Purpose of this Site

Dr. Hassell, click for bioThis site is dedicated to helping you understand how your immune system works and how you can strengthen it.

You can use it in several ways. By going directly to the section on improving your immunity, you skip some of the reasons for the suggestions. Hopefully some of the ideas presented will stimulate critical thinking about the current view of immunity.

I created it after years of practicing integrative medicine. The suggestions come out of my work with thousands of patients. I hope you will find it useful.


Perhaps you have noticed that more people are becoming ill, that there is an increase in childhood diseases like asthma and autism, and that there are more people contracting autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. I believe the information here can help explain the origin of some of these illnesses. I hope, also, that by taking some of the steps outlines here, that you will have a greater chance of avoiding serious infectious illnesses, or reducing their severity.

I will begin with a brief overview of current concerns then lead on to a relatively complete, but not overly scientific view of immune processes. Please feel free to jump directly to the section on strengthening immunity for practical suggestions which you may find useful. In addition, there is a section on Viral Immunity which you may find useful.

The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

The "Spanish flu virus" of 1918 is actually thought to have originated in Tibet (Levine 2005). During this pandemic, caused by a corona virus, about 20 million people died. One current concern, "avian flu" is also a corona virus, closely related to the virus which caused the Spanish flu. The SARS outbreak which so powerfully impacted the people of Toronto, Ontario, in which a high proportion of those infected, succumbed, was also caused by a corona virus.

The "Spanish flu" virus had never been encountered by the people living at that time. They had no immunity to it except the innate immunity possessed by some - the survivors. This innate immunity is the inborn strength which allows us to survive an encounter with a new organism. Many people got the flu but did not die. They had strong innate immunity. Likely social and nutritional factors in 1918 (the war starvation and rationing) had weakened people and contributed to the horrendous death toll.

Could the current calorie rich but nutrient poor diet of most of the world's industrialized population be leaving many of us in a similar state? People who had sufficient innate immune strength in 1918 either did not get ill, or at least survived the flu. Our goal now is to improve our innate immunity, and thus either not get it, or at least do well when we meet H1N1.

Swine Flu (H1N1)

The world is bracing itself for another wave of the current pandemic. For most people who have had this flu, it was a more virulent form of the regular flu, with perhaps more problems with cough and shortness of breath. But they recovered.

Where this flu (H1N1) has been lethal has been in communities where, I suspect, the nutritional status has been less than ideal - probably excesses of refined carbohydrates, excesses of pro-inflammatory essential fatty acids (from fried foods and certain commercial foods). These diets have been proven to promote inflammation. This flu also seems to be most troubling to people with lowered immunity i.e. those chronically ill. There will also be people who, when they get swine flu, will have an inappropriately heightened immune response.

A Concerning Development: A newly identified Corona Virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)

A new and possibly virulent corona virus has been identified in the Middle East. Corona viruses are in the same family as the virus which caused SARS. It is unknown how virulent this strain will be but the concern is that thousands of people may contact this strain as they go on Haj to Mecca.


For the people who get into trouble, it is an excessive immune response which creates the profound damage, especially to the lungs. I wonder if it will also be found that those with hyper-immunity, i.e. those with autoimmune illnesses who will be at increased risk? Thus it is those with enough immunity - not too little or too great (an exaggerated response) who appear to do the best when they encounter these viruses.

What is the right strategy to avoid the flu - or to make it that you will get through it with relative ease?

No one knows this for certain. Some physicians have advised that the antiviral medications (Tamiflu™ or Relenza™) might be a help but opinions are generally divided on this approach. Currently these medications are being reserved for acutely ill patients because it is thought they shorten the illness by a very short time (a half a day) and they do have side effects.

The general advice about getting enough rest, balanced exercise, avoiding tobacco and excesses of alcohol, red meat and refined carbohydrates are good ones. If you are like most people, you often find yourself in periods of higher stress, less sleep and less than an ideal diet and with little or no exercise. During these times, you may feel vulnerable to infection. For information about coping, and hopefully getting better more quickly if you get the flu, please read further.

I recommend the section on strengthening your immunity, and on Viral Immunity for my suggestions about coping during these times.

Scientist working with viruses.

While science may eventually come up with a solution to these particular viruses, many new forms of viruses and drug resistant bacteria are emerging more rapidly than medical science can keep up with. So it is very important for us to strengthen our immune defenses. The information in this site is designed to help you with this.

To be more able to resist viruses and other pathogens, you will want to improve your first line of defense, your Innate Immunity.