The immune system

Immune deficiency and Auto immune problems

The immune system is a vital aspect of our defences against disease. If it is not working efficiently it will not up to the challenge (immune deficiency) so infections and cancers are not dealt with, but if it acts in an unregulated way it can be over active and start attacking our own healthy cells, causing all sorts of illnesses (auto immune).

In recent years many diseases have been identified as having an autoimmune component.

asthma
eczema
rheumatoid arthritis
ME
MS
Lupus
Diabetes type II
Thyroid disease
alopecia
vitiligo
coeliac

and others

The immune system is a very complex system. My explanation here is very simplistic but I hope it should suffice for our purposes. Some important components of it are the B cells and T cells.

B cells identify unwanted proteins, for example on viruses, bacteria, damaged and infected cells and cancer cells. Their job is to eliminate them, to kill and gobble them up!

T cells are of many types. Some (T1) turn on the B cell response. Some (T2) persuade diseased cells to self destruct (apoptosis). And a third type (T3) are regulatory, telling the other T and B cells when to switch off when the job is done. When this regulatory system is under-active it can lead to the immune cells running riot and causing autoimmune diseases. In contrast, if it is over vigilant it will switch off the immune response too easily and allow unwanted cells, such as cancer cells, to grow unchallenged.

We all have un heathy viruses, bacteria, diseased cells and damaged structures in our bodies on a daily basis but our immune systems are designed to control all of this so they don’t make us sick. It takes an unwanted, problem protein AND an ailing immune system to develop a disease.

So what causes a problem with the immune system?

1.Lack of nutrition

First off, the immune metabolism is very complex and involves a lot of nutritional factors. If the body does not contain the right minerals and so forth to feed the metabolic pathways, the system cannot be efficient. In particular the TH3 regulatory system is very nutrient hungry.

2. Leaky Gut

It it is well known that there is an association between increased gut permeability (leaky gut) and the above autoimmune diseases. Some workers suggest that it more than an association or a side effect, it is instrumental in causation. Firstly it may be allowing unwanted substances to cross the intestinal barrier and trigger excessive immune responses and secondly it may lead to inflammation in the gut that prevents efficient absorption of nutrients. In addition, leaky gut is known to be associated with abnormal gut bacteria which has its own problems (see the micro-biome’ below).

3. Imbalance of the micro-biome.

An abnormal gut bacteria population, whether cause or effect, is associated with chronic disease and it is known to affect immunity, mood, stress and resistance to many diseases. The healthy gut bacteria can be destroyed by antibiotics especially if used long term, but sometimes the cause is not as obvious.

 

What causes these three underlying factors, which seem linked to disordered immunity? is it nutritional? genetic? Caused by a toxin or particular life style? The lack of a definitive answer is frustrating and leaves us with some interesting ‘chicken and egg’ conundrums. But understanding the links can also suggest possible help for a list of diseases that are otherwise pretty resistant to medical treatment.

Medical treatments in many autoimmune diseases often rely heavily on steroids. In some way this makes sense as steroids are powerful inhibitors of the immune response (which causes inflammation). In autoimmune disease this will have symptomatic benefit. But it doesn’t get to the root cause. Also, steroids themselves have nasty side effects. If we could fuel the body with the things it needs to correct the imbalance of the immune system in the first place this must be advantageous.

 

Here are the remedies for auto immune disease that have been suggested and their postulated benefits.

Deal with the leaky gut.
Firstly, look to see what might have caused it. Antibiotics, (including meat and dairy that has been fed antibiotics and hormones), steroids, anti-acid drugs and general poor diet with toxins, allergens and processed foods, can damage the gut lining and destroy the healthy bacteria. This latter factor, known as the gut ‘micro-biome’, is of vital importance, not only in maintaining gut heath but it is also known to affect mood, genetic expression, and resistance to diseases. We do not just house these harmless bacteria, we actually rely on them. They are symbiotic not parasitic. Abnormal gut bacteria are associated with a leaky gut. Good bacteria are part of a healthy gut.

To cure leaky gut, it is important to correct the micro-biome. Taking probiotic (capsules that contain good bacteria) in supplement form and/or eating naturally fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kombucha and kefir can help restore the bacterial spectrum. Live yoghurt, much advertised and as sold on the supermarkets, are actually a very poor source of good bacteria. It is also important to eat a good diet of fresh veg and fruits which are ‘pre-biotic’ ie support the natural good bacteria.

In many cases of AI disease, there is a specific trigger, the absorption of which may be consequent upon the leaky gut or alternatively may be exacerbating the leaky gut. It may be an allergy to gluten (coeliac disease) or lactose, casein (milk protein) or something else entirely. It is important to identify and eliminated them. (see eliminating toxins below)

L-Gutamine is an interesting supplement that has caused some controversy. It is the most prevalent amino acid in the body and can be made in the cells, especially muscle, brain, liver and stomach, so in normal circumstances we don’t need to eat much of it. It is used for cellular repair and growth and is known to improve intestinal health. The only time that more it is needed in the diet is if it is used up, for example in cancer, because cancer gobbles it up and starves the normal cells. Glutamine is thought to be important for combatting AI diseases because of its benefits to gut heath but there was some concern that it may make cancers grow. It seems that the opposite is the case because, if depleted, the normal cells and immune responses suffer. The benefit from replacement of depleted glutamine outweighs the benefit to the cancer cells by the raised levels, as healthy cells are restored and can combat the cancer instead of allowing it to grow unchecked.

For AI it is important to supplement the L glutamine initially because it is sourced from so many foods that may be causing problems initially like dairy, milk, eggs, nuts, and beans and may not be tolerated.

Damp down inflammation.
Curcumin (turmeric) is a tasty supplement that is highly anti inflammatory. It acts on many immune pathways and, interestingly,  is involved in the T cell regulatory systems mentioned above.
Omega three oils are important anti-inflamatory supplements (from oily fish) and must be balanced with the omega 6 oils which causes inflammation – it is all about ratios and we consume too much omega 6 which is due in the main to the bad oils (poly unsaturated vegetable oil that is used in cooking and a lot of processed foods.) Make sure you don’t ruin the balance by cooking in these or not noticing them in convenience foods. Use butter, coconut oil and olive oil. (if this shocks you read my page on fats)

Provide nutrients that are known to support immunity
Resveratrol in red berry skins, red wine and chocolate. (What’s not to like!) vitamin C and D are important especially if you are lacking these which is common.
Remove toxins that are suspected to damage immune response or provoke allergy
Reliance on natural, organic, clean, fresh produce may not be enough if there is something triggering the response. A trial of removal of dietary allergens may be helpful and is best supervised by a specialist in the field to make sense of it all. Gluten, lactose, grain, dairy are common but there may be others, not forgetting sugar and carbs that are common addictions and very inflammatory and destructive to the immune system.

Conclusions

To combat auto-immune diseases,

  • Correct your gut micro-biome with diet and nutrition and take a good probiotic.
  • Eat plenty of fermented foods/drinks.
  • Take L-glutamine, initially as a supplement and later in diet.
  • Take a diet rich in oily fish, green vegetables, berries and avoid all processed food.
  • Take turmeric in food and as a supplement.
  • Enjoy the occasional glass of red wine with a nice dark (low sugar) chocolate treat. (unless these happen to be one of your ‘trigger’ factors in which case find a different treat!) The rest of the time it’s green tea.

 

A word about cancer.

Cancer is also a disease in which the immune system plays a big part. A heathy immune system will combat cancer, preventing tumours from ever taking hold and shrinking them once they are there. In contrast to AI disease, where the immune cells run riot, in cancer the regulatory part of the immune system is over active, effectively switching off the normal antibodies and B cells that would work at destroying cancer. The solution is, however, very similar. Support the immune system, remove whatever triggers or toxins that have upset the apple cart and give the body what it needs to support normal cells. Healthy cells and well fuelled metabolic pathways are what the body needs to build defences. (especially since so many medical treatments deplete these).

 

a couple of pod casts for you:

pod cast – how to tell if you have a leaky gut

pod cast – the dance of the immune system

and article of interest  here

and on the cancer front:

targeting TH3 regulatory cells in cancer:  a rather heavy article but in essence it says that this is an interesting new development in cancer treatment that nobody understands much about yet. watch this space.

cucuramin modes of action and Immune regulation