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Why am I always sick?

Do colds and upper respiratory infections seem like a way of life for you? It doesn’t have to be that way, you know. There are a number of health related issues that can be addressed to reduce your susceptibilty to sickness. For instance, allergies and excess mucus can turn your body into a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Addressing and understanding problems like this allow you to take corrective action and move you closer to wellness as way of life.

Excessive mucus production

Mucus is a vital protective component of your body. It is your friend, up to a point, because it is a protective barriers for the body against infections and other outside threats. It also contains antibodies that help fight off infection. You may not realize it but there is always a thin layer of mucus inside the mouth, nose, respiratory, and digestive tract. When your body detects toxins, allergens, infections, and other outside threats to the body it produces more mucus to trap it and prevent it from entering the body.

It is good to protect these substances from getting into the body. Unfortunately excess mucus build up can create a good breading ground for bacteria, viruses and other microbes. So if, for instance, you have allergies and produce a lot of mucus in your throat, sinuses, and lungs you are also leaving your system more susceptible to an infection there. Allergies can be caused by many different things. Anything from the environment and the foods you eat can be allergens. The severity of these allergic reactions varies but if your symptoms are severe you should get a hepa filter for your bedroom to reduce the exposure and histamine produced during your sleep.

While only certain aspects of the environment can be controlled, you can control how well you body processes the histamine and other substances that cause allergy symptoms. Some people are more symptomatic to allergens than others. This is typically a result of ineffective histamine breakdown. The more histamine the more mucus production. The reason for this variation is usually a genetic one related to immunoglobulins and enzymes that breakdown histamine. Once this is identified, we can support the enzymes to improve their efficiency. 

So while mucus does have a protective purpose it should be controlled to limit the hospitable environment in which bacteria can easily replicate. Additionally improving histamine breakdown and reducing the exposure to allergens can reduce the mucus production.

Vitamin D Deficiency

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Vitamin D is traditionally used for bone health but over the last decade it's role in other tissues have become well recognized. For instance, researchers have found that vitamin D works by improving the immune system's response time to local infections. Several research studies have validated the reduced rate of influenza and other upper respiratory tract infection in those with normal or higher vitamin D levels. This action by vitamin D is tied in with how the white blood cells recognize an infection and make the corresponding antimicrobial-like substances. Without sufficient vitamin D the macro phages (a white blood cell) have limited ability to do both of these and thus leave the person more susceptible to bacterial replication and infection.

So, for instance, if you have bacteria in your throat that start replicating and threatening an infection, your vitamin D reserves help the immune system contain and eliminate those bacteria before they cause a full-blown infection. You can ensure you’re getting plenty of vitamin D in several ways:

  • Sunlight – it’s called the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason. All it takes is about 20-25 minutes of sunlight to boost your vitamin D. (If you are susceptible to skin cancer this may not be the best option for getting vitamin D)
  • Fatty fish, such as trout, mackerel, salmon and tuna.
  • Fortified cow’s milk or orange juice.
  • Eggs.
  • Supplements.

Selective immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency

Immunoglobulins are blood proteins that circulate in the body and serve as alert system to the immune system when they detect foreign invaders like microbes. There are 3 main types of Immunoglobulin, IgA, IgG, and IgG each with slightly different responsibilities and functions. In some people, IgA can be low or lacking, even if their levels of other types of immunoglobulin are normal. When the levels of IgA are really low or undectable it is called Selective Immunoglobulin A deficiency, and it can make you more susceptible to infections.

This deficiency is the most common immune deficiency disorder but it is not very common. It occurs in about 1 in 700 people and is most common among those of European origin.  However some people have lower than normal levels of IgA without having the actual IgA deficiency.

Patients with Selective IgA Deficiency and reduced levels of IgA typically experience repeated bouts of ear or mouth infections, pneumonia, sinusitis or upper respiratory tract infections. Selective IgA deficiency can also affect the rest of your body, because IgA isn’t just found in your blood, most of it is in mucosal secretions – respiratory secretions as well as saliva, tears, colostrum, gastrointestinal and genital secretions. Most infections enter the body through mucus secretions and IgA’s job is to protect mucosal surfaces.  So a deficiency puts those surfaces at risk. That may not like sound like much until you know that if all your mucosal surfaces were spread out they would cover an entire tennis court plus half of a second one.  When you get frequent infections getting your IgA levels tested can identify this issue and your body can be supported to improve IgA levels. 

Sugar, Drugs & Alcohol

Some of the foods and substances we deliberately ingest can also unknowingly predispose us to illness and infection.  Drugs – including cigarette smoke – can cause temporary or chronic bronchitis as well as more serious things like, emphysema, COPD, lung cancer or acute respiratory distress syndrome. When inhaled these toxic substance damage the mucus membranes causing inflammation and swelling and triggers the body to produce more mucus to protect the membranes. The same thing occurs with heavy pollution which is known to cause and exacerbate respiratory problems. The severity of these reactions hinge upon how well your body can process and eliminate these toxins. Toxin elimination can be interrupted by poor or insufficient nutrition or an inherent genetic issue. When the lungs are compromised with increased mucus and inflammation the area is more susceptible to infectious microbes. 

Equally problematic is that these toxic substances diminish your immune system’s ability to function properly. This means you are not only more susceptible to disease from viruses or infections, your body will also have a tougher time fighting off the illness. This makes illnesses last longer and draws out the recovery process.

Outside of making us gain weight, there are a few other reasons sugar is not good for us. Like toxins sugar, refined carbohydrates, and dairy products cause your body to generate mucus. Over-indulging in sugar raises blood sugar and increases your susceptibility to diabetes. Higher blood sugar states like diabetes have lower immune function and are at increased risk for infections.

In summary the four things that are commonly overlooked with chronic infections:

  • Excess mucus production and minimizing the sources of the production
  • Specific vitamin Deficiencies that can lead to a more predisposed state
  • Genetic predispositions that cause the body to need higher nutrients and support
  • Diet and lifestyle influences on mucus production, toxin elimination, and decreased immune function.
By taking a more holistic and through approach to diagnosing and evaluating your frequent upper respiratory problems and other illnesses, our naturopathic physicians at Southwest Integrative medicine can pinpoint and problem solve treatment solutions that will help keep you healthy instead of feeling like you’re always sick.

 

Free E-book: The Role of Oral,  Injectable, and Intravenous Vitamins

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