I’ve Been Compromised 

It’s true, and it’s not only me. It’s you, too, if you have Chronic Kidney Disease. ‘What do I mean?’ you ask. It’s your immune system that’s been compromised by your CKD. ‘HOW?’ you demand. That’s what today’s blog is going to explain.

Let’s start the usual way: at the beginning. So, what’s this immune system I mentioned? I turned to Medline Plus, a part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine which, in turn, is a division of the National Institutes of Health at https://medlineplus.gov/immunesystemanddisorders.html

“Your immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend against germs. It helps your body to recognize these ‘foreign’ invaders. Then its job is to keep them out, or if it can’t, to find and destroy them.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/chronic-kidney-disease-and-pneumococcal-disease-do-you-know-facts,

“…Having kidney disease and kidney failure can weaken your immune system, making it easier for infections to take hold.  In fact, doctors and researchers have found that most infections, …, are worse in people with kidney disease.  People with a kidney transplant also have weakened immune systems.  This is because antirejection medicines (‘immunosuppressants’), which protect the body from rejecting the transplanted kidney, suppress the immune system.”

That makes sense. But exactly how does CKD compromise this system?

According to a British Society for Immunology study published in PubMed [“PubMed Central (PMC) is a free archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM),” as stated on their website. NCBI is The National Center for Biotechnology Information.] at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5904695/:

“The immune system and the kidneys are closely linked. In health the kidneys contribute to immune homeostasis, while components of the immune system mediate many acute forms of renal disease and play a central role in progression of chronic kidney disease. A dysregulated immune system can have either direct or indirect renal effects. Direct immune‐mediated kidney diseases are usually a consequence of autoantibodies directed against a constituent renal antigen, …. Indirect immune‐mediated renal disease often follows systemic autoimmunity with immune complex formation, but can also be due to uncontrolled activation of the complement pathways. Although the range of mechanisms of immune dysregulation leading to renal disease is broad, the pathways leading to injury are similar. Loss of immune homeostasis in renal disease results in perpetual immune cell recruitment and worsening damage to the kidney. Uncoordinated attempts at tissue repair, after immune‐mediated disease or non‐immune mediated injury, result in fibrosis of structures important for renal function, leading eventually to kidney failure.”

Hmmm, it seems my linking function is not working for this URL. No loss, just copy and paste the URL if you’d like to read more about the immune system and the kidneys.

There are a few medical terms in the above paragraph that you may need defined. Thank you, my all-time favorite dictionary, the Merriam-Webster, for helping us out here.

Antibodyany of a large number of proteins of high molecular weight that are produced normally by specialized B cells after stimulation by an antigen and act specifically against the antigen in an immune response, that are produced abnormally by some cancer cells, and that typically consist of four subunits including two heavy chains and two light chains

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/antibody)

Antigenany substance (such as an immunogen or a hapten [Gail here: Bing defines this as “a small molecule which, when combined with a larger carrier such as a protein, can elicit the production of antibodies which bind specifically to it (in the free or combined state.]) foreign to the body that evokes an immune response either alone or after forming a complex with a larger molecule (such as a protein) and that is capable of binding with a product (such as an antibody or T cell) of the immune response

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/antigen)

Autoantibodiesan antibody active against a tissue constituent of the individual producing it

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/autoantibodies)

Fibrosisa condition marked by increase of interstitial fibrous tissue [Gail here: That’s not much help. In a word, fibrosis means scarring.]

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fibrosis)

Renal: of, relating to, involving, or located in the region of the kidneys

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/renal)

Oh, boy. Now what? Can we build up our immune system? WebMD’s slide show  at https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-strengthen-immunity offers some ways we can. To summarize this slide show:

  1. Avoid stress.
  2. Have sex more often (I love this one.)
  3. Get a pet.
  4. Be optimistic.
  5. Build your social network
  6. Laugh more.
  7. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables. (Within your kidney diet, of course.)
  8. Consider herbs and supplements. (Check with your nephrologist first.)
  9. Exercise.
  10. Sleep an adequate number of hours.
  11. Cut back on alcohol consumption.
  12. Stop smoking.
  13. Keep washing those hands.

Some doctors, such as  Dr. Suzanne Cassel, an immunologist at Cedars-Sinai, think we need to balance our immune systems rather than strengthen them. ” ‘You actually don’t want your immune system to be stronger, you want it to be balanced,’ Dr. Cassel says. ‘Too much of an immune response is just as bad as too little response.’

Dr. Cassel says most of the things people take to boost their immune system, such as vitamins or supplements, don’t have any effect on your immune response.”

Obviously, all doctors don’t agree. Whether you want to balance your immune system or strengthen it, the suggestions above will be helpful. Notice whether or not we’re in the middle of a pandemic, washing your hands frequently can help your immune system. Most of the suggestions from WebMD may be surprising to you since they are lifestyle changes and/or are the same ones suggested in general for CKD patients. There’s got to be something to them if they can both help with your CKD and your immune system. Why not try the suggestions you’re not already adhering to?

By the way, to the reader who asked why chocolate is not good for CKD patients, it’s loaded with potassium. In addition, many CKD patients also have diabetes. The sugar content in chocolate is not going to do them any good.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!