Secretory IgA – Your “secret” to immunity in the respiratory and digestive systems!
Let’s continue our talk this week about how to stay in the best immune health possible.
If we are going to talk optimal immune health, then we can’t ignore a little talked about substance known as secretory IgA.
IgA stands for immunoglobulin A, so you can see why it’s abbreviated. There are different types of immunoglobulins (or immune goblins as my kids like to tease) throughout our bodies, and their primary job is to identify invaders such as harmful viruses and bacteria and move them out. IgA is a key player in what we like to call the initial defense.
Your body needs to be kept pristinely sterile on the inside. Our blood, tissues and organs must be kept free of viruses, bacteria and any foreign bodies in order for us to maintain good health. The tricky part is that we also require oxygen and food. So the quandary becomes, how to get essentials like oxygen, water and food into the body, without exposing our pristine interior to things coming from the exterior. The answer to this is the mucosal lining.
All of our bodies’ entrances (such as the mouth and airway) and exits (such as the rectum) are all coated in a thin mucous lining designed to keep bad bugs on the outside where they belong. This is where secretory IgA comes in to save the day. The mucous in our respiratory and digestive tracts is filled with IgA, which is designed to recognize bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies. It alerts the immune system of the invader and then works to pack it up and send it on its way so that it can never cross the barrier that keeps it out of the inside of the body.
Let’s say that you’re with a four year old. The four year old then sneezes, right in your face, and of course they didn’t cover their mouth and nose. “You’re gross” you say, while they giggle their little head off. At that very moment that you breathed in their sneeze, you IgA went to work. Starting in the sinuses and going down the airway, the mucous is filled with these little guys just standing guard. They identify whether the air coming in has normal particles, or contains harmful bugs that need to be removed. If viruses or bacteria are identified, they are trapped by the IgA and removed in the mucous.
This is why IgA is called the first line of defense. Your body has a ton of different types of cells that are designed to help get rid of bad bugs if it makes its way into the inside (to boost these cells, see our post from last week). The problem is that we are constantly in contact with “germs” and if there was no mucous and IgA, there would be so many invaders getting through to the inside that our inner immune system would be quickly overwhelmed. The strategy is to keep as many of these little buggers out as possible, and then let the other cells fight the few that might make it through.
In the digestive tract, IgA is even more impressive. Your intestines contain an incredible amount of bacteria, and believe it or not most of them are supposed to be there. The danger is that there are a few that can get overwhelming or really make us sick. IgA has skills like a bouncer at a club. He looks out over the massive crowd and identifies anyone who is dangerous and then throws them out of the club while the rest of the party goes on.
So what would happen if we didn’t have high enough levels of IgA? Low levels of IgA have been found in people with low immune response, chronic food sensitivity, gut dysbiosis (unbalanced gut flora) and digestive disorders like IBS. It leaves us open to getting sick from things we inhale or ingest. Cold and flu season is the absolute last time that we’d want to leave ourselves open to letting viruses into our body’s internal workings unchecked.
How does my IgA get too low?
The answer to this feels like a bit of a catch 22. You see, one of the most common ways that our IgA can get to lower levels is from chronic infections, especially with bacteria such as C. Diff, H. Pylori and fungi like Candida. When we have these critters constantly triggering our IgA and using our resources, we have less available for new invaders like a cold. Medications such as NSAIDS (anti-inflammatories) and antibiotics have also been shown to lower levels of precious IgA.
So what to do next…
One thing you can do if you are worried your IgA might not be up to snuff is to get tested. We offer IgA testing right in our office for those that are close to the area. Once you know where you stand, then we can figure out your next steps.
There are several supplements and foods that can help as well. Here’s a list of our favorites that we use with our patients and where we like to get them*:
Colostrum - OrthoMolecular IgG Protect (code: CR1735 to order online)
Serum bovine immunoglobulins
Probiotics (esp. saccharomyces boulardii)- Biotics Research Saccharomyces Boulardii
Collagen- Biotics Research Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein Bone broth (real bone broth, not the boxed broth in the soup aisle!)
Beta glucans - OrthoMolecular WholeMune (code: CR1735 to order online)
Glutathione - OrthoMolecular L-Glutathione (code: CR1735 to order online)
Keeping out the foreign invaders that your inside immune system otherwise has to deal with just might mean the difference between health and sickness this season. I highly recommend getting on top of your IgA levels right away. If you suspect that your levels are low due to chronic infections like we mentioned above, there are some great ways to be able to get rid of those as well that we’d love to share! Stay healthy!
Many of our best supplements can be found at The Doctors Supplement Store
For this site use registration code: CR1735 to order online
You’ll need to make a quick account at each site, which allows you access and gets you a discount off the regular price of the supplement.
Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.
Whole Health & Wellness
10807 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122
P: (314) 269-3847