Is Your Child’s Immune System Screwed Up?

May 21, 2015

Tags: ,

By Sallie Bernard, Co-Founder and President of SafeMinds

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog about new research by a team of scientists at Duke University, partially funded by SafeMinds, looking at mutualistic symbionts (aka beneficial parasitic worms) and their potentially positive effect on the human immune system. This week we’re continuing that conversation by talking more about immune system dysfunction.

Think about it. Do you ever wonder why two children can be exposed to the same __________ (fill in the blank with the infectious agent of your choice) and one child gets sick but the other doesn’t?

Or why two children can eat the same tainted strawberries and one ends up in the ER on an IV and the other doesn’t even get the runs?

Or why most babies can be exposed to mercury and be fine, while your baby has a severe reaction?

The human body, as I explained last week, is actually a walking ecosystem teaming with other forms of life. The bacteria and other organisms that live in symbiosis with us in our bodies are constantly changing. They are of crucial importance to how well we fight off disease and how healthy we are.

As you already know, there are two components to every illness:

These days everyone knows that good hygiene plays a role in the spread of diseases. We teach our children early on that they must wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, a practice proven effective to stop the spread of contagious diseases like the flu. We make sure our families avoid unnecessary exposures to toxic substances like pesticides or mercury-laden fish.

These are preventative measures that protect us from triggers for health conditions.

As NPR reported several years ago, genetics are also thought to play a role in who gets sick. Some people, says Jean Laurent Casanova, head of the
aboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases at Rockefeller University in New York City,

“… may have inherited a specific gene that makes them acutely susceptible to a particular infectious disease. In the case of herpes infections, and several bacterial infections, Casanova has found a candidate gene.”

Similarly, genes can determine who might be at greater risk from a toxic exposure, as is the case with lead or pesticides and variants of the PON1 gene,ni0901-759-F1 or the case with mercury susceptibility and family genetics in Pink Disease survivors.

A third factor in why children get sick, which is one of equal importance but just beginning to be better understood by researchers, is the health of the overall immune system. The immune system, as you already know, is the network of cells, tissues, and organs that defend the body against infectious agents and other assaults like toxins and injuries. Instead of having healthy immune systems, more of today’s children suffer from conditions of a dysregulated immune system. They are in a constant state of inflammation, trying to fight off a perceived threat from a benign, long-gone, non-existent, or incompletely cleared agent. An inflammatory response in the absence of a true threat triggers the immune system to mistakenly react against the body and causes autoimmune or autoinflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, juvenile diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. The list of conditions that might fall under this category is growing, and emerging science is including autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression and similar behavioral or psychiatric issues in the mix. Not good.

But what are the root causes of unnecessary inflammation that can trigger these chronic disorders? It’s important that every parent understand the mechanisms, so we can reduce the risk of inflammatory responses, and help our kids (and ourselves) have healthier immune systems.

William Parker, Ph.D., the associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine whom we spoke with last week and whose webinar you can access here courtesy of the Autism Research Institute, identifies these major factors of inflammation in Western society:

Here’s the good news: If we can fix these six causes of inflammation, we can improve our children’s immune systems and help them not only effectively better respond to infectious and toxic agents but also avoid, mitigate, or even completely reverse autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.

So what are the six things we should be doing to improve our children’s immune systems?

Here goes:

Dr. William Parker’s research, as well as that of other scientists, suggests that a healthy, balanced immune system can be enhanced by enriching the biome, particularly through selective intake of pre-biotics, probiotics, and symbiotic worms – the friendly type of critters that interact with our own cells to optimize function.

Related posts:

Autism’s Environmental Component

Pregnancy and the Flu Vaccine: What You Need to Know

My Child’s Been Diagnosed With Autism, Help Me

This blog is the second in a series of how to improve the biome and boost human health. Read the first post here.

This SafeMinds initiative is part of our Parent and Family Education Outreach efforts.  If you’d like to help in this area, please donate to our Parent and Family Education Fund.

Sallie BernardSallie Bernard is a SafeMinds co-founder and is currently the board president. SafeMinds focuses on the environmental causes of the epidemic increase in autism and associated treatments. Sallie is also a member of the Board of Autism Speaks and serves on their Family Services Committee, Science Committee of the Board, and the Community Advisory Board for science. She was formerly the Board President of Cure Autism Now and a co-founder of the CAN New Jersey Chapter. Sallie is a founder and board president of Ascendigo/Extreme Sports Camp, which has provided outdoor recreation and other positive life experiences for youth and adults across the autism spectrum in the Colorado Rocky Mountains since 2004. She led the team which created the Yellow House, a residential operation for adults on the autism spectrum. Sallie’s adult son lives there. She spent over 20 years in the marketing business before devoting herself full time to non-profit activities in 2005. She is Board Secretary of Valley Life For All, an Asset-Based Community Development organization for all disabilities. Sallie has an interest in mental health issues and serves on the boards of the Aspen Hope Center and the James Kirk Bernard Foundation. Sallie has resided in Aspen, Colorado since 2002 and enjoys the Colorado outdoors.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons