Column #87

Because our immunity can protect or kill us, it's more complex than most assume. Its primary function is to recognize and protect our bodies against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and substances that appear foreign and harmful. But unless you understand what can cause this amazing defense system to backfire, you’re defenseless.

Is it serious? It sure is. Autoimmune diseases affect more than 23.5 million Americans and are a leading cause of death and disability. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

The immune system works by recognizing and responding to substances that contain antigens. Antigens are usually proteins on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Antigens can also be other substances such as toxins, chemicals, drugs, and foreign particles that the immune system tries to destroy. Since your body's cells also have antigens, the immune system learns that these antigens are normal and usually ignores them.

Everyone is born with innate, barrier immunity that defends against all antigens. These include skin, mucus, stomach acid, coughing, and enzymes found in tears and skin oils. There's also innate humoral immunity, a form of protein chemical that causes fever.

Antigens that get past these barriers are attacked and destroyed by other immune system defenses.

Acquired immunity develops with exposure to specific antigens, as from vaccinations or an attack by an infectious disease. Examples include polio vaccinations and having survived Ebola.

Passive immunity can occur naturally, when maternal antibodies are transferred to the fetus through the placenta (which disappear between ages 6 and 12 months), or induced artificially, when high levels of antibodies specific to a pathogen or toxin are transferred to non‑immune persons through blood products. Passive immunity provides immediate but not long-lasting protection against an antigen.

Specific white blood cells, such as B and T type lymphocytes, are also part of the immune system. Additionally there are helpful chemicals and proteins in the blood, such as antibodies, complement proteins, and interferon. Some of these directly attack foreign substances in the body and others work together to help the immune system cells.

Lymphocytes normally learn the difference between host body tissues and foreign substances. Once B cells and T cells are formed, some multiply and provide immune system "memory" that prevents you from getting sick.

Inflammation occurs when tissues are injured. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These draw fluid into the tissues, causing swelling which in turn helps isolate foreign substances. These chemicals also attract white blood cells that "eat" germs and dead or damaged cells.

Too much, too little, or the wrong immune response results in immune system disorders. For example, allergies involve an incorrect immune response to a substance most bodies perceive as harmless. Where efficient immune responses protect against many diseases and disorders, an inefficient immune response allows or causes diseases to develop. An overactive immune response can cause autoimmune diseases where antibodies attack the body's own tissues.

Autoimmune diseases include arthritis, lupus, Crohn's, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, Graves' disease, Parkinson's, and many more.

How do we protect ourselves against autoimmune diseases? Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos writes, "The importance of omega‑3 essential fatty acids in the diet is now evident, as well as the need to return to a more physiologic omega‑6/omega‑3 ratio of about 1‑4/1 rather than the ratio of 20‑16/1 provided by current Western diets." She’s saying that when EFA ratios are above 4:1 the risk of autoimmune disease soars. What’s your ratio?

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well‑being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don't miss these links for additional reading:

Omega‑3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases by Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos

Sign up for your in-home Omega-3 test. Enter slanker in the offer code for a greater discount.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements Improve the Cadiovascular Risk Profile of Subjects with Metabolic Syndrome, Including Markers of Inflammation and Autoimmunity by Dr. Majid Ghayour Mobarhan

Immune Response by MedlinePlus

American Ebola Survivors Are Likely Immune to Virus Strain Now from Live Science

A Listing of 134 Autoimmune Diseases by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc.

Researchers Open New Path of Discovery in Parkinson's Disease from ScienceDaily

Fibromyalgia Mystery Solved by Ted Slanker