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What if something goes wrong in the complex fractal behaviors of immune cells? We have all heard of people who have eaten something as innocent as a peanut and died. It sounds bizarre that the immune system could believe something is profoundly dangerous and in reality it is not. Peanuts and shellfish are two of the most common powerful instigators of deadly immune reactions we call allergy or hypersensitivity. Allergy is mediated by an IgE antibody. Pollen to some people is as bad as chlorine gas because of pollen's effect on mast cell degranulation and subsequent histamine release. Bottom line: When the immune system gets it wrong, terrible things can happen.

A second scenario of the immune system creating disease is when it takes a normal part of your body and mistakes it for something abnormal or non-self. We refer to this disturbance as an auto-immune disease. There are a variety of these horrendous diseases and more are being discovered every day. In the case of Lupus, the immune system makes IgG antibodies to the self-cell's nuclear material (DNA). These IgG antibodies attach to a variety of tissues making them vulnerable to attack by T-Cells, neutrophils and macrophages. There are many different kinds of autoimmune conditions. Multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes mellitus, inclusion body myositis, poly arteritis nodosa, A.L.S., rheumatoid arthritis are just a few examples.

In many of these autoimmune diseases, treatment focuses on down regulating some aspect of immune function. Some medications inhibit proliferation of T-Cells and B-Cells, some medications bind up toxic immune chemicals in an attempt to stop cellular damage and some medications inhibit a specific immune activity. Before starting these medications, it should be no surprise that patients must consider the risks of new onset infectious disease or cancer as a result of immune suppression verses the anti-inflammatory benefits. Patients who go blindly into treatment may develop tuberculosis or lymphomas and not be aware that some of their new symptoms are not associated with their autoimmune disease. Sometimes there is no choice; the autoimmune disease is so severe or advanced that some sort of significant immune suppressing treatment is necessary.

Over the last two weeks, I have explained the ins and outs of acquired immunity. Macrophages, B-Cells and T-Cells are the infantry in this system. Supposed you get exposed to the Ebola virus for the first time. Your acquired immunity executes three main features. Your first response is that you will target the Ebola virus specifically with antibodies as well as sensitize your cell-mediated immunity to it. This immune process allows the body's defenses to specifically target Ebola. It takes time to build up this kind of immunity after your first exposure. Your immune system will select the antibody that fits best, then make billions and billions of copies of it per hour. During this process, the Ebola virus could be deadly if the body takes too long to generate the proper amount of specific antibodies to thwart the infection. If enough antibody is created and T-Cells ultimately recognize the virus, Ebola will be overcome by the immune system. Memory cells will be created to fight the Ebola virus if a second exposure were to occur. Ebola virus is smart. It only spreads by body fluid contact. It is no coincidence that in the last stages of infection, the body's sweat, tears, feces, urine and saliva all contain the virus in massive concentrations just looking to infect another victim. Other viruses have different but effective strategies. Influenza virus spreads by contact with respiratory droplets and upper airway mucous production. When patients cough or sneeze, they spread the virus through the air. Just one single whiff of a vapor trail from a sneeze by an uninfected healthy person could be enough to inoculate their upper respiratory tract and lungs and develop the flu.

Another barrier protecting us from disease is the IgA antibody that is secreted by our mucous membranes. These antibodies lack specificity and act as a shield, protecting our microscopic cellular surfaces from infections.

Acquired immunity is complex. It is found only in vertebrates. Innate immunity also exists and is considered a primitive immune system because it lacks true specificity.
Innate immunity responds to potential infections where ever a bacterial or parasite digs in and takes root, Swelling occurs at the site due to histamine release. Macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer cells infiltrate the area and attack the microbe. Proteins also fight the microbe. In the skin, this reaction results in a boil (abscess). If the pus filled sack is incised and drained, the infection clears. If the abscess is deep within the tissues, warm compresses will draw the localized infection to the surface and ultimately bursts and drains. The innate system will migrate to the warmed area since it is attracted to localized heat.

There are many specific known immune responses, but there are many more that remain a mystery. Many authorities believe that our current immune model is incorrect and that much of the basic research results have been misinterpreted or misrepresented. I believe that some of the information is correct, but the majority of our understandings are incorrect and the truth remains unexplained.

One of the greatest immunological mysteries of our time is metastatic cancer. The ongoing theory is that tumor cells break off from the primary cancer and spread via blood or lymph to adjacent tissues and begin to grow. On the surface, this explanation seems reasonable. But when one looks deeply into the issue, one soon realizes that it is a ridiculous theory that holds no validity what-so-ever. It is merely a convenient theory. I suspect the truth is closer to diffuse stem cell corruption throughout the body and tumor growth activation by high blood cytokine concentrations that promote growth of normal and abnormal stem cells. These chemical messengers are secreted by the enlarging primary tumor or surgical healing. Regardless of the truth, my theory is much more plausible than tumor cells breaking off and seeding the body as if a tumor was a budding dandelion flower persuaded and delivered by the random gusts of wind or the currents of blood and lymph.

What is more plausible, stem cells or weeds? Only the immune system knows for sure. And it only communicates using chemical messengers. We have a much clearer understanding of ancient healing recipes recorded in hieroglyphics written by Imhotep than making sense of cytokine related immune interactions in the body.

The next time you catch a cold, I hope you are amazed at how your body fights off the microbial invader. It's a miracle.

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 8:31 AM
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