It is important to know how to calm an overactive immune system. When your immune system is overactive, your body’s immune system can go out of control. In earlier articles, I described the importance of immune regulation and how over-activation of NF Kappa B and cytokines can increase inflammation and lead to an out-of-control immune system. In this article, we will further explore inflammation, its effect on symptoms and disease, and how to calm your immune system.
While inflammation serves an important purpose to bring immune cells to our tissues when needed, acute inflammation may potentially become severe in some cases due to trauma, microbial invasion, or noxious compounds. Chronic inflammation is longer-term inflammation that can result from:
- Not being able to eliminate the cause of acute inflammation such as infectious organisms.
- Exposure to a low level of a particular irritant or foreign material that the body cannot eliminate such as a chemical.
- An autoimmune disorder in which the immune system interprets the body as foreign and attacks healthy tissue.
- A defect in the immune cells responsible for mediating inflammation leads to persistent inflammation.
- Recurrent episodes or persistence of acute inflammation.
- Inflammatory and biochemical inducers of oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.
More than 50% of all deaths are attributable to inflammation-related diseases such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and auto-immune and neurodegenerative conditions, and these rates are rapidly growing in industrialized nations adopting a western type of lifestyle.1,2 A study of 210 healthy twins demonstrated that differences in chronic inflammation are primarily due to non-heritable diet and lifestyle factors.3 This provides hope that by controlling diet and lifestyle factors and avoiding the Standard American Diet, diseases of chronic inflammation can be significantly reduced.
Chronic inflammation can lead to symptoms such as chronic pain which affects about 10% of the world’s population and 1 in 10 people will develop chronic pain annually.4 Estimates of the burden of chronic pain in lower and middle-income countries have been reported in a systematic review and meta-analysis of 119 studies for a variety of pain types.5 Examples include prevalence for the general adult (GP) population and elderly general population (EGP) of following types of pain: joint pain (14% GP, 34% EGP); unspecified chronic pain (34% GP, 62% EGP), low back pain (21% GP, 28% EGP); headache (42% GP, 30% EGP); chronic daily headache (5% GP, 5% EGP); chronic migraine (12% GP); musculoskeletal pain (25 GP, 44% EGP), abdominal pain (17% EGP); fibromyalgia (6% combined GP, EGP); and widespread pain (7 GP, 19% EGP). This analysis demonstrates that chronic pain is a significant problem worldwide. It also signifies that understanding how to calm an overactive immune system is important to prevention of inflammation and pain.
Did you know that symptoms are not normal? When symptoms become chronic, this is an indication that your internal metabolic systems are out of balance. Your body naturally seeks to maintain balance, until it no longer can rebalance. Chronic disease and symptoms result from chronic inflammation. When your immune system is impacted, you may experience chronic allergy symptoms, pain, fatigue, weight gain, weight loss, frequent infections, insomnia, or depression. Examples of diseases of inflammation include cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Most all disease is due to inflammation.
Inflammatory markers are used as measures associated with disease and disease progression. Practitioners use inflammatory markers when assessing whether inflammation is present, the extent of the inflammation and whether an individual is responding to a treatment plan. Inflammatory markers, however, are not used to diagnose a specific disease.
Here are some ways to keep an overactive immune system in balance:
- Diet-An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on mostly whole, minimally processed foods, and incorporates foods that contain specific nutrients and antioxidants.
- Eat dark chocolate in small amounts.
- Eliminate foods that you are sensitive to, which in most cases requires testing.
- Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night and go to bed by 10 PM.
- Low to moderate exercise may be indicated depending on the state of your immune system. Exercise induces inflammation and if chronic inflammation is present, depending on the level of inflammation, exercise recommendations may vary.
- Stress Management (Environmental, Physical, Emotional)
- Maintain a healthy environment. Use good handwashing, eat organic, reduce exposure to chemicals in skin care products, make-up, and cleaning products. Drink filtered water.
- Identify and address any mold issues in your home
- Address emotional stress with techniques such as breathing techniques, yoga, journaling.
- Supplements that reduce inflammation
- Curcumin-Curcumin has been demonstrated to have therapeutic potential for various chronic inflammatory diseases, essentially due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties against inflammatory targets.6
- Frankincense-Frankincense and myrrh have been used for centuries to relieve inflammation and pain. They have particularly shown benefit in arthritis and when combined. As essential oils they have been shown to inhibit cytokines that cause inflammation along with other essential oils. 7
- Fish oil– Fish oil supplementation has been used to manage rheumatoid arthritis pain, reducing requirement for NSAIDs.8 It is effective in reducing the levels of proinflammatory cytokines, improving insulin resistance in diabetic patients.9
- Ginger-Ginger lowers inflammatory and oxidative stress markers in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.10 Ginger can also protect the lungs from severe damage from inflammation.11
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)– NAC has significant effects on inflammatory and oxidative stress markers in a metanalysis of studies.12 NAC reduces inflammation, alleviates oxidative stress, improves energy status, and ameliorates tissue damage in the intestine.13
- Resveratrol-There is a clear association between obesity and inflammation and resveratrol is one substance proposed to provide an anti-inflammatory effect, but more studies are needed.14 Resveratrol decreases inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and may slow cognitive decline via a coordinated peripheral and central immune response that may also arrest neuronal cell death.15
- Vitamin D– Research clinical trials show that improving vitamin D status modestly lowers most markers of inflammation in highly inflammatory conditions.16
- Green Tea Extract-Green tea in combination with exercise produces greater benefits in body composition and reduces markers of inflammation.17
- Garlic-Aged garlic reduces cytokines and blood LDL in adults with obesity and may, when taken consistently, be beneficial in preventing the development of chronic diseases associated with low-grade inflammation in adults with obesity.18 Kyolic-aged-garlic-extract is effective in reducing blood pressure in patients with uncontrolled hypertension, and has the potential to improve arterial stiffness, inflammation, and gut microbial profile.19
- Vitamin C-Vitamin C availability within cells can affect inflammation and cancer tumor environments.20 Vitamin C protects against allergic inflammatory response. 21
While chronic inflammation can lead to an overactive immune system, diseases and symptoms, it often can be controlled and reversed with the right approach. This means taking a broad approach…not just taking a pill to get a quick fix. Identifying the presence and root cause(s) of inflammation involves lab testing and not guessing, as well as personalized diet and lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation and symptoms. To learn more, click the button below:
1. Furman D, Campisi J, Verdin E, et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature Medicine. 2019;25(12):1822-1832. doi:10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0
2. James SL, Abate D, Abate KH, et al. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. 2018;392(10159):1789-1858. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32279-7
3. Brodin P, Jojic V, Gao T, et al. Variation in the human immune system is largely driven by non-heritable influences. Cell. 2015;160(1-2). doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.12.020
4. Tracy P. Jackson MD; KAKMMD, MPH, Victoria Sutton Stabile BA, K. A. Kelly McQueen MD, MPH. The Global Burden of Chronic Pain. The ASA Newsletter, Vol. 78.
5. Jackson T, Thomas S, Stabile V, Shotwell M, Han X, McQueen K. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Global Burden of Chronic Pain Without Clear Etiology in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 2016;123(3). doi:10.1213/ane.0000000000001389
6. He Y, Yue Y, Zheng X, Zhang K, Chen S, Du Z. Curcumin, inflammation, and chronic diseases: How are they linked? Molecules. 2015;20(5). doi:10.3390/molecules20059183
7. Zhang L, Liang X, Wang B, et al. Six herbs essential oils suppressing inflammatory responses via inhibiting COX-2/TNF-α/IL-6/NF-κB activation. Microchemical Journal. 2020;156. doi:10.1016/j.microc.2020.104769
8. Kosari S, Naunton M, Yee K, Naumovski N, Thomas J. Fish Oil for Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Home Medicine Review Initiative. American journal of therapeutics. Published online 2018. doi:10.1097/MJT.0000000000000730
9. Souza DR de, Pieri BL da S, Comim VH, et al. Fish oil reduces subclinical inflammation, insulin resistance, and atherogenic factors in overweight/obese type 2 diabetes mellitus patients: A pre-post pilot study. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications. 2020;34(5). doi:10.1016/j.jdiacomp.2020.107553
10. Askari G, Aghajani M, Salehi M, et al. The effects of ginger supplementation on biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Herbal Medicine. 2020;22. doi:10.1016/j.hermed.2020.100364
11. Çifci A, Tayman C, Yakut Hİ, et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) prevents severe damage to the lungs due to hyperoxia and inflammation. Turkish Journal of Medical Sciences. 2018;48(4). doi:10.3906/sag-1803-223
12. Faghfouri AH, Zarezadeh M, Tavakoli-Rouzbehani OM, et al. The effects of N-acetylcysteine on inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2020;884. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2020.173368
13. Hou Y, Wang L, Yi D, Wu G. N-acetylcysteine and intestinal health: A focus on mechanisms of its actions. Frontiers in Bioscience – Landmark. 2015;20(5). doi:10.2741/4342
14. Poulsen MM, Fjeldborg K, Ornstrup MJ, Kjær TN, Nøhr MK, Pedersen SB. Resveratrol and inflammation: Challenges in translating pre-clinical findings to improved patient outcomes. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Molecular Basis of Disease. 2015;1852(6). doi:10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.12.024
15. Moussa C, Hebron M, Huang X, et al. Resveratrol regulates neuro-inflammation and induces adaptive immunity in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroinflammation. 2017;14(1). doi:10.1186/s12974-016-0779-0
16. Cannell JJ, Grant WB, Holick MF. Vitamin D and inflammation. Dermato-Endocrinology. 2014;6(1). doi:10.4161/19381980.2014.983401
17. Bagheri R, Rashidlamir A, Ashtary-Larky D, et al. Does green tea extract enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise on fat loss? British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2020;86(4). doi:10.1111/bcp.14176
18. Xu C, Mathews AE, Rodrigues C, et al. Aged garlic extract supplementation modifies inflammation and immunity of adults with obesity: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN. 2018;24. doi:10.1016/j.clnesp.2017.11.010
19. Ried K, Travica N, Sali A. The Effect of Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract on Gut Microbiota, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Markers in Hypertensives: The GarGIC Trial. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2018;5. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00122
20. Ang A, Pullar JM, Currie MJ, Vissers MCM. Vitamin C and immune cell function in inflammation and cancer. Biochemical Society Transactions. 2018;46(5). doi:10.1042/BST20180169
21. BD YS. Relationship between Vitamin C, Mast Cells and Inflammation. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. 2016;06(01). doi:10.4172/2155-9600.1000456
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.