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Managing Autoimmune Disorders By Balancing Your Immune System

I know the title this week sounds a little dry and clinical, but I believe it will answer some nagging questions for someone. Maybe it’s you.

As we get ready for next week’s “Fundamental Foods Dinner” (if you live in the Naples area, I really hope you will join us for it), we’ve been looking at Autoimmune Disorders, which is a general term for over 80 related diseases. They might not look related – like asthma, arthritis, and ulcerative colitis – but they have a common source: your body is under attack, and it’s so severe that your defense system has turned in on itself.

Inflammation, as we have discussed here before, is your body’s normal and natural response to a toxic invader. When you feel swelling, redness, or burning in a specific area of your body, that’s an indication your immune system is doing its job. After a couple of hours, the swelling goes down and life goes on. But when your immune system is on high alert without rest for days and weeks at a time, your system begins to destroy the very cells it was created to protect.

Your Body’s Two Special Ops Teams

I want to go a little deeper into the physiology this week. I believe it will help you better recognize and discern what your body is telling you. It may also show you why certain treatments work for some people and not for others.

Your immune system is an amazingly complex ecosystem with many different types of cells and microbes, each with its own roles and assignments. Like a high-level security force, they organize into two major response teams – Innate Response (first responders) and Adaptive Response (strategic defense):

  • Your innate response team recognizes, tracks, isolates, and attacks the bad guys – bacteria, viruses, toxins, and tumor cells – like a knee-jerk reaction. These guys are lethal, spontaneous, and lightning-fast, but if they work non-stop for days, they can start to misfire and damage the cells around them. That makes them dangerous.
  • Adaptive response cells take reconnaissance information from the first responders and build a tailored response to the specific type of invader. If the threat is a virus, fungus, bacteria, or cancer cell, it sends in Th1 helper cells; if the threat is in the blood stream, it sends out the Th2 team.

This one-two punch is one of the most fascinating aspects of the human body to study. If you think your body is made up of cells that don’t have logical brains, this will give you a new perspective. You can watch organized teams of cells develop response strategies together and execute them. It’s pretty cool.

How Your Body Keeps The Teams In Balance

Just as interesting to me is the fact that your body regulates the balance of Th1 and Th2 cells.

Do you remember when your local playground had see-saws (or am I demonstrating that I am much older than you are)? When I was young and I visited a park with a see-saw, I always thought it was fun to stand in the middle and try to balance it. In my own humble opinion, I was pretty good at it – I could stand there for a long time without tipping over. But my friends had a harder time with it. They would shift their weight a little to one side, then overcompensate the other way. The harder they pulled to straighten themselves out, the further they went out of kilter, and it wasn’t long before they were flat on their faces. I’m sure I was a good friend and resisted the temptation to laugh at them (*rolls eyes*).

Your immune system does a great job balancing itself out…until it doesn’t. When the balance between Th1 and Th2 is lost, your body overcompensates to try to right itself. The harder it works to get back to the middle, the more it flounders until your immune system is over-stimulated and begins attacking itself. It’s a vicious cycle, and in the end, your defense system becomes its own enemy.

When Th1 cells are dominant, the result (depending on where your system is already compromised) is some form of Chron’s disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, or something similar. When the Th2 cells are dominant, you will typically see cases of asthma, sinus problems, and different types of allergies. You might also find chronic fatigue here.

Your Chemistry Is Not My Chemistry

This is where it gets a little hazy. Hard-and-fast rules are difficult to find because every human body is unique, which is why the green tea and reishi recipe that makes your best friend feel like a million bucks makes you feel sick. Your body chemistry, diet, medical history, sleep patterns, and even your spinal health all play a part in how your immune system responds to stimuli. Your favorite food may suddenly come across as a trigger to your Th1 or Th2 cells, especially if your system is already inflamed, causing a spike that throws you system out of balance. That may be why you break out in hives after a meal, or your joint pain suddenly gets worse for no obvious reason.

As you can see, small things can have a huge impact if they upset a system that is already over-stimulated.

Most people who suffer from Chron’s, IBS, lupus, or chronic fatigue are aware of trigger foods that exacerbate their pain, but if you have a disease like rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, you might never have made the connection between your condition and your food choices.

So, What Can I Do About It?

There are a couple of things you can do to help yourself feel better and start the process of healing. These are true for almost everyone, regardless of physiology:

Remove The Problem

A healthy gut is the key to building a healthy defense. As we’ve seen, the bacterial flora of the gut is where as much as 80 to 90% of your immune system lives, especially along the lining on the walls of your intestines. “Leaky gut” is a condition where the lining of the gut wall has been compromised, allowing food particles, bacteria, and viruses out into your blood stream. Your gut flora can also be decimated by antibiotics, refined and processed foods, and chemicals in your environment. The more you can remove these elements from your life, the healthier your gut will be.

I recommend a 28-day detox cleanse for some of my patients. If your gut is on fire, the first thing to do is to turn off the gas. If you have food allergies, let’s get the toxic food out of your system. The 28-day cleanse gradually removes all of the most common problem foods from your diet, and then slowly restores them, to see what your body can handle. This is a safe and accurate way to identify problems and root them out, so your body can heal.

Replenish Your Defense

Another thing you can do is to take a good probiotic. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a probiotic, it is basically a strain of healthy bacteria that works with your body’s own gut flora, refreshing and replenishing it. As your gut flora finds its balance, so will the Th1 and Th2 cells. Flareups will subside, and over time, the inflammation will begin to cool off.

There is so much more I could say about this, but I’ll save it for the Fundamental Foods Dinner, Thursday, April 13th at 6:30 p.m. at my office, behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road. Bring a dish to share or $10 cash, and RSVP as soon as you can, to save your seat. We always have a great time at these dinners, and we get to really talk substantially about topics that affect your health.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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