Constant overstimulation of the immune system can also lead to an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system can mistake the tissues of the body for an invader. The white blood cells and T cells may actually attack the body rather than the invasive bacteria or offending substance. This can be a cause of chronic conditions such as asthma, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
With the development of chronic illness an even greater toxic burden is placed on the liver. Under this increased stress, the liver may no longer be able to perform competently. This sets the stage for a whole new arena of possible problems.
Inflammation is a normal consequence of our immune response. Yet if the immune system is continually on hyperalert, inflammation can become chronic. This is often a feature of digestive disorders, and can be caused by many of the stressors.
If inflammation continues in the long term, changes in the tissue can occur, degrading resilience and function. Over decades more serious tissue damage can occur, manifesting in conditions such as accelerated aging, diabetes, and cancer. For example, research shows that as many as 40 percent of stomach ulcer cases caused by H. pylori infection go on to become stomach cancer. The body’s attempts to combat infection cause low-level inflammation in the lining of the stomach. If the infection persists, this sets the stage for the development of cancer.
For this reason it is extremely important to resolve inflammation. The best approach is to take it seriously, particularly if it doesn’t seem to be improving or if it recurs.
Challenges to the Immune System: Free Radicals
The chronic overwork of the liver’s detoxification mechanisms, caused by hyperpermeability, sets in motion a series of stresses. The first of these is the increased production of toxic by-products called free radicals. We hear about free radicals in the media, because they have been identified as a major cause of cancer. The assault of free radicals, also referred to as oxidative stress, further overstimulates the liver, causing it to send out signals that can confuse the immune system. These signals may trigger inappropriate reactions in both the immune and neurological systems and cause inflammation. This can occur even in a liver that is still generally functional.
If the liver’s detox mechanisms are held in constant operation, its functions may eventually become compromised. Increased stress on the liver can be caused by even minor but frequent GI complaints, such as chronic constipation or an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. Continual stress may ultimately compromise the liver’s detoxification capacity. At the same time, free radicals (with the potential to cause cellular damage) could be generated in excessive amounts. Their effects are experienced throughout the body in cell membranes, connective tissue, and genetic material. This oxidative stress can lead to serious chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and Parkinson’s disease.
Oxidative stress from free radicals can also cause problems by depleting essential nutrients. This can short-circuit immune function, the activity of the nervous system, and the production of hormones. Over decades these compromises can develop into conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Free radicals have also been identified as a primary cause of aging.