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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Killingbeck CH, CN, FEP

Inflammation: Our immune system's fire and the fuel we feed it...

Our immune system has many complicated vital methods to protect and defend our bodies from invaders or infection. We have many physical barrier systems that initially protect us, such as epithelial-based systems like skin and mucus membranes. Then we have fluids that trap and surround pathogens and help wash them out like saliva, tears, mucus, stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and our own gut microbiota which make anti-pathogen chemicals and communicates with our immune system to alert it to invaders. The microbiome and the immune system work hand in hand as a symbiotic team. We have both an innate and adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is generalized non-specific protection that involves the rapid response of white blood cells like phagocytes (meaning ‘to eat’), chemical processes, which go after ‘not self’, or foreign invaders; consider the innate immune system the foot soldiers and messengers of the immune system. The adaptive immune system is more specific; it has learned and remembers prior pathogens, viruses, irritants, and invaders so it can effectively and more quickly fight them in the future; think of it as the generals, commanders, and cavalry of the immune system.

Inflammation is a natural and critical function of the immune system. Acute inflammation initiates the innate responses of the immune system followed by the adaptive response, which then work together in five stages. First, pain is signaled from injured cells or microbiota, through chemical responses, such as histamine being released initiating an immune response. Second, blood floods the area making it red and hot, and even signals our endocrine system to produce fever to kill the pathogens. Third, there is an influx of interstitial fluid and plasma that floods the area creating swelling. Fourth, white blood cells or phagocytes infiltrate and eat the pathogens or invaders creating the debris we know as pus. In stage five, healing follows as our body repairs tissue creating scarring to seal any breach and get our systems back on line and running smoothly. Any inflammation from infection or invading ‘not self’ molecules or foreign microbes requires the adaptive immune system of B and T cells stored in the lymph glands to come on line and help because they are the memory and experienced battalion of the immune system. The B cells make antibodies that carry antigens, which are special markers unique to an invader of ‘not self’ in the body. When stimulated by their specific antigen the antibody replicates itself and will bind to antigens on microbes or even food particles so that the phagocyte can recognize that this molecule requires killing. T helper cells are activated by the presence of antigens that are displayed on other phagocytes that have destroyed the pathogen and now proudly show bits of it on their surfaces to educate and help the adaptive immune system to remember it for the future.

Chronic inflammation is a body system in a state of chronic alert and signaling of the immune system to kill invaders all the time, antigens signaling the body’s infection fighters over and over. Chronic inflammation, or to be ‘in-flame’, is building the fire over time, our immune system and thus our troops never getting any rest, are always on alert, and are always fighting causing the fire. Over time a stressed immune system will begin to falter, allow deeper pathologies to integrate; the system may even begin to shut down or fail because it can’t keep up.

Chronic inflammation creates a situation where the body will initiate preemptive inflammatory stratagems including over stimulated responses from the immune system as allergic and hypersensitive responses to external substances; inflamed and swollen sinuses to protect the body from the outside world, extra mucus and fluids sent to chronically inflamed sites to help prevent and minimize damage, and additional lymphatic nodules are created for areas that are chronically inflamed. Allergies are not your immune system over reacting, but the system working as designed. The immune system has been trained to save you and it becomes uniquely heightened and aware when constantly barraged by stimulus. Allergies are a sign of chronic inflammation; for example, asthma is a deeper pathology connected to allergies and chronic inflammation. Antigenic foods cause chronic inflammation to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to multiple pathologies such as Leaky Gut Syndrome, Celiac disease, as well as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease, and Ulcerative Colitis. Leaky Gut Syndrome ‘…is often described as an increase in the permeability of the intestinal mucosa, which could allow bacteria, toxic digestive metabolites, bacterial toxins, and small molecules to 'leak' into the bloodstream’ (Obrenovich MEM PMID: 30340384).

Leaky gut can happen in two ways, through the disruption of the actual lipid cell wall from toxins, and through the cells themselves, or through the spaces between the cell junctions which should be nice and tight not allowing anything through. Bacteria, toxins, or small molecules can then come into contact with the immune tissue and the blood stream beyond causing inflammation and an immune response localized or throughout the body. Joints, muscles, and the nervous system are most often where the inflammation ends up, but could be anywhere. Any allergic response easily and commonly occurs in response to such invasions, even symptoms like hay fever, especially in the winter when no external source is found can be a sign of internally triggered responses from food antigens. These digestive pathologies may lead to chronic systemic inflammation and to autoimmune diseases.

Leaky Gut Diagram CSCH

Molecular mimicry is the process by which an autoimmune disease is created it is also called cross-reactivity. The cross reaction is between similar protein components or peptides from foods, bacteria, viruses or the antigens used by our immune system which seem identical or similar enough to human tissue. A well known autoimmune disease is celiac disease. It is caused by the similarity between lectins, a natural plant pesticide called glutenoids and the epithelial cells of the intestine causing the antigens that are supposed to kill the glutenoids to get confused and attack the intestinal cell wall instead. These many and varied reactions are not limited to the gastrointestinal tract and can cross react throughout the body, through the help of leaky gut, with other tissues, which is why we have so many different autoimmune diseases. ‘Increased gut permeability’… or …’leaky gut’…’is present in every single autoimmune disease in which it has been tested…’ (Ballantyne 25).

The gut mucosal lining of our intestine is the first line of defense and protective to our tissues, the secretions of goblet cells create it. The single epithelial layer of cells called enterocytes just under the mucus layer is the second layer of defense and forms a continuous cell sheet with interconnected tight junctions, along with the brush boarder, this part of the physical lining is responsible for the absorption of nutrients, allowing them in and out of the blood stream beyond. The enterocytes have key regulatory roles in mastering interactions and communication with the microbiota as well as our immune system. If the mucosal layer is damaged or insufficient due to pathogenic microorganisms, circumventing the mucus protective system or toxins targeted by the immune system or microbiome, then inflammation first acutely and then chronically causes physical harm to our intestinal tissues or villi of the brush boarder. If compromised, the mucus lining cannot do its job of protecting. Just like when we get a cold and the mucosal tissues of our sinuses dry out infection can set in. We might see loosening of tight junctions between the cells, and loss of cell integrity causing leaky gut as damage from toxins, histamine reactions, and pathogens continuing to create damage and inflammation. Our digestive system is what allows us to absorb our nutrients and if this is hampered or damaged it can allow allergens, toxins or pathogens through into the rest of our bodies to create further health problems. The health of the microbiome is crucial to any healthy gut environment as the microbiota are responsible for supporting our overall health. The microbiota are a first line of defense when a toxic or unwelcome ‘not-self’ enters our system and is not a useful nutrient or substance.

They defend us by eating or destroying the offending molecule while engaging, teaching, and signaling our immune system when an unwanted substance is present. They live within us symbiotically and have many known and unknown influences to our overall health including the environment in which they live. If your microbiome is hampered, harmed, impaired or breached, rapid healing of it is crucial for optimal health.


At Vital Blossom I work with each client to locate the source and get to the root of the fire, what is feeding it, and why isn’t it going out. Each of us is unique and we respond differently presenting our own individual set of symptoms. I work with each client to heal the gut, through herbal therapeutics, removing harmful foods, and improving the health and biodiversity of the microbiome. As we discover and eliminate each source of inflammation, we take another step in the journey to optimal vitality. We can always improve vitality in some manner and thus, each person’s quality of living no matter the case. It is up to each of us to determine what that looks like for ourselves. I help guide clients to incorporate good healthy practices in every part of their lives. Below is a list of inflammatory symptoms that could come from food sources. When you read them you can understand why it is a journey to unravel the knotted root for each of us, and why obtaining help is tremendously supportive and necessary. At Vital Blossom I am here to help. I understand that food is vital to our lives and gaining nutrients is necessary for healthy living. Food is deeply personal and culturally integrated through the generations. It takes openness and creativity to look outside these norms and habits to find new ways of eating and to embrace new recipes that are pain free and still nourishing to our bodies and pleasurable to our pallet and minds. I will help you find your way.


Possible signs and symptoms of inflammation that could come from an intolerance or allergy source.

  • Heartburn

  • Bloating

  • Painful or severe Gas

  • GI upset: constipation, diarrhea; pain or burning with bowel movements

  • Feeling heavy after eating

  • Allergies (respiratory, itching, rash, increased mucus production, swollen mucous membranes, difficulty breathing.)

  • A rush of pleasure (dopamine released, stress response to inflammation similar to shock and the release of adrenaline) Which is why they may disguise themselves as our comfort or favorite foods. Yes we can become addicted to our harmful foods.

  • Inflammation of the mouth: red and itchy or sore tissues, raised swollen ridges on the roof or sores on the tongue or mouth including canker sores. What is happening to your mouth is happening in your gut.

  • Acne, eczema, itchy skin (what is reflected outside is happening inside)

  • Fatigue, brain fog, difficulty thinking

  • Headache and Migraine

  • Increased Anxiety and/or Depression ('For every physical change there is an emotional response.' Paul Bergner MH)

  • Joint pain or muscle pain

  • Everyone is different, we all respond differently…..



Ballantyne, Sarah. “The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your

Body”. Victory Belt Publishing Inc., 2013, pp. 12-111

Obrenovich, MEM. “Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain”? NCBI PUBMED.GOV, US NLH, NIH, 2018,

Microorganisims, 2018 Oct 18:6(4). Pii:E 107. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms6040107. PMCID: PMC6313445

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