These days, infections have lost their life-threatening significance and, in their place, metabolic disorders, allergies, atopic ekcema, autoimmune disorders, tumours and other chronic diseases have become the central health problems of the 21st century. However, if we continue to regard the immune system as a defence mechanism, it is actually impossible to explain these diseases and find suitable treatment options.
It is only when we view the immune system as a regulatory system that we cease to wonder how this system maintains the inflammation processes and controls the healing processes, participates in the distribution of energy throughout the body and causes symptoms of illness such as fever, pain, fatigue and listlessness. We also begin to understand how well-being and illness stand in relation to each other.
Here, by way of example, are some of the questions the war metaphor cannot answer: why do some people tolerate certain foods and others develop an allergy; how is it that we can coexist with our bacterial flora; how do we explain the healing process or autoimmunity; how does the immune system identify the context and act accordingly; why are some people susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and others are not; how does the immune system control the viral activity of viruses that exists within the body on a lifelong basis…
The immune system does not even sleep in the absence of enemy attacks.
The immune system is always active. It forms an integral part of all the body's regulatory processes. The new approach of modern science is to view the immune system as one that works with other systems and organs of the body, thus ensuring the balance and survival of the body. Regulation is the key term of this new concept. Organs, cells, hormones and systems like the immune and nervous system are all components of regulation. So the body consists of a complex network of regulatory processes rather than small-calibre arms and other weaponry.
We preferably compare the immune system and the immunity, which is emerging from this system, with a piece of music played by a variety of instruments than with an army couching ready to attack in case its needed.
Every stress factor threatening to upset the balance of the body involves the immune system. It unleashes huge quantities of messenger molecules from immune cells like leukocytes (white blood cells) and lymphocytes (cytokines, growth factors, cell differentiation/proliferation factors), which initiate and maintain communication between all the many components of the body. The start, control and end point of things like wound healing, anti-inflammatory processes etc. are the task of the systems which ensure the integrity of our body and our psyche. Those systems, which connect all elements of the body with one another, are ultimately the nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol.
This very different way of viewing immunity also changes our interpretation of metabolic processes and allows us to understand how severe stress can lead to symptoms of listlessness, lack of motivation, sleep deprivation, increased body temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and infection. The many soluble factors released by the immune cells circulate through our bodies. They are signals/impulses which the recipient (e.g. certain cells) interprets. When sufficient signals are sent and a critical mass of recipients responds, you experience a particular feeling in your body that may be good or bad, or any of the stages in between those two extremes.
Hundreds of thousands of signals need to reach a cell for intiating a reaction of the respective cell. If receptors are permanently stimulated by the same signal pattern, then after a while the cell turns numb.