The women I help experience a wide variety of symptoms related to hormonal changes. Specifically, the changes that come during perimenopause (late 30’s through 40’s), and menopause (average age 52). Women in these two stages of life experience changes in immune function. More specifically, they experience increased inflammation due to the loss of hormones.
The term inflamm-aging is used to describe what happens during mid-life. While most of us think of aging as the reason for declining health, I don’t agree. It is especially notable that many of the changes that begin in our 40’s are the result of hormonal decline. Decline of hormones leads to reduced inflammation control, and this leads to all manner of immune and health challenges.
I suggest the loss of hormones and muscle mass, coupled with poor nutrition contribute to inflamm-aging more than the number of times you’ve circled the sun! With age, your immune system loses ground against inflammation, and this means your immune system is in need of support!
Your immune system may have functioned great in your 20’s and 30’s. You’re now in your 40’s and things have changed. I’m here to tell you that waning hormones aren’t helping your immune response. Increased allergies, weight gain, fatigue, more frequent illness, just might be signs of inflamm-aging.
Your immune system needs your attention. Understanding your immune genetics can help you discover the path to lowering inflammation and optimizing your immune system response.
Your immune system is a complex set of cellular processes and proteins dispersed throughout the body. These agents defend it from foreign invaders. Many of these cells are constantly scanning, “scouting” the body for foreign invaders. Simply put, your body is designed and equipped with a powerful round-the-clock army. Its job is to identify, attack and overcome invaders.
A well supported army needs the tools and resources that allow it to be battle-ready at all times. The job of “building” your immune system is an ongoing process. It requires constant maintenance, as your immune system is consistently coming into contact with foreign invaders.
How Your Immune System Works: The Basics
The first line of defense against foreign invaders is the innate, or non-specific, immune response. The innate immune response is made up of physical, chemical, and cellular defenses against pathogens (foreign invaders). The purpose of the innate immune response is to immediately prevent the spread and movement of foreign pathogens throughout the body.
The second line of defense against pathogens is called the adaptive immune response. Adaptive immunity is also referred to as specific immunity. The adaptive immune response is specific to the pathogen that presents itself. This develops when you are exposed to viral, bacterial, or parasitic pathogens.
While the innate immune response is immediate, the adaptive immune response isn’t. Adaptive immune response is long-lasting, highly specific, and is sustained long-term by memory T cells. (Yay!)
When the adaptive immune system gets to work, it creates B-Cells and T-cells. These are types of white blood cells that work differently to target, identify, and destroy any foreign invaders.
- B-cells create antibodies to the specific invader which marks it for destruction by other immune cells.
- T-cells come in two main types.
- Killer T-cells which directly kill foreign invaders.
- Helper T-cells that stimulate B-cells to make antibodies, and help Killer Cells develop.
T-cells also use cytokines as messengers to send chemical signals. They signal the immune system to tell it to increase its response. The result of this is inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response…A poorly controlled or overblown immune response.
You may have heard the term “cytokine storm” recently? Cytokine storm happens when an infection triggers the immune system to flood the bloodstream with inflammatory proteins called cytokines. This hyper-inflammatory response can damage tissue and organs. Respiratory illnesses and systemic infections are common triggers for cytokine storm.
We know that Chronic inflammation contributes to diseases of aging, and many chronic disease states. An immune system “stuck” in a state of high alert causes chronic inflammation. It can damage tissues and organs, and contribute to autoimmune conditions, cancer, and many other diseases. Chronic inflammation overwhelms the immune system. That is never a good thing.
Genes: The Foundation and Structure of Your Immune System
Your immune response is determined by genes that produce immune components, your external environment, internal environment, and past health issues. In short, the way your genes interact with your environment determines your immune response.
Your environment is everything that surrounds you, goes into you, everything that you engage with…the air you breathe, the foods you eat, your emotions, your relationships, movement, sleep, climate, chemicals, EMF’, and more. What you engage with at every level IS your environment. And your environment communicates with your genes to give them information. You can give your genes helpful information, or hurtful information. This is how your environment influences your health.
I’ll offer another analogy to help you understand how your genes influence your immune response. Let’s discuss the blueprint of a house. Blueprints detail the structural design for a house. so that it can be brought to reality. It guides the construction workers on how to build the structure. The structure includes the foundation, exterior and interior posts, beams, wood planks, trusses, joists, rafters and more. A house can’t be built without these physical building materials. Failures or faults in these materials can lead to serious damage and even the collapse of a house.
Your genes hold the blueprint for building all proteins that function throughout the body. This occurs in the same way that house blueprints guide construction workers to create its structure. Your genes create the components that make up your immune system, and the integrity of those components matter.
What happens when there’s a problem with the genetic blueprint? What happens if you have an inferior genetic blueprint? How does that affect the function of the protein?
These are the questions we ask when we look at immune health from an upstream perspective. We look at genes to understand the blueprint for important proteins that are critical to immune function.
Getting back to the questions above… What happens if you have an inferior genetic blueprint? This is an important question…Believe it or not, we all have genes that contain “single nucleotide polymorphisms” (abbreviated “SNPs”) in their code. Genetic SNPs are common and simply a part of our genetic reality. All populations contain “normal” genes. that have perfect blueprints and create perfectly functional proteins that do their jobs well. On-the-other-hand, populations also contain many ‘variant” genes or SNPs that indicate changes in the genetic code.
SNPs present in individual genetic codes create inferior proteins that have reduced function, or no function at all. When this happens, these proteins lack the ability to do their jobs properly. In many cases, this can impact health. As a side note, not all SNPs cause problems. Some SNPs don’t impact function at all. There is a huge body of science of the many genes that have been studied for their function. Nutrigenomics takes our knowledge of gene function, SNPs, and interventions to help us overcome biochemical challenges.
Simply put, the way your nutritional intake interacts with your genes can determine your potential for certain diseases to develop. No where is it more important to understand this, than with immune genetics. Multiple SNPs in important immune genes create the potential for poor immune function. Add to this, an environment that is less than supportive and you will most certainly have immune dysfunction.
What does this look like?
Scientists have identified many SNPs in genes important to the immune system. These include those of the Innate (non-specific) immune system, and the Adaptive (specific)immune system. Practitioners are now able to apply this information in real world health practices. Labs that test for genetic SNPs have sprung up everywhere in the past 10 years.
Popular consumer genetic testing has not been much help for most. This is due, in large part, to the lack of knowledge to apply this information to the consumer’s own health. Working with a practitioner who is trained in nutrigenomics is critical to understanding your genetics. I was trained and mentored by one of the world’s foremost experts in the field. I use genetic testing to guide my clients to improve their functional health everyday.
How do SNPs affect the Immune Response?
As a reminder, there are many cells and proteins that work together throughout the body as part of the immune response system. Scientists are still learning about how our complex immune system works. If anyone tells you that we understand everything about the immune system of humans, they are lying. The intricacies of this system might mean it will take many lifetimes to understand it all—If we can.
Let’s go back to the “army” analogy I used at the beginning of this article. Remember how I mentioned that the immune system has “scouts” out all over the body 24/7? These scouts alert the first-line immune response to engage the foreign invaders. Eventually, the many different parts of the immune system will be called on and activated. That army is sent out to “neutralize” the threat. The “scouts” of the immune system initiate the activation of the immune response.
An immune system with perfect genetic blueprints, supported by a perfect environment doesn’t exist. If it did, it might create a perfect response to knock out any threat. However, none of us have perfect genetic blueprints or environments. SNPs in immune genes that activate (turn the immune system “On”) can cause an aggressive immune response. This is the case in many allergic responses.
On-the-other-hand, many people will have SNPs in the genes that modulate or “turn Off” the immune response when the threat is over. This is often the case we see for people with autoimmune disease diagnoses.
Simply put, gene SNPs in these immune players can compromise the response of the immune system. This promotes aggressive inflammatory response, causing the immune system to remain in a chronic inflammatory response state. This type of valuable information can help practitioners and patients determine how to optimize immune function.
Your Environment Matters—Especially Nutrition & Lifestyle
Remember earlier I said that your environment is everything that you take in or interact with. This is key in applying nutrigenomics in practice! We know what specific nutrients and lifestyle interventions can provide a supportive environment to overcome weaknesses created by genetic SNPs. We also have data to support which nutrition and lifestyle activities will make these weaknesses worse.
Like an old home or building, your immune system is always under construction. The ever-changing environment demands this. Even with a new house, the environment it lives in will eventually require maintenance. This is due to the interaction of the house with its environment. It’s the same way for us and our genes.
Fortunately, people tend to be creatures of habit. We can create nutrition and lifestyle habits that support a healthy immune response to control for many variables. For those we can’t control, we consider them and respond as best we can. Make no mistake, we are able to control our environment to a much greater extent than most are willing to believe. It’s all about our choices. I hear you…Creating health habits isn’t always easy. To learn more about how to make healthy changes happen, check out my article about that here.
My Immune Response
A great example of this is my recent experience with coronavirus. Understanding my medical history, along with the picture of how my immune response tends to function was helpful. I set out early in the pandemic to curate the unique-to-me environment to support my immune system.
I cultivated a regimen of anti-inflammatory and immune modulating agents, exercise, time in nature, and connecting with others. This support would be critical in the event that my immune system was confronted with a viral challenge. I supported my immune system so it would respond less aggressively, and be able to shut down when appropriate.
The genetic information at my fingertips also meant that I was able to make informed decisions about my care when I did get Covid illness. Understanding my unique immune response gave me the confidence to choose the medical interventions that were important for ME!
Side Note…Conventional Medicine recommendations and treatments are based on population data/studies. This means they are generalized. The greatest benefit of nutrigenomics is the ability for it to drive personalized medicine!
What is the structure of your immune system?
- Do you know how your immune system will respond to foreign invaders?
- Does your immune system lack important functions to keep it from being over aggressive in its inflammatory response?
- Is your immune system able to “put on the brakes” to avoid chronic inflammation and an overwhelmed immune system?
- Is your immune “house” in order? Can it withstand the storms that will come?
Do you know the intimate details that can help you understand your immune response profile?
If you don’t, I recommend that you find out…There is no better time than now to hire a nutrigenomics practitioner or specialist to help you discover how to support your unique immune response system. There has never been a better time, in all of history to do this. You can create an environment that allows your body to do what it was designed to do…To keep you healthy and alive.
If you want to know more about nutrigenomic testing, and if it is right for you (Hint: It is!). I invite you to get on a call with me. On the call, we will discuss how you can get the right testing and support, so you can optimize your health and enjoy the life you love.
Set up a call with me here!