept of Qi (chi), which consists of the two opposing forces, yin and yang.

A network of 'meridians' is said to run throughout the body, carrying the Qi - life energy - to all the organs of the body. Any blockage in the flow of Qi, or imbalance between the yin and yang natural forces, results in illness. Emotional turmoil, accidents, infection, poor diet and pollution may disturb yin and yang balance. In addition, each of the organs is associated with a particular element, taste, emotion and season. The practitioner understands that to treat a condition affecting a certain organ, herbs with a particular taste will be most effective. Equally, certain conditions are diagnosed as being 'hot'/'cool' or 'dry'/'damp', and must be treated with herbs with the opposite quality.

The practitioner prescribes a mixture of herbs, as whole herbs, roots or powders or tablets. Most often, the herbs are to be boiled in water, which is then drunk several times a day, for a few days.

Side effects and cautions
If the quality and purity of the herbs, and the skill of the practitioner are assured, adverse reactions are rare. Not all herbs suppliers in the UK are regulated. Possible problems with low quality herbs include: they may not be what they claim to be; they may be contaminated - intentionally or unintentionally - with toxic substances (such as lead, arsenic, mercury, or conventional drugs, such as corticosteroids or paracetamol). Buying herbs from the Internet is not advised.

A herbalist is not required to list the ingredients in a remedy they prescribe. It is therefore essential that this person is trustworthy. The best way to find a practitioner is through the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (see below). Their members have a minimum of five years training, including three in Western medicine.

Examples of immuno-stimulant plants:

- Aloe vera
- Astragalus
- Bayberry
- Bee propolis
- Calendula officinalis (Marigold)
- Cat's claw
- Curcumin
- Dang Kuei
- Echinacea pupurea (Coneflower)
- Evening primrose oil (see fact sheet)
- Garlic
- Ginger
- Gingko biloba
- Ginseng
- Goldenseal
- Gotu kola
- Green tea
- Inula helenium
- Licorice
- Ligustrum
- Maitake
- Milk Thistle
- Mistletoe
- Rosemary
- Sage
- Shitake mushroom
- St John's Wort
- Thymus vulgaris (Common Thyme)
- Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)

For further information contact:

National Institute of Medical Herbalists
56 Longbrook Street
Exeter EX4 6 AH
Tel: 01392 426 022

European Herbal Practitioners Association (EHPA)
45A Corsica Street
London N5 1JT
Tel: 020 7354 5067

Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine
PO Box 400
Tel: 020 8904 1357

· Homeopathy
1 The principle of similars or that "like cures like":
Homeopathic remedies treat illnesses with a substance that produces, in a healthy person, similar symptoms to those displayed by the person who is ill. The mainstream immunisation programme is based on a similar principle, but in homeopathy the remedy used does not infect the patient with the actual disease or virus; it produces similar symptoms to the disease, for example Allium Cepia, a remedy created from red onion, is used to treat patients whose symptoms include watery eyes and a runny nose.

2 The principle of infinitesimal dose:
Homeopathy works the opposite way of conventional medicine where a minimum dose is required for effect. Hahnemann believed that the more a remedy was diluted the more potent it became, the more specific its effects were and the longer they lasted. It is believed that homeopathic remedies are diluted to such a degree that no atom of the original substance is left in the final remedy, how the remedies work is not well understood hence the scepticism of many physicians. Homeopaths believe the answer is to be found in the domain of quantum physics, the water and alcohol mixture remember that the substance was once there. They claim that continued dilution and shaking or "succussion" can imprint the electromagnetic signal of a substance in the water. In 2001 two researchers, Kurt Geckeler and Shasadhar Samal confirmed this theory and proved that following the process of succussion, molecules do not disappear but clump together.

3 The principle of specificity of the individual:
The treatments are individualised: each individual has a symptom profile and it is likely that two individuals with the same condition will be given different medicines. Practitioners look at the whole person not just the condition. They will ask a series of questions about the medical history, moods, likes and dislikes, diet, chronic disorders or traumas of the patient in order to draw a list of symptoms, they pay special attention to unusual symptoms. The choice of remedies depends more on the patient's individual reaction to illness, mentally and emotionally, than on the signs and symptoms characteristic of the disease, for instance if a patient has headaches, it is not the headaches that will be treated but the person with the symptoms; depending on where the headache is located or when it occurs different remedies can be used. The remedy that fits all the symptoms of a person is called "similimum" for that person.

There are over 2000 homeopathic remedies, they are made from plants, minerals, metals or animals. Their Latin name indicates the substance they were created from.

Remedies should be taken at least half an hour before or after taking food or drink. Avoid strong-tasting substances such as peppermint (toothpaste that doesn't contain mint is available at health food stores), eucalyptus, camomile, camphor, coffee and tobacco. Granules or tablets should be dissolved under the tongue for best results and it is advised not to touch them with fingers otherwise they will lose their properties.

Long-standing complaints are believed to take longer to treat. Symptoms may often get worse before they begin to get better, this reaction is called "the healing crisis".

For further information contact:

British Homeopathic Association
15 Clerkenwell Close
Tel: 020 7566 7800

The Society of Homeopaths
4a Artizan Road
Tel: 01604 621400

Homeopathic Medical Association
6 Livingstone Road
DA12 5DZ
Tel: 01474 560336

The Institute of Homeopathy
23 Berkeley Road
Tel: 0117 944 5147

· Hydrotherapy
Water has important cleansing and supportive properties, and hydro-thermal therapy makes use of the additional effects of temperature on the body. Hydrothermal therapy: Different water temperatures, often alternated, are used to achieve certain effects: for example, hot water dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the skin and muscles. This improves circulation and the immune system. Waste products are effectively removed, while nutrients and oxygen are carried around the body. Cold water, on the other hand, stimulates the blood vessels near the skin's surface to constrict, sending blood away from the skin and towards the internal organs, improving their functioning and reducing inflammation.

There are many different methods of applying hydrotherapy, including:

Immersion baths
Cold rubbings
Sauna/steam room/Turkish bath
Wraps Packs/compresses
High-powered jets
Whirlpool baths

Colonic hydrotherapy:
Water is used to flush out toxins and waste from the colon, which also allows nutrients to be absorbed more easily. It is used to treat severe constipation, as well as irritable bowel syndrome, candida infections, and infertility problems. It is not recommended for infants and children.

For further information contact:

The Hydrotherapy Association
Unit 8 & 13
Woodside Park Industrial Estate
Catteshall Lane
Tel: 01483 426 999

· Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves the administration of 100% oxygen at a controlled pressure which is greater than surface pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy delivers oxygen quickly and in high concentrations. It is considered to be a more effective treatment than forcing oxygen into tissues by topical applications.

Oxygen is normally carried throughout the body in the red blood cells. The elevated pressure within the chamber causes the blood vessels to carry far more oxygen into the plasma than red cells in a healthy body; this increases the delivery of oxygen to the cells and purges toxins.

Antibacterial activity:
HBOT also boosts the immune system; it enhances the killing ability of white blood cells, which can then destroy germs, toxins and free radicals. For example HBOT neutralises the bacterium Clostridia which grows in the absence of oxygen and causes gas gangrene.

The treatment takes place in a special chamber that can accommodate one or several individuals. The pressure inside the system is gradually increased, patients can watch television or listen to music and parents can accompany their child in the chamber. The duration of the treatment is around 60 minutes. When the treatment is completed, normal pressure is restored slowly.

Side effects
The treatment may have some side effects such as ear discomfort (some children will require tubes in their ears), blocked sinuses or temporary changes in vision. HBOT is not recommended to patients with a lung abnormality.

For further information contact:

Hyperbaric Oxygen Trust for Brain Injured Children (HOT)
Ryton House
Primrose Lane
Forest Row
East Sussex
RH18 5LT
Tel: 01342 823127

Some multiple sclerosis centres in the UK offer HBOT, for further information contact the Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centres on: 01234 325 781.

A Breath for Life
Unit 4, Lake Enterprise Park
Ladies Walk
Tel: 01524 380 363
This charity offers various treatments: naturopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy and craniosacral therapy.

The Hyperbaric Medical Centre
Tamar Science Park
Research way
Plymouth PL6 8BU
Tel: 01752 209999

· Magnet therapy
The main therapeutic benefit of magnet therapy seems to be an increase of oxygen in the blood. Under the action of magnets, cells are revived and regenerated, the body can better absorb nutrients and heal itself. Magnets increase the blood flow, which has an effect on the lymphatic system as they carry waste away, they help flush lactic acid that builds up and thus help ease pain and inflammation.

Magnets are claimed to boost energy, increase the immune system and improve sleep patterns. They can be placed on the lymph nodes or meridians following the theory of acupuncture or on specific areas of the body which need healing. The length of the treatment varies from a few minutes to several hours.

· Massage
Massage orientated therapies can stimulate the lymph and drain toxins out of body. Massage is a hands-on technique used to stimulate the body through the skin, the body's largest sensory organ. Massage boosts the circulatory and immune systems and is part of many health systems; different techniques are practised and integrated into various complementary therapies.

Gentle massage can relax the body, trigger the release of endorphins, the body's own painkillers, and induce feelings of comfort and well-being.

Massage directly affects heart-rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion and skin tone. It can lower levels of stress hormones which weaken the immune system. Western (or Swedish) massage is generally given to a patient lying on a table. Different degrees and rhythms of pressure are used and a variety of techniques have been developed. Remedial massage focuses on conditions such as muscle strain. Manual lymph drainage (a gentle pumping massage) stimulates the lymphatic system to help eliminate metabolic wastes from the body.

Eastern massage, such as shiatsu, uses acupressure techniques applying pressure rather than stroking, aiming to balance energy forces in the body.

Most doctors endorse massage in the light of substantial clinical evidence and patients' experiences.

The general precautions for massage should be observed: seek medical advice if the patient has phlebitis, thrombosis, varicose veins, acute back pain or fever. Swellings, fractures, bruises and skin infections should not be massaged. Massage of the abdomen, legs and feet should not be given in the first three months of pregnancy. Cancer patients should be treated by specifically trained practitioners who have knowledge of which areas to avoid and which techniques are most appropriate.

For further information contact:

British Massage Therapy Council (BMTC)
78 Meadow Street
Tel: 01772 881 063

Massage Therapy Institute of Great Britain
PO Box 2726
Tel: 0208 2081607

London College of Massage
5-6 Newman Passage
Tel: 020 7637 7125

Good health is believed to be dependent on a number of factors working together: a healthy diet (wholefood, preferably organic); plenty of exercise and fresh air; and adequate sleep. Lack of these things plus pollution, negative attitudes and emotional or physical stress, can lead to a build up of "toxins" which can overload the immune system and upset the balance necessary to maintain good health.

The naturopath believes in the healing power of natural resources. Treatment is aimed at improving the patients' "vital force" which helps the body fight off disease. Naturopaths take a preventative and holistic approach and look for underlying causes of the presenting symptoms, believing that fevers and inflammation signify a weakening of the vital force, and the body's fight against intrusion. As such, they are not to be suppressed, unless dangerous, as this could lead to further degeneration.

Practitioners look at the patient's "Triad of Health", (their emotional well-being, their musculo-skeletal structure and their internal biochemistry), and then prescribe a range of therapies designed to improve circulation and digestion, increase the elimination of waste products and boost the immune system. These will vary according to the practitioner and may include fasting, exercise, diet and supplementation, herbal medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, physical therapies, life-style modification, counselling and touch therapies.

Many of the principles of naturopathy underpin conventional medical thought today and there is a lot of agreement about the importance of a wholefood diet low in fat and salt and high in fibre and antioxidants.

At the first consultation, the practitioner will examine the patient thoroughly, both through asking questions about their health and lifestyle and by carrying out conventional and less conventional physical tests, such as: blood pressure, reflexes, blood/urine sample, iris examination, sweat/hair analysis, muscles tests, posture.

For further information contact:

General Council and Register of Naturopaths
Goswell House
2 Goswell Road
BA16 0JG
Tel: 08707 456 984

The British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy
Lief House
3 Sumpter Close
120-122 Finchley Road
Tel: 020 7435 6464

National College of Naturopathic Medicine
049 S.W. Porter
Portland, OR
Phone: (503) 499-4343

· Nutrition
Although nutrition is nowadays well accepted as a preventative measure to avoid diseases, its therapeutic values are often dismissed. Nutritionists claim that eating the right food or the wrong food can have far reaching consequences.

Foods that boost the immune system:
Organic food should be preferred since pesticides can deplete the immune system. Fresh fruits and vegetables strengthen the immune system thanks to their high concentration of antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals - chemicals made by our body from normal metabolic processes such as digestion to help kill bacteria and viruses. When free radicals are produced in excess they suppress the immune system.

- Vitamins A: Found in carrots, dark green and yellow vegetables, eggs, milk, liver, fish liver oil.
- Vitamins C: Found in citrus fruits, currants, strawberries, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cauliflowers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsley, potatoes, spinach.
- Vitamin E: Found in wheat germ, soybeans, cereals, grains, seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, leafy greens, eggs, margarine, milk.
- Selenium: Found in seafood, kidney, liver, wheat germs, barley, bran, grains, nuts, oats, brewer's yeast, brown rice, cereals, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, onions, cider vinegar, dairy products, eggs.
- Coenzyme Q10: Available at health food stores in tablets or capsules.
- Pycnogenol: Available at health food stores (see fact sheet on pycnogenol for more information).
- Lycopene: Found in tomatoes it has been shown to be effective in the prevention of some cancers.
- Quercitin: Found in yellow and red onions, red grapes, broccoli, squash.

Other important vitamins and minerals:

- Acetyl-L-carnitine
- Calcium
- Chromium
- Colloidal silver
- Copper
- Essential fatty acids
- Folic acid
- Glutamine
- Glutathione
- Iron
- L-cysteine
- Lipoic acid
- Magnesium
- Potassium
- Vitamin B complex
- Zinc

Other considerations:

- A diet rich in fibres can also expel undigested food from the guts, thus preventing toxins and potential carcinogens from being released into the bloodstream.

- Digestive enzymes help break down proteins. Undigested proteins can leak into the blood stream through holes in the gut and trigger an unnecessary immune response.

- Probiotics encourage the growth of good bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus, bifido bacterium and lactobacillus bulgaricus. They produce organic compounds that increase the acidity of the intestine and prevent harmful bacteria from reproducing. They also secrete substances that act as natural antibiotics to kill micro-organisms.

- Rule out food intolerances (see fact sheets on allergies, gluten/casein allergies, candida).

- Eliminate additives (see fact sheet on the Feingold Food programme).

- Cruciferous vegetables contain chemicals called isothinocyanates which can inhibit carcinogens.

- Inositol hexaphosphate, an extract from brown rice has been shown to delay the onset of cancer in rats

- DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. Supplementation of DHEA may be beneficial because levels have been shown to decline with age and in autoimmune disorders.

- Melatonin is the main hormone produced by the pineal gland, it helps maintain a high immune system.

- Eliminate parasites with conventional or alternative medication.

Foods to avoid:
- Sugar.
- Processed food: It contains high concentrations of sugar, salt and additives
- Alcoholic drinks in excess and coffee. - Fried food because it increases the number of free radicals.
- Barbecued food is believed to contain high concentrations of carcinogens.

For more information contact:

London Nutrition Clinic
6 Ashbridge Road
E11 1NH
Tel: 020 8518 8442

Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION)
Blades Court
Deodar Road
SW15 2NU
Tel: 020 8877 9993

British Association of Nutritional Therapists
27 Old Gloucester Street
Tel: 08706 061284

· Reflexology
Reflexology is a form of foot (and occasionally hand) massage, which is not only relaxing but is also used as a therapy for a variety of medical conditions. It is based on the principle that every part of the body is reflected in a precise area of the feet; by stimulating the appropriate 'reflex points', toxins (uric acid and calcium crystals) are cleared away, and the energy can flow freely along the energy zones throughout the body. The massage also increases circulation, aiding the distribution of nutrients and oxygen, and removing waste products from the system. Not only the physical body, but also the emotional states of the patient may be influenced by manipulation of the feet.

Initially the practitioner will work on the whole foot (body), not just the part affected by a specific ailment, since this is a holistic therapy, and any underlying causes must be identified. Any pain or tenderness experienced as the reflex points are stimulated indicates the presence of crystalline deposits, and therefore an imbalance in the corresponding area of the body. These areas will be massaged gently but firmly to clear the energy channels.

Most sessions last 45-60 minutes. The frequency of the treatments, and length of the course depend upon the condition being treated; many people have regular treatment over long periods to maintain well-being.

Possible after-effects of reflexology include feeling nauseous, tired or emotional for a couple of days after treatment; a need to urinate more often may also be noticed. It is also possible that existing symptoms may worsen before improving, or else a rash, cough or mild flu-like symptoms may develop; this is known as a 'healing crisis', and is said to indicate that the body is beginning to eliminate toxins.

Reflexology may not be suitable for people with osteoporosis, phlebitis, thrombosis, epilepsy, thyroid disorder, diabetes, or those with a heart condition.

Reflexology is compatible with all other forms of therapy, though you should advise your practitioner if you are taking any medication, conventional or complementary, since the increase in excretions from the body may interfere with them. It is suggested that reflexology is particularly effective when combined with acupuncture, osteopathy or light therapy.

For further information contact:

Association of Reflexologists
27 Old Gloucester Street
Tel: 0870 567 3320

British Reflexology Association
Monks Orchard
Tel: 01886 821 207

Reflexologists' Society
PO box 5422
Tel: 0870 607 3241

· Shiatsu
'Shiatsu' means 'finger massage' in Japanese. The principles are based on the traditional Chinese system of meridians and pressure points, when the energy force, Ki becomes blocked, overactive or depleted illness results (not necessarily at the site of the Ki disturbance, but along the affected meridian). This is remedied by stimulation of tsubos - external points on the body - either by gentle massage or with more vigorous pressure from the knees, elbows or feet; the limbs may also be moved into positions that stretch the meridians.

Western medicine regards shiatsu simply as a form of deep massage, which has the associated benefits of regulating the hormonal, circulatory and lymphatic systems, aiding the elimination of waste products and promoting relaxation.

For a shiatsu session, loose clothing should be worn. The patient lies on a futon on the floor, and the practitioner kneels beside them. The whole body is worked upon at each session.

Before treating the patient, the 'Four Examinations' are applied to the patient: the practitioner will ask about your medical history, lifestyle and emotional state; observe your physical appearance and posture; listen to your voice; and touch you to read your pulse. The final diagnostic tool is the hara, which involves gently feeling the abdomen to assess the energy-flow in the internal organs.

Flu-like symptoms for a couple of days are said to indicate that the body is expelling toxins released by the treatment.

Shiatsu is very safe, though any health conditions should always be mentioned to the practitioner at the first consultation. The Shiatsu Society has never had a complaint about the treatment. Always check that your practitioner is a Member of the Register of the Shiatsu Society.

For further information contact:

The Shiatsu Society
Eastlands Court
St Peters Road
CV21 3QP
Tel: 01788 555 051


- Gazella K.A. Activate your immune system: natural substance provides ultimate support ISBN: 1890694118
- Koster-Loesche K. Fortify your immune system naturally ISBN: 0806942150
- Puotinen C.J Herbs for detoxification: herbs to strengthen the immune system and improve health by countering the environmental toxins that surround us. ISBN: 0879837950
- Sompayrac L. M. (1999) How the Immune System Works ; ISBN: 0632044136
- Edelson E. The Immune System (21st Century Health & Wellness) ISBN: 0791055256
- Elgert K.D. Immunology: Understanding the immune system ISBN: 0471116807
- Holford P. How to boost your immune system ISBN: 1870976002
- Levy E.Monte T. The 10 best tools to boost your immune system. ISBN: 0395694604

See also our fact sheet on allergies, arthritis, asthma, candida, celiac, eczema, lupus, scleroderma

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