Today most of us talk about the immune system. We talk about it as some sort of computer programme as though it can be found like the liver or the heart. Nothing could be further form the truth. In fact, the very term is misleading. It suggests that we are immune from something, immune particularly from disease and especially from some virus or bacteria. This is accurate only in part for our immune system that is also responsible for a variety of other competencies within the human system including the simple act of wound healing.
A slow down in the immune system is part of the ageing process. Most of us wish to slow ageing, to grow old gracefully rather than rapidly. There are several of strategies are open to us – for example a healthier way of life, better sleep, better diet, more exercise. However this requires self discipline. We can also bring to the skin something that it lacks. This is the usual cosmetics approach. We can add essential fatty acids, we can even spray collagen on the surface, we can add ceramides etc. There is, however, a better approach and that is to utilise the concept of biosynergy with the immune system. This simply means the use of active natural principles to improve the skin’s own metabolism, co-operating with the immune system to slow down ageing.
In talking about the immune system, we are in fact we are in fact talking about a cell communication process. Immuno competent cells send chemical messages all around the body and the body or organism reacts accordingly by finding some sort of response to the requirement, whether it be an invasion, an aggression, an inflammation etc. The immune system in general, then, is composed of all the biological defence and healing systems of the organism. Its works in a wide variety of ways and different actions but is always through a uniting process based on cell co-operation and complementary molecules.
We could loosely define the immune response in two ways. First, a non specific response. This can be characterized by inflammation, either localized or general and a general increase in white cells to remove foreign bodies throughout the blood stream. The second response is quite specific. This is based upon a theory of identification of self and non self. The theory goes like this – at the surface of our cells there is a system of glyco proteins, human leukocyte antigens, HLA for short. These glyco proteins are our own selves. They are antibodies we own, part of our selves. The membranes of the immuno competent cells ( macrophages) and lymphocytes recognize these antigens as part of the same organism. We are also able to produce non self antigens. These come about as a result of an invasion by some aggressor such as a foreign virus. The cells communicate with each other to trigger a reaction from immuno competent cells, which ends up in the production of further antibodies. The immune system is therefore proactive and reactive.
But the immune system does more than produce antibodies. For example when a wound occurs at our surface, the skin, there is a necessity to heal the wound. Have you ever wondered how this comes about? Our immune system has to respond somewhat like this – through our macrophage cells. Both tissues and bacteria have to be removed (phagocytosis). Any infectious agent has to be dealt with and the macrophages secrete cytokines that have a strong activity on the healing process. Cytokines stimulate fibroblasts which increase their own synthesis of collagen and elastin. We will recall that both these materials are important in the ageing process. At the same time, epidermal cell growth factors are released along with angiogenesis factors and together they initiate cell and blood vessel regeneration. So we see not only is the immune system implicated in defence of the organism but also in building tissue regeneration. Keratinocytes or skin cells produce a number of cytokines that are essential for intercellular communication. It is the cellular communication that we should be concerned about. If communication is good the wounds heals rapidly.
Hence we can see the idea of biosynergy. Rather than trying to repair the skin, we can try to improve its intrinsic resistance to aggression, inflammation etc. by improving its own skin metabolism. This dynamic approach to skin care allows the individual to respond in a unique way. No two cases will be the same as in reality no two human beings are the same. As mentioned above, the regeneration of collagen and elastin is one of the most important functions of the defence system. It is built to maintain tissue integrity. Tissue regeneration is of course the reason why we look beautiful and therefore logic tells us that a slow down in our immune system is a major contributory factor in looking older.
The classical signs of skin ageing are a loss of elasticity, wrinkles, a loss of firmness and suppleness. The last two are closely related to elastin and collagen. Ageing is usually grouped into two categories:
- from external aggression such as ultra violet light, urban pollution, smoking and a general poor life style
- intrinsic ageing which is the slow degradation of the human body which can be hastened by an inner production of free radicals
In 1987, Professor Susuma Toneganwa was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on the immuno competent cells, especially those called Langerhans that are located in the epidermis. When one looks at the amount of nerve endings in one centimetre of skin, we can be led to wonder why so many nerves exist in the skin. Langerhans cells are part of that nervous system. They can loosely be called skin watchers. Their job is to literally watch over the skin. They have their dendrites right at the very surface layer of the stratum corneum. They are actually exposed to everything that happens at the skin level and come into contact with any substance applied to it, whether soap, water, cosmetics – just anything that we like to throw at the skin. Langerhan cells are therefore the first immuno competent cells of the skin. They are true skin watchers. They are highly communicant cells. They really dictate what is going to happen when something is applied to the skin. If we can make these cells happy and stimulate them or manipulate them we can see that without any “clinical” treatment or “chemical” treatment, we can co-operate with the immune system to improve the texture of our skin. All we have to do is to stimulate the Langerhans cells and they will do the rest, perhaps with materials we may have provided to the skin surface.
One of a group of natural raw materials that has shown to be effective in stimulating Langerhans cells are beta glucans. These can be found as part of the cell walls of yeasts in particular. We must remember that grandmother said that Brewer’s yeast was always good for you! Which is not anencouragement to drink beer.