A healthy innate immune system is both a detective, scanning the body for potentially threatening invaders, and a first responder, thwarting pathogens and prompting repair. Innate immunity first appeared 750 million years ago and has been remarkably conserved throughout evolution,1 and it is now understood to be the gatekeeper for coordinating the body’s entire immune response.2 How can diet and lifestyle modifications support the health of this critical system?
Cells of the innate immune system detect the presence of many potential pathogens using pattern recognition receptors that recognize classes of molecules common to many foreign types of bacteria, fungi, and/or viruses.3 Each organ in the body uses unique sets of cells and molecules that orchestrate regional innate immunity.1 The gut microbiota and the innate immune system have a reciprocal relationship, with any microbial disruption or dysbiosis potentially altering the innate immune response and vice versa.4,5
Deregulated innate immunity is increasingly common and has been shown to contribute to a wide range of diseases, including:
- Intestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and other chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases.6
- Autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.7
- Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.8
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.9
Over the last decade, a growing body of knowledge about the workings of innate immunity has been translated into clinical practice. Probiotics are emerging as potentially useful therapeutic agents. In the following video, IFM educator Robert Rountree, MD, outlines a number of immunomodulators he uses with patients.
Nutritional support and exercise benefits
Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory, and studies suggest that in humans, one aspect of the positive effects of curcumin on health could be related to its ability to enhance IL-10-mediated effects.10 IL-10 is an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive cytokine that is produced by both innate and adaptive immune cells; IL-10 deregulation plays a role in a number of inflammatory diseases associated with an unhealthy innate immune system.10 In addition, a 2020 review suggested that while the mechanism is unclear, phytochemicals, including curcumin, resveratrol, and sulforaphane, inhibit NLRP3 inflammasome activity;11 this protein initiates the release of proinflammatory cytokines as part of the innate immune system and has been implicated in a wide range of chronic diseases.12
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