Shining the Light on the Immune System: Part 5 – Meet Your Adaptive Immunity

Thank you for the positive feedback on this immunity series! I’ve gotten comments like ‘thanks so much for filling in the void of what we’re NOT hearing’ and ‘I love how you walk the line in your approach.’ As safe as natural healing approaches are, shouldn’t they be a mainstay of our health care prevention?

Hygiene and distancing are one part of the equation for our current times. Supporting immune resilience through natural methods is JUST as important. So WHY are we hearing NOTHING about this?!

Well, unfortunately, the FDA widely censors information about natural healing methods that aren’t ‘FDA approved’ in order to protect consumers from those making ‘false claims.’ As you know, the sheer cost of the FDA approval process is prohibitive. We’re living in a time when naturopathic doctors and other holistic health practitioners are under a watchful eye – it’s not uncommon for us to be asked to remove articles from our websites chock full of helpful information. In truth, we’re not making false claims. Just offering suggestions that support longer term prevention.If preventative health information was widespread or even on the news, imagine how many lives could be supported or even saved? 

If you’re interested in taking action on this, scroll to the bottom.Here’s a link to parts 1-3 of the immunity series if you missed a part or want to refresh. Here’s a webinar that the NDs of VA created at the beginning of the pandemic to support immune resilience. It’s loaded with a plethora of on point information about prevention. (Check out our licensure movement! Note: If you contribute, I’m personally giving away thank you gifts. More on that in the P.S.)

OK, so now, let’s approach the arena of our adaptive immune response. Adaptive immunity is the most specialized and complex aspect of the immune system, so we’ll take a few posts to break it down into pieces you can digest, and start with an overview. As I highlighted before, the adaptive immune response is set to come online when pathogens have crossed the barrier and then have also gone onto defy the innate defense. 
The barriers and innate responses have still done their job to slow down microbial growth while allowing time for the adaptive response to strengthen. The innate response had also been working behind the scenes the entire time, sending messages to prepare the adaptive system for the microbial invasion. 

Our lymphocytes (white blood cells) are by and large the reason why the adaptive immune response is so astonishingly specific. First, a little background – there are two types of lymphocytes: T cells and B cells, both derived from the same stem cells that give rise to red blood cells and platelets. T cells and B cells are named after the organs in which they develop -T cells develop in the thymus, while B cells develop in the bone marrow.

These types of adaptive immune cells – B and T lymphocytes have receptors on their surfaces that recognize antigens – the particles associated with microbes. The adaptive immune response to these antigens is so versatile that it can develop as many as 100 trillion different receptors to recognize and respond to every conceivable pathogen, even COVID19.

The adaptive response is as thorough as it is robust. Think of it as occurring in stages – a primary response builds a memory which leads to an effective secondary response. A primary adaptive response happens when you get exposed to a pathogen for the very first time. It is this first infection that is more severe as it takes time for the initial adaptive response to create the necessary antibodies. 

Then, when we’re re-exposed to the same pathogen, a secondary adaptive immune response gets created, which is much stronger and faster than the primary response. In fact, this response often eliminates a pathogen completely before it’s able to cause significant tissue damage, or even symptoms. When this is happening, the individual is not even aware of the infection. Just think how many times we’re successfully fighting something and don’t even know it?

It’s this very secondary response that is the basis of immunological memory, which protects us from getting diseases repeatedly from the same pathogen.

I want to close with a very important feature of our adaptive immune response that could be a course in and of itself. ‘Tolerance’ is  the ability to tell the difference between ‘self-antigens’ and foreign antigens (and of those foreign antigens, those that might be infectious vs harmless tree pollen). 

As T and B cells mature, tolerance develops – these include the mechanisms that prevent the lymphocytes from inflicting an immune response against the body. Allergies and auto-immunity result when tolerance isn’t effective. It’s also this very reason that I prefer to use the term ‘immune support’ or resilience versus immune ‘boost’ as auto-immunity and allergies result from an overpowered immune response.

As you can see, the adaptive immune system is powerful and dynamic. It operates like a finely tuned orchestra, so what we’re aiming to support is optimal function. There is a balance of factors that come into play, and I notice in my body that when I over-treat a cold/flu that I can tend to swing in the direction of allergies afterwards. I see a big trend towards ‘bio-hacking’ and loading up the body with vitamins in an attempt to stave off infection, but we need to consider the whole picture and allow our bodies to do the job they are naturally designed to. This is a more vitalistic approach, a gentler less invasive approach that honors our body’s inherent healing capacity.

In a way, it’s getting back to the basics where technology and science have driven us further away from. To tune inwards versus outwards and trust what our gut is saying – this is after all where 80% of our immune cells reside!
Support Access to Natural Health ApproachesMovement to License ND’s in Virginia

For 15-years, I’ve had the opportunity to help get naturopathic doctors licensed in Virginia. They’re currently licensed in 22 states and 3 jurisdictions in the US, with active licensure movements in several states—Pennsylvania and North Carolina are so close to victory. In Virginia, we’re making connections, growing our support base, while chipping away at an extremely old and outdated structure (the Med Society of Virginia has its hands DEEP in the regulation of EVERY health profession in the state).   It’s taken time and persistence, and I now understand the adage: ‘never give up.’ Our bill is already pre-filed for 2021, our bill sponsors are Senator Chap Petersen and Delegate Rasoul – both of whom championed us last year. We have a lot of work to do, but we feel optimistic from all the support we’ve gained.  A license will finally allow NDs in Virginia (who currently practice as health consultants) to:   touch our patients, order labs, order diagnostic imaging, legally ‘diagnose’ and ‘treat,’ and provide the codes necessary for insurance reimbursement. We’ve seen our support grow immensely in the past few years and we hope to gain your support too! (I’m personally giving gifts to those who participate.) Check out our website to sign up for action alerts and a GoFundMe campaign to stay informed and become part of the solution..

Action Alerts to Protect Access to Natural HealthThe ANH is the largest organization in the US and abroad working to protect our rights to utilize effective, safe, and low-cost healing therapies, based on high-tech testing, diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes.   Take a look,  – they are doing some serious health care reform work.

Shining the Light on the Immune System – Part 4: The Microbiome and How Clean is too Clean?

We’ve been learning about our complex immune system, and we’re all set to dive into the adaptive immune response this week. But I often like to take a step back, take a breath, and look at the larger picture (like I do with my paintings). So let’s dial back for a moment before leaning into the microscopic lens to see the adaptive immune response. I felt like doing this today, because something has been stirring in the back of my mind. 

With all of the emphasis on sanitizing to prevent infection, I’ve been wondering about the long term impact that this could have on our beneficial bacteria, and even our microbiome. 

As I mentioned, maintaining whole body wellness supports a resilient immune system. Our microbiome is very important here as well.

The microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes that we pick up from the world. They’re mostly concentrated in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but they also live in the lungs, mouth, and other parts of the body.

The microbiome has even been called a supportive ‘organ,’ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body. It stimulates the immune response, supports vitamin production in the large intestine, affects our levels of inflammation in the body, and yes, even our weight.

Recent studies show the effect that the microbiome can have on long term health. People in developing countries who live in less sterile environments, and eat mostly whole foods while spending more time around people and animals have a wider variety of microbes in their GI than those living in more developed countries.They also have lower rates of allergies and autoimmune conditions than Europe, US, and Australia. These findings support the “hygiene hypothesis” – the idea that childhood infections acquired through unhygienic contact bolster the immune system against diseases later in life.

SO, with that said, are we being too clean now?? 

We ARE in the midst of a pandemic … but should we sanitize everything with harsh alcohol-based products on the daily (or multiple times daily?) to prevent infection – especially if this goes well into 2022? 

Many people will continue to wash, spray, and sanitize away. I won’t. Why? Because alcohol-based sanitizers kill the beneficial bacteria on our skin – an important part of our body’s microbiome, which is designed to help us thrive – and they also break down the important epithelial barrier on the skin. We learned all about our barrier protection in part 1.

What’s a good balance then? That depends on your bio-individuality. For those with diagnosed immune compromise; it makes sense to minimize exposure through more vigilant hygiene while taking extra special care in supporting your immunity in other ways – whole food nutrition, exercise, and nutritional supplementation. 

Children build their immune systems through exposure to germs, and since they’re mostly learning from home nowadays, I’d stick to hand washing instead of the harsh alcohol sanitizers. If they have a very busy day in contact with a variety of people and someone just so happened to have a runny nose, then you may consider a sanitizer, or good wash up at home.

It makes sense to regularly clean common areas of exposure and transmission (bathroom and kitchen) and pay special attention to frequently touched surfaces – keyboards, phones, remotes, and door knobs – especially if someone at home is sick. But if your family is well, frequently spraying lysol or alcohol-based products at home could be more harmful than helpful in the longer term.

You may consider a couple of alternatives that I like:
:: A natural cleaning spray for your home using thyme essential oil.
I found a great recipe here: In a 16 oz spray bottle, add 1/3 cup hydrogen peroxide, 12-36 drops thyme essential oil, and 13 oz distilled water. Shake it up and spray on a surface. Let it sit for 10 minutes before wiping off. 

:: Take a look at HOCl (hypochlorous acid) – a game changer for disinfecting. HOCl is made naturally by the white blood cells in response to a pathogen and until recently; this molecule wasn’t stable enough for use outside the body. It’s highly effective as a surface disinfectant without the harsh side effects. (The only downside is that it isn’t as cost effective as the DIY solution). 

Since we’ll be at this for awhile, I think it’s a good idea to take a look at the big picture and consider how our everyday activities, like sanitizing, will have a long range effect. When we come out of distancing, we may have done a great job of preventing exposure, but will we have created other issues? Given we build immunity through exposure and human contact, will we have depleted ourselves? Will we be less resilient and less able to defend effectively? It’s entirely possible, and I do think it’s a good idea to consider a balanced approach with some healthier disinfecting alternatives for prevention’s sake.
Flow into Immune Resilience
Want to get Fall-ready? Meet us outside for the Flow into Immune Resilience Workshop September 13th. Enjoy gentle yoga, a lively discussion on immunity, and a deeply restorative meditation. It’s almost full (there’s only space for 16 of us)! Learn more, sign up, and prepare to boost your immunity. You’ll receive a bag of handmade ‘Immun-I-Tea’ for coming. 
Support Access to Naturopathic Medicine
Did you know that naturopathic doctors are not yet licensed in every state? I personally think SO much can be done preventatively at this time, and it’s frustrating to see how natural solutions are being glossed over . Wouldn’t you also like to see a more widespread preventative approach to healthcare?  make sense for everyone to have access to the health care of their choice? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be in alignment with the movement to support licensure for NDs in Virginia.

Shining the Light on Our Immune System – Part 3 – Chemical Attraction

Before we dive into part three, I have an important update on the movement to license medically-trained NDs in Virginia – if you’re following, it’s been a 15-year labor of love! Scroll down to the bottom for more information.

Knowledge is truly empowering. As I’ve dug deeper into the ins and outs of our adaptable and robust immune response, I’m becoming more confident in my body’s ability to defend itself. We’re in the long haul right now, and when the body is in constant fear, it works against our resilience. Today I want to highlight some of the stealth signaling molecules behind the scenes who are responsible for keeping you well.

Some are alive and  ready—part of a built in communication system. While others are created in real time when you need backup. You may be hearing about ‘cytokines’ from the ‘cytokine storm’ that happens in those who get the severest form of Covid. A cytokine storm is a rare event that happens with an uncontrolled immune response (imagine having your foot glued to the gas). It happens in people with chronic disease, who have multiple sick organs, or those who have severe inflammation. Normally, cytokines enable cells to communicate with each other over short distances. They’re very important signaling agents that get released into the space between cells. They trigger the inflammatory response and mobilize key players of immune function.

Chemokines are also always at the ready and are able to attract white blood cells to an area to fight infection.

Our innate response also induces classes of molecules on an as needed basis:
interferons are made by cells infected with viruses. These brilliant molecules then travel to other cells telling them to make antiviral proteins.

C reactive protein is made in the liver and it binds to the bacterial cell walls in a type of ‘tagging’ – known by the fancy term ‘opsonization.’ 

Macrophages (remember Pac Man?) have receptors for these very proteins, so they easily ‘see’ the bacteria, and are able to devour them. 

Lastly, let’s briefly mention the 30 proteins or so which make up the complement system – an entire complex system that involves three different pathways, enhancing (complements) the ability of both the innate response and the adaptive response – which we’ll talk about next time! This system is usually maintained in check by inhibitor proteins, it has a variety of triggers that cause its irreversible activation. The result of this activation is bacterial destruction, phagocytosis, and inflammation.

What a thorough and robust system we have!I

I wanted to end with a brief share of one of my absolute favorite immune herbs- black elderberriesBlack elderberries are a go-to for preventing viral infection for so many reasons, one in particular is its ability to support cytokine function. As we read earlier, cytokines are important signaling agents that turn on the immune response. This plant got a really bad rap earlier on in the pandemic with a misinterpretation of a 19-year old study done on elderberry using test tubes, not people. Someone started the false claim that the herb could induce a cytokine storm. Not true. Read this article which refutes the idea. Black elderberries are safe, effective, and well-tolerated, it is my go-to for the Fall transition. In fact, I make my own big batch every year. Let me know if you’re interested! 
Want to get Fall-ready?  Meet us under the tent outside for the Flow into Immune Resilience Workshop September 13th at Ease Yoga and Cafe. Enjoy gentle yoga, a lively discussion on immunity, and a deeply restorative meditation It’s almost full (there’s only space for 16 people)! Learn more, sign up, and prepare to boost your immunity. You’ll receive a bag of handmade ‘Immun-I-Tea’ for coming. 🙂