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By Dr. Mercola | mercola
Has a sleepless night ever made you feel physically ill?
If so, there’s a perfectly natural reason for it. Recent research published in the journal Sleep reports that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress1.
The researchers measured the white blood cell counts in 15 people who stayed awake for 29 hours straight, and found that blood cell counts increased during the sleep deprivation phase. This is the same type of response you typically see when you’re sick or stressed.
In a nutshell, whether you’re physically stressed, sick, or sleep deprived, your immune system becomes hyperactive, and starts producing white blood cells—your body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders like infectious agents. Elevated levels of white blood cells are typically a sign of disease. So your body reacts to sleep deprivation in much the same way it reacts to illness.
According to Science Daily2:
“Future research will reveal the molecular mechanisms behind this immediate stress response and elucidate its role in the development of diseases associated with chronic sleep loss,” said Katrin Ackermann, PhD, the study’s lead author. “If confirmed with more data, this will have implications for clinical practice and for professions associated with long-term sleep loss, such as rotating shift work.”
How Does Your Immune System Power Inflammation?
Related research published in the journal Nature3, claims to have discovered a “key step” in how your immune system powers inflammation in your body. The study focused on neutrophils—immune cells that both defend against bacterial infections, and produce inflammation—and how they adhere within your blood vessels.
According to Medical News Today4:
“According to [lead researcher] Dr. Ley, when blood flow is extremely fast, neutrophils attach on to the blood vessel wall using sling-like membrane tethers. In the study… [they] used a novel imaging technique… to see and photograph the neutrophil adhesion process…
Neutrophils move around the body through the blood stream to fight infections, but in order to do this they must travel through the blood vessel walls of sites of inflammation, infection, or injury. Dr. Ley and team focused on how neutrophils attach to the blood vessel wall, rather than their migration out of the blood vessel.
Dr. Ley said “This is important because it provides an opportunity to develop new treatments based on modulating or blocking one of the steps in the adhesion cascade.”
Results from previous studies have demonstrated that blocking just one of the steps can significantly reduce neutrophil recruitment… When there is a site of inflammation in the body, the blood flow increases because the blood transports immune cells to the site to promote healing. Although inflammation is a normal part of the healing process, in certain diseases it is undesired.”
Researchers Closer to Understanding How Proteins Regulate Your Immune System
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Calgary have revealed how white blood cells move to sites of infection within your body. This study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry5. Two proteins, L-selectin and calmodulin, are involved in the process.
The first, L-selectin, is found within the membrane itself of the white blood cell. Its action has been described as that of Velcro, as it adheres the white blood cell to the blood vessel wall. Once the cell reaches its destination—the site of inflammation—the calmodulin protein enters the equation to shed the L-selectin protein, allowing it to enter the inflamed tissue.
As explained by Medical News6:
“Cell biologists had figured out in 1998 that calmodulin was negatively regulating the shedding process of L-selectin,” says Jessica Gifford, a PhD student supervised by Hans Vogel. “They knew calmodulin did it, but they didn’t know how.”
Using powerful magnets and a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, Gifford and Vogel determined the molecular structure of the interaction between the two proteins, providing important insight at the molecular level into how calmodulin controls the shedding of L-selectin. “Understanding the molecular details of these processes will help us understand how our bodies respond to inflammation,” says Gifford, “and if we can understand that, that’s the first step of producing drug therapies to manipulate your immune system, to either turn it on, or turn it off.
There is a growing interest in drug therapies to help regulate the immune system, say GIfford. “So many problems that people have are due to overactive immune systems,” she says. “By understanding how your white blood cells get around, then maybe we can stop them from getting there when they don’t need to be.”
Of course, this type of research is almost always geared toward developing a drug therapy, but it’s important to remember that your body has the innate wisdom to “do the right thing” or function correctly and appropriately, provided you give it the chance. Stopping your immune system from performing its innate functions is unlikely to result in optimal health…
If your immune system is overactive, wouldn’t it make more sense to alter your lifestyle to remove the stress placed upon it that’s driving it into hyperactive mode?
The connections between sleep patterns, immune function, and health are becoming ever more clear. Lifestyle choices such as diet, physical activity, and proper sleep can have a profound impact on your health by rebalancing and harmonizing your body, allowing it to function optimally—without resorting to drugs to artificially try to force your body into an unnatural response pattern.
Another Major Contributor to Building and Balacing Your Immune System
One of the most potent influences on optimizing your immune system is the balance of beneficial and disease-causing organisms in your gut. By eliminating sugars and processed foods you help radically reduce pathogenic yeast, fungi, viruses and bacteria. By incorporating fermented foods loaded with beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria you can radically improve your gut flora.
If you aren’t eating fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you’re eating a lot of processed foods. As explained by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride in an earlier interview:
“In parallel with beneficial microbes in the healthy gut, scientists have found thousands of different species of downright pathogenic disease-causing microbes; bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes. But as long as the good ones predominate in your gut, they control all the pathogens… They keep them in small colonies and they don’t allow them to proliferate.”
Dr. Campbell-McBride has developed a Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional Protocol designed to restore the integrity of your gut lining to help you restore health.
“Our digestive system is lined by very specialized cells, which are called enterocytes. These little cells only live for a few days,” Dr. McBride explains. “They live for two or three days. Then… they die, get shed off, and get replaced by new, healthy enterocytes. The cell regeneration process in your gut lining is a very active process.
… We have a real chance to heal and seal our damaged gut lining thanks to this wonderful process of cell regeneration. But here’s the catch: in order for your body to give birth to healthy functioning baby enterocytes, it needs two factors. It needs building blocks for them, because they’re made out of certain nutrients (proteins, certain fats, vitamins, enzymes, and other active molecules)… Second, it needs the whole process to be orchestrated by the beneficial microbes in your digestive system; by the beneficial healthy gut flora.”
People with Gut and Psychology Syndrome/Gut and Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) have neither of those factors. They run out of building blocks due to improper nutrition, which prevents the proliferation of new, healthy enterocytes, and their gut lining is overpopulated with pathogenic bacteria, virus, fungi, worms, protozoa, and other pathogenic microbes. As a result, the beneficial microbes are virtually nonexistent, and the balance of good and bad bacteria is dramatically skewed, which can decimate your immune system and lead to a wide array of ailments, including immune diseases.
How Sleep Influences Your Physical Health
Unfortunately, sleep is one of the most overlooked factors of optimal health and immune function. But make no mistake about it, without good sleep, optimal health may remain elusive, even if you eat well and exercise (although those factors will tend to improve your ability to sleep better).
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