Step 2 – Immune Modulation for Alopecia Recovery
Immune modulation refers to the altering of our immune response, and it includes stimulation as well as inactivation of some stages of the immune response.
Our immune system needs to be strong in order to be effective in its job. But more than that, it needs to have just the right balance and ratio of different immune cells in order to function correctly.
Autoimmune diseases are linked to an immune system that does not function correctly. Therefore, restoring the balance of our immune function through immune modulation is key to fixing autoimmune diseases by tackling the problem at its source.
Let’s start with a journey into our immune system
Our immune system is a complex collection of lymph nodes, organs and cells, all working together, releasing different chemicals at different times. Our immune system is extremely complex, but it is so well coordinated that no man or machine can copy or replicate it.
Think of our immune system as an army, where different battalions come together, using different weapons to fight enemies. The immune system works 24 hours a day to protect us from enemy invaders like bacteria, viruses, parasites, pollution, and even our own dead cells.
The bone marrow and the thymus are our main lymphoid organs. The bone marrow creates red and white blood cells. White blood cells are our immune cells. Just like how an army trains its inventory, airforce and navy, our thymus trains immune cells called T-cells to perform specific functions.
The immune system also consists of peripheral lymphoid organs, like the tonsils, spleen, lymph nodes and appendix. For example, swollen lymph nodes under the arm show that our immune cells are fighting an infection.
Our immune cells are very protective. They shoot off specific missiles to invaders; these missiles are called antibodies or immunoglobulins. When there is bacteria invasion, for example, these cells jump into action by releasing bacteria-specific antibodies, which kill the bacteria.
Another interesting immune cell is the macrophage. The macrophage is both the messenger and the fighter. When it sees enemy cells, it will call other immune cells to the battlefield. It fights enemies by grabbing them and swallowing them.
There are also several types of T-cells that join in the fight. One powerful T-cell is the Natural Killer (NK) cell. It kills enemies by releasing certain chemicals, for example it can seek and destroy a cancer cell.
How do we nourish our important immune system?
It is no exaggeration to say that our immune system is so important because our life literally depends on it. Without our immune system, we could die from merely breathing as the air contains pathogens that could be harmful to us.
We don’t realise how important our immune system is because it is constantly working to protect us.
There are 4 cornerstones that make up the health of our immune system:
A well balanced diet consisting of a wide variety of micronutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants and polysaccharides from wholesome, mostly plant based foods, provides our immune system with the fuel that it needs in order to function properly.
Check out more articles on the topic of nutrition here.
Most of our body’s waste disposal is done by the lymphatic system, which clears out damaged and displaced molecules and pathogens from tissues and transport them to the blood where they are broken down by the liver and excreted.
However, the blood-brain barrier regulates the traffic across the delicate brain tissue, which does not allow the lymph to clean up waste in our brain the way it does everywhere else in our body.
Our brain builds up a tremendous amount of dead cells, chemical compounds and metabolic waste due to the high level of activities that occur in our brain every second.
Our brain drains out waste through lymphatic vessels in the brain, and this process is 10 times more active when we are sleeping as our brain cells shrink their size to make way for this critical process to occur.
Exercise and deep breathing increase lymph circulation which in turn improves immune function. Our lymphatic system relies on the pumping action and movement in order to remove toxins.
Walking, swimming and yoga are all good exercises to increase lymph circulation.
4. Positive attitude
When we are stressed out, our body release corticosteroids, which suppress our immune system. Relaxing and maintaining a positive attitude make us happier which in turn boost our immune system.
Autoimmune alopecia and immune modulation
Alopecia Areata is a symptom of a malfunctioning, self-attacking immune system. The immune system attacks our own body cells, because it cannot differentiate between enemy cells and friendly ones.
Merely strengthening our immune system at this time could be a problem and make symptoms worse.
In order to fix the problem with autoimmune alopecia, we need a process to activate and deactivate various stages of our immune response. A process that not only strengthens our immune response when it needs to fight off enemies, but also calms it down when it finishes the fight and when it is overstimulated.
This process restores the balance of our immune function and is the KEY to fixing autoimmune disorders by tackling the problem at its source.
This process is called immune modulation, or immuno-modulation.
How to support our body’s own immune modulation abilities
Immune modulation is enabled by immuno-modulators. These are materials that can modify our immune system response to a threat, and they consist of (1) immuno-stimulators and (2) immuno-supppressors.
Certain plants have been studied to posses potential bioactive compounds that are capable of supporting our body’s own immune modulation capabilities. Polysaccharides from certain plants have prompted researchers to study their physical properties and potential use.
Mushrooms are distinguished as an important food containing compounds that can support our body’s immune modulation process. These compounds belong mostly to polysaccharides, especially β-Glucans (beta-glucans).
Mushrooms containing polysaccharides that are beneficial for immune modulation activities include:
- Lentinula edodes (Shiitake mushroom)
- Agaricus blazei (ABM mushroom)
- Grifola frondosa (Maitake mushroom)
- Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom)
- Cordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps mycellium
- Flammulina velutipes (Enoki mushroom)
- Hericium erinaceum (Lion’s Mane mushroom)
The problem with steroids and immunosuppressants as alopecia treatment
Standard treatments that are commonly prescribed for autoimmune diseases have frequently involved suppressing the immune system, often in a way that is almost identical to standard treatments for organ transplantation.
In fact, many drugs specifically developed for transplantation, are now used to treat autoimmune diseases.
Transplant medications must be very powerful immune suppressants in order for them to work and prevent organ rejection. Therefore the use of these medicines to treat autoimmune conditions is considered a heavy-handed approach.
The efficacy of steroids and drugs as means for alopecia treatment is inconsistent amongst different individuals. Some people experience no improvement at all despite enduring the side effects and even pain associated with steroid treatment. While for some, the effect of initial hair growth doesn’t last, and symptoms of hair loss returns, sometimes even worse than before as their body adapts to these drugs.
Mushroom polysaccharides as natural immune modulation support
Our immune system is a very complex network of cells, organs and functions all working together in synergy. It is much better to give our immune system the food and substances it needs in order to perform the work it’s supposed to perform, as no man-made medication can replace that.
Many immunosuppressant drugs are derived from medicinal mushrooms, for example, cyclosporine is actually derived from the Cordyceps mushroom. A much better way to reap the immune-modulating benefits of these mushrooms is by consuming the different types of these mushrooms in whole foods form, allowing them to work in synergy and enabling our immune system to regulate itself overtime and resolving the autoimmunity problems right from the source.
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