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What Causes an Over Active Immune Response?

by Jodi Cohen

Modulating your immune system relies on the same principals as the old Bing Crosby song.  “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” In other words, reduce or calm potential triggers for an over-active immune responses and boost resilience for organs that help modulate your immune system.

In his new course 3D Immune Tolerance, Dr. Datis Kharrazian identifies the following tiggers for Immune Over-activation.

Compromised Physical Barriers

Your physical barriers, including your blood brain barrier, are your first line of defense against bad bugs and environmental toxins from entering your brain.  When your blood brain barrier is compromised and permeable, pathogens from your body that should be blocked from accessing your brain, gain access. It opens the floodgates to all sorts of pathogens and other large structures, like antibodies that can’t passively cross the blood-brain barrier. They can only go through a compromised blood-brain barrier. Similarly, if the barrier of your gut lining is leaky or compromised, food proteins can go through and trigger an overactive immune response.

Low Diversity of Gut Microbiome

Our gut is home for a large number of bacteria and microbes collectively known as the gut microbiota with whom we have developed a mutually beneficial relationship known as symbiosis. These good bugs help balance out the bad bugs, so it is important to maintain a Rich diversity of gut flora and microbiome to support healthy immune function.  Eating a variety of diverse vegetables help to populate diverse gut microbiome.

Low SIgA cell Levels 

Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) is an antibody found in the mucosal lining of your small intestine and act as a first line of defense in the immune system, trapping and eliminating immune reactive proteins before the immune system (dendritic cells) attach to them. This keeps the dendritic cells from being constantly bombarded, which in turn helps prevent them from becoming overactive. High levels of SIgA prevent immune system hyper-reactivity. Adrenal exhaustion and high viral loads can deplete SIgA cell levels.

Poor Liver Function 

Immune cells in your liver, known as Kupffer cells, help remove proteins that have been tagged by your immune system. Kupffer cells also perform immune surveillance against gut-derived toxic materials, lke pathogens from the intestinal flora. If your liver is inflamed or overwhelmed, proteins will more like trigger an inflammatory reaction.

Over-Active Dendritic Cells

The immune cells of your gut (dendritic cells) can over react to food proteins not properly broken down by digestion. This can trigger your immune to become over reactive and start attacking everything.

Dendritic cells play a central role in initiating your adaptive immune response (remembering past infections and allowing your immune system to respond quickly when we encounter something similar again).  For example, dendritic cells sample proteins from the foods you eat to determine whether the immune system should react to them. Over-reactive dendritic cells think practically everything they encounter needs to be attacked  and are often a root cause of multiple food sensitivities. Undigested proteins are a huge trigger for dendritic cell over-activation.

Regulatory T Cell Dysfunction

Regulatory T cells (T reg cells) are the immune cells that decide whether to cause inflammation or dampen it.  Once the dendritic cell identifies a protein for an immune response, the protein is carried to the lymphatic system, where other immune cells (T reg cells and B cells) create antibodies that attach to the protein and tell the immune system’s “attack team” to come and destroy the protein. This is the crux of the immune response and the cause of systemic inflammation.  Regulatory T cells are a major players in modulating your immune response.

When they dysfunction, they don’t properly contain this response and contribute to immune over-activation and systemic inflammation.

Essential Oils for Immune Response

Essential oils possess many antibacterial, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal compounds that help kill germs, fighting off a wide range of bacteria, viruses, fungi and infections, calm inflammation and prevent illness. For example, hot oils (that induce a warming sensation) like cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary and Oregano can help stimulate your immune system and boost immunity.

Essential oils have also been recognized for their immune modulating properties.  Recent research found that an essential oil blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary “exhibited significant effects on the levels of protein biomarkers that are critically involved in inflammation, immune modulation, and tissue remodeling processes. The overall inhibitory effect of EOB on these protein biomarkers suggests that it has anti-inflammatory and immune modulating properties.”  The study also found that the essential oils “robustly affected signaling pathways related to inflammation, immune function, and cell cycle control.”

Essential oils can specifically be used to help restore immune tolerance by down regulating over-active elements of the immune response and optimizing function of organs that impede or compromise immune function.

1. Fortify Physical Barriers with Essential Oils

Your physical barriers, including your lungs, your gut, your sinuses and your blood brain barrier, are your first line of defense against pathogens, like bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause infection and environmental toxins like mold.

Keeping these protective barriers, or immune barriers, intact helps physically slow or block these pathogens from entering your immune system.  You might think of these barriers like the castle walls and the moat, that physically protect the kingdom from attack. It is much easier to keep the bugs out of your system then it is to fight them once they enter your system.  Sadly, different kinds of chemicals can disrupt your barrier system.  If we can fortify these barriers, they are better able to protect your body.

Essential oils with their anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties can be powerful tools for supporting physical and emotional boundaries and modulating your immune system.  By helping to fortify your physical barriers, it helps you improve your immune tolerance and bolster your resilience to environmental toxins.  Read more on fortifying physical boundaries HERE.

2. Increase the Diversity of Gut Bacteria

Rich diversity of your gut flora and microbiome contribute to immune health.  A plant-based diet with a variety of vegetables helps support healthy gut bacteria (“good bugs”) and keep pathogenic gut bacteria (“bad bugs”), like yeast, in check. Bacteria and yeast rely on poor gut health to grow. When gut immunity is weak, yeast and bacteria can flourish.

Essential oils derived from plants can also improve microbiome diversity.  Research demonstrated that essential oils promote healthy intestinal microbiome “promoting the growth of some benefit bacterial species such as Bacilli, Lactobacillales, Streptococcaceae, Veillonellaceae, and Megasphaera in the colon. Moreover, multiple metabolic pathways especially amino acid metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism, and lipid metabolism of intestinal microbiota were substantially altered by EO supplementation.”

For example, essential oils contained in Intestinal Mucosa™ blend like Cypress, Nargarmotha, Birch, and Cardamom can help support the healthy intestinal mucosal lining of your intestines.  Your mucosal lining supports healthy gut microbiome.

To help restore optimal balance of healthy intestinal flora and diverse gut microbiome, apply Intestinal Mucosa™ blend in a clockwise around the belly button 2 – 3 x daily.

3. Support Healthy Levels of SIgA Cells

Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) helps modulate your immune response and prevent immune system hyper-reactivity.

SIgA cells are antibodies that can help prevent an immune response. They dwell in the mucosal lining of the small intestine and act as a first line of defense in the immune system by surrounding immune reactive proteins before other immune cells attach to and escalate the immune response by tagging them for removal. By surrounding problem proteins (or bacteria or viruses) first, SIgA cells prevents constant bombardment of your immune system, which in turn helps prevent it from becoming overactive.

When SIgA levels are low, other immune cells become very reactive because they are constantly stimulated to do the work the SIgA cells should be doing. Adrenal exhaustion and high viral loads or chronic infection can deplete SIgA cell levels. SIgA will also be low if you take hydrocortisone or other steroid medications, or if you have a vitamin A deficiency.

There are ways to boost SIgA cell levels to help dampen immune over-reactivity, including essential oils. Research in China found that supplementing the diet of  chickens with essential oils “increased SIgA levels of the duodenal and ileal  mucosa and improved the immune status of animals, as indicated by an increase in SIgA.

The research tested thyme essential oil, the main constituents of which include thymol, carvacrol and flavonoids. It’s interesting that the essential oil of flavonoids boost SIgA levels as it might hold potential for clients who can only consume a limited plant diet.  In addition to essential oils, fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E, and K and short-chain fatty acids can help support healthy levels of SIgA cells. Similarly, addressing underlying causes of low SIgA, such as adrenal fatigue and chronic infection may also be helpful.

4. Improve Liver Function

Liver overwhelm can compromise the function of your liver immune cells, known as Kupffer cells, and increase immune reactivity to proteins. If your liver is inflamed and back logged or detoxification function is compromised, these proteins can elicit an exaggerated immune response.  In other words, immune function depends on supporting liver function and detoxification. Liver support is an important part of any immune protocol.

If your liver is overwhelmed or congested from an overload of toxins (including undigested proteins that turn into toxins), it will not have the energy and vitality to support your immune system. Your liver is often late to complain and lacks pain receptors, making it difficult to know when it’s struggling and needs support.

Essential oils help keep plants healthy by moving vital fluids and energy.  They perform similar functions in your body, helping to move energy and prevent stagnation.  When your liver becomes stagnant, from physical toxins, stress or anxiety, it impedes detoxification.  Essential oils are a powerful tool to help shift stagnation and improve flow of energy and toxins through the liver and the gall bladder.

Essential oils can help shift your body into alignment so toxins do not backlog back into your bloodstream, but flow out of your body. More specifically, topically applying essential oils to specific points on your skin can activate energy flow directly and quickly, stimulating your liver and gall bladder to help toxins flow out of the body instead of back into the bloodstream.

The super small size of essential oil molecules allows them to be easily assimilated into the organs, to help promote directional flow of bile and toxins. Applying Liver™ directly over the liver (right side beneath the breast) 2-3 times daily may help to balance and energize your liver so it can perform its numerous functions with optimal vitality.  Formulated with oils that help stimulate, strengthen, and tone the liver, including German Chamomile, which stimulates bile secretions and supports liver detox.

You can also combine essential oils with castor oil – just add a few drops to 1 tsp of castor oil and rub it over the liver before bed.  Castor oil is notoriously messy, so you can either: (1) cover it with a piece of flannel and plastic wrap and apply heat from a hot water bottle (avoid the electricity of heating pads) for 20-30 minutes,  (2) wear a ratty t-shirt and let your body eat work it’s magic (3) climb into an Epsom salt bath with the castor oil and essential oils and benefit from layering 3 healing strategies at the same time.

5. Calm Dendritic Cells

The immune cells of your gut (dendritic cells) sample proteins from the foods you eat to determine whether the immune system should react to them.

Proteins are a large nutrient made up of chains of smaller substances called amino acids.

You might imagine a beaded bracelet and think of each bead is an amino acid.  Proteins need to be broken down by chewing (which releases saliva) and the release of hydrochloric acid in your stomach and pancreatic enzymes.  If these chains of protein need to be broken down into individual amino acids and digested, dendritic cells encounter these still-intact amino acid chains and alert the immune system to respond.

This sets motion an over-reactive immune response that sets the stage for food allergies, food intolerances, leaky gut and systemic inflammation.  Most food allergies result from an immune response triggered by insufficiently digested proteins from your food. If your stomach is not producing sufficient hydrochloric acid to sufficiently break down and digest dietary proteins, your immune system could mistakes these food proteins as a dangerous substance and trigger an immune response.

6. Increase Regulatory T Cell Activity

Regulatory T cells (T reg cells) are the immune cells that help dampen inflammation. Several research studies have found that Frankincense™, and its active anti-inflammatory constituent, alpha-pinene, increase T-cell activity.

In two related studies, it was found that exposure to alpha-pinene increased T-cell activity and decreased stress hormone levels. Consistent with these studies, microarray results of current study showed that Frankincense™ affected some important inflammation- and immune-related signaling pathways, significantly reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers. Gene expression of many cytokines and other important players in inflammation and immune responses was significantly inhibited in pre-stimulated, inflamed skin cells, indicating that Frankincense has potential immune modulating properties.

Regulatory T cells also respond favorably to things that boost endorphins, your body’s natural opioids. Anything that boosts your mood, or makes you happy, including calming essential oils like Lavender™, Orange™ or Rose™ can help increase natural opioid production and boost  Regulatory T Cell Activity. Research has found that essential oils, like Lavender™, can lead to endorphin release.

Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid/Poor Protein Digestion

Digestion begins in your brain.  Signals from your brain, sent via your vagus nerve, turn on your digestive function. Your vagus nerve signals your mouth to secrete saliva, which helps break down proteins, and your stomach to produce and release HCL acid, and your pancreas to release enzymes to help break down proteins so they don’t flag your immune system.

Research demonstrates that your vagus nerve, the nerve that communicates between your gut and your brain, plays a central role in the release of stomach acid.  Like muscles, your nerves need constant stimulation to be healthy. Ninety percent of your brain’s output goes through your brain stem. A poorly functioning brain does not stimulate your vagus nerve, resulting in reduced activation of the gastrointestinal tract.

The following symptoms are some indicators that correlate with low vagal function and protein digestion:

  • Dry mouth or eyes
  • Don’t feel well after eating meats
  • Feel like food sits in stomach too long, like you ate a brick.
  • Lump in throat or difficulty swallowing (especially difficulty swallowing supplements)
  • Slow bowel movements and tendency for constipation
  • Acid Reflux/GERD
  • Tendency for anxiety
  • Bloating or burping after fatty or fried meals
  • Episodes of racing heart
  • Tense muscles, especially around the neck/shoulder
  • Poor digestion (poor motility, bloating, gas)
  • Frequent urination or incontinence
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Sensitive to bright or flashing lights
  • Difficulty sleeping or Nightmares
  • Floating stool
  • Digestive disorders including leaky gut and food allergies
  • B12 Deficiency
  • Low Vitamin D or other nutrient levels
  • Not being able to tell when you are full or hungry


Essential Oils to Improve Protein Digestion

Topically applied essential oils can help activate your vagus nerve to help your body digest proteins. In order to properly break down and assimilate proteins, you need to eat in the healing “Rest and Digest” state of your nervous system, known as the parasympathetic state. In the parasympathetic state, signals from your brain, sent via your vagus nerve, turn on your digestive function.

Your autonomic nervous system, which controls all automatic functions in your body including digestion, vacillates between two states. In your survival state, known as the sympathetic “Fight or Flight” state, all resources are allocated to surviving — blood flow is routed away from the organs of digestion and toward the limbs and muscles so we can quickly flee from danger.  You cannot properly digest or assimilate proteins when blood flow is routed away from your digestive system.  Stimulating your vagus nerve with Parasympathetic™ oil triggers your parasympathetic response, which turns on your digestive process:

  • Your mouth releases saliva, which helps break down proteins
  • Your stomach produces HCL acid
  • Your pancreas secretes enzymes
  • Your gall bladder releases bile
  • Your sphincters open and close contributing to motility, allowing nutrients and waste to move through the digestive system and be properly eliminated.

When digestion is compromised, like when you cannot digest proteins, it can be challenging to get remedies into your body through your digestive channel. This is one of the reasons you might continually test low for nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B, zinc, or iron despite frequent supplementation.  Even if digestion is challenged, you can still assimilate healing remedies, like essential oils through your olfactory system and your skin.

To support optimal brain function and enhance digestion, apply Parasympathetic™ behind the mastoid bone before meals. When you apply it, take a few deep breaths, with the exhalation longer than the inhalation to fully relax and turn on digestion prior to meals.


Manageable Next Steps

While your Immune System can be very complicated, helping to modulate it so that it works with you, not against you, does not need to be overwhelming.  My mentor Dr. Datis Kharrazian very clearly walks you through manageable strategies for modulating your immune response in his new course 3D Immune Tolerance.  You can learn more HERE.


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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!