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The down & dirty on women's wellness
Foreign Bodies in Our Bodies
Foreign Bodies in Our Bodies
March 5, 2021
In light of the many current media stories featuring immune responses & the concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccinations & their potential to result in hyper-reactive immune system activation, it seems appropriate to take a slightly deeper dive into the immune system & its purpose. Our immune systems are designed to protect our bodies from invasion by foreign objects & entities, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, dirt, parasites & other microscopic, pathogenic threats. Our immune systems do a wonderful job of protecting us without any input at all from us using a complex feedback process that involves activation of both an inflammatory cascade & an active defensive strike that directly attacks the invading organism(s). Two completely distinct immune responses can be provoked by the body’s detection of invaders: the innate immune response & the adaptive immune response.
The innate immune response is our bodies’ first response to foreign invasion. This immune response consists of physical barriers, including skin & mucous membranes, various white blood cell types, including neutrophils, macrophages, & monocytes, & soluble factors, including cytokines (think about the Cytokine Storm that has been so often referenced during this pandemic) & complement. The innate immune response is not specific to any particular foreign invasion & will therefore expediently & effectively rid the body of many, varied pathogens upon activation. When a foreign invader manages to bypass the physical barrier (e.g., via inspiration of a SARS-COV2 particle, introduction of a splinter, or insertion beneath the skin of substances that do not typically reside in our bodies), macrophages (hungry, eager white blood cells that seek to engulf foreign particles & eradicate them from the body via the lymphatic system) recognize the intruder & bind to the pathogen, activating an immune signaling pathway that promotes the release of cytokines, which are small proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth & activity of other immune system cells. Once released, they signal an inflammatory response designed to eradicate invaders (e.g., via initiation of fever, swelling, & secretions). The innate immune response also initiates the complement cascade, which consists of three different, synergistic pathways that mark particular pathogens as problematic & direct the immune system to destroy the pathogens or affected tissue while inducing a series of inflammatory responses designed to combat infection & protect the body.
As an adjunct to the innate immune response, the adaptive immune response is the body’s second line of defense. The components of the adaptive immune system are largely B & T cells, which are extremely specific cells that develop antigen receptors that are only responsive to those particular pathogens identified by the innate immune response that triggers the adaptive immune cascade. B & T cells are extremely dangerous cells; if they are able to attack without undergoing a rigorous process of activation, a faulty B or T cells can begin attempting to exterminate a person’s own healthy cells & tissue. This is what is commonly termed an autoimmune or autoinflammatory response, & this is where the potential for danger lies in the body’s response to such invaders as SARS-COV2. It is crucial to note that specificity is key to the adaptive immune response, & that each B & T cell is unique, which means that we are carrying around a wide variety of cells at all times that are ready to recognize & attack a full range of potential invaders. The trade-off for this specificity (as opposed to the general, overarching response of the innate immune system) is that the adaptive immune response is considerably slower because its cells are so distinct & require activation before they can exact their protective effects.
An additional benefit of the adaptive immune response is immunologic memory, which allows the system to produce memory B & T cells, allowing for a more rapid & robust immune response when the body encounters the same invader again. In the instance of such things as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites, this is a fantastic thing to have, because it serves as remarkable protection to the body against infection. However, when the B & T cells have gone awry & improperly begin attacking our own tissues, or invasion by an agent that will not be readily eradicated, this can generate an array of problems.
With the advances of modern medicine, humans have developed all kinds of things that we can put into our bodies, some of which are lifesaving. Other people’s organs, stents, intracerebral shunts, aneurysm clips, pacemakers & implanted defibrillators, heart valves from pigs, neurological stimulators are some examples of critical foreign material that can be inserted into our bodies. This advent of implanted substances & devices has also improved the quality of life for many who rely on artificial joints, artificially created embryonic tissue, long-acting contraceptives, drug infusion pumps, vaginal or hernia mesh, spinal stabilization hardware, among other implantable medical devices. And, the gamut of available foreign bodies that we might elect to introduce into our bodies is ever-expanding: today, we can choose from any variety of piercings options, dermal filler components, & tissue-augmenting implant types, among other things.
While many foreign substances that break our tissue barriers are crucial to maintaining our bodies’ survival (for instance, a liver or kidney transplant), many are not, & we encourage you to consider your body’s immediate response to the introduction of such material: to generally inflame, to determine the source of the foreign material, & to develop specific cells that will robustly seek to attack & destroy the invader. The difficulty arises when the invaders cannot be destroyed or eliminated from the body. When we undergo organ or tissue transplantation, our providers will immediately begin us on immunosuppressive medications to prevent our bodies from activating the immune cascade & attacking the foreign tissue. When we become pregnant, our bodies actually have a feedback loop that automatically results in suppression of our immune function that will allow what is essentially a foreign parasite to flourish without threat of attack inside of us. When we undergo insertion of other foreign materials, particularly when those materials are intended to be permanent or semi-permanent, our bodies’ responses are often not medically suppressed—the reactions may be subtle & non-immediate; they may take some time to be noticed, but the reactions will inevitably occur. As we have seen with the inflammatory responses individuals with facial fillers experienced upon further activation of the immune cascade with the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccinations, our bodies have a reaction to the foreign substances within us that can smolder beneath the surface & only become apparent with additional demand on the immune system.
We caution you, as you consider introducing augmenting agents of any variety to consider the long-term effects of the inflammatory response that will occur & the potential for the development of aberrant B & T cells that may mistakenly turn against your own tissue, particularly when the offending intruder cannot be exterminated but continues to activate the adaptive immune response with its ongoing foreign existence. Consider breast implant illness, which is a constellation of mysterious symptoms similar to those reported among people infected with SARS-COV2 that women may experience following breast augmentation surgery, regardless of the implant type. These symptoms may include fatigue, mood changes, anxiety, chest pain, chills, intermittent fevers, rashes, hair loss, & other vague symptoms. For some women, these symptoms progress to full-blown, identifiable autoimmune diseases, while, for others, illness may be milder or intermittent. In 2019, pharmaceutical giant Allergan ordered recall of all of its BIOCELL textured breast implants after the FDA flagged a series of reports that the implants were causing cancer in hundreds of patients worldwide. Speculation has been that these implants’ textured casings were the source of the association & no recall has extended beyond these specific implants.
However, it is worth considering that the inflammatory response one might have to any foreign body, particularly when that foreign body remains inside your body for a longer duration, could serve as the foundation for the development of rogue cellular changes, regardless of the composition of the foreign body, simply because your immune system is doing what it is supposed to do: protect you. Your immune system doesn’t know about lip filler. Your immune system doesn’t know it’s just a “natural” beet sugar concoction that you’ve had injected into your marionette lines. Your immune system doesn’t understand the strides we’ve taken to enhance our lives with foreign materials & will not differentiate between bacterial invaders & those we deliberately insert beneath the layers of tissue designed to keep trespassers at bay. Therefore, we encourage all women to make fully informed decisions about their choices to introduce foreign substances beneath their skin or into their tissues. Know thyself, including thy immune system, & how it will operate independent of your conscious decisions.