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Articles,  Immune Health,  Mental Health

THE IMMUNE SYSTEM: AN INTRODUCTION

Let me introduce you to the immune system. The immune system is an auto-regulating system which aims to create a purposeful defense against internal and external toxins or threats of all kinds.

PARTS OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

  1. THE BARRIER SYSTEM – presents physical obstacles to invasion by foreign cells or particles
    • The skin – Composed of tightly packed cells with an inter-cellular cement between them.
    • The mucous membranes – play an important role in keeping toxins and microbes from entering the body, secreting sticky fluids to trap and wash away invaders (saliva, stomach acid, tears, oily secretions of the skin, urine and secretions of the vagina). These secretions also contain antibiotic substances and as in the case of stomach acid and secretions from the reproductive organs; microorganism killing acids.
    • Connective tissue – Part of the barrier defense is the hyaluronic acid system of the connective tissue, which is located throughout the body. Creating a gel like substance in the extracellular matrix that prevents bacteria, viruses, and other invaders from moving freely within your body.
  2. NON-SPECIFIC DEFENSES – Attacks anything that is deemed “non-self”
    • The phagocytosing cells – circulating white blood cells, called neutrophils and monocytes, as well as macrophages. All cells can be found in the lymph, spleen, blood, the connective tissue, epithelial surfaces, pretty much everywhere in the body and they react to toxins and foreign substances by engulfing them.
    • Natural Killer Cells – Kill invaders by secreting poisons into them that kill them, enabling them to attack many invaders one after the other. Are indispensable in the bodies fight against viruses and cancer. They attack “foreign” cells, such as those found in organ transplants.
    • Inflammatory response – Necessary for dealing with infection, and removing debris. Is characterised by symptoms of swelling, redness and pain. Although uncomfortable it is an essential part of our immune response, and promotes local healing.
    • The nervous system – Plays a role in the greater defense system, for example creating a rise in temperature to induce fever, or vomiting and diarrhea in the case of food poisoning.
    • The liver – main detoxification organ in the body, it removes harmful substances and plays a vital role in immunity, dispatching macrophages (immune cells) when bacteria or pathogens are present.
    • Antimicrobial Chemicals – A set of chemicals that circulate the blood and extracellular fluid, may kill bacteria or other cells directly or initiate inflammation.
  3. SPECIFIC DEFENSES – Reacts against specific substances, systemically (whole body) and creates a memory to detect that specific substance in the future
    • Antigens – foreign particles, often groups of proteins from cell walls, that elicit an immune system response from B-cells or T-cells.
    • Cytokines – proteins that are produced in response to an antigen and function as chemical messengers for regulating the innate and adaptive immune systems. Produced by virtually all cells involved immunity, but especially by T- helper (Th) lymphocytes.
    • Humoral immunity and antibodies – Small proteins that circulate throughout the blood, extracellular fluid and lymph which are designed to attach to, neutralise or destroy specific antigens.
    • B-lymphocytes and Plasma Cells – B-cells initiate humoral immunity once an antigen has been recognised and plasma cells are B-cells that have been transformed into antibody producing factories.
    • T-Cells and cell-mediated immunity – T-Cells are divided into helper cells, regulatory and killer cells. T-helper cells respond to an antigen handed to them directly usually by macrophages, mounting an immune response, bringing in T-killer cells to attack.

LIFESTYLE INTERVENTIONS TO SUPPORT IMMUNITY

  • Hydration – water is essential for the immune system, it is a component of lymph and blood, dehydration causes these fluids to get sluggish and unable to remove wastes and deliver nutrients as effectively.
  • Optimize Sleep –good quality sleep is absolutely essential to both a healthy body and mind.
  • Improving Lymphatic flow – Encourage drainage of toxins and metabolic wastes by increasing the flow of lymph. Skin brushing, rebounding and infrared sauna are perfect for this. Elevated legs up the wall pose. While sitting, bring the right side of your body close to a wall. Swivel your legs up the wall and lay your upper body on the floor. Lift your buttocks up off the floor a few inches and place a blanket or bolster under your tailbone. Relax here for five minutes.
  • Grounding – Grounding is beneficial for maintaining the electric potential of the cell and encourages healing. The simplest way to be grounded is to go outside and place your bare feet or hands on some grass or earth, or to immerse yourself in a body of conductive water such as the sea for 15-20min daily.
  • Vagal nerve stimulation – Communication between the immune system and the brain is vital for controlling inflammation. The inflammatory reflex is a mechanism where signals to the brain via the vagus nerve and activated by cytokines or pathogen-derived products, is associated with a response from the brain via the vagus nerve to regulate proinflammatory cytokine production and inflammation. If this pathway isn’t working effectively we are not able to dampen the immune activation or inflammatory response. To improve the connection between your body and your brain and keep your immune system in-check: Focused Breathing (inhale for 3-5 counts, exhale for 3-5 counts and hold for 3-5 counts (whatever is comfortable, do this for 5-7min). Cold stimulation – cold ice-cube on your face or try a 30-60sec cold shower at the end of your morning shower.
  • Fasting – fasting appears to shift stem cells of the immune system from a dormant state to an active state of self-renewal. If you are wanting to know more about how to incorporate fasting into your health regime please contact Denise or preferred health care provider to make sure fasting is right for you and you are well supported
  • Breathe through the nose and into the belly without a rise in the chest – Gentle nasal breathing optimises nitric oxide (NO) levels in airways and blood, is a broncho dilator helping open nasal passages bronchi and bronchioles in the lungs, relieving congestion. NO is also anti-microbial helping to kill pathogens in the nose and nasal passages
  • Humming leads to a 15 to 20-fold increase in NO levels helping to open up airways and kill pathogens.
    • Breathe through your nose with mouth closed and the tip of your tongue resting behind your top front teeth
    • As you exhale slowly through your nose make a sustained “hmmmmmm…..” sound.
    • Avoid pushing the air out with force. As with everything to do with breathing this should be done gently.
    • Now, breathe in gently through your nose and repeat.
    • The sinuses are air filled cavities located around your nose, temples and above your eye sockets. To increase the effect of the exercise you can gently massage those areas while doing the exercise.
  • Laugh – enhances the immune system, improves transfer of oxygen and nutrients to internal organs, plays an active part in the release of endorphins and other mood elevating and painkilling chemicals.
  • Connection with others – Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

For more tips on how to boost immunity read our post on boost your immunity, or read this post we did for the Tonic Room to see which nutrients are necessary for great immunity. To see Denise and get specific advice on how to improve your immunity book online.

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