How wheatgrass works with your immune system
by Zora de Grandpre. M.S., N.D.
The Immune System
Our immune system is faced with a complex challenge…the immune
system's "job" is to protect us against ALL foreign
agents-this includes viruses, bacteria, fungi and environmental
In order to accomplish this huge job of defense, the immune
system has developed all sorts of specialized approaches and
tools which can tell the difference between "self"
("it belongs") and "non-self"(" get
this out of here!") The two main approaches are the cellular
defense system and the humoral (antibody) defense system.
The cellular defense system uses a wide variety of cells to
destroy invasive germs, cancer cells and other things recognized
as "non-self". The humoral system uses antibodies
as a way to eliminate "non-self".
So, how does the immune system know what is "self"
rather than "non-self"? One way is to use a set
of markers found on the surface of cells called the MHC complex.
This is the same set of cell markers used to determine if
an organ can be transplanted into someone who needs that organ-the
MHC complex is used to "match" organs for lung,
heart, liver and other transplants.
Once the immune system has recognized something as "non-self",
it uses multiple lines of attack including cells and antibodies
to either kill or otherwise get rid of the "non-self".
Various cells including Natural Killer (NK) cells, T-Helper
(TH) cells, T-Killer (TK)
cells and others kill the invading organism or the foreign
cell (like a cancer cell). B-cells make antibody that specifically
attaches to the "non-self" entity, coating it in
preparation for its removal. Other cells, such as macrophages
and monocytes essentially eat the coated entities, destroying
and removing it from the body.
All the cells of the immune system use various signals to
help figure out what is "non-self" and what is "self"-and
how to get to the spot where the "non-self" is found.
Many of the signals used are non-MHC cell surface markers.
One of the more important of these are known as ICAM-1 (Intercellular
Adhesion Molecule-1). ICAM-1 helps the cells of the immune
system latch onto the insides of blood vessels to get through
to the location of the "non-self" invader.
Other signals include a large family of molecules called
cytokines. Cytokines let the immune system know that there
is something "non-self" around and influence the
immune system to get rid of that "non-self"-whatever
Other Immune System Partners
The immune system doesn't work alone, however- and it doesn't
always work at 100% efficiency-what does, after all? However,
evolution has provided for all sorts of "redundant systems"
that work with the immune system.
Inflammation, for example, is often seen as an undesirable
effect. But, inflammation is part of every immune response
and is essential for the success of that immune response.
The problems with inflammation occur when inflammation becomes
chronic and uncontrolled. Cytokines, which send messages to
and from the immune system play a role in controlling inflammation
and can either boost the inflammatory response or tamp it
Various enzymes play an important role in the immune response
also. Some of these enzymes may play a part in the inflammatory
response. The COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, for example keep the
inflammatory response going-this is the reason drugs which
inhibit these enzymes are used as anti-inflammatory agents.
Other enzymes are involved in the repair of DNA and RNA-those
genetically important molecules that are at the center of
life processes. These enzymes can help repair any damage to
the DNA and RNA and help prevent serious mutations that can
lead to cancer and other diseases. Examples of enzymes involved
in DNA and RNA synthesis and repair include RNR (Ribonucleotide
reductase) and PARP (Poly-ADP-ribose polymerase). RNR helps
convert the building blocks of RNA to DNA building blocks
and RNR inhibitors can be used to treat cancer cells. PARP
is part of the "DNA surveillance network" and is
involved in DNA repair (1) and helps to mitigate the damage
from oxidative stress-a process that is related to premature
Wheatgrass-how it works with your immune system
way that cancer develops is that tumour cells avoid being
detected by the immune system by expressing "self"
MHC-1 on their cell surface. Because these cancer cells are
not recognized as "non-self", the tumor cells escape
the immune system and survive, continuing to grow. Wheatgrass
reduces the expression of the MHC-1 molecules on cancer
cells but leaves the MHC on normal cells unaltered. This
allows the immune system to recognize and kill the tumor cells.
Wheatgrass also boosts the levels of ICAM-1 molecules on
blood vessels that feed the tumour. This increase in ICAM-1
allows immune cells to move through these blood vessels and
enter tumours more efficiently-and eventually, to kill the
tumour cells more efficiently.
Wheatgrass also can block some enzymes like RNR (similarly
to certain anti-cancer drugs) and boost the action of other
enzymes like PARP. The effect of boosting PARP allows cells
to repair any damaged DNA or, if they can't, to allow the
cells to go through a pre-programed cell death called apoptosis.
Most people have heard about the anti-inflammatory drugs
Celecoxib (Celebrex) and Rofecoxib (Vioxx). Rofecoxib has
been taken off the market because of the risks associated
with its use, but Celecoxib is still used to treat a number
of inflammatory conditions. Wheatgrass inhibits the same enzymes
that Celecoxib and drugs like Naproxyn inhibit-but has none
of the side-effects that include increased risk of heart attack,
stroke or peptic ulcers.
First, wheatgrass works with the immune system, boosting
its recognition of "self" versus "non-self"
and allowing the immune system to unmask tumour cells and
destroy them. Second, wheatgrass also boosts the ICAM-1 system
which allows even more immune cells to effectively kill off
tumour cells. Third, wheatgrass helps tamp down the inflammatory
system by inhibiting the COX enzymes. Fourth, wheatgrass works
on enzymes involved in DNA repair, blocking some like RNR
and working like anti-cancer drugs while boosting others like
PARP allowing either for successful DNA repair, or, if the
DNA repair is unsuccessful, for cell death-apoptosis.
The overall effect of wheatgrass is a boosted immune system,
a controlled inflammatory response and a more effective anti-cancer
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