Over the past few weeks there have been some interesting programs about parasites on television. This has raised a lot of interest in my clinic during Live Blood Analysis sessions, as quite often we see parasites in my clients’ blood. A common theme throughout the television shows was that the strength of an individuals’ immune system had a major influence on their ability to survive the terrible onslaught of these parasites and viruses. So in this edition of ‘Here and Now’ I will discuss the immune system and how it works to help us overcome these invaders.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is one of the most complex systems of your body and consists primarily of different types of white blood cells that reside in the blood and specific tissues. The role of the immune system is to eliminate foreign or infectious compounds, such as: Bacteria, Viruses, Cancer cells, Allergens and Chemicals.
Components of the Immune System
1. Lymphoid organs/tissues refer collectively to places in the body that store, produce or process lymphocytes. (Lymphocytes: types of white blood cells, known as B cells and T cells- see later for details). Lymphoid tissues are typically located at sites that provide a possible route of entry of pathogens and /or sites that are liable to infections. These include the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, tonsils, adenoids, appendix and bone marrow.
2. Bone Marrow
All the cells of the immune system are initially derived from the bone marrow. They form through a process called haematopoiesis. During haematopoiesis, bone marrow-derived stem cells differentiate into either mature cells of the immune system, or into precursors of cells that migrate out of the bone marrow to continue their maturation elsewhere. The bone marrow produces B cells, natural killer cells, granulocytes and immature lymphocytes (types of white blood cells), in addition to red blood cells and platelets (clotting factors).
The function of the thymus is to produce mature T cells. Immature white cells called thymocytes leave the bone marrow and migrate into the thymus where they mature and are released into the bloodstream as T cells (T cells will be further explained soon).
The spleen is an immunological filter of the blood. It contains B cells, T cells, other white cells and red blood cells. An immune response is initiated when the white cells present the foreign material to the appropriate B or T cell. This organ can be thought of as an immunological conference center. In the spleen the B cells become activated and produce large amount of antibodies. Also, old red blood cells are destroyed in the spleen.
5. Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes function as an immunologic filter for the body fluid known as lymph. Lymph nodes are found throughout the body. Composed mostly of white blood cells, the nodes drain toxic fluid from our body.
More about B and T cells
B cells are involved in antibody-mediated immunity. On activation with antigens (foreign material), B cells either break down into cells, which secrete immunoglobulins (antibodies) capable of binding to a specific type of antigen, or the B cells differentiate into memory cells.
T cells act by direct cell-to-cell contact to protect the body, rather than producing antibodies. T cells bear unique T cell receptor proteins that only recognize specific antigens (foreign matter). There are three main types of T cells. T helper 1, 2 and 3.
- T helper 1 cells (Th1) regulate our defense against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They are also largely responsible for attacking tumor cells.
- T helper 2 cells (Th2) promote the production of antibodies.
- T helper 3 cells (Th3) provide immune control through regulating excess Th1/Th2 activity.
These T helper cells regulate themselves by having opposing effects. Whenever we have excess activity of one T helper type, this causes suppression of the other. In this way we can imagine our immune system as a seesaw, with Th1 on one side of the seesaw and Th2 on the other side and in the middle at the balancing point are the Th3 cells, which regulate excess Th1/Th2 activity.
There are two main types of immune dysfunction:
1.Th2 dominance (excess Th2 with low Th1) which is associated with allergic disorders (eg. Eczema) and frequent infections (due to a low Th1). As we get older, poor dietary and lifestyle choices, along with exposure to stress and environmental toxins perpetuate an underlying Th2 excess, which explains why 80% of immune complaints are due to Th2 excess and Th1 deficiency.
2. Th1 dominance (excess Th1 with low Th2). When overactive, Th1 can attack our own body and cause Auto Immune diseases, such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Psoriasis and some unexplained recurrent abortions.
Th3 (the regulator of balanced immunity) dysfunction is often caused by overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut leading to an imbalance of Th1 and Th2. This highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, good digestion, and the need for an occasional gut detoxification program (including Colon Hydrotherapy) to keep your immune system functioning properly.
How does immune dysfunction occur?
Immune dysfunction can be caused by: physiological and emotional stress; toxicity; hormonal imbalances; lack of sleep, rest and relaxation; nutrient deficiencies (due to poor diet or poor absorption); and insulin resistance eg. diabetes, hypoglycaemia. These all lead to overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria/yeasts/parasites in the gut, and poor detoxification of chemicals and toxins in the liver, leading to an imbalance of Th1/Th2.
In the next edition of ‘Here & Now’ I will be discussing ways to help strengthen the immune system, covering topics such as lifestyle, digestion, metabolic imbalances, toxicity and specific herbs and nutritionals to support good immune function.
Here & Now Magazine April 2005