In the winter months ahead supporting Immunity (or staying well) is perhaps more important this winter than in previous years? While we can not always prevent illness, we can try to increase our resistance to illness, to get over illnesses more quickly?
Acute infections occur as (pathogenic) micro-organisms invade and multiply anywhere in the body, leading to inflammation and cell damage due to a variety of toxic mechanisms, bought about by our ‘immune army’ that we have to defend us.
The immune system responds to infection with many defensive measures to come to our aid. Different types of white blood cells are ‘sent into battle’ on our behalf to defeat the foreign invader, whether it be a virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus.
Of particular concern at the moment are viruses. Viruses are not live organisms but are packages of genetic material (DNA or RNA) that have to invade our living cells to ‘hijack’ machinery within our cells to reproduce. Viruses cause tissue damage by destroying the cells they invade, as well as stimulating powerful immune responses against infected cells leading to the symptoms of viral infections and diseases.
Major risk factors that contribute to the incidence general acute infections include: ·
Contagion -Exposure to infected persons and/or animals
Poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions (from poor food handling to washing our hands)
Contaminated food and water
Excessive or long-term stress
Endurance exercise (reduces immune resistance)
Allergies -Some medical treatments that compromise immunity, for example chemotherapy
Age –Immune function can tend to decrease as we age
Existing infection, for example hepatitis, or HIV/AIDS · Chronic disease that compromises immunity
Winter - Due to low humidity, time spent in closer contact with others and nutrient deficiencies (vitamin D)
Smoking - Due to the oxidative stress this creates in the body
Travel –Overseas or camping · Obesity may increase the risk of viral diseases
Toxicity -(gut & environmental) may also lead to compromised immunity and decreased resistance
Chronic infections can occur when there is a latent, low-grade pathogenic infection, or when there is a loss of biodiversity in the bacteria in our microbiome, which can occur from many of the factors above. The bacteria in the gut can then be open to opportunistic overgrowth of organisms that stimulates overt and/or low-grade inflammation and may result in immune suppression and/or loss of normal immune tolerance.
Whilst chronic infections may present as recurring and resistant illnesses (for example, chronic sinusitis or persistent irritable bowel syndrome), chronic infection is also recognised trigger and driver of many ‘modern’ chronic diseases, including autoimmunity, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, with various organisms found to be involved in the pathogenesis of these otherwise multifactorial conditions.
Recent studies have astounded us by identifying that only around 10% of the cells in the body are actually human. The rest of our cells make up the human microbiome, the sum of bacteria, fungi and parasites living on us and inside us. Supporting both a healthy balance of microbes in the gut and tolerance/resistance to pathogenic microbes, encompasses a concept of ‘managing our terrain’ or microbiome. Essentially this refers to creating a healthy internal environment (utilising digestive support, dietary and lifestyle strategies) to regulate both the gut microbiome whilst supporting resilient and effective immunity.
For suggestions on how to boost your immunity and ideas to combat ill-health, watch out for the next blog on Winter Wellness?