The relationship between autoimmune disease and immune resilience.
These are very delicate times we are facing, especially with our health. And more specifically, because the coronavirus virus (COVID -19) has hit hard. To make things a little more clearer, we really need to understand the relationship between autoimmune disease and immune resilience. This, at least, may help people with autoimmune diseases feel a little more secure about the whole COVID-19 situation.
So, autoimmunity… and why does the body attack itself?
In my previous blogs I talked about immune tolerance and immune resilience. However, it’s important to understand that having an autoimmune disease doesn’t mean to say it will weaken immune resilience. But we’ll get to that later. First, let’s look at what autoimmunity really is.
Autoimmunity, to describe it in medical terms, is a disorder where the immune system erroneously destroys and attacks body tissue. Put simply, it is the immune system going slightly crazy (it’s gone into ‘tilt mode’) and mistakenly eats, destroys, and attacks body tissue. As an example, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, where the body mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland; or rheumatoid arthritis, where the body mistakenly attacks the joints. Other examples of autoimmunity are type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, alopecia, vitiligo, etc.
Under normal circumstances the immune system is able to tell the difference between foreign (nonself)cells and your own (self) cells. And protect against germs like bacteria and viruses, sending or releasing, an army of fighter cells, natural killer cells, etc, to attack the foreign invader.
When we look at autoimmune disease, however, the immune system erroneously thinks parts of the body, such as the thyroid, joints, skin, etc, are foreign. Your immune system is in ‘tilt mode’, and sends out, or releases autoantibodies that then attack healthy cells.
How does autoimmunity affect your chances of contracting an illness – viral, bacterial or otherwise?
Well, that depends. When we talk about autoimmune disease and immune resilience we need to look at how well your immune function is working in relation to your autoimmunity. To put it another way, different people may have the same autoimmune disease but either a higher or lower immune state. And in fact, autoimmunity can either heighten or dampen immune resilience.
As an example, some people with Hashimoto’s may have a high white blood count and some a low white blood count. Some may have different levels of natural killer cells, T-cell regulation, and B-cell activity, etc. Everyone is different, just because you have the same autoimmune disease doesn’t mean your immune status will be the same!
What this means is some people with autoimmunity alone may have a heightened immune status, meaning they have a high immune resilience. One way to tell if your immune resilience is strong is if you haven’t caught a cold or flu over the last 5 years or so. Even when, at the same time, heightened immune activity may exacerbate autoimmune attacks against bodily tissues. This may seem a little complicated but really it isn’t. A good way to look at it is, we should think of autoimmunity and the immune resilience as two functioning processes that can harm us or protect us. Autoimmunity is a disease which harms us, whereas immune resilience, which can be built or broken depending on your lifestyle habits. When immune resilience is strong we will be less likely to catch get ill. And less prone to chronic disease.
Do people with autoimmunity need to be cautious when taking botanicals?
Well, yes and no!
Let me explain. Because autoimmunity instigates such a diversity of immune responses in each and everyone of us that have it, we need to think before we start taking any herbs, medicinal mushrooms, or other botanicals that can influence the immune system. Of course, it is always best to speak with a qualified functional/restorative doctor before commencing any regime.
If we take a look at the immune-stimulating botanicals such as echinacea or maitake mushrooms in some autoimmune people, they can fire up the immune system and make their autoimmune symptoms even worse. Again, botanicals that actually delay or slow immune response, such as antibody production, can also make autoimmune people worse. We need to be very careful here. Talk to your qualified functional/restorative physician or doctor.
The best way to modulate the Immune system and improve resilience with autoimmunity
So, let’s cut to the chase. If you are one of those people who finds it difficult to balance your immune system, or measure chronic disease, your lifestyle picture should be looked at. As mentioned in my previous blog they make a world of difference. These lifestyle strategies include:
- Good sleep
- Proper diet and nutrition
- Physical activity at appropriate levels
- Emotions (crying and laughing)
Of course, there are many other healthy lifestyle habits you can take on which help balance immune function. But just start off slowly and you’ll see, you’ll get there. The key is to understand how important your life is…and your health. We only get one shot at this, and we only have one body. You can’t buy a new one, it’s not like a car or fancy dress. Take care of yourself and learn to love yourself. Remember you are the best thing that ever happened to you 🙂
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To your health