Protect and Energize Your Immune System

Monday, October 20, 2014
By: Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

Everyday we are exposed to germs or pathogens that we must ward off. There are germs on foods, beverages and air that we consume and surfaces that we touch. Some of them are super bugs threatening society. Reports of each new threat or outbreak seemingly bring increased risk to human life. These threats range from the minor colds to the life threatening viruses or antibiotic resistant bacteria. The fact is some become ill and some don’t. The question is why.

Our first line of defense to any germ or even cancer is our immune system. How well our immune system handles any type of insult or threat depends on the level of inflammation and stress in our body. The immune system’s energetic fitness thrives on plentiful antioxidant stores, properly managed inflammation and self-care. If the immune system is out of balance and de-energized, problems start to happen or worsen. Improving fundamental components of immune health, managing inflammation and restoring antioxidant status is vital to living with and conquering the germs of today.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a problem affecting nearly one out of two adults. Even minor sleep deprivation has harmful effects on immune system function and results in high amounts of inflammation. Researchers found that even one night of acute sleep deprivation in healthy young men caused significant impact on the immune system. Sleep deprivation causes neutrophils to abnormally mature and alters their ability to function. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell involved with the first line of defense in fighting a germ. Research also shows that susceptibility to respiratory illness substantially increases with even partial sleep deficits. Limited sleep causes your immune defense soldiers (CD4, CD8, CD14, and CD16) and immunoglobulins (sIgA) to become faulty. They function less efficiently. They behave abnormally. Impairing these soldiers with just a few nights of sleep deprivation literally handcuffs your immune system’s function. Sleep is our brain’s time to remove molecular waste of the brain’s immune system, the glymphatics. If your command center is full of trash (metabolic waste), then high level communication signals, orchestration, and function start to falter, just like having a kitchen filled with broken, dirty dishes and an exhausted chef.

Processed Foods

We know that the Standard American Diet is laden with high amounts of sugar, white flour, processed foods, poor quality fats, and nutrient poor foods. These foods prove to be dangerous to the health of the gut microbiome or the gut flora, which is where up to 80% of the immune system lies. Consuming sugar depresses white blood cell activity by as much as 50% for several hours after consumption. Elevated blood sugars, even with a fasting blood sugar above 90, can also impair the immune system. Nutrient poor foods, GMO foods, and consuming food allergens rob the body of energy. It increases inflammation and free radicals, reduces antioxidant stores, and impairs the function of the gut microbiome – the armed forces of the immune system. Dietary consumption of these foods causes a loss of immune homeostasis, dysfunctional T cells, and autoimmune inflammation. In essence, the dirty kitchen situation worsens.

Stress and Immune Inflammation

Acute and chronic stress provokes immune inflammation and depletion. When exposed to stress, the stress response triggers neurotransmitters and hormones in our brain, pituitary, adrenal glands, and the brain-gut axis. These compounds modulate the intestinal immune system and affect compounds such as Secretory IgA. Secretory IgA (sIgA) is a powerful primary immunoglobulin or mucosal antibody that determines if germs will adhere to our mucosal linings (eyes, sinuses, mouth, lungs, gut, vagina, urethra). Chronic stress including sleep deprivation terribly disrupts sIgA. When sIgA is worn-out, germs intensely adhere to the wall of the intestinal tract gaining a stronghold on the immune system. This creates higher levels of inflammation and the development or worsening of increased gut permeability, thereby affecting our entire body’s immune system energetics.

High cortisol levels in the body provoke other types of disruption. Excess cortisol provokes release of inflammatory compounds like ROS, TNF-a, various interleukins, C-Reactive Protein, and Phospholipase A2, etc., creating high amounts of free radicals, which can be measured in lab tests. This results in antioxidant depletion and exhausts mitochondrial function. This cross-talk between the stress hormones, mitochondria, and immune system profoundly influences immune system resiliency, i.e. who gets and stays sick.

Mainstream medicine frequently gives high dose steroids/hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation with infections or illnesses such as acute respiratory distress syndrome. It was found that this treatment failed to provide benefit. The hydrocortisone treatment depleted the most important immune system antioxidant glutathione. High levels of oxidative stress and cortisol, not due to prescription drugs, also depletes glutathione levels, further exhausting the immune system.

EMFs and Sedentary Lifestyles

There are other stressors that throw our immune system into chaos and de-energize it provoking more inflammation. Electromagnetic Field (EMF) exposure has been proven to increase the production of ROS – a type of dangerous free radical that provokes high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation. Research clearly showed markedly reduced antioxidant stores in both healthy and unhealthy animals that were exposed to EMF.

Sedentary lifestyles are brimming with whole body inflammation. Hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and higher amounts of visceral fat or increased waist circumference reflect inflammation in the body. Combine these factors with the sleep deprivation, low antioxidant status from poor quality foods, and high levels of stress hormones, and you have a winning combination of inflammation and immune susceptibility. Considering the fact that our country is faced with obesity and metabolic syndrome epidemics, sleep problems at record highs, and stress levels through the roof leads to the risk of superbugs and viral or bacterial illness flourishing. While the threat of Ebola, ED68 and MRSA, etc. exist, it does make you wonder. With the improvements in sanitation and technology – are all superbugs really superbugs or is it that our immune systems are stressed, depleted and lack fitness?

Nutritional Support

Many nutrients play an integral role in fortifying our depleted immune system from daily 21st century stressors. Work on replenishing the most important immune system antioxidant glutathione with nutrients such as NAC, lipoic acid, glutamine, silymarin, B vitamins, vitamin C and E, and sulfur rich foods (cruciferous veggies, eggs, onions, garlic, etc.) and whey protein. Get your glutathione levels measured to see how depleted your body is. Knowing your level and taking action upon it may very well save your life. Many of these same compounds, along with lactoferrin, colostrum, carotenoids, and vitamin A, help with the production of sIgA and protecting germs from adhering to your respiratory and digestive tract.

Vitamin D and sunshine exposure provide powerful anti-inflammatory support for the immune system. Ideal lab values should be between 50-80 ng/mL.

Zinc deficiency sets the stage for immune insufficiency and is commonly deficient in the body. Deficiency is clearly linked with immune dysfunction. Zinc is considered the second messenger of immune cells, integral to immune cell communication and enzyme activities. It acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrient. Second messengers of immune cells means that a small molecule like zinc can move immune system signals quickly to and from cells allowing proper communications to occur. Without zinc, these immune system communications struggle and wreak more havoc, like having a cracked phone cable.

Additional support to keep the immune system fortified and active in fighting germs include olive leaf extract, arabinogalactan, beta glucan, colostrum, colloidal silver, astaxanthin, alkylglycerols, and many others. Keeping your immune system energized, self-care, and good hygiene practice is fundamental to fighting off the superbugs. Which one do you want – a vibrant, energized immune system or a fatigued, depleted immune system?

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