Did you know that 70-80% of the body’s immune cells are in the gut? This is because the food and water we consume contains the most common source of antigenic invasion, so the gut needs the most protection. The digestive system is home to gut –associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). An example of lymph tissue in the gut are ‘Peyer’s patches’, which are patches of elongated tissue in the small intestine which produce the T – Lymphocytes, T and B cells. Lymphocytes are white blood cells and are named as such as they are found in lymph tissue. Other examples of lymph tissue are lymph nodes, the spleen, tonsils and the appendix.
For your immune system to be strong you need to have a healthy gut…. More on this later.
So what is the immune system anyway?
The immune system protects the body from potentially harmful substances. It does this by recognising and responding to Antigens, which are large protein molecules on the surface of bacterial, viral, cancer or fungal cells. Or antigens can be chemicals, toxins and drugs. Antigens stimulate the production of antibodies, which attack these antigens and promotes inflammation. Antibodies, or immunoglobulins are proteins that prevent harm in the body.
B cells are white blood cells which produce antibodies which are proteins which are specific for an antigen which invade the body. T-cells mainly produce antibodies which fight viruses. GALT plays a large role in protecting against pathogenic infections such as parasites, bacteria, yeast and fungus and viruses.
Now back to the gut and digestion…
A poor diet containing excessive caffeine, excessive alcohol, sugar and junk food all weaken the immune system. Exposure to chemicals and toxins such as car fumes, pesticides sprays and chlorine and fluoride in your drinking water in food, can make you more susceptible to coming down with an illness. This is partly because this causes the body to become more and more acidic. Most pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses love an acidic environment to thrive in.
Toxicity from processed foods and unfiltered water causes the body to become more acidic during digestion. When you have low stomach acid and don’t digest your foods properly, this leads to the body becoming acidic. The body, when acidic cannot effectively absorb nutrients and therefore has a weakened immune system, ages rapidly and cannot detoxify efficiently.
Low stomach acid leads to bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and SIBO, which is ‘small intestinal bacterial overgrowth’. This can include the overgrowth of candida alblicans, a yeast that lives in our intestines and over populate in an acidic body and weaken the immune system.
” The relationship between an acidic body and illness has long been established, and the medical term for this condition is “acidosis”.”
-The Health Wyze Report
Three supplements you can take to improve your gut health…..
To boost your immune system by improving your gut health you can take probiotics, colostrum and betaine hydrochloride (with or without digestive enzymes). Colostrum supplements are commonly bovine in nature (cow), and contain immunoglobulins and lactoferrin and therefore give the immune system a real boost. Sometimes they are found in a probiotic formula.
Food additives are your foe…..
To make your immune system strong, avoid processed foods or at least the ones containing food additives. Some food additives look like an infection to our immune system, which stimulates inflammation in the body. Inflammation is an indicator of immune activation. Ongoing, unresolved inflammation can drive diseases such as auto immunity, cardio vascular disease and cancer.
“The Standard western diet promotes inflammation
Diet patterns high in refined starches, sugar and saturated and trans-fatty acids, poor in natural anti-oxidants bad fibre from fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and poor in omega 3 fatty acids are pro- inflammatory. “
Guigliano G et al. The effects of diet on inflammation; emphasis on the metabolic syndrome. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Aug 15; 48(4);677-85
C’mon get moving!!
The human is designed to move! The hunter-gatherer people would walk up to 40 km a day to search for food. We are now becoming more and more immobile due to labour saving devices. As they say, ‘sitting is the new smoking’! This lack of movement increases inflammation throughout the body. Regular exercise reduces inflammation and strengthens our immune system.
Post viral fatigue
Chronic viruses such as Epstein Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalo virus (CMV) and Ross river virus (RRV) can cause long term fatigue or chronic fatigue. In people who have suffered these viruses, 80% of them have been found to have a rare mitochondrial degeneration by researchers. The mitochondria is the ‘energy centre’ of each of the cells in our body and is affected by the ongoing inflammation these viruses produce. This leads to fatigue and lethargy and an inability to detoxify efficiently.
Stress can make us sick….
When we are stressed, we produce larger amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. Stress increases inflammation in the body and decreases our T1 helper cells, and therefore the ability fight to viruses, bacteria, fungus and cancers. T1 helper cells are white blood cells that have the ability to suppress or regulate immune responses. Long term or chronic stress suppresses your immune system, making it harder to fight off any foreign invaders the body is exposed to. Stress can be many things to your body- a lack of sleep, meeting a deadline at work, a demanding husband and children, over exercising, injuries, ongoing exposure to chemicals (for example in jobs such as hairdressing, mining and mechanics.)
Vitamin D…. not just for bones….
Get out in the sun for your dose of vitamin D! In winter months as the sun is further from the earth, the sun’s rays are weaker and we absorb less of the beneficial UV-B light on our skin. A cholesterol (fat) precursor on the skin then helps us to absorb and convert these rays in the kidneys and liver into the active form of vitamin D (1,25-dihydrixy D). Vitamin D is important in regulating the immune system, and there is an association between Vitamin D deficiency and auto immune diseases.
Zinc and Vitamin C
The average orange only contains about 60 mg of vitamin C. Our body will use about 100mg of vitamin C every 4 hours. Many people are deficient. Stress depletes vitamin C, so does smoking and exposure to toxins (car fumes, fly sprays, pesticides etc.). Vitamin C is also destroyed by heat and light, therefore cooked food contains a lot less than raw food.
Do you get little white cloudy spots on your fingernails? This is a zinc deficiency. Zinc is involved in around 100 processes in the human body. It is vital to the maintenance of the immune system.
‘Anti’ the Antibiotics
Time and time again in my clinic I see patients who have had multiple doses of antibiotics over the years and have ended up with recurring illnesses, usually the very one they are trying to treat with the antibiotics.
Antibiotics are destroying the beneficial bacteria in your bowel and letting yeasts such as candida and other unbeneficial bacteria to overgrow. This causes a weakened immune system and in some cases, ‘leaky gut’ or intestinal permeability, where you absorb toxins or unwanted molecules into the blood stream through the intestinal lining. Leaky gut is also strongly associated with auto immune diseases. This bacterial imbalance in the bowels, called ‘dysbiosis’, can lead to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms, food intolerances, recurring sinus and urinary tract infections, just to name a few. Avoid them where you can and use antimicrobial herbs such as Echinacea, andrographis, olive leaf and golden seal.
Pro’ the Probiotics and Prebiotics!
If you must take antibiotics you should always take a probiotic with a prebiotic, for at least a month afterwards. This will help restore the beneficial bowel bacteria. A prebiotic is a form of fibre (such as slippery elm, inulin, arrabinogalactans and pectin) that encourages the growth of the good bacteria in your bowel. If you still have any after effects from taking antibiotics, it’s a good idea to see a naturopath who can get you and your immune system back on track!
For good health our immune system is one of the most important parts to look after. It helps us fight viruses, bacterial, yeast and even cancer every day.
You don’t need to feel sick all the time!
Book a Skype or phone consultation with me and I will help you get your immune system strong again. I also consult face to face in my office at Glenelg South, South Australia.
Eagle; practitioner technical information
Metagenics; Immunity, Key clinical concepts