Do any parts of your body feel inflamed?

Inflammation and Autoimmunity.

Immune symptoms (like cough and fever) are experienced when we sense the immune response.

The symptoms themselves do not necessarily mean that there is an infection present, just that the immune response is activated.

The immune system can become sensitised and learn to respond to everyday things as a threat. This gives us symptoms like we are allergic to many different things or like we are always catching a cold.

Inflammation and autoimmunity

When the immune system has become sensitised, there might be a background level of non-specific immune activity. This is called low grade inflammation.

Inflammation can be thought of as a sort of soup, laden with immune cells. This inflammatory soup might collect in tissues of the body where the lymphatic channels are not regularly flushed through. This is one reason why moving and stretching the body can help with immune symptoms.

Sometimes, when the immune system is sensitised, it can start to attack our body’s own tissues. This is called autoimmunity. In functional symptoms, any signs of autoimmunity are usually mild, unpredictable, and not tied to a specific issue. It’s more about the body being in a generally inflamed state.

Reducing Inflammation

We cant directly influence our immune system through our thoughts. However, the immune system is very sensitive to what is generally going on in and around our bodies.

In fact, the immune system is in constant flux and responsive to many factors. This means there are many things we can do to dampen down inflammation and related autoimmunity.

  1. Finding ways to regularly enter physiological rest. Studies show that relaxation is the most powerful thing we can do to reduce inflammation. The immune system is intimately linked to autonomic nervous system activity, as well as bodily stress hormones, like cortisol. 
  2. Get into a good sleep routine. Being awake in the early hours of the morning has been shown to drive neuroinflammation.
  3. Stretching and gentle movement. Inflammatory cells collect in tissues that are not regularly flushed by gentle ‘loosening up’ type movement.
  4. Boost your microbiome. The microbiome is in direct communication with the immune system. When the microbiome is balanced, it signals to the body that the immune system doesnt need to be on such high alert.
  5. Work towards an anti-inflammatory diet. The immune system is particularly responsive to chemicals in our environment or in our diets. Sugar, alcohol, and highly processed food drive an inflammatory state in the body. An anti-inflammatory diet is high in plants, whole-grains and healthy fats and oils.
  6. Change your surroundings. Could your familiar environment be signalling to the immune system to stay on high alert? If the immune system has learnt to associate symptoms with a particular place, even sights and smells can trigger an immune response. This may be why many people find going on long walks, or taking a holiday, can help ‘reset’ an inflammatory state in the body.
  7. Get into nature. Natural environments, with a high diversity of plants and animals, are known to interact with the immune system in a calming way.
  8. If your immune system is sensitised to particular triggers, graded exposure can build tolerance to reduce overall levels of inflammation.

You can read more about prioritising and planning these changes in the Bodysymptoms Guide to Planning Recovery

Therapist Tip Sticker

You might be interested to learn that studies have shown that both expectations and bodily stress affect how the immune system functions.

If you believe that immune symptoms are always a sign of a mystery disease, worry about this can activate the body’s stress response system, which can in turn sensitise the immune system.

Like Terence, Is it possible to trust that your body knows how to let down its defences, when you relax and give it cues that illness is over?