Everyone has a unique immune system, and everyone should also include an immunity-boosting diet to complement immune system function along with plenty of exercise
Are you one of those people who just always get sick, even if you get your flu shot? Even as a child, were you the only one who suffered through spring allergies, winter colds and the flu (even if you got your flu shot), while your siblings remained completely healthy? Were you always searching for answers to complement immune system function?
Dealing with an immune system that goes into overdrive in response to a pathogen can be frustrating, as it often seems to lead to dead ends when it comes to treatment options. Unfortunately, an overactive immune system can lead to a number of chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. However, the cause for variations in immune response between individuals, particularly if they are related, is often overlooked.
Why might one person in a family be more susceptible to immune issues, while another is not? Recent research into variations of immune system function some intriguing clues into what triggers the response in the first place, as well as what makes a person more susceptible.
Before discussing how individual immune responses may differ, we need to first discuss cytokines, which are vital in determining how the body responds to infections, trauma, and inflammation.1 Cytokines are proteins that cells secrete to modulate interactions between other cells. There is a vast number of cytokines, each of which can have a specific effect upon other cells. Some cytokines are pro-inflammatory, while others are anti-inflammatory.
Until recently, studies that examined factors for immune response were relatively small. Recently, however, the multicenter Human Functional Genomics Project conducted a set of large studies with hundreds of patients and healthy subjects as controls. They published their findings in a series of papers in Cell Press.2-6
Complement immune system function; potential influencing factors
Seasonal cycles can also affect cytokine release, such as colds and the flu in winter and hay fever and pollen allergies in spring. Other factors that can influence differences in immune response between individuals can determine not only how many cytokines are released, but also which type.
In many cases, it is not just one factor that makes the difference, but a combination. For example, while age plays a role in immune response, it may only affect certain parts of the immune system.2-6
An older person with a genetic predisposition toward osteoarthritis, yet who has kept active may be less likely to develop the disease than one who has no genetic predisposition, but is more sedentary.
In other cases, the main deciding factor may not have been what the researchers initially surmised. For example, women were more likely than men to have autoimmune conditions, but this did not appear to be linked to hormone concentrations. Instead, the researchers speculated that it may be linked to fat cells, as fat percentages are very different between men and women. Furthermore, there may be a genetic component, as autoimmune conditions are often passed from mother to daughter.2-6
WebMD notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a number of patients impacted by a “cytokine storm,” especially with younger patients.
“In many of the sickest patients with COVID-19, their blood is teeming with high levels of immune system proteins called cytokines,” they write. “Scientists believe these cytokines are evidence of an immune response called a cytokine storm, where the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues rather than just fighting off the virus. Cytokine storms are known to happen in autoimmune diseases like juvenile arthritis. They also occur during certain kinds of cancer treatment, and can be triggered by infections, like the flu. One study of patients who died of H1N1 influenza, for example, found that 81% had features of a cytokine storm.”
Overall, it appears that genetics may be the strongest factor in terms of immune response, by as much as 75%.2-6 However, such genetic predisposition may only come into play for parts of the immune system or certain pathogens. As one researcher explained, “For example, someone can respond very well to a virus, but poorly to bacteria. The strength of someone’s constitution is thus genetically determined for each stimulus.”
Therefore, any wellness lifestyle plan should include an immunity-boosting diet to complement immune system function, plenty of exercise, and following sanitary guidelines, including regular hand-washing. This will help strengthen your immune system in the areas where it is most needed.
- Zhang JM, An J. Cytokines, inflammation, and pain. International Anesthesiology Clinics. 2007;45(2):27‐37.
- Ter Horst R, Jaeger M, Smeekens SP, et al. Host and environmental factors influencing individual human cytokine responses. Cell. 2016;167(4):1111‐1124.e13.
- Schirmer M, Smeekens SP, Vlamakis H, et al. Linking the human gut microbiome to inflammatory cytokine production capacity. [Published correction appears in Cell. 2016 Dec 15;167(7):1897]. Cell. 2016;167(4):1125‐1136.e8.
- Li Y, Oosting M, Smeekens SP, et al. A functional genomics approach identifies a strong genetic component in human cytokine response. Cell. 2016;167(4):1099‐1110.e14.
- Oosting M, Kerstholt M, Ter Horst R, et al. Functional and genomic architecture of Borrelia burgdorferi-induced cytokine responses in humans. Cell Host & Microbe. 2016;20(6):822‐833.
- Aguirre-Gamboa R, Joosten I, Urbano PCM, et al. Differential effects of environmental and genetic factors on T and B cell immune traits. Cell Report. 2016;17(9):2474‐2487.