Immunity: Where does it begin?
It’s January 2022 and the new year is upon us, amidst a worldwide pandemic that just keeps spreading viral loads across the globe. That may be more than enough to stress out our clients in their increasingly stressful lives. But with the cold weather season, we also see a rise in a variety of cold symptoms: sneezing, coughing and myriad influenza viral strains that bring on fevers and achy joints. Is this ever-growing roster of illness stressors avoidable? If yes, then how? And how can we best help our clients build a stronger immune system?
In this exploratory article, I examine where our immunity begins and how it can be boosted. Isit possible to boost our immune system, and if so, how can aromatherapy help?
The latest research on weakened immunity points the finger at everything from poor sleep to too much sugar,processed-food consumption, and prolonged high levels of stress. The main causes of our weakened immune systems could be just about anything and everything. This suggests that there is no one way to boost immune health.
So where does immunity begin? And how do we support clients as aromatherapists when asked to supporttheir immune system strength? There are likely more than a trillion answers. It is time we recognize the power of information not just in the technological areas, but also in the microscopic regions of our body. On a recent Dhru Purohit podcast (Ep. 245), Dr. Zach Bush relayed that microflora—microbes—are wonderful sources of information. That is a novel and very useful way to view our internal system. When we consumefermented foods, we are ingesting live organisms, growing information continuously. This growth continues ona microscopic level, often at the microRNA (ribonucleic acid) level. It is imperative we begin thinking this way, that kimchi, kefir and Polish pickles are chock full of vibrant, live, life-supporting organisms that keep us healthy. So then, it leads me to wonder, where does our immunity truly begin?
It is quite possible that all your immunity begins in the gut. The next question to pose is: does your gut makeyou healthy or cause illness?
Our microbiome “is essential for human development, immunity and nutrition” (Hair, M., & Sharpe, J., 2014). Ithas been shown to directly influence everything from insulin production and sensitivity to cellular regeneration,skin disorders, vital nutrient absorption, and genetic disorders. “The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes—bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses—that live on and inside the human body” (Hair, M., & Sharpe, J., 2014). Dr. Zach Bush states that “what you touch is what you are . . . Each time we breathe in, webreathe in an enormous amount of intelligence from nature . . . with each breath we take in hundreds of millions of bacteria and spores from the fungal kingdom. And that ends up interacting with our gut microbiome”(Purohit, D., 2021, October 28).
But that does not tell the complete story of how we build our immunity. Better to phrase it as: It does not tell us how we grow our immunity. Our circadian rhythm (our body’s 24-hour cycle) governs everything in our body and everything that is created, recycled, processed and eliminated.
Is it possible that our immunity begins in the brain? After all, sleep is vital for cellular recovery. The human brain shrinks up to 30% during sleep (Purohit, D., 2021a, July 22). Also, at the cellular level, key players in the immune system are leukocytes (white blood cells). Besedowsky et al. (2011) note that “immune activation, especially protein synthesis and cell proliferation, needs energy, and the endocrine changes during sleep allow for the allocation of energy-rich fuels like glucose from insulin-dependent tissues (e.g., muscle) to the immune system” and “studies consistently demonstrate that sleep enhances the adaptive immune response against . . . invading [antigens].”
Where does that leave us? All this sheds light on understanding what’s most valuable (physiologically) to our clients when supporting their immune system. So, do we focus on improving sleep time, sleep quality or reducing stress levels to promote digestion? Do we support balancing out moods and reducing anxiety and/or depression symptoms to improve hormone regulation?
What do you choose to address as an aromatherapist?
Is it possible that sleep and the gut must work together to keep us healthy? The holistic view prevails. We must take in the whole system. The most supportive methodology is to offer blending and aromatherapy sessions that reduce stress levels in a variety of the body’s systems, simultaneously. That is perhaps the closest way to mimic the way our body works, after all. A recent example of the complexity of our natural immunity is examined by research from 2018, where microRNAs are shown to work directly with the gut microbiome in time-dependent rhythms. Steven D. Hicks et al. (2018) studied the effects of our circadian rhythm on microRNAs (our genetic coders and programming tools) and the relationship with microbiome elements. He noted “cross-talk between host miRNAs and the GI microbiome may work in concert to influence temporal changes in gene expression that drive host behavior and disease.”
Concluding thoughts on moving forward in 2022, with immunity top of mind:
We are at the forefront of the most modern, extensive, personalized medicine movement in modern times. As aromatherapists, we have the training and the specialty of knowing how to almost instantaneously (via inhalation) alter a person's stress levels, physical sensations and perceived feelings in the body. All of these can be directed to promote well-being and boost immunity. With aromatherapy growing in popularity and the widespread use of essential oils, we are at the forefront of supporting the masses in becoming healthy, naturally. We are valuable agents of change and immune support, in our rapidly changing environments.
Did you know that use of “EOs . . . was a $7.16 billion industry in 2017, and is expected to increase to over $11 billion by 2022” (Ackerman, L. S., & Chopik, W. J., 2020)? This indicator offers us the confidence, in our industry, that we can access and help thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people this year. We can improve overall wellness and immunity not just of the individual, but also of families and communities, through research-based essential oil instruction, workshop education and product preparation. This is the time we have been waiting for: to grow and support people in natural wellness, at a large scale. Complementary health care is at the top of mind and quickly becoming mainstream. Personalized medicine is on the rise, globally and more sought out and desired. Let us excel, support our clients, friends and loved ones as we have been trained to do with a holistic approach to body wellness, rooted in sound science and practised at the level of humanity. This is where our immunity truly begins.
Ackerman, L. S., & Chopik, W. J. (2020). Individual differences in personality predict the use and perceived effectiveness of essential oils. PLOS ONE, 15(3), e0229779. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229779
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2011). Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology, 463(1), 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
Hair, M., & Sharpe, J. (2014). The Human Microbiome. In Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington,. University of Washington. https://depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf
Hicks, S. D., Khurana, N., Williams, J., Dowd Greene, C., Uhlig, R., & Middleton, F. A. (2018). Diurnal oscillations in human salivary microRNA and microbial transcription: Implications for human health and disease. PLOS ONE, 13(7), e0198288. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198288
Purohit, D. (2021a, July 22). Dhru Purohit Podcast: #230: Eat These Foods to Boost Brain Health & Reduce Inflammation with Shawn Stevenson on Apple Podcasts. Apple Podcasts. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/230-eat-these-foods-to-boost-brain-health-reduce-inflammation/ id1381257272?i=1000529682110
Purohit, D. (2021b, October 28). The ROOT CAUSE Of Disease & How To PREVENT IT | Dr. Zach Bush. www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyiLRxUw5Vs
About the author: Monika Meulman has been a practising aromatherapist for more than 20 years. She embraces a combination of Eastern and Western approaches to holistic healing and offers custom blending for her clients. She is the owner of The Healing Muse Apothecary and has been working with plants, oils and gardens for more than 25 years. Most recently, she has been studying animal spirit medicine and working with energy medicine such as reiki and body readings. You can learn more about Monika at healingmuse.com.
Photo credit: Yulia Chyzhevska