Immunity – Striking A Delicate Balance
Nature teaches us that everything in life has to exist in balance to ensure our mental well-being, physical health and to live in peace and harmony. We need a balanced diet to provide the body with the right nutrients to ensure it functions optimally. So does our immune system. Any imbalance or disorder in the immune system will lead to:
1) Weak immune system - This is called primary immune deficiency such as getting a cough and cold more frequently. We can strengthen it through good nutrition, supplements and good lifestyle habits.
2) Hyperactive immune system:
Allergic reactions such as asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergy are some typical examples of an immune system which is hyperactive.
Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis or Type I diabetes happen when the immune system starts attacking its own body instead of safeguarding it.
3) Acquired immune deficiency – The immune system is weakened due to:-
Virus such as HIV that attacks and destroys the body’s immune systems cells;or
Several medical interventions such as chemotherapy.
The Immune Defense Players
Our immune system involves 3 lines of defense against foreign invaders or pathogens.
The first line of defense is the physical and chemical barriers. It is made up of the skin, lungs, digestive tract and secretions such as saliva and tears. The function of barrier immunity is to prevent pathogens from entering into the body.
The second line of defense is called innate immunity. It is already present during birth. It is a non-specific response that acts very quickly to ensure the pathogens are destroyed on the spot within a few hours. The second line of defense will kick in when the first line of defense is breached.
The third line of defense is not present during birth. Its response is specific and is activated when the innate response is insufficient to control an infection. It triggers a response specifically for that particular pathogen for example antibody. It is adaptive, which means it has a ‘memory’. This is very important because the antibody can produce an immediate and enhanced response when the host is in contact with the same pathogen.
When We Are Feeling Under The Weather
The common cold is the most common infection that affects us and the average person gets it three to five times per year. Vitamin C is the most sought-after nutrient for the extra boost for our immunity when we suffer from cold and flu. It can be taken by all ages; in children, adults and the elderly. Contrary to popular belief, vitamin C is not a cure for the common cold but it can shorten the duration and reduce the severity of the symptoms of the cold if taken regularly. Vitamin C is needed to strengthen the entire immune system by increasing the white blood cells and enhancing their ability to fight infections. It also has an additional antioxidant properties, making it extremely beneficial to clear any excessive reactive species (ROS) that may cause damage to our healthy cells. ROS usually is produced by the immune cells to deactivate the viruses.
The immune cells must always be alert and ready to fight any pathogens that invade into our body. In order to do so, the immune cells need to be activated. A unique strain of yeast beta glucan, 1,3/1,6 beta glucan, is able to do so. The link between immunity and yeast beta glucan has now been recognized and established for many years. Wellmune yeast beta glucan is a clinically researched and supported baker’s yeast beta glucan, which has been shown to help support immune system functionality and to maintain overall physical health. Research has also shown that Wellmune has the ability to protect against the harmful effects of stress and promote both healthy energy levels and mental clarity.
Latest Breakthrough In The Current Pandemic
Recently, a traditional herb, Andrographis paniculata, was being recommended by the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine (DTAM) as the treatment for flu-like symptoms caused by the coronavirus. The preliminary trials showed promising results and on-going trials are under way to further support its efficacy in COVID-19. Another latest breakthrough is the use of cucurmin in COVID-19 prevention. The golden spice has always been revered for many health benefits. One of the latest study published in October 2020 concluded that cucurmin may be a useful preventive remedy against COVID-19.
Vitamin D: Raising New Hopes in Men and Elderly
There are growing interests on the use of vitamin D during the Covid-19 pandemic in preventing respiratory diseases. Studies have proven that people with low levels of vitamin D are associated with higher risk and severity of infections, particularly in respiratory infections. The primary function of vitamin D is to regulate absorption of calcium for stronger bones and teeth. It is also vital to have a healthy level of vitamin D to facilitate a normal immune system function. Gender disparities in Covid-19 associated death have been demonstrated globally. More men are dying from the pandemic with twice as many as compared to their female counterparts. Older adults run a risk of lower levels of vitamin D due to low intake, accumulation of fat tissues, and lesser time spent outdoors. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates an association between vitamin D deficiency and diseases associated with aging such as cognitive decline, depression, osteoporosis, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Thus, men and the elderly will benefit more from vitamin D supplementation to boost their immunity. Vitamin D supplementation also requires additional vitamin K2 intake. It is due to high intake of Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium, leading to calcium plaque, on the soft tissues of the heart and blood vessels. Vitamin K2 is needed to manage the calcium level in the body, by directing the calcium to the right tissue and organs such as the bones. Hence, it prevents the accumulation of calcium in the wrong place.
Inflammation: Good or Bad?
Calming the Hyperactive Immune System
An hyperactive immune system occurs when it overreacts in the body. It can occur in the lungs, intestine, skin or even the joints. An overactive immune system is as detrimental and dangerous as the one that stops working. It leads to many autoimmune disorders because the immune system is not able to differentiate between the normal, healthy cells from the invaders. An overactive immune system may react to substances in the environment that are normally harmless. These substances are known as allergens. The immune system reaction is amplified to these substances and causes an allergic reaction. There is no cure for an overactive immune response. Medical treatments are aimed at controlling the overactive immune response and to reduce the inflammation. Drugs used to treat these conditions include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) i.e. ibuprofen, naproxen, steroids, montelukast among others, come with side effects.
A hyperactive immunity leads to inflammation. The word inflammation comes from the Latin word which means firing or to set afire. In some diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, we can feel pain, heat, redness and swelling at the affected joints as these are part of the inflammation processes. In some cases, such as cognitive decline, heart diseases or diabetes, the inflammation may not be obvious but it is happening in our body. Inflammation is good for a short term as it is part of the body’s immune system to respond to an injury or infection naturally. However, when it becomes long-lasting, it can be bad for the body. Taking immunomodulatory supplements is crucial to tame the hyperactive immune system so that it helps to calm down the havoc in the body. It is helpful to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, heart diseases, diabetes, and asthma or even in relieving the symptoms of a common cold such as fever, aches, cough, sneezing and sore-throat which are due to upregulation of pro-inflammatory proteins in the body.
Our Gut: The Body’s Largest Immune Centre
Gut health has received tremendous attention in relation to Covid-19. The virus can actively infect and replicate in the GI tract. Frequent diarrhoea, gas or constipation could be signs that the immune system is compromised. Gut health and immunity are closely interconnected. It is known that 70% of our immune system is located in the digestive tract. The immune system surveillance in the digestive system is regulated by Peyer’s patches, which contains a variety of immune cells. Our immune system is influenced by the gut bacteria and their influence on the gut. Most bacteria in our guts are beneficial but there are some which can lead to the progression of a disease. The balance of our gut bacteria is important for the balance of our immune system.
Any imbalanced with too many opportunistic pathogens can shift the immune system to an inflammatory state. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can promote a healthy digestive tract as well as the immune health to protect against any risk of infections. They modulate the gut microbiota and secrete immunomodulatory compounds that have direct impact on the immune cells. The immune benefits need to be documented down to a strain level and the data from a strain cannot be extrapolated to another strain.
A Good Immune System Is The Key To Good Health
Dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen the body’s natural defense to help against pathogens or disease-causing organisms. Here are some tips we can adopt to boost our immunity:
1. Eat a balanced diet
2. Take supplements to boost the immune system
3. Get sufficient sleep
4. Exercise regularly
5. Wash our hands
6. Maintain a healthy weight
7. Avoid smoking
8. Minimize stress
9. Laughter is the best medicine