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An immune response is a coordinated military style response to foreign invaders. It is required for our survival to initiate wound healing and fight infection. It is a fine balancing act because too little of an immune response will prevent wound healing and allow infections to thrive while an excessive immune reaction can cause collateral damage to healthy tissue and trigger autoimmune conditions. The immune system needs to be trained to be tolerant much of the time and very discriminate when required.
There are 2 divisions of the immune system: the innate division – these are the first responders that are activated with any sign of foreign invasion. The 2nd division is the adaptive division that is called up when required to enhance the immune reaction with activation of specialized immune cells sent out to identify specific foreign invaders.
The soldiers or cells of the innate division are the neutrophils, macrophages and dendritic cells. These cells literally eat up foreign invaders and neutralize them. The dendritic cells present portions of the invaders to the adaptive division to see if an enhanced attack is required. The dendritic cell is referred to as the “antigen (foreign invader) presenting cell”. It is the link between the innate and adaptive immune divisions. The more the dendritic cell is triggered the greater the chance of an enhanced immune response.
Over activation of the immune response can lead to a “loss of tolerance” with a greater adaptive response. The adaptive division is responsible for the production of antibodies. These are immune proteins that can clone themselves thousands of times. They search the body for specific foreign invaders and tag them when identified. This directs other immune cells, specifically the eater type cells to come to the area and take out the foreign invaders. It is at this point that collateral damage can occur to healthy tissue.
Antibodies may make mistakes and identify proteins in healthy tissues as a foreign invader (antigen). This is referred to as “molecular mimicry”. It is also responsible for “cross reactivity” which can occur with food proteins. If an antibody is established for a particular food protein another food may also then be identified because the proteins in the foods look so similar, there is a cross reaction.
Remember, tolerance is a fundamental property of the immune system. Tolerance involves non-self-discrimination which is the ability of the normal immune system to recognize and respond to foreign antigens, but NOT self-antigens. Autoimmunity is evoked when this tolerance to self-antigen is broken.
Maintenance of immune tolerance is essential and achieved by eliminating triggers and mediators. Food can trigger an immune reaction and then continue to mediate it particularly if cross reactivity occurs and an individual becomes reactive to more and more foods.
The elimination diet removes food protein triggers to improve immune tolerance. If the immune system is dealing with multiple triggers like: tissue injury, infection, toxins and food triggers the system can become overwhelmed and intolerant resulting in a chronic immune system reaction. This is a major contributing factor to systemic inflammation which is responsible for multiple health conditions. This may also be the reason your chronic joint and muscle pain will not resolve.
The immune system is a survival mechanism that must be trained to be tolerant. The "hygiene hypothesis" surmises excessive hygiene fails to properly train the immune system at a young age. Improper training can "prime" the immune system for intolerance.
Intolerance can result in an over-responsive immune system. Excessive activation of dendritic cells - constantly presenting antigens to the immune system is a leading source of intolerance. Food proteins are a common trigger for dendritic cells and eliminating some from your diet can help improve immune tolerance.
Gluten is a common immune trigger. Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most common.
Start by removing all gluten sources: whole wheat forms of bread, noodles, pasta, pastries, baked goods, cereals and beer. Gluten can be found hidden in many unexpected foods and as thickeners in many sauces, so be sure to read "A Guide to Eating Gluten-Free". Watch out for “gluten-free” foods, gluten has been replaced by cornstarch, cornmeal, rice, tapioca or potato starch…all raise blood sugar!
2nd - remove dairy products. The milk protein casein looks very much like the gluten protein gliadin. If you have established antibodies looking for gluten, those antibodies can also identify dairy as an issue due to molecular mimicry. This causes cross reactivity and a continued immune reaction.
Remove sugar which is particularly high in processed packaged foods and of course soft drinks. Sugar attaches to proteins and changes the structure of the protein. They are referred to as "Glycated Proteins" and these sugar coated proteins are highly pro-inflammatory and are the source of a dramatic increase in free radical production. Sugar causes both inflammation and oxidative stress both of which are the root cause to many health issues.
Remove all bad fats like trans fats typically found in processed bake foods, fried foods and coffee creamers. Remove hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and vegetable oils that are genetically modified.
Lectins are a family of proteins found in almost all foods, especially legumes and grains, like wheat but lectins are also found in barley, quinoa, and rice. Lectins are "sticky" molecules and can attach themselves easily with carbohydrates forming protein-carbohydrate units that are not recognized by the immune system which is why lectins are pro-inflammatory. Lectins are thought to have evolved as a natural defense in plants, essentially as a toxin that deters animals from eating them. Removing foods high in lectins can help reduce systemic inflammation. Foods high in lectins include the nightshade family of vegetables: eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. Legumes are also high in lectins: beans, peas, lentils, chickpea and peanuts. Cooking, especially with wet high-heat methods like boiling or stewing, or soaking in water for several hours, can inactivate most lectins. Foods that contain lectin are often full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that improve your health. This is thought to outweigh the negative effects of lectins on the body but it is all about balance and what your immune system needs at any given time.
“Control your food environment”
Set yourself up for good choices by creating a path of least resistance! Start by clearing out your kitchen of pro-inflammatory foods and restocking with anti-inflammatory substitutes.
Eating a rainbow variety of vegetables and fruits, quality meats and getting some sunlight should help ensure you get your supply of vitamins and minerals needed for immune support. Vitamins C and E and members of the B complex, can act in a relatively nonspecific manner in the immune system for example, as antioxidants. Other vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, can influence the immune response in highly specific ways and have hormone-like properties. Sugar may lead to depleted vitamin C levels because glucose (sugar) and vitamin C (ascorbate) have an incredibly similar chemical make-up and both of them compete to get into your cells. Sugar usually wins the battle so the more sugar you have the less Vitamin C will gain access to your cells.
The mineral Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity.
Supplementation with a high quality multi-vitamin and mineral can provide immune support.
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