THE IMMUNE SYSTEM, HERO OR VILLIAN?By Dr Douglas Street
The immune system functions as the defence of the body (like an army) and has multiple aspects. It is quite complex and not yet fully understood. The immune system is vital, but sometimes it can harm the body while in the process of defending it.
The immune system is in a constant state of war with intruders and potential intruders. If we look at how armies fight wars, we can get an understanding of how our immune system operates. Sometimes new invaders can escalate this war, thereby increasing the impact it has on our bodies.
Just as how civilians can be affected by warfare, other areas of our bodies can be negatively affected as well. Death can actually occur due to actions of the immune system.
Wars are fought on different fronts and that is how the immune system attacks a threat. Chemical warfare, spying, deception, hand-to-hand combat, recruitment and bullets, so to speak, are all utilised in this war. All these things will have an impact on the body.
A lot of chemicals are used by the immune system and they have a great variety of impact. Some increase blood flow, some recruit other cells, some kill the invaders, some mark the invaders as targets, etc. Some very toxic chemicals are produced, including free radicals. These free radicals can damage normal body tissues.
Some of the chemicals produce increased blood flow, which can cause a drop in blood pressure if large amounts are produced. Sometimes normal body tissues are marked as invaders and are damaged or killed as result (mistaken identity). This happens in rheumatic heart disease (a complication of rheumatic fever).
The immune system sometimes overreacts to 'innocent' substances. This is the basis of allergies. This overreaction can be strong enough to cause death in severe allergies.
The immune system is actually involved in a lot of disease processes, including strokes, heart attacks, cancer, lupus, arthritis, circulation problems and probably even diabetes, hypertension and hormonal problems. But in many cases, it's not to be blamed as we sometimes don't give it the appropriate resources for it do its job safely.
Antioxidants and probiotics are not usually supplied in sufficient quantities and this may be the root cause of the problem. Making better dietary and lifestyle choices from early in life can make a huge difference to making our immune system function properly.