Inflammation and Auto Immunity

Written by Dr. Susanne Booth for the Brattleboro Reformer September 26, 2014.

Inflammation occurs when there is an insult to part of the body. The body reacts to insult by increasing the number of immune cells released to attack the offending agent. Inflammation can be an acute reaction, as in an ear infection or sore throat, or it can be a chronic issue. Acute inflammation is an important healthy immune response, usually accompanied by redness, heat, and swelling.

Chronic inflammation is a continuous process in which the body is constantly trying to break down and repair damaged tissues (or tissues that the immune system has interpreted as damaged). This constant attempt at repair can lead to scarring and the destruction of healthy tissues. The causes of chronic inflammation can be a chronic stressor, a chronic infection, or an auto-immune response.

The prevalence of auto-immune disease is rising steadily. Currently the number of people diagnosed with an auto-immune disease is higher than those diagnosed with cancer or with heart disease. When we are children, our immune system is learning what belongs to the body and what doesn't belong to the body--bacteria, virus, etc.

Auto-immunity occurs when there is some mix-up and the immune system cannot distinguish between what is self and what is something that belongs outside the self. The immune system starts attacking the wrong tissue. For example, with Rheumatoid Arthritis, the immune system is attacking the capsule around joints. In its attempt to get rid of damaged tissue, the immune system keeps up a process of breakdown and repair, resulting in red, painful, and swollen joints that can too often end up with scar tissue and deformation.

The treatment for auto-immune disease is to decrease the inflammatory response in the body. This is often done with drug therapies. These can work and are important in some cases, but there are other things a person with an auto-immune disease can do to support a healthier immune response.

One of the most important and effective is eating an anti-inflammatory diet full of high-nutrient foods including lots of vegetables and fruits. Another important aspect of decreasing inflammation is decreasing the toxic load in the body.

Toxins enter our bodies on our foods, in the air and in our water. Some of them are unavoidable, but even with these there are many things we can do to help our bodies deal with the toxic load.

Sleep can be very important. When we sleep, our glial cells in our brains (these are the cells that feed the neurons and help clear away toxins) dump the toxins into the blood stream for elimination.

Anti-stress activities such as yoga, meditation, and exercise can help to decrease an over-active immune response in the body.

Sweating is one of the best ways to detox our body; all toxic chemicals have been found to be able to be eliminated in sweat. We also excrete toxins though our digestive tract. Making sure we have good fiber in our diets to bind toxins and keeping our liver healthy and functioning well contribute to both healthy digestion and a health immune system.

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