Allergy, Asthma and Eczema ….
Anyone else noticed lately how many people are suffering with allergies, asthma and eczema ? They often go hand in hand and it’s common to see families who share these immune problems. So why does this happen ?
The immune system is a complex system that protects us against disease. The main function of the immune system is to recognize the difference between our normal cells and invading, potentially harmful things like viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Our immune system is complex and uses lots of ways to keep pathogens out. One of these methods is the adaptive immune system where white blood cells make antibodies against invaders so the immune system can recognise the pathogen and quickly eliminate it in the future. Others cells are responsible for actively killing the pathogen.
We also have Th1 and Th2 cells. Th1 cells work to eliminate invaders within our cells (viruses). Th2 cells aim to destroy pathogens that occur outside our cells (bacteria and pathogens). Th1 cells and Th2 cells create different reactions which triggers different effects in the body. They create signals which tell other cells in our immune system how to react and what to do.
A healthy immune system can easily switch back and forth between Th1 and Th2. An unhealthy immune system can get stuck in one of these responses – leading to an imbalance in Th1 and Th2 actions.
Most people in the developed world get stuck in a Th2 response. This is because our bodies are not exposed to as many parasites and bacteria as in the past. An immune system without an invader to fight can become active in an unhealthy way overreacting to substances which really aren’t harmful at all e.g. pollen, dust. When Th2 becomes switched on it activates symptoms we know as allergies. For some people this can become severe, leading to asthma, eczema, and anaphylactic reactions.
Much of the balancing of the Th1/Th2 response occurs in pregnancy and early infancy. Once the immune system gets stuck in an abnormal pattern we have a harder time correcting it. This is why asthma, eczema and allergies often strike first when we are young. Treatments that aim to balance the Th1/Th2 ratio can take a while to work so it’s important to stick with it to see results.
How can I help to balance my immune system?
Probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in us. Most adults have about 3-5 kilos of bacteria in our digestive system. The clincher is making sure they are the right type. There are specific strains of probiotic for different health issues so taking something you pick up at the chemist or pharmacy may not be very effective. Probiotic bacteria alter Th2 reaction to a healthier level. They also stimulate the immune system in the gut.
Fish oil reduces inflammation and reduces allergic response.
Vitamin A, in combination with vitamin D, is helpful in turning off inflammatory immune responses and balances the Th1 and Th2 levels.
Herbs which are anti-inflammatory or immune modulating can be hugely helpful. There are lots of options for herbal formulations to alter your Th1/Th2 ratio and manage your symptoms including liquorice, pirella and astragalus.