How Your Immune System Works, Why It Declines, and Reversing Immunosenescence – Part 2
When you hear the word “inflammation,” you probably think of something bad for the body, but actually, inflammation is an integral part of the immune response. It is what floods the site of injury or invasion with immune system cells in order to protect you from harm. Of course, the symptoms that come along with this necessary process are not usually pleasant. Inflammation plays an important role in reversing Immunosenescence.
The heat and redness that come along with this process are due to the increase in blood flow to that site. The swelling that occurs at sites of injury is a symptom of the fluids produced by immune system cells that then seeps into the surrounding area. Sometimes pain and irritation can happen when there is inflammation. Other symptoms can include tiredness, stiffness, fever, chills, sweating, painful joints, aching in certain areas, lowered appetite, and dizziness.
Inflammation is one of the six circuits of the NEM stress response, the other five are the hormonal, the metabolic, the cardionomic, the neuroaffect, and the detoxification responses.
The NEM’s inflammation response involves the immune cells, the microbiome, and the gut. Although immune cells can be found in every part of the body, most of the body’s immunity starts in the gut. The gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) makes up two-thirds of your body’s immune tissues, and it is mainly found in your small intestine. Other immune cells include the famous lymphocytes, which are found in the lymphatic system, and leukocytes, which are another type of white blood cell and are produced in the bone marrow.
The main purpose of inflammation is to eliminate the original cause of injury, get rid of the damaged and dead cells, and initiate the tissue and cell repair process. This is why inflammation is very much dependent on the NEM’s detoxification response, because it needs to have these by-products cleared out of the system.
Because so much of the immune tissue is found in the gut, an imbalance in the microbiome can be a major factor in chronic inflammation. And chronic inflammation has been implicated in almost all chronic diseases, as well as many mental health issues. For example, chronic low-grade inflammation caused by cellular immunity has been found to be a factor in depression.
This is why maintaining a healthy balance in gut flora is a cornerstone of health, because when there is an imbalance in the microbiome, gut permeability increases and allows toxins, pathogens, and food particles to enter the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and creating a state of inflammation.
And unless these leakages are sealed, there is a constant loop of immune response and inflammation that can put a lot of pressure on the system, dysregulating the NEM and overworking the adrenal glands. All of these factors can play a role in speeding up immunosenescence. Remember, immunosenescence is the gradual degradation of the immune system with age.
Of course, aging is another factor in the weakening of the immune system, as well as in the increase in oxidative stress and the susceptibility to chronic inflammation, and so it is something we have to also look at when we think of slowing down or reversing immunosenescence.
Stress and Reversing Immunosenescence
Managing stress plays a major role in reducing chronic inflammation and reversing immunosenescence. Although not all stress is bad, and it is often inevitable, chronic stress is one of the common denominators between microbiome imbalance, inflammation, immune system decline, oxidative damage, and even autoimmunity.
First of all, chronic stress overloads the adrenal glands, the two organs that supply the body with its main anti-stress hormone, cortisol. In the beginning phases of AFS, the adrenals produce more and more cortisol in order to neutralize this continuous stress. But with time, they weaken and their cortisol output drops, leaving the rest of the NEM to compensate.
Cortisol plays many important roles, including maintaining heart and blood vessel function, regulating blood pressure and blood glucose levels, suppressing the immune system, and neutralizing inflammation.
This means that when you have an immune response, and along with it some inflammation, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in order to return your system to a state of homeostasis, rest, and repair once the job is completed.
If you’re healthy, as soon as you’re exposed to a pathogen or toxin, your immune response flares up, you get some inflammation, and then as soon as the danger is dealt with, your body goes back to a relaxed and stable state.
But if you’re dealing with chronic stress, adrenal fatigue may develop, and your adrenals would no longer be capable of suppressing the immune system and neutralizing inflammation like before, leaving them unchecked in your body. And with chronic inflammation, you can develop a host of other stresses on the system, from IBS and musculoskeletal pain, to food sensitivities and much more.
This is on top of the uncomfortable symptoms of AFS, such as fatigue, problems with sleep, weight issues, mood disturbances, hypoglycemic episodes, heart palpitations, low libido, PMS, and infertility, among others.
If left unaddressed, chronic inflammation can eventually lead to recurring infections, the proliferation of autoimmune disorders, a slowed ability to heal, presence of stealth viruses, candida, and many other issues. And with age, these issues can create dangerous complications and cause further damage to the immune system, making reversing immunosenescence even more challenging.
Due to this gradual immune decline with age, there is a continuous increase in the risk of infection and cancer. In fact, aside from some rare genetic conditions, age is the number one risk factor for cancer, even more so than harmful toxins, smoking, and an unhealthy lifestyle. And flu and pneumonia are the 5th leading causes of death in people over 65 years of age.
So the need for strengthening the immune system in order to reduce these risk factors is high. And this means that dealing with chronic stress and chronic inflammation is of utmost importance when strategizing ways of reversing immunosenescence.
Reversing Immunosenescence and Inflammaging
The aging of the immune system is not just a matter of decreased function, it’s actually also deranged function. The decreased function is part of the immunosenescence, which increases the risk of infectious diseases and prolongs the healing process, as well as decreases the response to vaccinations.
Deranged function, on the other hand, can increase the production of inflammatory molecules, which creates the state of chronic, low-grade inflammation that is associated with aging. This phenomenon is sometimes termed “inflammaging.” This increase in inflammatory molecules increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, fibrosis, osteoporosis, dementia, and other health issues.
Some researchers have categorized immunosenescence as a decline in specific, or adaptive, immunity, while inflammaging as an activation of innate, or natural immunity, along with a rise in inflammation.
Most age-related diseases, if not all of them, have one thing in common: an inflammatory pathogenesis. Yet, it is still unclear what the exact mechanisms that underlie inflammaging are. But there are several major theories that try to explain them:
The Stress Theory – As mentioned, chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the body, as well as a weakening in the adrenal glands and dysregulation of the NEM, all of which can add to inflammaging. Plus, frequent antigen attacks are a big stressor on the body, and this adds to immunosenescence as well as inflammation.
The Oxidation-Inflammation Theory – Oxidative stress, which is a rise in free radicals that are not readily detoxified by the system or balanced by antioxidants, affects the health of the body and adds to the state of stress and inflammation. This theory states that oxidative stress increases with aging as the body accumulates free radicals over time.
The Cytokine Theory – This theory states that the rise in the proinflammatory status in older people is due to the increase in proinflammatory cytokines, like IL-1 and TNF-a for example, in circulation, which then creates inflammation in tissues. This triggers a reciprocal cycle of causation between the cytokines and cellular senescence, which speeds up inflammaging.
The DNA Damage Theory – Telomeric shortening plays a key role in replicative senescence and aging. Telomeres are the caps at the end of DNA strands that protect chromosomes from damage. When telomeres shorten or change in structure, the DNA can become damaged and cause cellular senescence. Inflammation and stress can trigger telomeric shortening.
The Autophagy Theory – Autophagy is the mechanism of cell death, and its main function is to remove harmful substances in cells. This helps maintain healthy metabolism and homeostasis in the body. With aging, this ability declines and leads to the accumulation of harmful substances, including free radicals, which then creates more inflammation.
The Stem Cell Theory – Chronic inflammation inhibits the capacity of stem cells to regenerate, leading to damage in stem cell differentiation and stem cell aging.
Inflammaging and immune senescence seem to occur together, and replicative senescence, which is part of the DNA damage theory of aging, is a major component in immune senescence, and so also a very important topic for reversing immunosenescence.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.