Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where chronic inflammation damages the joints

The Pitfalls of an Overactive Immune System

Your immune system works hard to keep you healthy. But sometimes it can work too hard!

Your immune system functions likely a highly sophisticated army, with multiple brigades of cells sent into battle to keep you healthy and defend against threats as described here. Your immune army provides you with defense in depth, with some brigades able to leap immediately into the fray while more specialized brigades come in later with targeted fire.

For maximum protection, you obviously need an immune system that’s fully energized and ready to go – which is why people often take “immune boosters” like echinacea that stimulate the immune response.

What many people don’t know, however, is that an overactive or improperly targeted immune response can create just as many problems as it solves.

An uncontrolled immune response can cause discomfort or even damage.

It’s not easy living amidst the destruction and debris of a war zone
It’s not easy living amidst the destruction and debris of a war zone

Picture yourself living in a war zone – surrounded by destruction and debris, toxic chemicals, noise and general chaos. You may find yourself out of food, water and energy; unable to communicate with loved ones or get information on the web; and unable to navigate to work or the store.

This is not unlike what the cells of your body experience when your immune system is engaged in a pitched battle. Your immune cells leap into action to destroy threats, which is good – but they leave a mess in their wake, including fragments of destroyed cells and a toxic stew of waste products and the molecular machinery used in battle. 

What’s worse, the first immune cells to reach the battle send out chemical signals called “chemokines” that circulate through your body to call for reinforcements, bringing more and more immune troops to the site of the clash – a process which, if not properly regulated, can cause more and more damage and destruction.

The resulting mayhem of battle interferes with the normal function of surrounding cells and tissues, causing problems with communication between cells, nutrient transport, and waste disposal, and generally fouling up the smooth functioning of the neighborhood. This is called “acute inflammation,” where the description “acute” means the inflammation is relatively intense but is short-lived.

Here are some examples:

  • In case of an injury, acute inflammation refers to the redness, heat, soreness, swelling, pain, and loss of tissue function that often develop at the site. 
  • In case of a cold or flu, acute inflammation results in the fever, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, phlegm, and general irritation of the airways that we experience.

These problems get worse the harder your immune system works, and taken to extremes can even cause permanent structural damage to parts of your body. 

Acute inflammation can cause redness and swelling of the tissues
Acute inflammation can cause redness and swelling of the tissues.

As a result, it’s important that your immune system be properly modulated. You want it to work hard to protect you – but only just hard enough to succeed. Anything more than that becomes counterproductive and can actually interfere with healing!

Sometimes your immune system even attacks yourself.

Besides causing problems with an excessive immune response to injury or invaders, your immune system can go haywire and start attacking healthy cells in your own body. This is a type of “chronic inflammation” called “autoimmunity” - the description “chronic” means the inflammation is long-lasting and the word “autoimmunity” means your immune system is attacking yourself. 

Autoimmunity can lead to a number of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. In other words, it’s a bad thing!

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where chronic inflammation damages the joints
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where chronic inflammation damages the joints.

This makes it even more important to ensure that your immune system is properly fine-tuned. 

  • It’s crucial for your immune system to be sufficiently active – but not too active. 
  • It’s crucial to your health for your immune system to attack all threats – but not healthy cells.

For this reason, the use of “immune boosting” supplements is not, by itself, sufficient for optimal immune function and health maintenance. 

Your immune function requires careful modulation.

In our next installment we’ll take a look at an immune supplement which is proven to boost key elements of immune function, while also formulated to avoid dysfunctional immune responses. The goal is not just to build strong, healthy immune function but also to quiet the immune system when it’s behaving badly. Join us for the next post to find out more!

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Please note: The above is a highly simplified overview of inflammation and autoimmunity. For a deeper understanding, we suggest https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation and https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders.

GLOSSARY

Acute inflammation  https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/acute+inflammation

Autoimmunity  https://www.thefreedictionary.com/autoimmunity

Chemokine https://www.thefreedictionary.com/chemokine

Chronic inflammation  https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/chronic+inflammation

Immune system https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Immune+system

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