How important is your Immune System!
Inside your body there is an amazing mechanism called your immune system. This system is designed to protect you against all forms of microbes, bacteria, viruses, toxins and parasites. When the immune system is functioning well, these little suckers are kept at bay and under control. Once the immune system starts to under function then these guys start to invade the body and reek some havoc.
The immune system is complex and intricate but rather fascinating at the same time. There are two parts to your immune system which include your innate and adaptive immune systems.
Innate immunity refers to your nonspecific defence system. This is more immediate and includes barriers such as your skin, hair, mucous membranes and chemicals in your blood. This is the first line of defence and the main purpose is to prevent the spread and movement of foreign pathogens through the body.
The second line of defence is called the adaptive immune system. This system is specific to a pathogen that is presented in the body. Once it recognises the pathogen it makes specific cells to attack that pathogen and kill it off. When it does this it also creates a memory of this pathogen and the next time your body sees it, the reaction will be swift (in fact you probably won’t even notice). This is also how vaccines work. Sometimes it makes errors and attacks itself and this is where autoimmune diseases occur.
When you have an adaptive response you may see pus, swelling, redness, heat and pain. This will be your B and T lymphocyte cells responding to the pathogen.
When we look at cancer the immune system hasn’t always had the consideration it deserves. Treatments such as chemotherapy focus on killing the cancer cells. The problem with this is that although cancer cells tend to grow more quickly than normal cells, the chemotherapy drugs can’t tell the difference between them. Therefore chemo is a balance of trying to kill off the cancer cells and sparing your normal cells in the process. Unfortunately the whole system is attacked and after chemo you are left with a very low functioning immune system.
Whilst there have been many advances in the types of chemo drugs that are more targeted they still attack the immune system. New cancer treatments are focusing on immune-therapy. This means these medicines target your immune system to work better which will allow your body to identify which cells are cancerous and only kill them (instead of killing everything). This is great news!
As a Naturopath I am fascinated with this process of chemo and I always wondered about the poor immune system. Why didn’t the process include a regime of building up the immune system before chemotherapy? By the time you are diagnosed and undergoing treatment your system is already depleted. So adding in a drug that depletes it even further seems a little counterproductive. How would the body fight off disease if it has no immune system to work with? From my experience of seeing those undergo chemotherapy there is no follow up on how to improve the capacity of the immune system to bring you back to optimal health and therefore continue to fight off any disease. This seems to be a flawed process. Although there are many Naturopaths and Integrative GP’s doing some great work in this area.
Healthy Immune Systems
Research is now telling us that working on the immune system in order for it to perform better and become more effective by targeting specific cells is the way to go in cancer treatments. The question then becomes why are we not doing research on prevention? If you have a healthy well-functioning immune system that can tell the difference between good and bad and respond accordingly shouldn’t this be a priority?
This information also confirms how important the immune systems is with having a healthy life and a body that responds better to pathogens.
There is new research starting to emerge in regards to the microbiome and immune system. The involvement of the microbiome in conditions that are related to immune system is on the increase. These conditions include allergies, asthma, autoimmunity and primary or acquired immune deficiencies. Disruption to the microbiome affects the immune response of the host and paves the way for disease to develop.
In today’s world our bodies are constantly under threat by the food we eat, the environment that we live in, our sedentary lifestyle, the lack of nutrients in our soil and the high level of stress that we operate under. These issues cause a problem in the functionality of the gut and therefore the immune system lowering our ability to mount an attack should we need to.
If your immune system is overburdened due to stress, environment, chemicals and most importantly gut function (my passion) what can you do about it?
Well given that 70-80% of your immune function resides in the gut, this would be the first place to start. If we focus on improving our gut function and therefore our immune system then this will help our bodies to fight off disease before it gets to a place of metastasis. Of course there are many factors involved including genetics. But you can help your DNA with something called DNA expression. What that means is that how you live, what you eat and what you are exposed to (environmentally) can influence how your DNA is expressed.
So you see that a well-functioning immune system is very important for the health of your cells, microbiome and long term health outcomes! If you are looking to improve your immune system then book in for a consultation with me.
This article was written by Jan Caton, BHSc of Naturopathy. Jan is a Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist and the owner of Magnolia Apothecary. Jan practices in the yarra ranges.