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Inflammation and your Immune System

Inflammation and your Immune System

 

Our immune system is comprised of an innate, non-specific immunity and an adaptive, specific immunity. The innate immune system provides the body with its initial defense against disease. Examples of this immunity include your skin, the acid in your stomach, the microbiome in your gut, and the enzymes in your saliva and tears. Specific immune cells, such as basophils and mast cells, are also included in the innate, non-specific immune system. These cells roam the body and are responsible for releasing histamine, an inflammatory chemical, when they come across a problem or disease. For example, when we scrape our knee or twist our ankle, our innate immune system responds to tissue damage by provoking an inflammatory response so that increased blood flow and protective immune cells can access and heal the site of injury. This inflammatory response is beneficial to our body when we face harm, but an excessive amount of it can lead to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of chronic disease. Often, over-eating and excessive body fat can release inflammatory mediators and therefore elicit an immune response. As the body responds by increasing inflammation in high fat areas, the immune system puts less energy into alternative protective functions around the body, ultimately opening the door to disease.

 

Think of it like this:
You’re in a house during a hurricane and a strong gust of wind shatters a window. Rain, debris, and dirt easily fly in and begin to create a mess. You immediately call the family over to help you patch it as best you can. The storm’s winds grow stronger, so you and your family must continuously reinforce the patchwork on the windows. Simultaneously, a small leak in the roof develops. It goes a half hour unnoticed, until a family member happens to notice it. Rather immediately spending the energy to fix it, they place a bucket underneath and return to help with the broken window. The leak grows larger though and by the time the storm has settled 6 hours later, half of the house is flooded.

 

In biology, this is known as the Red Queen Theory. Our body conserves energy in alternative, less life-threatening events, while focusing the majority of the energy on fighting the primary stressor at the time. This is a beneficial evolutionary adaptation that has allowed us to maintain survival over millions of years, but as we all know, it isn't fool proof. 

 

How do we know our immune system is weak so we can catch the “leak” before it’s too late?

Generally, those with weakened immune systems experience chronic fatigue, frequent infections and sickness, slow healing wounds, and digestive trouble. Smoking, alcohol use, and poor nutrition also play significant roles in weakening the immune system. Most notably though, weakened immune systems are commonly found in individuals with elevated stress levels and a high body fat percentage. Essentially, when our bodies become overloaded, we begin to function more poorly and our risk for disease increases.

 

It’s never too late though. By developing proper habits and a healthy lifestyle, a strong, high functioning immune system is achievable. Maintaining a healthy weight through the combination of a nutritious diet and exercise can decrease inflammation caused by excess fat in the body, ultimately leading to a stronger immune system. For the general population, it is recommended to engage in moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes per week or at a vigorous intensity for 75 minutes per week. A balanced diet, low in sugar and filled with anti-inflammatory whole foods can help maintain a strong immune system. Recent studies have found that a plant-based diet, filled with fruits and vegetables, provide an inverse relationship to diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. For more information on what foods are recommended for a healthy, whole, plant-based diet, click here. Even whilst maintaining a diverse and healthy diet, we may still lack certain vitamins and minerals. Zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C, Vitamin D, omega-3, and probiotic supplementation can play an important role in supporting our immunity. TAIY Nutrition’s Complete Multivitamin, K2 + D3 Support, and Premium Immune Support contain these vitamins and minerals and can be used as supportive immune supplementation.

Along with an improved diet, habits such as practicing stress management, staying hydrated, and getting a sufficient 7-9 hours of sleep each night can support your health. Lastly, vaccinations and proper hygiene provide important and necessary preventative measures against disease. 

 

 

 

 

Taylor Donald

B.S. Biochemistry, Exercise Physiology

University of Miami