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The human body has an amazing array of immunity defenses. It reminds me of a military formation poised for battle: first line of defense, second line and so on. Let's look into our various lines of defense and find out why they work so amazingly well and work well as integrated units. You may be surprised by some of these, especially our first line. But first, there are a few basics you need to understand:
> An antigen is any substance that elicits an immune response. Typical examples would be a virus or a bacteria. The immune system fields a complex series of immune sequencing to accomplish its responses. Most importantly, it must recognize "self" versus "outside invaders." One aspect of immunity is called antigen-specific: they recognize and act against particular antigens. Another aspect is called systemic: they are not confined to the initial infection site but rather work throughout the entire body. And finally there is memory: they recognize an invader from a previous encounter and mount an even stronger attack on the same antigen in subsequent attacks. Now, back to our various lines of defense.
1st Line of Immune Defense: Bacteria. Yes, you read that correctly. The bacteria that is on our skin, also known as the "normal flora." Many writers will tell you the skin is the first line of defense but think about it, what is on top of the skin? We are literally covered in a sea of bacteria. We also have a huge population of bacteria inside our bodies that help us out. I'll get on to that in a moment. In fact, the number of cells in our body is estimated to be 10(13) while bacteria is estimated to be at 10(14). It is predominately made up of Staphloccocus Epidermidis and Staph. Aureus on the skin as well as in the mucous membranes such as the mouth and this bacteria really helps us more than people realize. This bacteria literally coats our entire body on the outside and fills many of the areas inside us such as the bowels. The outer coating of bacteria is thick, relatively speaking, like a blanket. This bacteria thrives on our skin and like any organism, it lives, eats, metabolizes and deficates. It is the by-product of its defication that kills off more harmful bacteria that try to start colonizing on our skin. Byproducts of normal flora include bacteriocidins, defensins, lactic acid, cationic proteins and lactoferrin which destroys more harmful bacteria. Lactobacilli lives in the stomach and small intestine. The large intestine is infested with E. Coli. The numbers are staggering: the upper intestine has about 10(4) bacteria per gram while the large bowel has 10(11) bacteria per gram. These bacteria inside the body help us to metabolize the food we eat and digest as well as process the water and fluids we drink. They kill off more harmful bacteria. But, the bacteria that is on and in us, must stay where it is or it too could harm us. Staph Aureus can also be quite harmful if not kept in the nasal mucosa and skin. E. Coli is most notable among these. It is an amazingly helpful bacteria but if it shows up anywhere except the large bowel, it can literally kill a person. After puberty, the vagina is colonized by Lactobacillus aerophilus that ferments glycogen which maintains the acid pH of the vagina. The acid environment kills off most other bacteria. *We're also seeing a huge trend lately in antibiotic resistant bacteria. In fact, the situation has become grave. Read Laurie Garret's Pulitzer Prize winning book "The Coming Plague" that describes how our world is out of balance due to the overuse of antibiotics by hospitals and doctors over the years.
2nd Line of Defense: Skin. The skin serves as a physical barrier to the titanic amount of antigens that are literally in the air and on everything we touch throughout the day and night. The acid Ph (<7.0) of skin secretions inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Our hair follicles secrete "sebum" that contains latic and fatty acids both of which kill harmful bacteria and fungi. Areas of the skin not covered with hair such as the palms and soles of the feet are most susceptible to fungal infections. Additionally, the skin sloughs off regularly. This action carries with it possible harmful bacteria and fungus.
3rd Line of Defense: Mucous membranes, cilia, tears and pH. Mechanically, pathogens and other harmful bugs are expelled from the lungs by the sweeping action of tiny hairs called cilia. In line with this is the act of coughing and sneezing which also eject unwanted invaders. Similary, tears, saliva and urine also force out unwanted pathogens from the body. The mucous membranes of the body are places like the nose, eyes, mouth, vagina, anus. There is a sticky mucus in the respiratory and gastro-intestinal tracts that trap pathogens and thus these invaders die. Saliva in the mouth, tears in the eyes, nasal mucus and perspiration contain an enzyme called "lysozyme" that destroys gram positive bacterial cell walls and thus kills those bacteria. Likewise, the highly acidic nature of the stomch readily kills off many invading bacteria that we digest when we drink and eat. The pH of the hydrochloric acid in the human stomach is 10 times more acidic that car battery acid. There are also protein digesting enzymes that kill many pathogens. The stomach can even destroy drugs and chemicals. It is a hostile environment for invaders. And, as previously stated, the vagina is highly acidic which destroys most invading bacteria and fungus. Addtionally, spermine and zinc in a man's semen destoys some pathogens. Lactoperoxicdase is a powerful enzyme found in mother's milk that not only nourishes a baby but helps keep bacterial counts down.
@Thusfar, as you can see, the outer three lines of defense are geared to stopping or killing invaders before they get into the bloodstream of our bodies. It is a clever system of prevention. If somehow an invader gets past these baricades, we have additional systems in place that can help us. Before we move on, let's discuss a few more terms: i) Phagocyte: is a cell that attracts, adheres to, engulfs and ingests foreign bodies. ii) Macrophage: means "big eaters." This is a really big phagocyte and it attacks dead cells and foreign pathogens. Once a machrophage "phagocytizes" a cell, it places some of its proteins called epitopes, on its own surface. These surface markings serve as an alarm to other immune cells that then infer the form or type of the invader that this macrophage just digested. Wandering macrophages roam the blood vessels and can even leave them to go to an infeciton site where more help may be needed. The act of emigration by squeezing through capillary walls to the injured or infected tissue is called diapedesis. Some of the White Blood Cells are macrophages.
4th Line of Defense: White Blood Cells, inflammation, interferon and antibodies. There are 5 basic WBCs roaming the blood stream and each has a specific job to do. a) Lymphcytes: aka "natural killer cells," these WBCs move through the blood stream hunting down cancer and virus-infected cells. Our blood actually has three types of lyphocytes: B cells, T cells and natural killer cells. B cells make the famous anti-bodies that bind to pathogens to enable their destruction. CD4+ (helper) T cells coordinate the immune response. These are equivalent to the "officers" in the armed services-they give instructions to the infantry to do the killing that is needed. It is these cells that HIV destroys that subsequently emasculates the entire immune system. CD8+ cyctoxic T cells and the natural killer cells are the infantry that are able to kill a virus and the cells that have been co-opted by virus. b) Neutrophils: are phagocytes that constitute the bulk of the WBC population, about 50-70%. The neutrophils attack pyogenic (pus-forming) bacteria and are the first on the scene to fight general infections. Wandering macrophages follow neutrophils to help gobble up bacteria, virus, dead WBCs. c) Eosinophils: are attracted to cells coated with complement C3B (more on that shortly). Once an eosinophil arrives, it releases a major basic protein (MBP) that include such things as cationic protein, perforins, oxygen metabolites all of which work together to actually burn holes in the offending cell or worm or other parasite. Along with neutrophils and monocytes, eosinophils are phagocytes. d) Monocyte: share the vacuum cleaner role (macrophage) function with neutrophils and eosinophils. These are much longer lived cells. They also present a piece of the dead pathogen to helper T cells for recognition to mount a quicker response the next time the same pathogen invades. Monocytes are also known as macrophages after they migrate out of the bloodstream. e) Basophils: are chiefly responsible for allergic and antigen response by releaseing the chemical histamine that actually causes inflammation. Inflammation merely draws more blood to the given region. This would include a healthy dose of WBCs. The inflammed area is thus diluted such that foreign pathogens, poisons etc. are literally drowned in an enormous immune respones. Like fever, inflammation is not as bad a thing as people think. It greatly speeds up the cleaning and repairing of a truamatized area. Finally, in this catagory I include the cell specific subtance called Interferon. Interferon was a name derived from the word "interferance." This highly specialized substance is primarily an anti-viral agent and can be found in every cell of the human body. It also kills parasites and bacteria but its main function is of a highly effective anti-viral agent. Cell specific means that each type of cell in our body makes it's own version of Interferon. While slightly different in composition, all of the Interferon from all cell types in our body have the same basic function, that of stamping out primarily viral infections. Once upon a time, Interferon was considered the next great anti-cancer therapy. While that didn't happen, it still remains a vital aspect of the human defense system.
@Complement System: is a major triggered enzyme plasma system. It coats microbes with molecules that make them more susceptible to engulfment by phagocytes. Vascular permeability mediators increase the permeability of the capillaries to allow more plasma and complement fluid to flow to the site of infection. They also encourage neutrophils to adhere to the walls of capillaries and then from there, the WBCs can squeeze through to help an infected area outside the regular blood stream.
5th Line of Defense: Lymphatic system. This is yet another unique system in our bodies. It is actually an entire secondary cirulatory system in the body that runs parallel to the arteries and veins. Unlike the arterial/venous system, the lymphatic system is NOT closed and has no central pump. The lymphatic fluid that flows in the lymph channels does so under low pressure due to the action of skeletal muscles, semilunar valves and peristalsis. Basically, this system cleans and bathes our entire body from the inside. You've heard of "lymph nodes?" These are periodic stations in the lymph system that cleans the lymph fluid and strips out the dead bacteria, dead virus, other dead cells and keeps the lymph fluid fresh and vital. When we get "swollen nodes" its because we have some kind of infection and the lymph system is stripping away all the dead tissue and the lymph nodes are cleaning that fluid. The collected dead tissues are broken down and passed out of the body eventually. The lymph fluid eventually interacts with the venous system by dumping into the veins via the right lymphatic duct and the thoracic duct. Rhythmic contraction of the blood vessel walls draws lymph fluid back into the lymph system to start the process over again. There are a number of so-called "lymphoid organs" such as the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, peyer's patches, appendix and red bone marrow. These organs contain scaffolding that support circulating B and T lymphocytes and other immune cells like macrophages. When pathogens invade the body, the antigens are transported to the lymph system. From there, they go to the lymph nodes where macrophages wait to phagocytose the antigens, process them and present the antigens to the B lymphocytes which can then start producing antibodies and/or serve as memory cells to recognize the antigens again in the future. The toncils are lymph nodes. They are unique because we can actually see them by looking down the throat. When they get swollen, it just means that your immune system is working. Barring extreme cases of a blocked trachea, the toncils should NEVER be surgically removed. They are a large part of the lymphatic aspect of the immune system.
Manfred Von Ardenne, famed German scientist and pioneer of radical but effective fever treatment for cancer.
6th Line of Defense: Fever. Fever is largely an autonomic response. It is nominally controlled by the hypothalamus and reacts to invaders called pyogens. These can be literally any kind of a bug that when all else fails, the body heats up and attempts to bake the invader to death. The truth is, many bacteria as well as most cancers are heat sensitive which is to say, they have a very narrow heat tolerance. Often is the case where the extra heat literally does as advertised: it roasts the pathogen to death. Barring extreme cases, fever is not to be scared of or attempted to be reduced. It is part of the natural immune system. Visit the following site http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/index/DKWA2HDDPD26QNB1.pdf This article was written about the famous German scientist named Manfred von Ardenne. He developed a radical cancer treatment that consisted mainly of sugar and HEAT. He would raise the core temperature of his patients to 106 Degrees F along with a pure glucose intravenous feed and watch, over the course of time, as their tumors slowly shrunk. He called it sCMT: Systemic Cancer Multistep Therapy. He also promoted the idea of oxygenation of the body since in the 1930's, it was shown that cancer is anerobic. Another name for the oxygenation idea was OCT: Oxygen Combination Therapy. He proved that cancer has a narrow heat tolerance and can be killed by fever or an artificially induced fever. There are many papers and articles on von Ardenne available. This is just one. As for the sugar element; cancer loves glucose. By overfeeding the tumor, the tumor itself secretes even more waste product-lactic acid. Due to the primitive blood circulation in a tumor, the heat and the acid cannot be dissapated as readily the way normal tissues operate. The theory was that the tumor would stew in the heat and acid. Numerous published articles have shown this to be true. *See our page on Stress/Cancer for more information on von Ardenne. Incidentally, Von Ardenne was one of the pioneering scientists who developed the scanning electron microscope, TV, Cathode Ray Tube developement and early radar. He held over 600 patents at the time of his death in 1997. There is also the famous story of William Coley, MD. He was a New York surgeon in the 1890's who accidentally stumbled upon fever treatment. He eventually refined his treatment rationale and called it Coley's Toxin. Basically, he would give his cancer patients low grade bacterial infections on purpose to induce stringent fevers. He would treat these patients continually over the course of months with a very high success rate. He correctly reasoned that the tumors, many of which were deadly sarcomas, had a very narrow heat tolerance and that repeated high fevers would literally burn the cancer out of the patients. The AMA eventually spoke out against his treatments and controversy followed. Yet, his early treatments were completely consistent with what Manfred Von Ardenne would be doing 60 years later in Germany. In any event, bacteria and virus also have narrow heat tolerances and a fever is a unique way of combating these invaders.
So there you have it, the basic human immune system. It is utterly fascinating to study and consider how it all works and works so well in concert with each of its many subsections. New research coming out (citations coming) show us that chiropractic adjustments to the spine help stimulate the immune system. I became a chiropractor for just that very reason. In 1977 I had mononucleosis and saw a DC in Neptune, NJ who, I feel, helped speed up my recovery dramatically with chiropractic adjustments. Interesting stuff. Reference also the following articles on how spinal manipulation is directly linked to the Immune System.
1) Elenkov I, Wilder R, et. al., "The Sympathetic Nerve-An Integrative Interface between Two Supersystems: the Brain and the Immune System," Pharmocological Reviews, 2000, Vol. 52 (4). The upshot of this article is that it shows that Whiplash initiates a sequence of immuno-suppression that has hugely adverse systemic health consequences including increased probablility of cancer.
2) Grim DR, Cunningham BM, Burke JR; "Autonomic Nervous System Function Among Individuals With Acute Musculoskeletal Injury," JMPT, Jan. 2005, Vol. 28 (1). "There appears to be a relationship between acute musculoskeletal tissue injury and the autonomic nervous sytem in human subjects." "Our findings suggest that acute musculoskeletal injury results in a shift in the autonomic nerous system toward a sympathetic dominance, as reported with chronic pain." Very important.
3) Kivioja J, Rinaldi L, Ozenci V, et. al. "Whiplash Injuries alter the Function of the Immune System," Clin Immunol 2001, Vol 21(4), pp: 272-7.
4) Muller R, Giles LGF, "Long-Term Follow-up of a Randomized Clinical Trial Assessing the Efficacy of Medication, Acupuncture, and Spinal Manipluation for Chronic Mechanical Spinal Pain Syndromes," JMPT, Jan. 2005, Vol. 28 (1). This great article actually concluded, as an ancillary finding, that chronic mechanical spinal pain syndromes "compromised immune function." Very interesting.
5) Barkleit G, "Manfred von Ardenne - Self realization in a Century of Dictorships," Dunker & Humblot pub. 2006, Berlin.