Digestion, Gut Health, and Immune Response: Excerpt From “Micro Miracles: Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes”

Excerpt from Micro Miracles – Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes by Ellen W. Cutler, D.C., with Jeremy Kaslow, M.D. Reprinted with permission.

How Food Can Weaken the Body’s Defenses

A decline in immune function often begins with the one-two punch of food sensitivities and poor digestion. When you’re sensitive to a food, it means that your body can’t thoroughly process it. The undigested food particles find their way into the bloodstream, where they trigger an immune response.

For a long time, it was thought that the intestinal wall would block food particles from getting into the bloodstream. Now we know this isn’t the case. Some evidence suggests that people with food sensitivities have leakier intestinal linings than those without sensitivities, which means that more food particles can pass into the bloodstream. What’s more, the inflammation that occurs with the immune response can make the intestinal linings even leakier.

Once the immune system spots the food particles, it sends in a cellular “search party” to check out the foreign substances. How the searchers determine whether a particular substance poses a threat is a rather complex mechanism. But with a signal from them, other immune cells begin pumping out cytokines that in turn initiate production of antibodies. They’re responsible for marking the food particles, or antigens, as targets for destruction and removal. Depending on the type and number of antibodies, they attach to the antigens to form circulating immune complexes (CICs).

This is one method the body uses to deal with foreign substances – it forms CICs. The trouble is, immune complexes are inflammatory. They can wreak havoc on the body even if they linger for only a brief period of time. The body recognizes this, and it takes action to extract CICs from the bloodstream. In fact, certain cells in the liver and spleen exist for the primary purpose of attaching to and disposing of CICs. After one pass through the liver or spleen, the blood should be largely free of immune complexes.

Problems arise when the liver and spleen find themselves facing more CICs than they can remove from the bloodstream. The immune complexes tend to congregate in certain tissues and organs, such as the kidneys, joints, and blood vessel walls, where they trigger inflammatory conditions that eventually lead to illness.

Where the CICs settle depends largely upon heredity. This is why symptoms of food sensitivities can vary so greatly from one person to the next. Some people become prone to migraines; others develop joint pain; and still others experience kidney disease. Left untreated, inflammation can cause scarring so severe that the affected tissue no longer can function.

According to the medical literature, the tissue damage caused by CICs is present in a number of conditions that affect many organs. It can lead to lung disease, chronic pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

At their worst, CICs confuse the immune system so it loses its ability to distinguish between what belongs in the body and what doesn’t. It starts attacking perfectly healthy tissues and organs as if they were antigens. This process sets the stage for serious autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and thyroiditis.

Because they are active participants in the immune system, enzymes can prevent, reduce, or reverse the immune response when it threatens to backfire on the body. For example, the enzyme protease helps break down viruses and other infectious microorganisms, which eases the immune system’s workload and keeps it from becoming hyperactive. In autoimmune disease, enzymes help not only by interrupting the inflammatory cascade but also by breaking down CICs and activating the macrophages to gobble up and get rid of them.

Gut Health Affects Immune Health

As you might imagine, the integrity of the intestinal lining and the coating of mucus that protects it is a major factor in determining whether food particles get into the bloodstream in the first place. In fact, the mucus serves an important communication center for the immune system. When harmful substances, such as bacteria, parasites, allergens, and toxins, find their way into the gut, the mucus alerts the immune system to send in forces to defend the rest of the body against damage.

If the coating sustains damage or scarring, the intestinal lining becomes too permeable to prevent food particles from passing through. This sets in motion the chain of events that activates the immune system and prompts production of CICs.

Perhaps the most important strategy for maintaining a structurally sound gut is to support proper digestion. As long as food is thoroughly broken down, fewer food particles travel through the intestinal lining and stimulate what’s known as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue. If food particles never reach this tissue, they can’t penetrate and damage it, worsening an already leaky guy. Nor can they venture into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response.

Another protective measure is to increase production of secretory immunoglobulin A, or IgA. This antibody binds with food particles in the gut, keeping them from adhering to and passing through the mucous coating. If IgA runs low – which can happen when the intestinal wall is damaged – food particles are more likely to lodge in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue. You can step up IgA production by taking a probiotic supplement, which is one reason that Dr. Ellen Cutler includes probiotics in her basic plan.

Some experts believe that we humans would live longer if we took steps to improve our digestion and intestinal microflora. Several hundred species of bacteria – some 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of living microorganisms – reside principally in the large intestine and to a lesser extent in the small intestine. Collectively, they far outnumber the cells in the rest of the body. They can have a tremendous impact on our health, for better or for worse.

This is why maintaining balanced intestinal microflora is so important: any imbalance (a condition known as dysbiosis) can have a systemic effect on the body and cause all manner of illnesses. By the same token, a healthy gut supports a healthy body – one that is less vulnerable to serious ailments such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.

Taking probiotics is a fundamental strategy for maintaining an optimal intestinal environment. They work with the bacterial species in the gut to create less hospitable conditions for harmful microorganisms and substances. The benefit is twofold: First, the intestinal wall and its coating are less vulnerable to damage; and second, the immune system is less likely to switch on and intervene.

About the author:

Ellen W. Cutler, D.C., is a leading authority on enzyme therapy and founder of BioSET, an innovative healing system that combines the use of enzyme supplements with other complementary medicine disciplines to achieve optimum health. Author of The Food Allergy Cure, among other books, Dr. Cutler resides in Marin County, California. Micro Miracles – Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes by Ellen W. Cutler, DC, with Jeremy Kaslow, MD, can be purchased from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1594862214/qid=1130260575/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/103-8466909-7401469?v=glance&s=books

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