Shining the Light on our Immune System – Part 2: Beyond the Barrier

In my 18 years of clinical practice, I’ve witnessed a serious decline in peoples’ faith about their body’s own self-healing ability. 

Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed an increase of germophobia. Based on our busier lifestyles, and being more connected to technology and less to the earth, we’ve forgotten how resilient our bodies really are. Top it off with fearful media messages and most of us would go down the dark rabbithole, too. . 

Now more than ever, it’s critical to revisit ancient wisdom for guidance and remember that our bodies are indeed designed to self-heal.

One of the primary tenets of naturopathic medicine is the ‘vis medicatrix nature’ or the healing power of nature’ – which we possess as an inherent part of our being. Back in the times of Hippocrates, it was noted that if an injured or wounded individual was left alone, healing would often happen on its own over time without intervention. Our bodies do know how to heal.

Our sophisticated immune response is certainly testament to this. Last week we learned a lot about all the wonderful barriers our bodies have at our defense 24/7, and this week I wanted to begin to shine the light on the cells of our innate immune system.

Our innate immune system is a response that is robust and unspecific, and it involves a host of players whose names you might recognize from your lab results. The innate response is critical when controlling the early stages of infection. While the barrier defense is physical, this defense is part of our physiological immunity – the other component being the adaptive immunity – which we will discuss later.

We have a robust array of fighters involved in our innate immune response: macrophages, neutrophils, and monocytes are all ‘phagocytes.’ These guys are like Pac-Men (if you aren’t too young to remember the video game!) and they surround and engulf particles and cells, clearing away debris, old cells, and destroying bacteria. These phagocytes are the body’s fast acting, first line of defense against organisms that have breached the barrier defenses and have entered the more vulnerable tissues of the body.

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Macrophages: the true first line of defense found in connective tissue and lymph nodes. They’re called different names, depending on where they reside in the body: Kupffer cells in the liver, microglial cells in the brain, alveolar macrophages in the lungs, dendritic cells in the skin, macrophages in lymphoid tissue and mammary macrophages.

Neutrophils: spherical cells contain a variety of mediators such as histamine, they act as a reinforcement to the macrophages.

Monocytes: mobilize rapidly to areas of infection by signal molecules of inflammation. Monocytes then differentiate into either a macrophage or dendritic cells (cells that display proteins to other immune players).

Lastly, natural killer (NK) cells are also a part of this innate immune response. They’re a white blood cell capable of killing cells that are infected with bacteria and viruses. NK cells have the ability to recognize these cells by their surface receptors.

Aren’t you impressed by all of the ‘fighters’ we have that work in concert to keep us safe? We haven’t even gotten to the adaptive branch of the immune system. And beyond all of the above, we also have a built in system of chemical warfare to boot. We will go more into that next week.

Since our innate immunity is part of our body’s own self healing response, steps we take to support our own wellness include: a diet rich in plant nutrients, stress reduction and restorative sleep, will go a long way to support this branch of immunity. 

You might also consider taking Vitamin D and the herb astragalus to support your immunity. Because vitamin D receptors are widely found in monocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells, supplementing with D or getting regular sunlight exposure will assist in the regulation and expression of these very important immune cells.

Astragalus is a Traditional Chinese Medicine herb. It’s been included in formulas for hundreds of years to strengthen the Wei Qi – an energetic “shield” that serves as a primary defense against immune threats. Studies show how astragalus is effective at enhancing macrophage effectiveness.

The beauty of having such a powerful and complex immune response is that our options for supporting immune resilience are abundant.

P.S. What if you knew that you were doing the right thing at the right time to boost your immunity and not get sick? Flow into Immune Resilience Workshop is coming September 13th … and it’s almost full! Join us here. You’ll receive a bag of handmade ‘Immun-I-Tea’ for coming. 🙂

P.P.S. For my ND friends, the Virtual Mid-Atlantic ND Conference is coming up September 25th – 27th … and you’ll receive continuing education credits! Join us here. Please share. <3 

Shining the Light on Our Immune System – A Series

Priming Our Natural First Line of Defense

Did you know that our bodies are naturally equipped with both physical and physiological defenses against infection? If you’re following the media closely during this time, you may be led to believe that a pathogen can just merely enter the body. Nothing is farther from the truth! Our skin barrier is constantly working on our behalf to prevent microbes and pathogens from entering. 

Just beyond our natural barrier response, we’re also well-equipped with innate and adaptive immunity. So we have not one, but two immune systems at the ready to fight infection. We’ll talk more about this later.

Let’s get back to our physical barriers. The skin, covered with a layer of cells that is too dry for bacteria to colonize, is also shedding these cells continuously – carrying bacteria and other pathogens with them. Also, sweat and other skin secretions lower pH, contain toxic lipids, and physically wash microbes away.

We also have many other protective mechanisms that are associated with any areas where pathogens may try to enter: 
~Saliva in the mouth is rich in the bacteria destroying lysozyme.
The acidic environment of the stomach is fatal to many pathogens.
~Mucus layer of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, reproductive tract, eyes, ears, and nose traps both microbes and debris, and facilitates their removal. 
~IgA is a natural surface antibody present on all of these mucous membranes (also present in tears, sweat, saliva, and colostrum) it neutralizes viruses and toxins, and inhibits microbial growth.
~Cilia of the upper respiratory system moves contaminated mucus upwards to the mouth, where it is then swallowed into the digestive tract, ending up in the harsh acidic environment of the stomach. 

As you can see, we have multiple barrier mechanisms that have evolved to work hand in hand to protect us from viruses. Before a microbe, virus, or other foreign invader can even gain entry, it must breach this variety of physical defenses.

Aren’t our bodies amazing? All of this protection, and we haven’t even gotten to the physiologic immune response yet! We’ll get into that in part two of the series.

Some simple ways to support our natural barriers:
~Optimal hydration to promote healthy mucous membranes – consider drinking spring water, structured water, or adding in trace minerals for absorption.
~Licorice is my favorite herb for bolstering this defense as it supports the integrity of the respiratory and GI mucous membranes
~Consider Propolis – quite fitting that the substance bees use to seal off their hives is also powerful for building the natural resistance of our barrier mechanisms. (Take caution if you’re sensitive to bees/bee products.)
~Dry skin brushing to support sloughing of dead skin cells and circulation of the lymph which is critical for optimal immune function.

Interested in this topic and want to learn more? I’ll be co-leading a
Flow into Immune Resilience Workshop at Ease Yoga & Cafe
on September 13th at 6:00pm. You’ll receive a bag of handmade
‘Immun-I-Tea’ as a participant. 🙂 Space is limited due to distancing requirements. Registration is through Ease Yoga and Cafe.