What better way to kick off SHEICON 2016 than with Ben Lynch, N.D. introducing new findings about our wondrous immune system, the amazing interplay of cells, chemical messages, and weapons that our body uses to protect us every moment of our lives! The immunology book which I used in medical school has grown fat with new discoveries in recent years. Our understanding even 20 years ago was simplistic compared to what we have learned since then. It is not always that we necessarily erred, but more of scenario as when a scuba diver gawks at the fish surrounding him at 20 feet deep, not realizing that the depths contain far more amazing creatures. Even at this writing, we have not explored the full depths of complexity that our bodies offer –and we may never fully grasp it all.
We must survey the landscape of the immune system before we can even consider diving deeper. Dr. Lynch explains the different major cell players of the immune system. A variety of cells serve as the antigen presenting cells (APC or accessory cells), which are specialized white blood cells. These APCs send out signals which introduce T-lymphocytes (T-cells) cells to a potential invader. Depending on the antigen source and the chemical messengers involved, this naïve T-cell turns into helper cells including Regulatory T (Treg), Th17, Th1, or Th2. Each of these T-cells are specialized and therefore function differently in their response and especially regarding what they “attack”.
Th17 cells attack extracellular bacteria and fungi as well as participate in autoimmune diseases. Th1 cells participate in cell mediated immunity attacking viruses and contributing to both autoimmunity and inflammation. Th2 cells participate in antibody production and direct allergic responses. Finally, Treg cells are suppressors and serve as controllers or brakes of sorts, inducing tolerance and regulating the other cells and processes.
While this is barely scratching the surface of what goes on in our immune system, the reality is that this deep complexity stands on a thin line between us and our environment which may affect us for good or for harm. Our epigenome, the environmentally alterable expression of our genes, interacts across this line bi-directionally, being altered by it and affecting how our immune system responds to it. Our epigenome turns up or turns down various life processes based on signals from the environment. Our genes are often more of a dimmer switch than an on-off switch. Think about it… How well would a car operate if the gas pedal only went at zero or 60mph with no in-between. Well, our body needs that same flexibility to navigate its daily functions.
Understanding how our immune system works is an integral part of understanding how each body interacts with its environment. As research continues to peel back layers of the immune system mystery, we are learning just how integral this understanding is and how individual we each are.
(Many thanks to Seeking Health Educational Institute and Dr. Lynch for the awesome conference in April. Stay tuned for more posts from conference notes.)
Possible links to include for further study/research: