Immune Imbalance and Inflammation
- The role of the immune system
- * Identify a potentially damaging pathogen
- * Assess the level of threat
- * Produce an appropriate response
The inflammatory response is initiated to deal with a potentially damaging pathogen. Once the crisis has been dealt with it has also to be resolved. The inflammatory response can cause further damage if it is inappropriate to the threat. As can been seen in anaphylaxis. Many chronic conditions are associated with an unresolved inflammatory response.
The Immune response is elicited as a result of injury (This injury can be internal as well as external), or towards an invading pathogen. It initiates a physiological response which includes increased blood flow within the area, allowing for the rapid removal of debris and pathogens. The increased permeability of the capillary walls aids the migration of leucocytes to the site of injury. Fluids leak into area resulting in the dilution of toxins and pathogens. There is an increase in temperature which has an anti septic effect, and also stimulates leucocyte activity. Eventually Coagulation within the blood walls-off the injured area. However while this response helps the body to alleviate the ongoing situation, for some conditions it can become detrimental to health. In that the inflammatory response is greater than that required, and has created more injury to the body than the original cause.
The Immune system consists of two aspects, the non-specific, which includes barriers to keep out pathogens, such as the skin and mucus membranes (Imbalances found in the skin). These prevent pathogens from entering the body. These barriers also contain enzymes. For example lysosome, which potentially kills invading microbes. Coughing and the sneezing reflex can also help to expel unwanted pathogens. Some pathogens are swallowed and the gastric acid of the stomach helps to destroy any harmful microbes. Symbiotic bacteria contribute by creating an acidic environment and thereby also acting as a deterrent, and also supporting the development of specialised cells used by the immune system.
If a pathogen has been able to breach these barriers then the body will react by producing an inflammatory response. This is not only activated by the invasion of an unwanted pathogen but other factors can also initiate such a response. For example, tissue damage as a result of an injury, or excess heat or cold. Internal trauma will also produce an inflammatory response, for example, damage to an artery wall.
The Innate Immune system is triggered when a pathogen enters the body. It will initiate the inflammatory response and the activation of the complement system. The compliment system promotes inflammation and the elimination of invading pathogens. Once triggered it sets off a chain reaction culminating in the death or opsonising of the microbe. The presence of this activity will attract macrophages and neutrophils into the area of infection. The compliment system plays a critical role in inflammation and defence against some pathogens. However there may be an hereditary defect in the complement system leading to deficiencies in an individual's compliment components which can result in a variety of diseases.
The Adaptive or acquired Immune system provides another layer of defence when the invading microbes have proliferated in excess. This involves the activation of specialised cells. When these cells are activated they will not only respond to the present infection but to potential future occurrences of the same microbe. Unlike the innate system the adaptive system is specific in its response. The main cells involved are the B and T lymphocytes (white blood cells), B cells carry antibodies which helps to inactivate the microbe.
Types of Antibodies: Immunoglobulins (Ig)
- IgA Produced by the cells of the mucus membranes, saliva, perspiration and tears. Prevents antigens from attaching and crossing the epithelial membrane. It is present in the first breast milk produced which helps protect the infant from gastrointestinal infection.
- IgE Found in cell membranes and if bound to an antigen it activates an inflammatory response and the release of Histamine. Often found in excess in Allergies.
- IgD Mostly found on the surface of B cells and helps initiate the differentiation of B cells into plasma cells and memory B cells.
- IgG The largest and most common antibody, it attacks many different pathogens and crosses the placenta to protect the foetus. Also triggers the complement system.
- IgM Produced in large quantities and is the primary response and potent activator of the compliment system
There are situations where the immune system attacks its own body's cells as in an autoimmune reaction. There are situations when the inflammatory response does not lead to a resolution, as can be observed in conditions of chronic inflammation. Many conditions can be observed where an autoimmune response has been the primary cause, for example in Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. In this situation the immune system attacks the thyroid gland ultimately destroying the thyroid tissue which leads to a reduction in the Thyroid hormone.
Chronic inflammation has been implicated in Diabetes, Obesity, Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, and other common conditions. Stress also stimulates inflammation. Stress can affect the immune system, in particular cortisol production, which could eventually lead to low cortisol levels. The immunoregulatory hormone DHEA and testosterone are also implicated.
There are external factors that can contribute, towards inflammation, for example: food allergies, mercury toxicity, chronic exposure to mould, vitamin D deficiency, or lack of essential fatty acids, in particular Omega 3.
- There may be an inborn deficiency.
- There is a lack of prerequisite nutrients weakening its ability to respond.
- It has become overwhelmed by some disease, leading to immune deficiency.
- It may be overactive producing an allergic reaction.
- It may react against the cells of its own body as seen in Autoimmune disorders.
- The inflammatory response may not lead to a resolution as can be observed in conditions of chronic inflammation.
Supporting the Immune System
A healthy immune system is important in sustaining bodily health. Disruption could lead to variety of diseases which in itself will further weaken immune system health. The Immune and Endocrine systems are intimately related, disruption of one will lead to a dysfunction of the other. For example, excess or prolonged stress will reduce the body’s ability to fight off antigens, thereby making it more susceptible to infections. Obesity and excess sugar and fats can lead to inflammation with a similar outcome. Therefore supporting the immune system is critical to good health. Dehydration can also be a stressor to the body so it is essential that the body is kept well hydrated.
Supporting the immune system involves more than just having sufficient nutrients but other factors also play an important role. For example, it is well know that depression can lower the immune system’s ability to cope, and conversely a positive outlook can impact favourably upon immune system health. Psychoimmunology is the study of the connections between the mind and the immune system.
Quality of sleep is another significant factor, as during sleep immune enhancing compounds are released and a great deal of repair is done to the body. Exercise can have a positive effect on the body, but it also requires sufficient rest, as excessive exercise can have a detrimental outcome.
Nutritional deficiency is one of the main causes which result in a depressed immune system.
- Address nutritional status, making sure that one is eating quality fruits and vegetables so that immune enhancing nutrients, in particular micronutrients are consumed; especially antioxidants; Vitamin C, and E, flavonoids, carotenoids.
- Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased susceptibility in developing an autoimmunity condition, as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. Getting Vitamin D through more exposure to the sun will also positively enhance mood.
- It is always preferable to obtain nutrients from the diet rather than being reliant upon supplements, unless the diet is deficient in a particular nutrient. Vitamin C from food will offer a great deal more than just the one vitamin. This is particularly true of phytosterols, where they act more synergistically.
- Get sufficient quality sleep. It is estimated that the average adult requires 7 - 8 hours while teenagers 9 - 10, and children 11 - 12.
- Reducing Stress can make a significant impact, practicing meditation or mindfulness have proven to be useful ways of reducing stress.
- Exercise; moderate exercise has shown a positive relationship with health. As well as helping to maintain bone density and muscle mass. However intensive training may have the opposite effect. Therefore it is important to build in periods of rest and quality sleep.
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