Immunity and Health Pt. 3: The Heat of the Matter

March 21st, 2016





“The thing with heat is…it always, eventually, becomes too much.”

― Victoria Aveyard, Glass Sword






There are three main levels where our body meets and manages potential incoming threats to our health:


  • The mucosa
  • The lymph system via body fluids
  • The blood


What these have in common is that they contain immunoglobulins – also known as antibodies.



 What are immunoglobulins?


Immunoglobulins are glycoprotein molecules produced by plasma cells (white blood cells). They act as a critical part of the immune response by specifically recognizing and binding to particular antigens, such as bacteria or viruses and aiding in their destruction.


So far, so good. Well, that is, if we assume that all is balanced and healthy in our mucosa, body fluids and blood. Problems occur when the integrity of these are disturbed.




 A sticky problem


Probably the most immediately important for our immunity is the mucosa. Its surfaces include the lungs and intestines, ear, nose, throat and genito-urinary organs to name a few.




In health, the mucosa is just the right balance of moisture – not too dry (the immunoglobulins can’t survive) and not too slimy (the immunoglobulins are hindered from doing their job or taken out of the system). This is one reason why those living in very dry or very damp conditions can often develop problems – particularly when the immune suppressing element of cold is added to these extremes.


 ‘Damp’ conditions and immunity


Damp is a term in traditional Chinese medicine to describe imbalances to the Earth element’s control of digestion, absorption and transportation of nutrient-rich food and fluids. (For more on the Earth element click here) Damp can describe anything from an overproduction of mucus, to oedema and swelling to fungal infections and even fogginess in the head negatively affecting concentration and memory.


The critical aspect of Damp in this discussion is that produced by the mucosa. The mucus secreting ‘goblet’ cells (so called because they are shaped like a goblet) are the way the mucosa protects itself from irritation like acidity and allergens like gluten or pollen. The goblet cells only defence is to secrete more mucus.


This of course has negative consequences for the effectiveness of the immunoglobulins, waiting like sharpshooters in the jungle of the mucosa for incoming antigens. The sudden tropical storm of mucus created from the goblet cells either suspends them in a sticky web or washes them further down and out the digestive tract.




Having a mucosa that work more like sticky flypaper only increases our risk of low grade infection and inflammation. Speaking of which…



Internal heat and why it is bad news for our immunity


In traditional Chinese medicine, ‘internal heat’ is a destabilising energy that can harm the body. This kind of heat does not only refer to a rise in core temperature as seen in high fevers for example. It also refers to irritation and inflammation.


Causes of internal heat can be anything from bacterial infection, to poisoning from alcohol, drugs or medicine, raised acidity and irritation from food additives, chemicals or refined sugar. Chronic irritation from these catalysing agents causes the body to react in different ways. These reactions can best be summed up as a well-meaning but often counter-productive attempt by the body to protect itself.


The most significant of these is the creation of a chronic state of low grade inflammation in our system. Think of it like areas of constant conflict and unrest. While outright war may not have been declared it is just from these sites that a war could breakout at any time.




In the body, these ‘wars’ take the form of major diseases that share a common root: inflammation. These include:


  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Arteriosclerosis and heart disease
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Low grade inflammatory states are even being linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism.



Hurting ourselves and auto-immunity



hara kiri


Many people suffer from chronic inflammation because their immune systems overreact to ‘self’ tissue. That is, our immune system starts to attack us. Auto-immune diseases, as they are collectively called, form a huge part of the major disease states threatening our health today.


Our immune system features components that are both pro and anti-inflammatory. One crucial component is a group called interleukins. They themselves are part of a group called cytokines which in turn are produced by T-lymphocytes, macrophages and other areas of our immune response. Phew!…


The important point to remember here is that their behaviour can change from anti-inflammatory to inflammatory depending on their balance with each other. That is, when one is dominant, the others are rendered ineffective. Even though recent research has isolated specific interleukins as primarily responsible for magnifying inflammatory states, the ‘Why?’ of this equation is as yet unknown.



 Prevention is always better than cure


We would be considered foolish if we never serviced our car but instead just kept driving it until red lights started flashing on the dashboard or smoke started pouring out from the engine. Surprisingly, this is precisely what many do with their health which is arguably more important than replaceable transport.




A gym in my area featured a memorable sign outside:


“If you don’t take time to train now you will have to make time to get sick later.”


This sentiment applies to every area of healthcare and prevention. So what else might we consider doing to prevent these damp and heating conditions setting us upon the slippery slope to chronic low-grade inflammation and autoimmune disease?


Avoid foods that irritate the mucosa:


  • refined sugar
  • gluten
  • processed foods containing nitrates, preservatives and additives.
    • The food processing industry primarily cares about efficiency and profit. Our health comes a distant second to that so we need to take back personal power and responsibility for our choices and not blindly trust that some regulatory body will look after us. [1]


Avoid foods, substances and situations that cause heat and irritation:





Interestingly this list features many of the same foods/substances as above as they create an acidic environment. The irritating effects to the mucosa/immunoglobulin from raised acidity are also a form of ‘heat’.  To the above we could include reducing/avoiding the heating effects of:


  • Coffee and stimulants
  • Alcohol
  • Medicines (where possible)
  • Stressful emotional states



Emotional heat


‘Stress’ – that umbrella word encompassing a raft of negative emotional states – is also considered a cause of internal heat. Think of thoughts and emotions as software programs. They can program us positively (releasing endorphins and oxytocin for example, causing relaxation) or negatively (causing stomach acidity, a sustained rise in blood pressure, muscle tension and so on).


Heat map of anger in the body

Heat map of anger in the body


A sustained state of heating stress can even destabilise the body at a cellular level. One way cells defend, protect or adapt themselves to stresses placed upon them is through cellular change. Although this is a poorly researched subject at present it is my conviction that many cancers (among many other disorders) have unresolved, heating and destabilising emotions at their root.


So what can we do?


  • Pay attention to and take responsibility for everything that goes in our mouth. No-one is holding a gun to our head to make us consume that nitrate, caffeine, sugar and preservative filled cola for example. We have the power of choice so use it. Our mucosa and blood will thank us.
  • Take conscious steps to keep our body open, relaxed, strong and functional regardless of age.
    • Many of us associate training with youth and sports. The secret is to maintain some form training regime our whole life. This gives a signal to our body and mind that it is still required to function at optimal levels.
  • Rest the agitated mind from stress through regular meditation and breathing exercises.
    • Whether this is through traditional methods like meditation, yoga and pranayama or more modern relaxation and breathing techniques, the important thing is to reset the entire system before it becomes overheated with stress hormones. As the old saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


A word to the wise: Don’t get caught in the medicine merry-go-round




If we don’t take responsibility for our own health we will end up giving it away to merry-go-round of medical cures and their side effects. Every one of us knows someone who is taking a potpourri of medicines, some of which are there to treat the side effects of the medicine prescribed for the original problem.


Once we are on that wheel it is very hard to get off. Remember too that all medicines, (even ‘natural’ ones) when taken regularly are toxic to the body and will create internal heat eventually. Now that we know what that form of low-grade inflammation can become we would do well to avoid it. Always remember that we possess both the power and responsibility for maintaining our own health. Don’t give that away cheaply – or, in the case of modern medicine, expensively.



But that is a subject that could fill at least a blog in itself (and probably will do).



Till cooler heads prevail and take us, symptom-free, through to another Monday,



[1] This is one case that, unlike the old song, ‘Eees’ aren’t good…



Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:


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