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