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Immunity, Inflammation & Intolerances

We need inflammation! It's a vital process that our body does to mount a response to a perceived invader, be that a pathogen (bacteria, virus or yeast), damage to a cell( such as when we experience a cut or broken limb) or a toxin.

When the alarm system is initiated, an array of communicator molecules stimulate the innate immune system to go to work. The innate immune system is essentially our first line of defense; present within our barrier structures namely the skin, gut, and respiratory membranes. As all these structures are "open" to the environment they induce what we term as "tolerance" to "normal" stimuli, so the immune system doesn't overact unnecessarily .On the other hand, if a genuine invader or injury is encountered or sustained, our innate immunity provides a rapid and non- specific response. In short, it contains and reduces the effect whilst calling into action the "big-guns" of the immune system - the adaptive immunity which is more targeted and measured. To use a cops and robbers analogy; the innate immune system can be likened to the policeman on the beat doing his rounds, the adaptive immunity is when the chief inspector is called in to work more specifically on the case!

Inflammation becomes a problem when either that "tolerance" switch goes awry and the immune system starts mounting a response to innocuous stimuli and the inflammation to this stimuli becomes aberrant and/or if the immune system starts attacking its own (self) tissues as if it were a foreign molecule. In this setting, your body is fighting something - an infection, a toxin, an allergen, a food or the stress response - and somehow it redirects its attack on your joints, your muscle, your thyroid, your gut, your skin, or sometimes your whole body. This immune confusion results from what is referred to as molecular mimicry.

How to Locate the Causes of Hidden Inflammation
Functional medicine teaches that immune imbalance, while often resulting from a genetic predisposition, will generally arise in the context of one or more of the following triggers: the habitual consumption of a pro-inflammatory diet; food allergies and intolerances; microbial infections; hormonal imbalances; nutritional insufficiencies; and xenobiotic exposure. Nutritional therapy can be a really powerful tool at both identifying and assisting in reducing these triggers and mediating factors.

The gut is invariably an excellent place to start. The digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria and represents the site of greatest density of our innate immunity (remember our first-line defense mechanism) receptors in the body. These receptors play a key role in priming the immune system and in the management and maintenance of our immune response. Their inappropriate activation leads to altered innate immunity and hyper-stimulation, which in layman's terms, is a runaway inflammatory response.

As a nutritional therapist who works within the functional medicine model, when taking a detailed case history, part of my job is to try and uncover those inflammatory factors unique to each person and to see how various lifestyle, environmental, or infectious factors may have been the trigger to spin the immune system out of control. A list of triggers or mediating factors that can cause, but are not limited to, inflammation are:

  • Poor diet—mostly sugar, refined flours, processed foods, and inflammatory fats such as trans fats
  • Stress
  • Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts, parasites or tics such as borellia/lyme for example
  • Hidden allergens from food or the environment – gluten for example
  • Toxins such as mercury and pesticides
  • Mould toxins and allergens

By listening carefully to a person's story and sometimes performing a few specific functional tests, I can work to uncover the causes of inflammation rather than simply provide solutions for the symptoms.

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