Immune cells as orchestrators of injury repair
When we think of strong immunity we think of our ability to fight off infections such as cold and flu. Yet those same immune cells are responsible for orchestrating our healing response to injury.
I was reminded of that this past week. Merrily walking along the pavement minding my own business, I suddenly went over on my ankle in my heeled boots.....something I've done many times before......oh but the pain this time. I had to grab hold of a tree and just hold on for what seemed like forever before I was then able to hobble back home. As the day wore on, my ankle swelled up badly and turned a blue-black colour. By this point, I couldn't actually walk on that foot and it was clear that I'd badly sprained my ankle and needed to do something to help it heal. And this was where my knowledge of healing came in handy.
When we injure ourselves in this way, a mechanical stress on the area of impact and disrupts underlying blood vessels causing bleeding. Inflammation is the key initial response and coordinates a specific immune system repair response. It promotes dilation (widening) of the small blood vessels to allow a much greater blood flow into the damaged area. This increased blood flow brings in blood platelets to forms clots at the damage site to prevent blood loss and provide a temporary cover, as well as a large quantity of oxygen and nutrients necessary for repair. Your bones, muscles and tendons of your musculularskeletal system are all made from nutrients, just like other cells. And it's this scenario that causes the redness, pain and swelling. Speciifc immune cells then proliferate to clean up the damage by getting rid of damaged cells, before commencing the repair and renewal of new tissue. This repair and renewal phase can persist for weeks to months, depending upon the seriousness of the injury and the speed of repair.
So now we know a little about how the body heals, what can you do to speed up recovery? First, let's take a look at some pictures of my injury and what I did......
First off was an ice compress.....a trusty packet of frozen peas from my freezer......as ice can help to reduce the inflammation by constricting the blood vessels, which decreases the the blood flow to the area. This is essentially a first aid treatment applied to a new injury to help to control the swelling. But this is working in opposition to how how the body heals, so this was for a short duration only. After the ice-compress, I rubbed anti-inflammatory aloe vera gel on the area to again help control the swelling and consumed various nutrition supplements....more of that below. After a few hours I then had a hot mud bath. Heat works opposite to ice and aligns with the body's healing mechanism of stimulating blood vessel dilation and increasing blood flow for increased nutrient and oxygen flow. And by this point, I had digested and absorbed my nutrition supplements that would help with the repair process. The mud in the bath was a specific peat mud product used for peloid therapy and contained high levels of humic and fulvic acid, which have an anti-inflammatory effect and help modulate the immune response. And finally, I finished off with an infra-red treatment light on the local area. Infra-red stimulates the production of ATP energy (your body's energy currency), which helps to improve immune function, reduce inflammation and speed up repair.
As a result of that combined treatment approach ( a combined approach is always best), I was able to walk again the next day and was back running again within the week. Whilst all of these methods, help to speed up the healing, nutrients were a key component for both the immune response and also the repair process. I used anti-inflammatory supplements such as vitamin C, quercetin, turmeric and high potency cherry juice; alongside a specific immune multi, magnesium for energy and a structural repair product that contained glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. Glucosamine is used to make tendons, ligaments and cartilage, whilst hyaluronic acid is a component of tendons and ligaments and helps to keep joints lubricated.
I work in partnership with a number of osteopathy clinics helping to heal clients with injuries that are not responding as they should to osteopathic treatment. Often the underlying cause of this failure to heal properly, are specific nutrient deficiencies (that can arise for many reasons) and an over-activated immune response. When you address the underlying nutrient deficiencies and why the immune system is over activated, healing can occur.
The key takeaway from this is that your immune system is the orchestrator of your healing response to injury and nutrients provide the building blocks for repair and renewal.
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Winkler J, Ghosh S. Therapeutic Potential of Fulvic Acid in Chronic Inflammatory Diseases and Diabetes. J Diabetes Res. 2018 Sep 10; 2018:5391014.
Sommer, A., Haddad, M. & Fecht, HJ. Light Effect on Water Viscosity: Implication for ATP Biosynthesis. Sci Rep5, 12029 (2015)