These days, infections have lost their life-threatening significance and, in their place, metabolic disorders, allergies, atopic ekcema, autoimmune disorders, tumors and other chronic diseases have become the central health problems of the 21st century. Not one of these fatal illnesses is thinkable without the chronic inflammatory processes running under the surface of the different symptoms chronic diseases present.
I wrote these lines before we got confronted with all the issues and concerns around the Corona virus. Nevertheless in my opinion the above statement still holds. For what reasons so ever, be they political, economical or scienfitic or a chaotic mixture of all of them one pillar stands for me: the extremely high comorbidity characterized by a chronic course of the illnesses. The COVID is an infection that hits the sick first. If immunity is already impaired, infections are easily contracted. At this point I don't want to invlove myself into this highly political topic. It would only lead into an endless sermone of pro and cons, inconclusive in the end.
Better, let's focus on immunity and see what we can do to improve our wellbeing. If we continue to regard the immune system as a defense system, it is actually impossible to explain the chronic diseases and find suitable treatment options.
t is only when we view the immune system as a regulatory system that we cease to wonder how this system maintains the inflammation processes and controls the healing processes, participates in the distribution of energy throughout the body and causes symptoms of illness such as fever, pain, fatigue and listlessness. We also begin to seize how wellbeing and illness stand in relation to each other.
Why do some people tolerate certain foods and others develop an allergy?
How is it that we can coexist with our bacterial flora and the trillions of viruses?
How do we explain the healing process or autoimmunity?
How does the immune system interpret the context of cells and acts accordingly?
Why are some people more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu or COVID than others?
How does the immune system control the activity of viruses that exists within the body on a lifelong basis?
And last but not least, how does the imune system differentiate between self and foreign?
This bunch of question cannot be answered by the convetional defense metaphor. All our talking in biology is metaphoric, let's not forget this. Biology evades our language skills as does nature per se. Therefore metaphorically spoken, the immune system does not even sleep in the absence of an enemy attack. We cannot see the immune cells as soldiers sitting in a trench waiting for the enemy to shoot.
The immune system is always active. It forms an integral part of all the body's regulatory processes. The new approach of modern science is to view the immune system as one that works with other systems and organs of the body, thus ensuring the balance and survival of the body. Regulation is the key term of this new concept. Organs, cells, hormones and systems like the immune and nervous system are all components of regulation. So the body consists of a complex network of regulatory processes rather than small-calibre arms and other weaponry.
We preferably compare the immune system and the immunity, which is emerging from this system, with a piece of music played by a variety of instruments than with an army couching ready to attack in case its needed.
Every stress factor threatening to upset the balance of the body involves the immune system. It unleashes huge quantities of messenger molecules from immune cells like leukocytes (white blood cells) and lymphocytes (cytokines, growth factors, cell differentiation/proliferation factors), which initiate and maintain communication between all the many components of the body.
The start, control and end point of phenomenons like wound healing, anti-inflammatory processes etc. are the task of the systems which ensure the integrity of our body and psyche entity. Those systems, which connect all elements of the body with one another, are ultimately - as already mentioned several times - the nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol.
This very different way of viewing immunity also changes our interpretation of metabolic processes and allows us to understand how severe stress can lead to symptoms of listlessness, lack of motivation, sleep deprivation, increased body temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and infection.
The many soluble factors released by the immune cells circulate through our bodies. They are signals/impulses which the recipient (e.g. certain cells) interprets. When sufficient signals are sent and a critical mass of recipients responds, you experience a particular feeling in your body that may be good or bad, or any of the stages in between those two extremes.