One way to simplify all that we’ve covered in this series would be to highlight the common thread within all of these chronic health issues: inflammation. We’ve talked about how mold and other environmental toxins, chronic infections, and the body attacking itself through the adaptive immune system can all cause inflammation.
Today I’d like to wrap up this series by talking about your innate immune system, what it does, and how it can cause inflammation.
What is the Innate Immune System?
This is the part of your immune system that you were born with. It’s non-specific, has been pre-programmed to act a certain way, and it does not adapt. The innate immune system stands ready to respond very quickly, within seconds, to kill viruses, cancer cells, and other foreign invaders that your body is exposed to.
In contrast, your adaptive immune system, which????
is where autoimmune issues begin, can take 10 to 14 days to make antibodies.
The innate immune system is difficult to assess through traditional testing. Instead, we look at different markers like IL-1 (Interleukin-1), IL-6 (Interleukin-6), C3a, C4a, TGF-beta (Transforming Growth Factor beta), VIP (Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide), VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor), hs-CRP (High-sensitivity C-reactive protein), and others.
Unfortunately, innate immune system activation does not fall into the realm of a rheumatologist, endocrinologist, or gastroenterologist. It is, however, within the scope of functional medicine specialists.
Innate Immune System Dysfunction
The interesting thing about the innate immune system is that it acts quickly to clear out infections and toxins without involving any of your adaptive immune system. The problem comes into play when it’s been overactive for a long period of time and gets stuck in the wrong position. An autoinflammatory disease can be the result.
Some of the diseases that fall into this category include things like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), ASIA syndrome (Autoimmune Inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants), as well as different adjuvant-based illnesses like post-infectious illnesses. These can include post-Lyme, post-mono, or even post-COVID. In these cases, people contract an acute viral infection, and then experience lingering inflammation after they’ve cleared the virus.
All these illnesses are, to differing degrees, autoinflammatory diseases that stem from the dysregulation of your body’s innate immune system.
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
Mast cells are cells that release histamine in your body. Typically the innate immune system attacks and destroys viruses, particulates, toxins, etc, and then activate mast cells which release inflammatory mediators.
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
SIBO is an imbalance of gut bacteria in the GI tract and can result in IBS or other gastrointestinal problem including excessive gas, bloating, GI discomfort, food sensitivities, etc. SIBO also does fall into the category of these autoinflammatory diseases because the low-grade bacteria in the small intestine, where it shouldn’t be, can activate mast cells. So SIBO can sometimes look like MCAS, and can also look like CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome), another autoinflammatory condition.
ASIA Syndrome (Autoimmune Inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants)
Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, from the University of Tel Aviv, wrote the textbook on vaccines and immunity and he also identified ASIA Syndrome. He is one of the top immunologist in the world. In his research, he actually found four major things that can cause autoinflammation: silicone (as from silicone implants); chronic infections; adjuvants like aluminum or petroleum products; and leaky gut.
Of interest is one segment of the population who is more prone to this innate immune system dysregulation. Patients who have hypermobility spectrum disorder, or are double-jointed, sometimes referred to as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV, are more prone to inflammation. This group of people tend to be more athletic, can run faster, jump higher, and are sometimes double-jointed or are very flexible. However, in the wrong situation, with nutrient deficiencies, these people are actually are more prone to being inflamed from their innate immune system.
If all of this feels confusing, that’s understandable because these conditions are so similar. About 80% of MCAS sounds like SIBO, and 80% of SIBO sounds like ASIA syndrome. ASIA syndrome sounds a lot like CIRS. We’re learning that there is a lot of crossover between these different conditions.
A Functional Medicine Approach to Innate Immune System Dysfunction
To truly help people with these conditions, it’s not good enough just to be an expert in chronic Lyme disease or post-Lyme syndrome. You also need to know about mold toxicity and CIRS. You can’t just know about CIRS, you have to understand SIBO as well as ASIA syndrome, hypermobility, and MCAS.
So, especially in this day and age of advancing chronic health issues, as we approach these conditions that have multiple layers, the need for functional medicine practitioners who can individualize healthcare and take a whole-person approach is becoming increasingly important.
A Changing Landscape of Healthcare
My hope is that this series helps you to understand how diseases are changing and why our healthcare system needs to change with it. We must pivot how we look at disease, and we really do need individualized health care. The current model of looking at symptoms and doling out treatments is not going to be adequate. To address this changing landscape of chronic health illnesses will require an army of well-trained practitioners, who are lifelong learners of the art and science of medicine, and who have a healthy respect for the complexity of health as well as illness.
Want to Learn More?
If you are ready to take charge of your health, please check out our Verdant Wellness Online Community. Our courses, coaches, and other members of this functional medicine community can help you navigate the lifestyle factors needed to help you on your wellness journey.
We truly believe in the data that half of all chronic disease can directly be related to eating processed foods, and 80% of heart disease and cancer can be prevented by diet and lifestyle alone. Given this, educating people and giving them the right tools to apply to their health is the most important thing we can do.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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