Immunity, Immunity, Immunity ... Need I repeat?
Some studies seem to show that although our lifespan is significantly longer than at any point in history, we actually are being assaulted daily by chemicals, toxins, drugs and stresses that would have killed even the strongest human at any other time. We believe that because we are so advanced, we should be able to live a long, healthy life. But the reality is very different. Studies show that infection and immune dysfunction are the strongest contributory factors to chronic disease and debilitation. Diseases that used to occur only in the elderly are occurring at alarming rates among teenagers and people in their 20's.
We are sick more often and for longer periods of time. Many of us live with chronic illness. We use our immune system every day, not just to ward off bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, but also to eliminate dead cells, worn-out body tissue and toxins that we are exposed to every day of our lives. Even the use of antibiotics, oral contraceptives, antihistamines and aspirin on a daily basis can wreak havoc with our immune systems over time. Many of us are even adding to this strain by consuming exogenous hormones or antibiotics in the meat we eat.
One of the core issues with immunity is inflammation. The core marker for the degenerative process is inflammation. This means that uncontrolled inflammation can create as much damage as any disease in the human body. By allowing inflammation and resulting degeneration to continue unabated, day after day, restoration of full body function will become impossible.
So let's start by understanding a little bit about our immunity. The lymphatic system is our defense system, spending every hour of every day protecting us from the effects of pathogens [disease-producing organisms], biochemical hazards, and trauma, providing us with the tools for damage control and repair. The ability to ward off disease using this defensive capability is called resistance, while the lack of resistance is termed susceptibility. Our resistance is also divided into two processes: non-specific resistance and specific resistance, which is what we think of as immunity. The difference between the two is really the difference between two different problems. In specific immunity, the problem requires a tailored plan of attack. It involves developing and activating specialized cells called lymphocytes that recognize, bind to and destroy a particular pathogen or foreign substance. It is generally body-wide, very much like a search and destroy mission. Non-specific resistance is a general protective response that includes mechanical barriers, inflammation, mucous formation, antimicrobial body chemicals, fever and a process called phagocytosis.
Traveling the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system consists of a fluid [lymph] that flows through its own separate set of vessels [lymphatics] and involves several structures and organs that contain lymphatic tissue, including red bone marrow where lymphocytes are made. This complex system has a number of functions in addition to immunity and resistance. Since lymph fluid is essentially interstitial fluid that leaves the interstitial spaces and enters the lymphatic system, it provides a channel to drain excess interstitial fluid. This means that the only difference between interstitial fluid and lymphatic fluid is location. So inflammation, edema or any body swelling is simply lymphatic fluid that is in the wrong place. Also, because interstitial fluid is thicker than blood, it can transport large lipid molecules from the gastrointestinal tract to blood via the subclavian vein. Lymph also is the avenue to restore lost elements to the blood that have leaked out of the circulatory system because of high blood pressure or weakened capillaries. One example is plasma proteins are too large to leave blood vessels, while interstitial fluid contains only small amounts of proteins. Once they are lost into the interstitial fluid, they cannot return, necessitating the lymphatic system to pick them up for deposition in the subclavian vein.
The lymphatic system of vessels is very different from circulatory vessels. They begin as closed-ended vessels called lymphatic capillaries in the spaces between cells. They join together to form larger tubes called lymphatic vessels. They have thinner walls than veins and many more valves, although in fetal development they emerge from developing veins. They also do not have muscular walls as the arteries, nor do they have the benefits of a pump like the heart. At various intervals along the vessels, lymph flows through lymphatic tissue structures called lymph nodes. In the skin, lymphatic vessels generally are in subcutaneous tissue and follow veins. In the core of the body, lymphatic vessels form plexuses around large arteries and follow their pathways. In this way they can take advantage of the pulsation of the artery to push lymphatic fluid along its vessels. It is believed that blockages to the lymph movement in the body may be cause by precipitated iron due to a lack of potassium. In order to increase lymphatic movement, we provide Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage, essential for sedentary people and those who have edema or swelling. You can also help your lymphatic system with Skin Brushing at home. Check out our skin brushing suggestions...
More From the Lymphatic System
The most important lymphoid tissues of the body are the red bone marrow, the thymus gland, the tonsils and the spleen. The red bone marrow and the thymus gland produce B and T cells, the lymphocytes that carry out immune responses. The thymus gland is located in the mediastinum behind the sternum and between the lungs. It contains large amounts of epithelial cells that produce thymic hormones that help in the maturation of the T-Cells brought in from the red bone marrow. Much of the thymus gland atrophies with age, becoming filled with adipose and connective tissue and reducing its ability to produce these crucial hormones. Thymus PMG can help to delay this atrophy process and restore a more normalized thymic function.
The spleen is an oval shaped organ that is the largest single mass of lymphatic tissue in the body. It is located on the upper left side of the abdomen between the stomach and the diaphragm. It has a similar structure to the much smaller lymph nodes, but does not filter lymph. Instead it has an area of white pulp which are mostly B Cells arranged around central arteries. These B cells become antibody-producing plasma cells when needed. The red pulp consists of venous sinuses or holes, filled with blood and thin plates of tissue including many types of phagocytic cells, which engulf and destroy bacteria and worn-out or damaged red blood cells and platelets. It is also thought that the spleen along with the kidneys and the liver, control the level of minerals in the blood. Blood mineral levels are the last symptomatic sign of a problem, as the spleen will maintain blood mineral levels far beyond the onset of disease. Trace Mineral Hair Analysis will show us mineral levels in soft tissue, something that is essential to determine whether the spleen may be underfunctioning.
Other areas of lymphatic tissue are the lymph nodes, the tonsils, the appendix and nodules of tissue in our mucous membranes. Most of these tissues contain T Cells to kill foreign intruders directly and B Cells that develop into antibody-secreting plasma cells using their antibodies to dispose of more specific foreign substances. Most of our immune response occurs in these secondary areas. The lymph nodes are oval bean-like structures situated along the length of lymphatic vessels, usually in groups. They are most heavily concentrated under the arms, throughout the chest and along the edges of the pubic area, although fully one third are located in the neck. Nodes are composed primarily of connective tissue which can rebuild, but not reproduce, which supports masses of densely packed lymphocytes and phagocytes. T Cells wait here for activation in immunity and B Cells proliferate into antibody-secreting plasma cells. Lymph flows through the node in one direction and is filtered for foreign substances that are then destroyed by the immune cells in the node. This detection then activates the immune response. Plasma cells and T cells will aid this process by leaving the lymph node and circulating through the lymph to other parts of the body.
How We Stay Healthy
Maintaining homeostasis in the body requires rapid and continual defense against foreign substances and pathogens. Nonspecific resistance provides this continual defense net including the skin and mucous membranes. The epidermis is fairly waterproof with many closely packed keratinized cells and continually sheds, which then removes surface microbes. The epithelial layer of mucous membranes secrete mucous that lubricates and moistens the cavity. Because of its viscous nature it traps many microbes and foreign substances. There are also hairs along the respiratory passages which trap and filter air, which contains foreign particles. The presence of these particles can stimulate coughing and sneezing, which then expels them out of the body [and onto other people].
We also have other ways of eliminating foreign substances from the body, such as tearing of the eyes, saliva in the mouth, urination, defecation and perspiration. Each of these cleanses its respective areas helping to wash out pathogens. We also have chemical defenses in each of these areas as well. The skin produces sebum in the sebaceous glands, which forms a protective film on the skin. It contains unsaturated fatty acids that inhibit the growth of certain pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Perspiration contains lysozymes, which are enzymes capable of breaking down the cell walls of bacteria making them susceptible to our own immune cells. In our connective tissue we have Hyaluronic acid, which slows the spread of localized infections. In the stomach our gastric juice contains a very high acidity level to destroy most bacteria. Antacids block this acid production, thus exposing us to increasingly larger amounts of pathogens and bacteria in our food. Even the vaginal tract contains acids that can destroy bacteria. When the body's acidity level is elevated and the immune system is on a high alert status, these secretions can actually prevent a woman from getting pregnant.
Our bloodstream also contains antimicrobial substances such as transferrins, which are iron-binding proteins that inhibit bacterial growth by reducing iron levels. Anemia is often misinterpreted, and is actually a sign of high bacteria levels in the body. Body cells that are infected with viruses produce proteins called interferons. Once released, interferons attach to adjoining cells causing them to synthesize anti-viral proteins to protect the surrounding cells from viral attack. Viruses can only cause disease if they can replicate within body cells, but interferons interfere with this viral replication and enhance the cell-killing activity of phagocytes and natural killer cells. This is the idea behind interferon therapy for HIV, Hepatitis C and other serious viral conditions. Unfortunately, the synthesized version of interferons many times cause more harm than good in the body and actually stress the immune system even further.
In addition to these specific chemicals, the body has what is known as the Complement System. This is a group of about 20 normally inactive proteins in blood plasma that can, when activated, enhance certain immune, allergic and inflammatory reactions. Fever is another important factor of our resistance. Many bacteria cannot survive in higher body temperatures, and fever actually intensifies the effects of interferon, inhibiting the growth of microbes and speeding up body reactions to aid defense and repair.
Phagocytosis is one of the key aspects of our non-specific immunity. It is the ingestion of microbes or foreign particles by phagocytic cells, literally suffocating them. When an infection occurs, phagocytes migrate into the infected area, beginning the process of phagocytosis, which takes only about 10-30 minutes. It is also this process that can trigger more specific immune resistance. The process of phagocytosis is accompanied by another important body defense mechanism, inflammation. This natural body process has been given such a bad rap by the medical community and also by patients who refuse to accept any limitation for any period of time. Inflammation is a defensive response to any perceived irritation causing redness, swelling, pain and heat. The purpose of inflammation is to prevent the spread of any substance to uninfected areas, to localize immunity, and to prepare the site for tissue repair.
Any irritation or injury causes the release of pro-inflammative chemicals such as histamine, bradykinin, prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These induce blood vessels to dilate and become more permeable. This not only increases blood flow to the area, but also isolates any pathogen to make it more susceptible to immune cells. As the localized temperature increases from heated blood, reactions increase and edema results, permitting more fluid to move from the blood into tissue spaces. Pain is caused by the release of bradykinin and irritation from pressure and chemical agents that affect our nociceptors or pain receptors. Prostaglandins intensify and prolong the pain, forcing a reduction in mobility. Clotting factors leak into the tissues causing the release of fibrinogen, which forms a thick network of fibrin threads, trapping microbes in the area.
This entire chemical process can occur within minutes, and prevents cells in the area from receiving additional food or oxygen. As cells degenerate, their intracellular fluid condenses and the cell begins to swell. It will accumulate waste materials and its metabolism will drop. The number of healthy cells determines how much time will be needed to restore normal structure and function after the inflammatory process. Also body cells have shorter and longer survival times. Brain cells can survive for 4 minutes while cells in the leg can survive for 30 minutes.
As the body responds to the chemical changes that occur within the affected cells, histamine is released. This causes increased congestion of the area with the arrival of phagocytes from the blood and lymph. The phagocytes dispose of microbes, foreign material and dying tissue. If there is structural damage, a blood clot will immediately form by the platelets of the blood, closing the gap of injury. This brings about edema, which is an engorgement of the blood vessels much more intense than simple inflammation. It is the edema that causes an increase in pain due to the fluid pressure on the sensory nerve endings.
Now, production of new cells from the parenchyme and the stroma take place to replace the damaged tissue completely. Damaged blood vessels begin to regrow to fill in the wound. Movement and physical stress determine the arrangement of these new cells and fibers. When aligned properly, they do not significantly restrict proper range of motion and movement. However, if the fibers are spread out over the damaged area in a haphazard pattern, they will restrict movement, blood flow and repair. This can make the recovery period longer and if scar tissue is not completely released, pain can continue indefinitely.
So Why Do We Get Sick?
Our immune system is challenged and developed during the first 15 years of life. For this reason, allowing exposure to disease in childhood is crucial for proper immune development. Vaccinations are injections of antigens into the healthy system in order to stimulate our immune recognition for that particular disease. But is this really the best way? See our section on Natural Options For the Flu.
It is also possible that viral fragments are incorporated into our DNA and then copied with each cellular reproduction cycle. Viruses that are reproduced with the reproduction of a cell are called retroviruses. It is possible that these retroviruses or viral fragments that are endogenous can be activated by other viral infections that the patient experiences.
Even obesity can be exacerbated by viral loads. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have found that the adenovirus may be a strong contributing factor to obesity. Approximately 15% of obese individuals tested were positive for antibodies to the AD-36 virus, leading to the idea that if treated for viral issues, obese individuals may regain the ability to lose weight not associated with food intake. A viral infection can cause a sedation of the metabolic rate through a number of mechanisms. First, they initiate a cellular immune response, which can, if prolonged, lead to thymus dominance and a suppression of adrenal and thyroid function. Viruses also increase copper retention and decrease zinc retention, which can cause an increase in the tissue concentration of calcium, which then causes a decrease in the ability to burn fat and the deposition of fat peripherally. Bacterial infections however, have almost the opposite effect. A bacterial infection produces a humoral immune response which can suppress the thymus over time and accelerate the metabolic rate. Adrenal and thyroid activity are increased, causing fat to be deposited centrally.
So when we talk about immunity, what process are we really referring to? Immunity is the body's ability to defend itself against specific invading agents such as bacteria, toxins, viruses and chemicals. Think of the example of a plant. Only a plant that is unhealthy has insects, while healthy plants do not. Does the plant become unhealthy because of the invading pathogens or do the pathogens invade because the plant is already unhealthy? If we do, in fact, experience invasion by pathogens from outside of our body, one of the key questions to ask would be which mucous membranes have weakened, allowing pathogens to enter the body? But another interesting view is that of Antoine Bechamp. He speculated that the invaders are actually inherent in our bodies all the time. In fact he thought that internal bacteria could actually alter into more toxic and disease-producing forms. This is dependent on the toxicity level of the internal body's environment. Once bacteria changes form it is recognized as a foreign substance, which provokes an immune response. Immunity function relies on blood and lymph and consequently water. The presence of bacteria drains tissues of water causing dehydration. Potassium is important at this stage because it actually causes moisture to be drawn from bacteria into cells, dehydrating the bacterial colonies. Levels of potassium are controlled by the adrenal glands and the kidneys. So weak adrenals, more bacterial infection.
In immune responses, the foreign substance is called an antigen . The antigen programs the immune system to be able to recognize other examples of the antigen through a memory of previous encounters. If this happens too often over time then the immune system can weaken and lose the ability to distinguish between hostile and non-hostile foreign cells, a fact that would be particularly true if the antigen is actually a natural body bacterium that has altered. Another problem can be cross-reactivity of the immune system, known as molecular mimicry. The genetic coding of proteins that the antigen carries are the basis for body recognition of the antigen. But there are also similar natural proteins in our own bodies with almost identical signatures. This may explain rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes or ankylosing spondylitis.
T cells carry out this recognition and memory, a process known as cellular immunity , because it is the immunity of individual cells. T cells are an entire population of identical cells that can recognize the same antigen and carry out an attack against multiple versions of the antigen. Each cell carries out its duty in a particular way, for instance killer T Cells stimulate phagocytosis. This is particularly effective against fungi, parasites and viruses, some cancer cells and foreign tissue transplants.
Humoral immunity is different, because it is carried out by B cells that actually migrate to the infected area. These cells resident in the spleen, lymph nodes and lymphoid tissue become activated when antigens are carried into these areas via the lymph. This stimulates the B Cells to secrete specific antibodies [immunoglobulins], which then circulate in the lymph and blood to reach the infection site. There they bind to and deactivate the antigen with long-living memory B Cells ready to respond more rapidly and forcefully should the same antigen reappear at a future time. This works mainly against antigens dissolved in body fluids [as opposed to within cells] and extracellular pathogens, primarily bacteria. This is the essence of what we think of as body immunity, where the body maintains memory of an antigen for a period of time, generally years. This is the theory behind vaccinations. Vaccinations are where weakened active antigens are dissolved and injected into the body to stimulate the B cells to develop a memory of the antigen to protect against future occurrences.
So what happens when this system goes awry? Dr. Royal Lee postulated that the nucleoprotein of every cell in the body contains genetic material that is specific to the tissue within which the cell resides. That is what enables the cell to function as a part of that tissue. When the cell becomes damaged through nutritional deficiency, chemicals, toxicity or physiological dysfunction, then the cell dies and spills its contents into the surrounding fluid, including the nucleoprotein signature. Once, this happens a histamine reaction begins stimulating Natural Tissue Antibodies or auto antibodies to respond. These NTAs will then clear up the debris that if left in the tissue will act as toxic antigens. As long as debris continues to cascade into the body's fluids, NTAs will be present to clean up and histamine, inflammation and other natural activities of immunity will continue.
This is a condition we have come to know as autoimmunity. Oftentimes, disease processes and mystery symptoms are attributed to an autoimmune response. Many doctors see autoimmunity as a disease condition where the body is incorrectly attacking its own natural, healthy tissue and it is this process that is causing the damage. However, as we notice when we look at it from a different angle, even something such as a thyroid imbalance can bring about an autoimmune situation, by deregulating partner glands and tissues. Other examples of autoimmune disorders would be Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis.
Dr. Lee suggested the concept of a protomorphagenic substance for this situation, and in fact developed one for each individual tissue of the body. Many studies indicated that mammalian nucleoprotein signatures were identical interspecially, and therefore if a mammalian extracted nucleoprotein could be introduced orally, then it would act as a decoy for the immune system. This would allow a period of rest for the weakened natural tissue in which to regain nutritional strength, heal and restore normalized function. During this time the spillage of debris would cease as healing took place. But it is important for the introduced material to be solely the extracted nucleoprotein, and not the entire glandular material, as the latter will have a pharmacological effect on the natural tissue causing eventual atrophy of the tissue function. Also, during this respite it is important to provide the restorative material for the tissue in the form of nutritional support, healthy diet and detoxification.
In the last fifty years, our environment and our food have become increasing laden with toxins, chemicals, preservatives and bacteria. Our widespread use of antibiotics has led to the survival of super-bacteria that are increasingly difficult for our bodies to control. Our systems of filtration and elimination can only handle so much, so oftentimes, substances that are toxic bypass our bodies' defenses and are deposited in healthy tissue, such as glands, organs, joints and connective tissue. Irritation occurs and this can lead the immune system to respond, increasing inflammation of what is seen as healthy tissue. As the toxic material accumulates, our immune reserves are depleted, leading to weaker and weaker immunity, setting us up for not only an autoimmune problem, but perhaps a much more serious disease.
So What Can We Do?
There are three aspects to treating a serious immune issue. These are generally done concurrently, as long as the body is not too debilitated.
First we need to detoxify the body by cleansing the areas that are a problem. Simply with Colonic Hydrotherapy and a comprehensive cleanse program, we can dramatically reduce symptoms of chronic immune issues. Massage Therapy can also provide incredible benefits. One incredible therapy that you can do at home is Skin Brushing for Lymphatic Drainage. This helps to reduce congestion and toxic debris in cells and tissues, enabling the immune system to move swiftly and effectively to protect every area of the body.
In cases of HIV infection, a 1995 study done by the University of Miami School of Medicine and the Educating Hands Institute showed that the effects of massage included a significant increase in the natural killer cell number, a significant decrease in anxiety and an increase in relaxation. They found that patients who practiced relaxation frequently had better immune functioning one year after receiving news of seropositive status, and slower disease progression two years after this news. (Ironson et. al., 1994, Antoni, et. al., 1991).
Secondly, we need to modulate and strengthen normal immune response. We rely heavily on Echinacea Angustifolia and Echinacea Purpurea for this, along with Rehmannia for adrenal support, which helps to modulate the inflammatory response. There are many misconceptions in the United States regarding the effectiveness of Echinacea as an immune booster. In fact, it is an immune modulator, and only two species of Echinacea have been clinically proven to have these effects, Angustifolia and Purpurea.
The third thing we need to do is to repair damaged tissue, so the immune system response is no longer triggered, while at the same time, treating the original problem. For instance, we may trace five years of sinusitis back to an exposure to chemical fumes, which may have produced problems at the time, but treatment then seemed to resolve it. The sinusitis may have begun some months later, once the damaged cells had created sufficient immune dysregulation. So we support the healing and convalescence that never happened initially. Discovering the initiating factor in immune illness is usually essential to proper treatment at any point.
Finally, we need to protect healthy tissue from further problems with antioxidants, proper nutrient levels and healthy body fluids. The only way our body can stay healthy is for all aspects of the immune system to have the resources and pathways to move about the body and handle challenges that unresolved, can become illness. Our immune system is truly the only thing that stands between health and illness.