The immune system

The immune system

Immunity is our key to keeping dis-ease at bay...

The immune system

Immunity is our key to keeping dis-ease at bay, therefore we need to look after this system as best we can with food and supplements, especially at the change of seasons, namely winter, when the bodies defences can be down. The immune system is a very complicated system with the body’s organs continuously working together whilst being attacked at all angles. Most people think that the immune system is just in charge of wether we get a cold or not, but many conditions are dependent on the health and integrity of this complex arrangement, from a common cold and recurrent infections, through to allergies and to severe, debilitating autoimmune conditions, therefore supporting the immune system is critical to good health. The best approach to encouraging immune function is a comprehensive plan involving lifestyle, stress management, exercise, diet, nutritional supplementation, and the use of plant-based medicines.

So what causes an immune reaction?

Most of the time it is the protein component of a virus, bacteria, food or foreign matter that causes an immune reaction in the body. There are many ways in which the body fights off disease and sickness, one of those ways is by the microflora that lives in our body. These are our ’friendly bacteria’ which mainly in the large intestine but which also live in the nose, mouth, stomach, small intestine, large bowel and genito-urinary system. There are said to be trillions of these ’friendly’ bacteria’ outnumbering our cells of the body and are responsible for 70% of the bodies immune. They play a huge protective role, and the cells from this system bind to and eliminate any bacteria, virus or foreign bodies. The gut is the biggest and most important immune organ in the human body, and if you think about gut flora, that is 90% of all cells and all genetic material in the human body, making us only 10%! If the gut flora is abnormal, the immune system becomes unbalanced and as a result it starts misfiring and reacting inappropriately to any proteins that come in. Proteins in our food are very similar to proteins in our bodies and an abnormal gut flora damages the gut wall making it porous and leaky (leaky gut). This sick gut is unable to digest food properly and so the undigested proteins slip through the gut wall. The immune system then send cells to attack these unfamiliar proteins, also finding similar looking proteins in the body i.e. organs, attacking these organs, and over time, this causes an autoimmune disease.
An imbalance of this system is thought to be the driver of chronic inflammatory conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis), cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s), and metabolic disorders (Type II diabetes, fatty liver disease, sleep apnoea). Inflammation begins in the body due to this imbalance, and produces an inflammatory cascade, causing the above diseases and symptoms in the body.

Another part of the immune system works by remembering the previous bacteria, virus or foreign body from last time they invaded, and is able to increase such cells that attack these enemies to form a stronger attack the second time round. This is how the majority of vaccinations work, they give you the tiniest amount of, or the dead cells of a disease, so that the body can recognise and remember the intruder disease/virus and fight it off, if you come into contact with it again. Unfortunately vaccinations such as the flu jab can be unreliable. This is because the flu virus is sneaky and has many variations, changing all the time to adapt to new surroundings, so that the body can not recognise the new virus and therefore is unable to fight it off as quickly.

The hygiene hypothesis

Babies are born sterile but receive their first mouthful of bacteria when they pass through the birth canal, and continue to populate their gut flora with colostrum and breast milk. If a mother is too clean and there is a lack of exposure to sufficient amounts of bacteria in the first year of life, this can be detrimental to a child’s health, causing food allergies, hayfever, skin complaints such as eczema or psoriasis, asthma or worse. It is said that we have become too clean and sterile so the immune system doesn’t have a chance to learn full competence i.e. doesn’t learn how to attack foreign objects and bacteria etc. Basically, the advice given today is that we should be letting our children eat the odd bit of dirt and banish the disinfectant from the toys and surfaces.