For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about immunity and the importance of the immune system in healing PANS/PANDAS.
The immune system is a complex and marvelous thing that protects the body from invaders that may cause illness.
The organs of the immune system which include the thymus, spleen, tonsils, and appendix, work together to protect our bodies from foreign invaders called pathogens. You can read all about how these organs work together, along with the lymphatic system, in this article.
The immune system operates on a microscopic level using a variety of tools and weapons to recognize, tag, and destroy foreign invaders by reacting to antigens (the proteins on the surface of the pathogen). These weapons include antibodies, white blood cells, and others. For a deep dive into the microscopic immune response, check out this article.
This week we’re going to talk about the different ways your immune system reacts to keep your body healthy. And we’re going to take a close look at what happens when the immune system goes off track and has an autoimmune reaction. If you’ve got a child with PANS/PANDAS, this is the core issue.
Our bodies respond to pathogens in two primary ways. There are non-specific reactions designed to deal with any type of pathogen, called innate immunity. But your body also mounts attacks targeting specific antigens. This is adaptive immunity.
WHAT IS INNATE IMMUNITY?
There are certain protections already in place when you are born. This is your innate immunity.
Innate immunity is your body’s first line of defense and includes barriers you might not have realized are involved in your body’s immune response.
YOUR INNATE IMMUNITY INCLUDES:
✔ Coughing — expels irritants at up to 50mph
✔ Skin — the top layer of skin (epithelium) makes it hard for pathogens to pass between skin cells and gain entry to the body.
✔ Enzymes — found in your skin oil and tears support immune function.
✔ Mucus — which is thick and sticky, keeps pathogens from attaching to your cells. Mucus also contains protective chemicals.
✔ Stomach acid — creates a harsh environment that makes it difficult for pathogens to survive.
Innate immunity also involves some non-specific responses from your immune cells. These include:
✔ Neutrophils — destroy pathogens.
✔ Macrophages — trap invaders and trigger other parts of the immune system.
✔ Cytokines — recruit other immune cells and cause inflammation.
✔ Dendritic cells — connect the innate and adaptive immune response.
✔ Natural killer cells — destroy pathogens while the body revs up the adaptive immune response.
WHAT IS ADAPTIVE IMMUNITY?
The innate immune response is a general attack against anything the body perceives as harmful. The adaptive immune response is specific.
ADAPTIVE IMMUNITY SERVES THREE FUNCTIONS:
- It stops the immediate infection.
- It generates a memory of the specific pathogen.
- It monitors the body for signs of that same pathogen so it can fight off infection faster next time.
When a pathogen invades the body, the innate immune response takes hold immediately. It mounts the initial attack while the body prepares a targeted — or adaptive — response.
Adaptive immunity targets specific antigens (the proteins on pathogens). But it also remembers each type of invader it attacks. So if you are exposed to the same pathogen again later, the immune system will be able to rev up and fight it off faster.
The adaptive immune system utilizes many of the immune cells we talked about last time including T cells and antibodies. You can read more about that in this article.
The immune system is a fascinating and complex system that does the work of protecting your body from bacteria, viruses, chemical toxins, and more. But there are times when the immune system goes awry. And the result is autoimmunity.
WHAT IS AUTOIMMUNITY?
In a healthy immune system, lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) are able to recognize the difference between “self” and “non-self” cells. But in the case of autoimmune disorders, the messages of “self” and “non-self” get muddled. So the immune system attacks and destroys the body’s own tissues.
When someone has an autoimmune disease, their body is actually attacking itself. And it will focus on a particular area. Autoimmunity isn’t just a general attack on the body, it’s focused on one area. In a thyroid autoimmune condition (like Hashimotos), the body attacks the thyroid gland. In a nerve autoimmune condition (like MS) the body attacks the nerve cells.
IN PANS/PANDAS, THE IMMUNE SYSTEM ATTACKS PART OF THE BRAIN CALLED THE BASAL GANGLIA.
WHAT CAUSES AUTOIMMUNITY?
According to the NIH, the exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown.
But after decades of research and working with autoimmune clients, I would like to suggest that autoimmunity is the backbone of chronic illness. And it therefore has a multifactorial origin.
As I mentioned in this article, a multifactorial disease can’t be nailed down to one simple cause. There are a variety of contributing factors. This makes chronic diseases difficult to label, diagnose, and cure.
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
GENES + ENVIRONMENT + INFECTIOUS FACTORS = AUTOIMMUNE DYSFUNCTION
When the immune system is overloaded from fending off toxins in the form of daily exposures to chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals, there is little reserve left. So it isn’t equipped to ward off infectious agents — which should be the main focus of a healthy immune system.
AS A RESULT, THE IMMUNE RESPONSE BECOMES CONFUSED AND OVERWHELMED.
Inflammation also plays a part in chronic illness.
In a healthy individual, immune cells gather at the site of an infection. This swelling, known as inflammation, helps to isolate the antigen while attracting immune cells to the site of the injury or the infection.
So inflammation isn’t bad. In fact, inflammation at the site of an injury or infection is an important and necessary part of the immune response.
But inflammation can go wrong. When the body is overwhelmed by toxicity, cytokines (which regulate immune response) are activated in multiple parts of the body at the same time. Then you have inflammation everywhere — known as systemic inflammation. Likewise, B cells proliferate releasing millions of antibodies
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PANS/PANDAS?
PANS/PANDAS are autoimmune conditions. In both diseases, the body mistakenly attacks the basal ganglia. This is the part of the brain responsible for functions including movement and learning.
Once this process begins, a child will develop sudden, dramatic personality changes characterized by the typical PANS/PANDAS symptoms:
- OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
- TICS OR OTHER ABNORMAL MOVEMENTS
- PERSONALITY CHANGES
- DECLINE IN MATH AND HANDWRITING ABILITIES
- SENSORY SENSITIVITIES
- RESTRICTIVE EATING
- AND MORE
The PANS/PANDAS symptoms can come and go. PANS/PANDAS are often episodic, meaning the symptoms can relapse and remit. But, it’s common for the symptoms to get worse with each new episode.
When your child has PANS/PANDAS, it’s critical to recognize the role the immune system plays in the disease. Helping your child involves more than treating the symptoms of PANS/PANDAS. You have to get to the root cause.
If your child has been diagnosed with PANS/PANDAS, I am here to support you both through personalized therapies and free resources.
I offer one-on-one services to help you get to the bottom of your child’s autoimmune condition. We’ll work together to create a roadmap to healing and to recovery that is personalized for your child.
WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER ONE-ON-ONE, I’LL HELP YOU:
✔ Understand your child’s health challenges.
✔ Find the information you need to make the right choices for your child.
I ALSO OFFER A VARIETY OF FREE RESOURCES:
✔ You can join my twice-monthly newsletter here to get more information on PANS/PANDAS, along with tips to improve and protect the health of you and your family.
✔ I am also starting a PANS/PANDAS private Facebook group for parents of affected children. In this group you’ll find a place to share wins and losses, to support and be supported, and most importantly, to get your questions answered.
If you’d like to join this group, click here. I’d be happy to add you.
Photographs by Jocelyn Lee