The Task of the Immune System
The task of the immune system is to identify any foreign compounds such as bacteria, antigens, viruses, fungi, parasites, cancer, or other abnormal cells, that could disrupt the integrity of the body’s ecosystem. Once a threat is identified, the immune system records the chemistry of the foreign substance, and launches an attack in attempt to purge it. There must also be a balance between the immune system’s suppressor cells and helper cells, so that the immune response can be curbed or activated. Under a distressed state, this balance can become dysfunctional. Defending and maintaining the integrity of the whole organism is an incredibly complex task. The functioning of the immune system is truly a wonder of nature.
A chronically alarmed immune system may not accurately distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’. As a result, in an attempt to maintain integrity, it may over-respond and direct antibodies against the body’s own tissues. Although autoimmunity is due to a deregulated system, in a sense this condition is indicative of a higher state of health. That is, the immune system is performing the right tasks in a heightened way—it is only doing so inaccurately.
In truth, the definitions of ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ are debatable. Our bodies actually host more ‘non-self’ friendly bacteria than native tissue cells. The real issue, therefore, is whether a given substance can be integrated into the body or not. If an un-integrated compound is upsetting the delicate inner ecology of the body, the immune system will become aroused. For example, a type of bacteria that can invade the gut may produce a toxin that upsets the inner balance of the body. This toxin may be chemically similar to a protein which is native to the tissues of the thyroid gland. If the immune system cannot distinguish the two substances accurately, it will simply attack both. The thyroid tissue will then have been branded as an unwelcome guest. Similarly, if toxins develop in the gut which is similar to a compound in the joint tissue, the immune system may attack the joint tissue, leading to rheumatoid arthritis. These are both examples of ‘cross-reactivity’. When cross-reactivity occurs in an immune system that is already weakened, there may be very little possibility of rebalancing through the normal immune-suppressive activities, and the whole system can go haywire.
The Gastrointestinal Tract and Autoimmunity
Toxicity in the gut is frequently a cause of hyperactive and overly aggressive immune responses. Eighty percent of immune system cells reside in the gut. One problem is that antigens can form from the incomplete breakdown of food products. Also, autoimmune states can be induced when food sensitivities cause intestinal permeability. Gut-wall permeability can harm beneficial bacterial flora. As a result, abnormal bacteria become overgrown, and their byproducts can introduce antigenic substances into the bloodstream. An accumulation of antigens arouses the immune system. There are also many gastrointestinal toxins that can directly harm the immune system. The importance of good gastrointestinal health should now be clear.
Damage and Alteration of Proteins and other Cells
Proteins are the building blocks of the body, and their integrity is essential. The body must therefore repair or eliminate damaged proteins. Proteins can become damaged by post-translational modifications, or structural changes that may occur after the protein molecule gets ‘translated’ from the DNA. The immune system perceives these abnormal molecules as suspicious entities, and gears up for an attack.
Similarly, a sugar molecule can become attached to a protein molecule, altering its structure and function. This is called a glycated protein. If glycated proteins accumulate beyond a certain point, the immune system will become alarmed, and it may over-compensate, creating an autoimmune state. Other post-translational modifications can occur such as citrullination or phosphoralation, when citruline or phosphorus attach to and damage proteins.
Oxidative stress is similar to rust on metal. Molecules called free radicals can attack healthy cells, damaging their structure and healthy functioning. These post-translational modifications weaken the immune system’s ability to suppress itself, and so when too many cells damaged by free radicals accumulate, the immune system can over-compensate.
Free radicals are byproducts of the metabolic process. Consuming alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs, sugar, and processed foods, increase the numbers of free radicals in our bodies. This is why healthy lifestyle choices are important in order to heal autoimmune diseases. As part of your treatment, we can help you make the choices that will minimize free-radical damage and eliminate “rust”.
Nervous System Stress
The nervous system is directly connected to immune system. Physical or emotional stress can impact the immune system by means of the adrenal glands, which are major contributors to immunity balance. Hyper-vigilance in the nervous system can show up as hyper-vigilance in the immune system.
Why is autoimmunity increasing in incidence? The body is attempting to identify and respond to the myriad modern toxins in our environment. Free radicals can be ingested along with the toxins or pollutants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. As a result, the immune system can become over-stimulated or weakened.
The Gender Effect
Women tend to be more affected by autoimmune diseases, because estrogen can activate certain auto-reactive B-cells. B-cells make antibodies, and give the immune system the ability to recognize and remember specific pathogens. With this ability, the immune system can launch stronger attacks each time the pathogen is detected.
Autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and insulin-dependent diabetes and allergies, all tend to be viewed as separate conditions. From a holistic perspective, however, it is clear that they share common causes. Since the immune system is integrally connected to all other systems, cross-reactivity can wreak havoc throughout the body and cause chronic systemic inflammation (CSI). This condition further exhausts the immune system and leads to greater and more diverse forms of dysfunction. However, when the causes of inflammation and autoimmunity are understood and properly treated, there is great hope. Our patients are more likely to benefit from early interventions and effective treatments, because we acknowledge the deep, interconnected causes of diseases, as well as the wondrous ability of the body to return to wholeness.
Our Tests and Treatments
Our tests are useful in guiding us toward the prescription of nutraceuticals (natural compounds, herbs, vitamins, and medicines) that will most accurately treat your condition.
These may include:
Glucose and insulin tolerance tests
Gastro-intestinal evaluations (stool tests)
Blood tests (helps us find markers for any post-translation modification in proteins) Adrenal tests, including saliva tests for cortisol levels
We may also use tests that measure interleukins (IL6, IL10, and IL12). Interleukins are chemical messengers that help to mediate acute systemic immune responses.
Our treatments are designed to clear toxins and damaged proteins from the body, prevent damage to healthy proteins, reduce inflammation and free-radical damage, support the gastrointestinal tract, and recalibrate the immune system functioning at the disease site. We also work to improve liver function, since the liver plays a vital role in the clearance of wastes and toxins. Under certain toxic conditions, the liver itself can become inflamed, and the inflammatory markers can ignite the immune system. Therefore it is critical to detect any liver toxicity, and then help the liver detoxify itself.
We may also work to improve adrenal function, since in many people prolonged psychological or physical stress has caused the adrenal glands to produce cortisol in excess, contributing significantly to immune system dysfunction. For more information on the important topic of adrenal stress, see our article here.
We use natural compounds that help block post-translational modifications such as glycation. We also use compounds that improve gut wall integrity, and remove heavy metals and other toxins and harmful bacteria from the body. All of these nutraceuticals reduce the burden on the immune system, and balance hormones such as TH1 and TH2. TH1 and TH2 reside in the bloodstream and represent two different modes of immune function.
We would like to take this opportunity to share some exciting news. There are new treatments available that modulate inflammation, and are being found to be transformational in cases of autism and neuro-degenerative diseases caused by inflammation. These new medications work differently than steroids, and influence the body on a more subtle biochemical and genetic level. Here’s how they work.
There is a compound in the body called NF Kappa B that turns on genes involved in creating inflammation. If we can properly suppress NF Kappa B, we can lessen inflammation and bring balance back to the body and brain. Particularly useful is a medication called Actos. Although it has been used in the past for diabetes, we now know that it works to suppress NF Kappa B. For some time, we have been using Actos with children with autism and neuro-degenerative diseases that are due to inflammation, and we have been seeing excellent results. These results confirm the scientific literature on the uses of Actos on autism and a wide range of neuro-degenerative diseases. Thankfully, Actos is not associated with side effects such as hypoglycemia or diabetes.
As a side note, curcumin can also positively modulate NF Kappa B. If needed, we may use various other nutraceuticals and medications to support this healing activity.
Put Out the Fire
We view autoimmunity as a blessing in disguise. At least we are aware that there are imbalances in the body, and the ‘alarms’ work. What we need to do is heed the alarms and look carefully to find out what is the body telling us. If there were a fire in our house, it would be foolish to dissemble the fire alarms rather than to find the fire and put it out. Similarly, it is foolish to simply suppress a chronically alarmed immune system, rather than to find the source of the problem and treat it. We want to help you put out the fire. When we successfully decode the messages of your body, and provide it with the support it needs, you will witness the miracle of healing firsthand.