The Immune System
With Sue Kira
Recently there have been some interesting programs about parasites on television. This has raised a lot of interest in my clinic during Live Blood Analysis sessions, as quite often we see parasites in my clients’ blood.
A common theme throughout the television shows was that the strength of an individuals’ immune system had a major influence on their ability to survive the terrible onslaught of these parasites and viruses.
So I will discuss the immune system and how it works to help us overcome these invaders.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is one of the most complex systems of your body and consists primarily of different types of white blood cells that reside in the blood and specific tissues. The role of the immune system is to eliminate foreign or infectious compounds, such as: bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, allergens and chemicals.
Components of the Immune System
Lymphoid organs/tissues refer collectively to places in the body that store, produce or process lymphocytes. (Lymphocytes: types of white blood cells, known as B cells and T cells- see later for details).
Lymphoid tissues are typically located at sites that provide a possible route of entry of pathogens and /or sites that are liable to infections. These include the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, tonsils, adenoids, appendix and bone marrow.
All the cells of the immune system are initially derived from the bone marrow.
They form through a process called haematopoiesis. During haematopoiesis, bone marrow-derived stem cells differentiate into either mature cells of the immune system, or into precursors of cells that migrate out of the bone marrow to continue their maturation elsewhere.
The bone marrow produces B cells, natural killer cells, granulocytes and immature lymphocytes (types of white blood cells), in addition to red blood cells and platelets (clotting factors).
The function of the thymus is to produce mature T cells.
Immature white cells called thymocytes leave the bone marrow and migrate into the thymus where they mature and are released into the bloodstream as T cells (T cells will be further explained soon).
The spleen is an immunological filter of the blood. It contains B cells, T cells, other white cells and red blood cells.
An immune response is initiated when the white cells present the foreign material to the appropriate B or T cell. This organ can be thought of as an immunological conference center.
In the spleen the B cells become activated and produce large amount of antibodies. Also, old red blood cells are destroyed in the spleen.
The lymph nodes function as an immunologic filter for the body fluid known as lymph. Lymph nodes are found throughout the body. Composed mostly of white blood cells, the nodes drain toxic fluid from our body.
More about B and T cells
B cells are involved in antibody-mediated immunity. On activation with antigens (foreign material), B cells either break down into cells, which secrete immunoglobulins (antibodies) capable of binding to a specific type of antigen, or the B cells differentiate into memory cells.
T cells act by direct cell-to-cell contact to protect the body, rather than producing antibodies. T cells bear unique T cell receptor proteins that only recognise specific antigens (foreign matter). There are three main types of T cells. T helper 1, 2 and 3.
T helper 1 cells (Th1) regulate our defense against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They are also largely responsible for attacking tumor cells.
T helper 2 cells (Th2) promote the production of antibodies.
T helper 3 cells (Th3) provide immune control through regulating excess Th1/Th2 activity.
These T helper cells regulate themselves by having opposing effects. Whenever we have excess activity of one T helper type, this causes suppression of the other.
In this way we can imagine our immune system as a seesaw, with Th1 on one side of the seesaw and Th2 on the other side and in the middle at the balancing point are the Th3 cells, which regulate excess Th1/Th2 activity.
There are two main types of immune dysfunction:
1. Th2 dominance (excess Th2 with low Th1) which is associated with allergic disorders (eg. eczema) and frequent infections (due to a low Th1).
As we get older, poor dietary and lifestyle choices, along with exposure to stress and environmental toxins perpetuate an underlying Th2 excess, which explains why 80% of immune complaints are due to Th2 excess and Th1 deficiency.
2. Th1 dominance (excess Th1 with low Th2). When overactive, Th1 can attack our own body and cause Auto Immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and some unexplained recurrent abortions.
Th3 (the regulator of balanced immunity) dysfunction is often caused by overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut leading to an imbalance of Th1 and Th2.
This highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, good digestion, and the need for an occasional gut detoxification program (including colon hydrotherapy) to keep your immune system functioning properly.
How does immune dysfunction occur?
Immune dysfunction can be caused by: physiological and emotional stress; toxicity; hormonal imbalances; lack of sleep, rest and relaxation; nutrient deficiencies (due to poor diet or poor absorption); and insulin resistance eg. diabetes, hypoglycaemia.
These all lead to overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria/yeasts/parasites in the gut, and poor detoxification of chemicals and toxins in the liver, leading to an imbalance of Th1/Th2.
Healthy Lifestyle and Diet
A healthy lifestyle and diet is the foundation to a healthy immune system. It’s simply a matter of choice – the choice of what you put into your body.
Choose a diet that is nutritious and limit fats, sugar, salt, tea, coffee, alcohol and take-away foods. Drink two litres of water daily, eat lots of fruit and vegies and chew your food well.
We know the basics of good nutrition, however in our busy world, sometimes it’s difficult to maintain a healthy diet, which in turn can place enormous strains and stress on the body.
So let’s have a look at the subject of stress and how it can affect our immune system.
Stress…whether physical, emotional or environmental, tends to use up minerals.
Minerals are necessary co-factors to the production of enzymes. Enzymes help us to digest. Poor digestion results in poor nutrition and a vicious cycle has started.
Poor nutrition provides insufficient minerals -insufficient minerals make us respond to stress more easily – and stress depletes our minerals – and the cycle goes on!
Stress can also release the hormones cortisol and adrenalin. The effect of adrenalin is to cause an alarm-like state that we usually associate with anxiety and the feeling of nervousness.
Prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol and adrenalin (from stress) will eventually result in abnormal function in the nervous system resulting in numerous other conditions.
Cortisol protects the body from the effects of stress by inhibiting excess inflammation and tissue damage.
The problem is that excess cortisol will suppress the immune system, which can increase the risk of infections and allergies.
Hormonal (metabolic) imbalances
Here’s another potential vicious cycle. Hormonal imbalance can create stress…yet stress can create hormonal imbalance (a classic case of what comes first – the chicken or the egg).
Testosterone and DHEA (adrenal hormones) are responsible for calming down the nervous system but those hormones are often reduced during times of stress.
Thyroid hormones are increased during acute stress to aid in the ‘fight or flight’ response. However during long term stress, raised levels of cortisol eventually leads to depleted thyroid hormones resulting in low thyroid activity.
So where does the immune system come in here?
Hormones from the adrenal glands (cortisol and adrenalin) reduce antibody production, thyroxine increases T cell activation, but when in low levels, the T cells are suppressed.
Oestrogen and progesterone can aid in a balanced immune system, but if the levels are unbalanced then the immune system will be unbalanced.
Your gastrointestinal tract naturally harbours about five hundred different species of bacteria and these number in the billions.
Although these bacteria are essential for health (remember the T3 cells), they can become very toxic if the wrong ones start to overgrow.
This may happen due to poor digestion, antibiotics, gut infection, or when we get stressed.
We also consume and absorb many toxins from our external environment such as chemicals and heavy metals, the foods we eat, the air we breath, the water we drink, and the materials we surround ourselves with e.g. clothing and building materials.
The gut and liver protect the body against disease by eliminating and detoxifying toxic compounds and waste products, which can cause inflammation and immune dysfunction.
A gut/liver detoxification program will help correct digestion, normalise gut bacteria flora, repair a damaged gut wall and improve the detoxifying capacity of the liver and kidneys.
As these organs start to function better the toxic load on the immune system is reduced thereby allowing Th1 and Th2 to become balanced.
The importance of a periodic detoxification program becomes more obvious when considering these factors.
The detox can take many forms such as an alkaline diet over a period of time, various fasting programs, saunas, exercise and colonic irrigation. There are various choices to suit the individual’s lifestyle and preferences.
Herbs and nutritionals to support good immune function
Some herbs and nutrients will increase Th1 and reduce Th2, however some can decrease Th1 and increase Th2.
Because this is a complex issue, I suggest you speak to a qualified practitioner (experienced with dealing with immune system dysregulation) about the best choice of herbs and/or nutrients to support T cell balance.
However, the best herb I know of that can balance the immune system is astragalus membranaceus. Numerous research articles show this herb improves the immune system.
It is best used when the more acute symptoms of infection settle i.e. post infection, or to help support other immune functions. Another excellent balancer is the reiishi mushroom which is usually found as an extract or in the dried form.
Bromelain (enzyme found in pineapple) is also a good food to balance the immune system. Lactobacillus from probiotic formulations and natural yoghurt are the best gut (Th3) immune support.
The word ‘balance’ appears frequently in this article.
To help strengthen your immune system, possibly the best advice I can give you is to ensure your life is ‘in balance’.
Eat sensibly, drink plenty of water, avoid or reduce stress, exercise regularly and focus on the positive.
Good health…it’s mostly up to you!
Originally published in Here & Now magazine, written by Sue Kira, from True Vitality
Leave your comment about The Immune System below or share with your friends on Facebook