I’m still reading Ray Strand‘s fascinating book, Bionutrition, and just came across Chapter 8′s closing paragraphs about diseases related to oxidative stress. I was really struck by Strand’s ideas about self and non-self in relation to our immune system.
Let me elaborate: Chapter 8′s final section addresses autoimmune diseases like MS, IBD, Crohn’s, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. In closing, Strand writes, “I was taught in medical school that autoimmune diseases were the result of an overactive immune system, since the body was essentially attacking itself. …Consistent with my training, almost all of the medical therapies that physicians offer patients with an autoimmune disease are based on this premise.” [p.74] Consequently, patients are usually put on chemotherapeutic medications (Methotrexate, Plaquinil, Immuran, and various corticosteroids like Prednisone) – and these medications work to suppress the immune system further, to make it lie down and “behave.”
Strand notes, however, that he has seen great positive results in his patients when he treats them with “an aggressive nutritional supplementation program,” and that all his observations lead him to conclude that his patients aren’t dealing with an over-active immune system (as is traditionally taught in medical school), “but rather a confused immune system.”
It’s a subtle shift in perspective, a bit like Aikido. You can meet your enemy with brute force and pound him into submission, or you can redirect your “enemy” so that “his” energies work to your advantage. In a more traditional and mechanistic view, the immune system has become your “enemy,” and if it’s misbehaving, you have to “make it” behave, perhaps through brute chemotherapeutical force. Of course, you have to wonder how that’s supposed to work in the long term. I guess it doesn’t!
What I call Strand’s “Aikido” approach leads him to the following insights:
The immune system is intended to be our reliable protector. It is always checking for self (one’s own body) while it is looking for non-self (any foreign substance or abnormal cell). When the immune system finds a virus, bacteria, or foreign body it destroys and eliminates it from the body. However, in autoimmune diseases, the immune system actually attacks itself rather than a foreign substance. (…)
In the case of autoimmune diseases, I believe one’s immune system is not able to distinguish self from non-self [emphasis added]. Being confused, the body is essentially destroying itself. In addition to treating my patients who are usually already taking traditional medicine with attempts to suppress and shut down the immune system, I administer potent nutritional supplements. In doing so, I am not only building up their natural antioxidant defense systems, but also I am building up their own natural immune system. I find this helps my patients on both sides of the disease.
I believe their immune system becomes less confused and begins to recognize “self” again [emphasis added]. This means the immune system more readily identifies outside invaders – not attacking “self” as much. [p.75]
The next chapter is all about antioxidants and the immune system. Looking forward to reading it!