Immune response and Inflammation
Immunity and immune response, inflammation, wellness, infection, all words that sprang to the forefront in 2020. What does any of it mean? Is it really important?
The short answer is yes, they are important, but more important is that you understand what they are and how they affect your health. Inflammation and immunity are like twin sisters of well being. They exist to both defend and repair injury, infection and illness in the body. When triggered for long periods of time they cease to be helpful and become destructive and detrimental.
Inflammation is the response of your body to insult. This could be physical trauma or injury as well as a bacterial or viral pathogen. Inflammation and the symptoms it produces are like a lighthouse on the coast. Inflammation warns you that something is wrong and if you don’t correct your course there is great danger. Inflammation is the immune systems response to these insults whether pathogen, toxin, abnormal cell growth or injury.
The immune system is designed to recognize self vs. non-self. Anything that is thought to be non-self is labeled for destruction. The immune system is your ADT system. Once the alarm has been activated, in steps inflammation. Inflammation can respond locally and for a limited time to help repair injury or infection. This is acute inflammation. Acute inflammation or illness generally lasts two weeks or less. Like a sprained ankle or a cold. Inflammation lasting longer than two weeks can become chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has a slower more gradual onset with or without injury or illness and will be around for more than six weeks. Chronic inflammation is the foundation for chronic disease, especially diseases fostered by insulin resistance.
The majority of any type of inflammation starts at a given site after being alerted by the immune system sentinels which sound the alarm that there is a problem. The highest functioning area for recognition of non-self (foreign invaders) is the gut. According to Catherine Shanahan M.D. author of Deep Nutrition, “the immune system in the gut sees more foreign substances in a day, from bacteria, viruses, than the systemic (body wide) immune system sees in a lifetime.” Ideally the immune system is trained to identify non-threatening substances and develop a tolerance for them. We create anti (against) bodies against substances identified as threatening. The cells learn to recognize and remove threats. Cells look for patterns of amino acids (found in proteins, and enzymes) and sugars that indicate that a substance is bad and needs to be removed. This all begins in the gut. Highly processed foods frequently are mis- identified by the gut as a threat, which launches both the immune response (identifies the enemy, and calls for a response) which leads to inflammation.
Remember inflammation is a response whether seen, like swelling, or unseen like headache, gastric upset or joint pains. Your body is telling you that worse danger is ahead. The worse danger, chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. Both these conditions are measurable in blood work, precipitated by what and how you eat, and for the most part preventable. We then know the choice, and blame, lies within ourselves. Knowledge is power, but once you know the truth you can’t ‘unknow’ it.
The driving force behind chronic inflammation, decreased immune response and development of chronic diseases (high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, diabetes, PCOS, cardiovascular disease, and almost all autoimmune diseases) is insulin resistance. Frighteningly it is estimated that greater than half of all American adults, and an increasing number of children, are insulin resistant and most are not even aware that they have it.
Insulin is a hormone, the master hormone, produced by the pancreas (except in type 1 diabetics). The major role of insulin is to regulate glucose (blood sugar) levels throughout the body. Insulin effects every cell in the body; keep that in mind when you think about how and where insulin resistance and inflammation can affect your well being. Insulin resistance generally develops as a response to increased insulin production, caused by excessive carbohydrate ingestion. Increased production of insulin creates on the cellular level, ‘Mom ears’. Like a mother listening to her children argue, it will take more than verbal banter to cause her to stop what she is doing and respond. Similarly your cells become desensitized to the high levels of insulin and stop responding to the request to dispose of glucose. The cycle has begun, high insulin, now ineffective, leads to high glucose. High insulin levels can precede a diagnosis of diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease by as much as ten years. Elevated glucose can increase systemic (body wide) inflammation. The body responds to inflammation, or perceived infection by releasing more glucose into the system, from the liver (energy for healing) and other cellular response.
How then can we control inflammation, help our immune system clearly identify true infective dangers that need to be removed? What changes must be made to decrease disease, improve overall health and create well being? The answer is simple, lifestyle changes. What and when you eat, opting for movement, sun exposure and rest and recovery. Stick with us here as we explore each of these issues. You have a choice on wellness. Change can seem overwhelming, these are baby steps. Baby GIANT steps. The smallest changes made and maintained can make huge, life altering differences.