The immune response system
Our immune systems are truly amazing. Every day they have to keep constant vigilance for foreign pathogens in the body and on occasions at the drop of a hat they must identify and respond correctly to any of the countless enemy microbes that may be trying to invade! Our immune systems are so incredibly clever because they have to distinguish between what is good and what is bad in our bodies (our own cells and foreign cells) kill what doesn’t belong but being careful to leave behind what does. Split into 2 halves really, the first part of your immune system is the defences you were born with. These form before birth and are what are known as the innate system, the innate system spreads all over your body, through your blood, cells, and organs. The second part of your immune system is known as immunity and it develops as you grow/age once you’ve been introduced to a pathogen (bacteria, illness etc.) Because it develops as we age there’s always opportunity for making it stronger! Your ‘immunity’ gives you protection against specific pathogens but both systems work together to attempt organisms from entering and causing damage within the body. These immune mechanisms also help eliminate abnormal cells of the body that can develop into chronic disease like cancer for example. Your body puts up a good fight for any pathogens looking to invade; our immune cells if strong are typically quite brilliant at recognising altered or foreign cells and then swiftly getting rid of them.
Your skin and mucous membranes are the first line of defence but if anything does manage to get past them then pathogens will be met by white blood cells, white blood cells are found in your bloodstream and are a collection of different cells that work together to destroy and engulf bacteria, viruses etc. This mechanism that the body uses to protect itself against disease and infections is known as the immune response. Every day in our busy lives were surrounded by viruses, bacteria, pathogens, and our wellness and overall health really depends on having a system that’s well enough to fight off these forms of infection. A person with a healthy immune system that may rarely get sick is protected by several lines of defence that include physical barriers, cells that secrete proteins to destroy pathogens, and strong fit cells that ingest pathogens.
Eczema is a red itchy, uncomfortable, inflammatory yet un-contagious skin condition that usually first appears in early life although it’s not uncommon to see bouts of it later on especially in those suffering from low immunity or chronic stress. It can be incredibly frustrating, painful and often tricky to treat and find the real root cause. You may notice that the skin seems to thicken and appear raised where the rash is leaving you with dry, sore, inflamed patches of skin. The exact cause is likely to be multifactorial, consisting of a mix of genetic, external environmental factors and your gut health. Inflammation and creating trauma from scratching can cause further impairments to the function of the skin barrier so it’s helpful to find something to soothe the itching sensation. Often sufferers will think to apply a topical solution first to the area but as it’s an immune response and your body reacting to disturbances and imbalances, like allergies, sensitivities (from food, environment) it’s important to start healing eczema from the inside out.
Protocol to manage- There are certain things we can do to help support our bodies if you are suffering from eczema symptoms.
• Vitamin B2 and Vitamin C- Two nutrients that work to support skin health. Vit C maintains connective tissue health, assists with collagen formation and plays a role in wound healing. Find these vitamins in citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwis, broccoli, sprouts, free range organic chicken, salmon, organic tofu.
• Zinc- Relieves the symptoms of acne, little pimples, and minor skin eruptions (like eczema) It also plays a major role in immune status and contains wound healing properties. It regulates the production of certain inflammatory biomarkers and increases the repair of the tissue that form on the outer layer of the body’s surface, which reiterates its success for the use of treating eczema and maintaining skin health. Foods rich in zinc include plant based sources such as pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas, hummus, black beans, hempseeds, and shellfish and lean organic red meat.
• Burdock- Traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to relieve minor skin eruptions and symptoms of mild eczema and dermatitis, it’s an acquired taste but great sipped as a tea and can bought in most health food shops.
• Omega-3 essential fatty acids- Omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are so essential for overall human nutrition. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may alter the development of immune system allergies just like eczema. If there is an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 it can result in an increased production of inflammation and cause a shift towards an immune response. Sources can be found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, organic free range eggs, chia seeds and my favourite nutritional powerhouse flaxseeds.
• Quercetin- This is a naturally occurring polyphenol that exerts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and ant allergic activity (super important for skin conditions like eczema) Polyphenols are compounds found in colourful fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices which also help to block activity of the cells that are responsible for releasing histamines during an allergic reaction. Quercetin helps to supress allergic inflammation and stress in the body and Is also fantastic with gut repair. It boosts the immunity in your mucus membranes reducing reactivity to seasonal allergens, and also helps reduce food allergies so all round brilliant! Sources of this include dark green leafy veggies, red onions, red apples, red grapes, dark cherries and a lovely cup of green tea.
• Vitamin E- A fat soluble, super crucial nutrient that exerts antioxidant activity. Our bodies cannot produce this, so our skin relies on oral or topical use, which is why lots of skin care brands will often contain it. It protects the cell membrane responsible for detecting and destroying harmful pathogens and reduces production of inflammatory compounds. Some of the richest and my favourite sources of vitamin E include almonds and sunflower seeds. Both very easy to eat on a daily basis! You can use almond milk, almond flour etc.
Recipe to help- Cherry flax breakfast muffins
¾ c unsweetened almond milk
⅓ c dried unsweetened cherries
1 ½ tbsp ground flax
¼ c water
½ c of organic coconut raw coconut sugar
½ c unsweetened applesauce or coconut yoghurt (I like coyo)
1 ¾ tsp baking soda
1 ½ c gluten free flour
Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a muffin tin with liners.
Combine milk and cherries and either slowly heat on the stove until boiling or microwave for 3 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. Watch the mixture carefully to ensure it does not overflow. The milk should take on a slight pink/purple colour. Cover and let rest while you continue.
Combine the coconut sugar, applesauce/yoghurt, flax, and water until thoroughly mixed.
Whisk together baking soda and GF flour.
Pour the dry mixture into the wet and top with the cherry milk. Stir by hand until just combined.
Spoon into prepared muffin tin. You may notice air bubbles starting to form.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into a centre muffin comes out clean.