Resiliency: Gut – Immune – Brain
Is comprised of the digestive tract, immune system, and the central nervous system. Together, these intelligent body systems make moment-to-moment decisions in regards to absorption and assimilation, and setting critical boundaries physically, immunologically, and psychically. When Triad 2 is normal, the person feels organized and secure within themselves and their environment. When these systems are out of balance, the person can become jumbled and unpredictable.
The gastrointestinal tract (digestive tract or GUT) consists of a hollow muscular tube starting from the oral cavity, where food enters the mouth, continuing through the pharynx, esophagus, stomach and intestines to the rectum and anus, where food is expelled.
There are various accessory organs that assist the tract by secreting enzymes to help break down food into its component nutrients. Thus the salivary glands, liver, pancreas and gall bladder have important functions in the digestive system. Food is propelled along the length of the gastrointestinal tract by peristaltic movements of the muscular walls.
We focus on the intestines and the stomach with the effects of imbalances in these organs.
The gut is involved in the breakdown and resorption of food nutrients. The gut is also the largest organ of the immune system. The GUT contains intestinal bacteria (called microflora or probiotic flora), which serve to preserve gut integrity, help metabolize foods and drugs, and prevent the overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria and fungus (yeast) in the gut. More than 400 separate bacterial species have been identified as part of the normal gut flora, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium sp., and others. Potentially harmful microorganisms are also kept at bay by an extensive immune system comprising the gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). GALT plays a role in a healthy immune system. In addition to the lymphoid tissues that make up the GALT, a number of other cell populations contribute to normal gut defenses.
Cells that line the intestines, called epithelial cells, provide a physical barrier to bacterial entry, through their tight junctions, toll proteins and production of mucus, and produce an array of cytokines that can modulate immune responsiveness.
Damage to the gut lining can lead to a host of health problems. There is a complex balance that exists between the probiotic flora and the immune system, the gut and liver. Any disruption in your normal gut function, through environmental stressors (such as heavy metals and chemical preservatives), poor dietary habits (such as diets high in carbohydrates, refined sugars, and high fructose corn syrup), food allergies, drug therapies (including NSAIDs, steroids, antibiotics), and chronic stress result in the loss of the counter-inflammatory flora balance and can easily lead to uncontrolled inflammation.
Food and bacterial proteins can act together to damage the gut and allow toxic protein complexes and other substances to get through the tight junction glycoprotein and toll receptor network that is normally supposed to be resistant to such a breach. These factors in the development of gut dysbiosis, by promoting the proliferation of Candida albicans (yeast). Dysbiosis leads to leaky gut syndrome, which can manifest as:
• food allergies • thyroid imbalances • neurochemical imbalances • autoimmune diseases • gastrointestinal problems like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease • addictions • chemical sensitivities • depression • sleep problems • mineral deficiencies • skin problems • fatigue • insulin resistance • diabetes • cancer
The immune system contains specialized organs and cells that are designed to defend the body against foreign invaders, including microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, cancerous cells and even transplanted tissues. The immune system consists of the innate immunity and adaptive immunity. These components are manufactured in various places in the body, including the lymph nodes, bone, spleen, thymus, tonsils, appendix and Peyer’s patches in the small intestine.
The immune system reaction to invaders and attackers is a regimented process, consisting of recognition, activation and mobilization, response and resolution. The immune system is able to determine, in most instances, what is “self” and what is foreign. However, in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the immune system begins to attack it’s host – YOU.
The innate immune system, the dominant part of our immunity, attacks foreign invaders immediately without having encountered them before but does not give long-lasting immunity against the attacker. Innate immunity performs several functions: it leads to inflammation and allergic reactions, helps form a barrier against attack, such as in the gastrointestinal tract, uses white blood cells that ingest invaders, and T and B cells and natural killer cells (NK cells), which help destroy cells and tissues in the body that have gone “awry”. The B cells (B lymphocytes) can recognize invaders directly, while the T cells (T lymphocytes) need help from other cells of the immune system called antigen-presenting cells. White blood cells consists of:
- Natural Killer Cells
The white blood cells are made in primary lymphoid organs, including:
- Bone marrow – produces all the different types of white blood cells, including neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, B cells, and the cells that develop into T cells (T cell precursors).
- Thymus – produces T cells; T cells multiply and are trained to recognize foreign attackers (antigens) and ignore the body’s own antigens.
Other cells in the innate immunity include dendritic cells that reside in the skin, lymph nodes, and other tissues in
the body. They help break the attacker apart so T cells can recognize it. Also, the complement system is part of innate immunity. This system uses more than 30 proteins that act in sequence to destroy the invader in your body.
The adaptive or acquired immune system uses antibodies that remember the attackers and is ready to defeat the invader at any time. This is not present and birth and must be learned as you are exposed to various invaders in your body. Cells important in the adaptive immune system are the lymphocytes – the B and T cells. T cells are made in the thymus and B cells in bone marrow.
Antibodies (or immunoglobulins) are also part of the adaptive immune system. Antibodies are large glycoprotein molecules that are released by specific B cells when they encounter a foreign invader (antigen). Antibodies help our immunity by:
- Helping white blood cells ingest the foreign invader
- Inactivating toxic substances produced by bacteria
- Attacking bacteria and viruses directly
- Activating the complement system
- Helping certain cells, such as natural killer cells, kill infected cells or cancer cells
Antibodies found in humans include:
majority of antibody immunity; crosses placenta and provides immune support to fetus
attacks foreign invader early before there is enough IgG
found in gut, eyes, nose, lungs, mouth, urinary tract, breast milk;
involved in allergies binds to allergens and triggers histamine release
activate B cells to take part in the defense of the body in the immune system
The immune response must be regulated to prevent extensive damage to the body like that which occurs in an autoimmune condition. Suppressor T cells help control the immune response by secreting cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system) that lead to inflammation and inhibition of the immune responses.
The immune system is intimately connected to the gastrointestinal tract and to the brain. Approximately 60-70% of the immune system is located in the gut, in tissue called GALT or gut associated lymphatic tissue.
Stress levels can affect your immune system greatly. Excess cortisol release may lower your immunity, and studies report those with high stress levels are reported to have a much higher incidence of upper respiratory infections as compared to those with low stress levels.
Your sleep quality and amounts can also affect your immune system. Less than 7 hours of sleep a night is reported to almost triple the number of colds you can
get when compared to sleeping 8 hours a night. 67% of Americans experience frequent problems sleeping.
What you eat and are exposed to in the environment can also affect your immunity. Foods high in refined carbohydrates (sugars, “white” breads/rice, high fructose corn syrup), chemical additives like sweeteners, preservatives, flavoring (MSG, smoking) and coloring (dyes) can lead to imbalances in the immune system. Exposure to heavy metals – lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic – can also lead to immune imbalances. Other environmental contaminants linked to immune imbalances include cigarette smoking, pesticides, phthalates (found in cosmetics, self-care products) and bisphenol A (BPA, found in the lining of cans and plastics).
Conditions that are tied to chronic inflammation can also imbalance your immune system. These include:
- Sleep problems like sleep apnea
- Insulin resistance/diabetes
- High levels of oxidative stress like smoking
- Gastrointestinal imbalances including inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease
- Food allergies
Exercise in moderation can help improve immune function. However, over-training can lead to immune imbalances, which are common in strenuous athletics like triathlons and competitions.
The brain is located in the cranium, or head. The brain consists of:
located at the back of the brain; fine tunes movement, balance; rapid and repetitive actions, i.e. video gaming
major part of brain; divided into right and left hemispheres and wrinkled in appearance; speech, memory, learning/intellect, cognition, movement, personality
lower extension of the brain; connected to the spinal cord; consists of medulla oblongata, pons and the midbrain; serves as a relay station by handling messages between different body parts and the brain; primitive and survival functions (fight/flight, breathing, blood pressure, heart beat) are located here; sleep patterns, taste, sight, hearing and balance coordination
small structure inside the brain that delivers messages to the pituitary gland, which releases hormones; plays role in eating, sexual behavior, sleep, body temperature, emotions, and movement.
The brain is the most complex organ in the body, with the cerebral cortex containing about 15-33 billion neurons, or nerve cells, each connected to other nerve cells.
The brain is the “command and control” center of the nervous system in the body. The brain contains the primary sensory organs of vision, hearing, balance, taste and smell. The brain controls cognition and memory, mood and emotions and is the central control center for all body processes.
The brain consists of 2 types of cells – neurons and glial cells. Both these cells require a supply of blood that delivers glucose and oxygen to produce ATP or energy.
Glial (meaning “glue”) cells provide protection and support for neurons, helping hold them in place, provide oxygen and nutrients to the neurons, insulate the neurons from one another and helping remove potential pathogens (substances that can produce disease) and dead neurons.
Glial cells are divided into 3 types: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and microglial cells. Astrocytes help maintain an environment appropriate for the neuronal signaling via neurochemicals. Oligodendrocytes help create myelin, a lipid-rich sheath that surrounds the neuron and allows better conductivity – an insulation of sorts. Microglial cells are part of the immune system and help remove cellular debris and other results of processes of damage in the brain.
Microglia can release chemicals that lead to inflammation in the brain, which can be damaging to the brain if the inflammation is chronic.
The neurons are cells that are excited and activated by electricity. Neurons send signals to various parts of the body, sometimes over long distances, by fibers called axons. These signals are in the form of electrical impulses called action potentials, which lasts less than a thousandth of a second and travels at speeds along the axons of 1-1000 meters per second (over 6/10 of a mile). An action potential is initiated when a chemical messenger attaches itself to a receptor, setting up an electrical charge to be generated through the neuron.
Once the signal reaches the end of an axon, which is at the end of a neuron, tiny sacs are stimulated to release a chemical called a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released in the synapse, or space between neurons, by an action potential. Then the neurotransmitters find their way to the other side of the synapse, and attach to a space called a receptor. Each neurochemical has its own special receptors in the brain.
The process repeats over and over, leading to a change in your body’s behavior.
The brain’s function is intimately tied to the immune system and your gastrointestinal tract. Imbalances in
metabolism can lead to imbalances in neurochemistry and brain problems. Imbalances can be caused by:
- Chronic inflammation; Elevated C-reactive protein
- Elevated homocysteine; poor methylation
- Insulin resistance/diabetes
- Gastrointestinal imbalances
- Hormonal imbalances (thyroid, cortisol and sex hormones)
- Chronic stress; Cortisol imbalances
- Oxidative Stress
- Environmental toxins
- Nutrient deficiencies
Nerve impluse triggers release of neurotransmitter