• BodyWHealth: Unlocking the Best Possible You

Your WHealth in Your Hands: The Cytokine Battle

Your WHealth in Your Hands: The Cytokine Battle 1024 412 BodyWHealth

There is a chemical battle that is going on in your body, even as you read this. It’s a brilliant, complex drama with many characters, each with their own specific role and function, and it is critical to your health. The chemicals are organized into two armies. One group, I’ll call them “The Bad Guys” are responsible for breaking down old, broken or defective tissue. The other group, “The Good Guys”, are responsible for growth and repair of healthy new tissue.

These two armies play a critical role in your health. The body is a dynamic, living system comprised of millions of cells organized into working units. Just like us, these cells don’t live forever. Nature has evolved an elaborate system to remove the old and dead cells, and replace them with new healthy ones. Every tissue is constantly being refreshed. Even bone, which seems solid, is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. The good guys and bad guys drive these processes.

I’m grossly oversimplifying the design. My description does not begin to capture the elegance or complexity of this vast system. But this knowledge is pivotal to achieving BodyWHealth.

The chemicals I’m referring to are known as cytokines. They are small proteins, and they give commands to the immune cells involved with the inflammatory process. There are several leaders in the bad army (also known as pro-inflammatory cytokines, because they invoke inflammation). The most studied, central leader is called Interleukin 6 (or IL6). They are always present, and ensure that old and defective tissue is broken down and removed. Similarly, there are several generals in the good army. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that they are known as anti-inflammatory cytokines. Their most famous leader is probably Interleukin 10 (IL10). These guys inhibit the working of the bad guys, and also signal for repair and rebuilding.

The prevailing direction of the body is decay. You know this from observing aging. If left alone, degeneration occurs. Ask anybody that has been immobilized in a cast, or has been confined to bed for any length of time. They experience rapid loss of muscle. “Use it or lose it”. It’s because the dominant army are the bad guys. If left unchecked, this army causes atrophy of our working parts. Fortunately, we don’t only have the bad guys. We also have the good guys, and they work with and against the bad guys to keep us young and healthy. They do two things – with one hand, they stop the destructive work of the bad guys (they literally switch them off), and with the other they lead the construction and repair crews. We need both armies. But to stay young and healthy, we need to be sure that the good guys are very active!

When you were a child, the good guys dominated. You could find them around every corner instructing your body’s cells to grow and build. That’s why you grew into the fine adult specimen you are today! Over your lifetime, the bad guys start to get the upper hand. At this point, the natural process of aging takes over, and as you’ve heard too many people say “it’s all downhill from here”! And without any deliberate action on your part, this is true. With the bad guys dominant, you have more cells being broken down and destroyed than you have new cells being produced. Slowly but steadily your tissues weaken and decay. Sounds gross, right? To make matters worse, long-term stress has been shown to increase the dominance of the bad guys. We also know that smoking and fat, especially visceral body fat (that’s the fat on your belly and around your internal organs) increases the dominance of the bad guys. And that’s when you not only lose your BodyWHealth, but you start showing disease. Heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers thrive under these pro-inflammatory conditions.

But there is FANTASTIC news! Exercise drives the good army. The first thing that happens after a serious bout of exercise is mobilization of the bad guys. We want this because the (healthy) stress of exercise almost invariably results in minor damage. We need the pro-inflammatory cytokines to bring the immune cells in to break down and clear damaged tissue. But here is the MAGIC! After a short time lag, the good guys are mobilized. The predominant, lasting benefit is that the anti-inflammatory cytokines jump into action. The first thing they do is to “switch off” the bad guys who would otherwise continue their destructive work to the point of harm. So, IL10 and her army stop the demolition gangs. They then call loudly for the reconstruction to start. Immune cells get to work to repair damaged tissue, and bring in healthy new material to rebuild, and more! The (healthy) stress of regular exercise prevents long-term domination of the bad guys. It can keep you young and healthy, and has been proven to prevent disease. That’s why, if you have diabetes or heart disease or high cholesterol, your doctor should always tell you to exercise, in addition to any other drug or behavioral recommendations.

This is the central thesis of BodyWHealth: Regular exercise and limiting the volume of visceral body fat helps the good guys to dominate. This makes you young. This makes you WHealthy! Here is the problem: Our modern lifestyle has limited the amount of exercise we do. Not so long ago (in evolutionary terms) we were hunter-gatherers running to catch our food and running away from predators that wanted to eat us. This is our natural state – a condition that ensures the dominance of the good army and health. Evolution is a very slow process; don’t expect our species to adapt in the lifetime of our children or even their children. For now, we must act like our ancestors.

This insight gives us immense power in our journey to BodyWHealth. We no longer have to watch the battle as passive, aging onlookers. We can command the armies. We know that exercise feeds the Good Guys. Hence Golden Rule #1 (10,000 Steps). We know that body fat feeds the Bad Guys. Golden Rule #2 (Count Calories) is designed specifically with this in mind. If you eat more energy (calories) than you burn, you will increase your body fat reserves, encouraging decay. If you eat less than you burn, you will reduce your fat stores, allowing the Good Guys to dominate, and you will be rewarded with rejuvenation.

Your BodyWHealth is in your hands!

Have fun,