BBC study - the truth about boosting your immune system

Especially how massage benefits our Immune system! 

The NLR ratio as a measure of an immune system on hyper-alert

How a healthy gut biome avoids allergies
What we can do to strengthen our immune system

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I applaud the BBC for this programme exploring the facts and ways to support our immune system

Dr Ronx Ikharia tells us that our immune system is our first line of defense against illness - everything from colds to COVID. The corona virus out break has pushed our immune system to centre stage and made us realise the importance of having healthy defences.

At the core of our immune system is a vast army of white blood cells (lymphocytes). The front line offer speed and aggression; and the specialists which come in later provide custom made attacks over a longer period. 

These cells are vital to us when fighting a disease - but how much do we know about how to keep them strong?

The BBC programme told us about the unique study which Dr Ikhari and Professor Cruickshank from Kent University set up with 6 volunteers giving them an "immune makeover" changing their diet, exercise and sleep habits for 6 weeks.

Scientists know that a high level of a particular white blood cell, called neutrophils, seem to indicate an over active immune system; which is often associated with an immune system on hyper-alert and allergies.

The best way to test their immune systems was to take NLR ratio readings
(N= neutrophil L= lymphocytes).
A reading of 5 is considered too high. A high NLR ratio suggests that the immune system is agitated and aggressive and good cells may be damaged. A healthy immune system will have a good balance of neutrophils and specialist lymphocyte cells. 

5 out of the 6 volunteers were seen to have high NLR ratios - which indicate that they were 6 times more likely to have COVID illness.

Gut bacteria train immune cells to know that not all germs are dangerous. I recommend Giulia Enders book called 'The Gut'.

Fibre promotes growth of good gut bacteria and provides vital ammunition to immune cells allowing them to fight off infection

Massage was shown to decrease the NLR ratio as well!

Enjoy a massage and make your immune system strong


What does a good strong gut biome look like?

Scientists have found that a gut biome which has a high gut diversity of bacteria is the strongest and the people who have the widest array are the Hadzor tribe in northern Tanzania; who also have a very low NLR. A wide diversity of gut bacteria is good for our immune system.

A level of 30g of daily fibre is recommended giving more 'killer instinct' to the bacteria in our gut which fight off infection. The fibre we ingest produces butyrate.

Scientists in the BBC programme showed that more butyrate in our gut fights off more pathogens such as the salmonella grown overnight in a petri dish. The activity of the white blood cells which engulf bacteria, called macrophages, is enhanced. I highly recommend Zinzinobiotic for good gut support.


How does stress affect our immune system?

A quick dose of stress is good for our immune system enabling us to heal any wound which may occur during our fight or flight response when under attack. It's when we are under stress for a long time that our immune system struggles.

Dr Ikhari, who is scared of spiders, undertook to allow herself to touch a trantula spider and then measure her lymphocytes. Her heart was thumping to bring the oxygen to her muscles - and increase the flow of white blood cells throughout her body. Her baseline reading was 4 then after 10 minutes 4.6 then after 20 minutes 4.9. this was an increase of 20% of white blood cells in 20 minutes! Our body is truly amazing! 

But we don't have to expose ourselves to this kind of stress in order to enhance our immune system. All we need to do is turn the shower to cold for the last 30 seconds before we turn it off, watch a horror movie for a while, do public speaking ....or have a massage! All have the same beneficial effect. When Dr Ikhari had a 1 hour massage the level of her white blood cells increased by 20%. I'm not at all surprised! 

Fulvio D'Acquisto from the University of Roehampton is looking at the effect of emotion on our immunity; called 'Affective Immunology'. His interest in the benefits of massage was prompted during his investigation into children with HIV whose specialist T cell count increased with soft touch. The nerve cells stimulated by touch stimulate the many glands where T cells are stored. Even a well person will benefit from massage. 

Even while I am unable to offer massage during lock down you can give yourself a massage. See my self massage instructions. Stretching the body also increases the circulation to the muscles. See my various stretches worksheets on my comfortable body page.  

Back to our volunteers

When we have a high level of neutrophils we feel tired, are more prone to illness and our immune system is too over worked to effectively fight off actual threats. As many as 44% of us have overactive immune systems - and are susceptible to Allergies. We cannot cure allergies so let's stop getting them in the first place.

Mohamed Shamji at University College London showed his own response to allergens which is increased inflammation, initiated by histamine, and blood flow at the site of exposure to the allergen. He showed the response of the basophil white blood cells in his blood which have been over activated causing itchiness, a runny nose and sneezing. He knows that genetics may be to blame but also that our lifestyle has a large effect too because a bad diet full of junk food decreases our gut diversity.

Allergies are when the immune system has been put onto hyper alert to the particular molecules within say the mite dust. However this also indicates that the immune system is not happy and is in hyper alert generally. How may this have happened? It is very possible that pain killers may be the culprit sometimes. See my blog about pain where I explain how we feel pain and how pain killers affect our immune system.

Cleaner houses mean we are exposed to less microbes and children growing up on a farm are far less likely to experience allergies.




Dr Ikhari's study showed that 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (running and getting out of breath) or 150 minutes of moderate exercise (walking and increasing our heart rate) each week was enough to decrease the NLR ratio and increase the amount of the lymphocytes 6 fold and cut the amount of colds in half. However, extreme exercise is not beneficial and creates respiratory tract infections.

Good sleep is also good for our immune system when T cells are best at latching onto pathogens.

How is the immune system regulated?

Our immune system is incredibly complicated and even now the scientists are just scratching the surface. What is known is that our emotions and hormones have a pivotal effect. The calmer we are the calmer and less reactive is our immune system. It is known that the stress hormone cortisol affects the production of white blood cells as was shown in the study above.

Our lymph glands are scattered all over our body; in addition to those we already know about in our neck, under our arms and in our groin. We have glands within our intestines which are regulated by the vagus nerve along the brain gut axis. Our spleen, bones and thymus also produce white blood cells.

Our body is always seeking to maintain Homeostasis and this is regulated via the brain and the sensors which lie within the brain stem and our immune system plays a very important role in maintaining Homeostasis. Read about a way to keep your own Homeostasis in peak condition. Click here.

Read more and understand how our nerves,hormones and immunity work together.

For a more in depth scientific description Click here

Do painkillers affect our immune system?

I believe there is evidence that they do. The NHS depends on them to help their patients keep comfortable and keep pain at bay yet the resulting imbalances in the immune system may be giving more long term problems. I don't want to worry those of you who have been on long term pain killers as I also believe that your body can recover from the effects, if approached in the right way.

I have an example of this effect in my own family which has made me wary of pain killers ever since. See my blog about pain. When I was in my twenties, having just completed my degree in Physiology and Biochemistry, my grandmother was suffering from very painful shingles and was on 8 paracetomol a day. Then she had the nerve which was causing the pain 'killed'.  Hurray she was able to stop using pain killers!

Sadly though she soon came out with Rheumatoid Arthritis with resulting pain in her hands especially, which she suffered with for the rest of her life. At the time I was interested in the messenger chemicals in the body which the white blood cells in the immune system use to talk to each other- called cytokines now and called leukotrienes then.

What I realised had happened is that, during the time she was taking paracetamol, the enzyme which produces the prostaglandins, which cause inflammation, was being switched off. The body's response is to switch on the cytokines, the second level of defence, as it still wanted to have it's defense mechanism. So, when she stopped using paracetamol, she had a double whammy hyper vigilant immune system which became confused and saw her own cells in her finger joints as 'not self' so attacked them. It's an auto immune disease. Allergies can also be explained in this way; though pain killers are not necessarily the cause.

We need to ask the uncomfortable question - why is the incidence of autoimmune and allergy reactions increasing? Pain killers are an easy way to stop the symptom in this busy world we are living in yet do not address the cause of the pain. We can address pain in a different - maybe not so quick, but overall better way. See my Comfortable Body page for some ideas. 

Every day we have difficult choices to make yet I'm always on the side of your body which has no voice - except pain! If I can help you understand more about your wonderful body - you ask so much of your body - and honour it and take care of it better, then I am doing my job - looking after your Wellbeing.

To summarise how to maintain a healthy immune system

A wide diversity of gut bacteria - fermented foods are particularly helpful

75 minutes vigorous or 150 minutes moderate exercise per week

30g of fibre a day creating enough butyrate to fight off bad bacteria

A small amount of stress a day - a cold shower - or a relaxing massage

8 hours sleep

You really can be master of your immune system  

Work with me to find your own way to enjoy a strong immune system. 

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