Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Our Immune Systems Don't Need Boosting

Image found here

I feel the need to apologize to a reader that sent a question via email recently, because for the life of me, I can't FIND that email.

I remember thinking to myself as I read, Well. That's a really good question! and making a mental note to reply and perhaps write a post around the subject. And then......BAM. My WBCs went missing and the next week or so was kind of......weird. Somewhere in there I misplaced the email although I can't imagine how I did that. I believe I misplaced a lot of things over the last few weeks...

From what I recall, I seem to remember that the question was something like this: "If all the medicines that I take suppress the immune system, what can I take to support immune function? Shouldn't I be taking supplements that boost the immune system?"

The answer? No: DON'T TAKE ANYTHING THAT WILL ENCOURAGE IMMUNE ACTIVITY. And always check with your doctor before using supplements, since many can have very important interactions with medications that you may be taking. (For example: Melatonin can block the effects of prednisone.)

This is important. Why? Let's back up a bit and review the basics of autoimmunity: in autoimmunity, specifically in Sjogren's syndrome, our immune system has a serious flaw. It loses the ability to distinguish between the body and invaders of the body. That is, our immune systems begin to attack our own healthy cells in our moisture producing glands as if they were a bacteria or virus or other agent capable of causing disease. So our own immune system is very, very busy.

It doesn't need any boosting. It's too busy.

Which is why immunosuppressant drugs are often used in the treatment of autoimmune disease. Our immune systems need to be suppressed so that less of our normal tissues will be destroyed, and by taking drugs and supplements that boost immune system performance only makes our disease activity worse.

Which supplements should we NOT take?

A partial list may include ginseng, coenzyme Q10, echinacea, zinc, astragalus (Huang-Qi), garlic, wild indigo, and any herbal supplement that promises to support immune function.

You can read more about supplements here, and here, and here. Always check with your doctor before beginning the use of any supplements.

++Addendum++ June 1, 2013
 Hi everyone-- This recent post about supplements'  potential for actually doing more harm than good generated an interesting response. It was one of the first pieces of advice that my rheumatologist at the time of my diagnosis gave me. But I can see that since that advice was given ten years ago, that there are some differing opinions about a few of the supplements (supplements taken daily- not the nutrient or vitamin found in healthy foods) garlic in particular. I guess that the take-away from that post is: never assume that supplements are without side effects, and always check with your doctor to discuss your particular situation before beginning long term use of these products.


Gill said...

The question is, if our immune systems are in overdrive, why do we suffer from colds etc? And why do they linger the same as everyone else's bugs? Surely, as the bug gets breathed in, it should trigger an instant immune response? I am currently sufferering from a severe, cold/flu/chest infection - have been seriously ill, yet my 97 year old mother has caught it from me and, although very seriously ill from the chest infection, she hasn't suffered in the major way I have.

Julia Oleinik said...

Hi Gil -- ANOTHER excellent question.

From what I understand, the problem with our immune system lies in it's inability to distinguish between self vs nonself, and is on overdrive trying to attack our moisture-producing cells. But it seems to respond somewhat normally to other disease-producing things such as viruses and bacteria, normal meaning that sometimes the white blood cells win, and in the case of your cold....the virus wins. Here's hoping you mend soon!

cargillwitch said...

I think we need to distinguish between over-activity and dysfunction. In autoimmunity our immune systems are dysfunctional. Just because of a flaw causing a portion of that system to recognize friend as foe does not mean our systems are hyper vigilant to REAL enemies- often quite the opposite. Due to the fact we have dysfunctional immune system reactions many people with autoimmune diseases become more susceptible to bacteria and viral infections- even in the absence of immuno-suppressant medications. Many non-prescription items ( including fruits and vegetables!) are known to help promote proper immune system function - which many people misunderstand to mean it will cause an increase in autoimmunity. Quite the opposite.

Luciana DeVito said...

My doctor said I should DEFINITELY get flu & pneumonia shots. I thought he would say no. Still learning....

Unknown said...

I actually take Coq10 as I had read several articles indicating it can improve eye dryness. And I also take zinc because it was recommended for hair loss. I know u also read something else good abt it but will have to think on that one. The only other odd thing I can add is that while I still get sick it is to a much lesser degree. I actually feel my whacky immune system helps me out here. I guess it is different for everyone

Julia Oleinik said...

Heidi and Cargillwitch: Great points. I guess the main take-away from this post was meant to be: ALWAYS check with your doctor to discuss your particular situation before taking supplements. It's always a good idea to get your vitamins and nutrition elements from a healthy diet as well.