3 min|Dr. Maya Kuczma
Understanding the Immune System: A Shield Against Viral InvadersWellness
Our immune system acts as our defense system
Through combined efforts of its two subsections - the innate and the adaptive - it protects us from invaders, and creates targeted inflammatory reactions to help us heal. The innate immune system acts as a guard at entry points of the body, such as the skin, lung tissue, sinuses, and gut lining. Coordinated activity between the complement system and cells that ingest and destroy pathogens (known as phagocytic cells) create a quick response to foreign invaders. Once this system is activated, cytokines and other inflammatory proteins are produced, attracting other immune cells such as neutrophils and monocytes, triggering an inflammatory reaction.
When the innate immune system cannot fully manage the threat, it presents antigens to the adaptive immune system, recruiting its support in mounting a targeted attack against the invader. T cells and B cells work together to produce antibodies to bind to the invader, attack the invader directly, and create ‘memory cells’ that will remember this exposure, allowing for a quick response to the invader during subsequent exposure.
When the immune system is at its best, it is able to synchronize a targeted, effective inflammatory response to an invader, and reign in that response once it is complete. More inflammation is not necessarily better; it is vital that our immune system is able to ’turn-off’ the inflammatory reaction, once the threat is cleared. However, in cases of chronic inflammation, the immune system is unable to balance attack and regulatory functions, and the inflammation response becomes persistent and rampant. Chronic inflammation is considered to be a key contributor to the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, largely due to excessive inflammatory cytokine production.(1)
Sugar ingestion, stress, inadequate sleep, nutrient deficiencies, smoking, and high intake of omega six fatty acids in comparison to omega three fatty acids, can all trigger inflammation.(2,3,4,5,6,7) Exposure to one, or many, of these factors can lead to a chronic inflammatory response.
When the immune system is preoccupied with chronic inflammation, it struggles to respond appropriately to invaders. It is through this process that chronic disease, and the associated chronic inflammation, results in a scenario of ‘immunocompromise’ - a reduced ability to fight off and recover from infection. Patients with increased levels of baseline inflammation tend to have worse clinical outcomes following an infection.(8,9,10,11)
For this reason, decreasing chronic inflammation via removal of inflammatory foods, increasing dietary nutrient density, improving sleep quality, decreasing stress, and eliminating toxic exposure, can prime the immune system for success. Working on these factors can also set the stage for creating health, moving beyond the removal of disease, towards a state of optimal vitality.