An underappreciated aspect of immune health may be exposure to toxins. But the conversation on immunity cannot be limited to the ingestion of vegetables vs. sugar or wearing a mask vs. not wearing a mask.
Toxins contribute to a weak immune system in various ways. It’s important to be aware of your toxic load and how to reduce it while supporting your natural detoxification processes to support optimal immunity.
What Weakens the Immune System
Toxins can weaken your immune system through several mechanisms. Today I’ll introduce a few of those mechanisms, and then introduce five common toxins as examples. I’ll also explain how to test for and detox from toxins.
BURDEN ON YOUR LIVER
You know your liver helps you detoxify, but did you know it supports immunity too? The liver:
- Produces acute immune proteins
- Kills antigen particles
- Deletes activated T cells
- Promotes T cell development
“The liver is a major site of extrathymic T cell development, which assumes increasing significance with aging in mammals. Perturbations in hepatic structure or function can result in significant ramifications in both the innate and adaptive immune systems.” For a robust immune response, keep your liver happy.
DAMAGE TO YOUR LUNG TISSUE
Your lung cells are just one part of the immune system, but they can be damaged from the stress of toxins, making them more vulnerable to infection and disease.
Toxins generally cause oxidative stress–that’s the body being overwhelmed by reactive oxygen species (ROS) without enough antioxidants to counter them. This oxidative stress can damage cellular DNA, and contribute to cancer and metabolic diseases.
As we’ve learned during the COVID outbreak in the United States, metabolic diseases can predispose you to poor viral response.
DAMAGE TO GUT HEALTH
Toxins can disturb the function and bacterial population of the large intestine, a key area of immune function. Sadly, this includes development of autoimmunity and development of breastfeeding newborns.
We are exposed to many toxins every day in our environment, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Here are the most common toxins:
Mycotoxins are just one category of toxins released by toxic mold species like aspergillus, penicillium, and stachybotrys. Mycotoxins can damage mitochondria and cellular DNA, potentially affecting any type of cell in the body.
Glyphosate is the common name for the herbicide/pesticide RoundUp, the most commonly used herbicide in the US. Even when you do your best to eat organic, you’d be surprised at how much glyphosate may be in your body! Unfortunately, it is so prevalent in our environment that you are still exposed to this toxin.
Benzene is a clear, colorless, flammable liquid with a gasoline-like odor that can volatilize to vapors in air. It is an organic compound found most often in air as a result of emissions from burning coal and oil, gasoline vapors, motor vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, wood-burning fires, and other sources.
Phthalates (say ‘thal-lates’) are a class of chemicals that are commonly found in soft plastics and fragrances. Phthalates can also contribute to respiratory disorders and liver burden.
We’ll end with styrenes, another class of chemicals you may know little about and think have nothing to do with you, but are in fact lurking on your body. Styrenes are in food packing, building materials and exhaust.
When it comes to toxins, the best policy is to ‘know your enemy.’ You may be surprised by your internal toxic load, even if you try to avoid toxins. Factors such as health history, co-infections and genetic background play roles in your toxic load. So if you feel you have been exposed- get tested.