Better Immune System Modulation: Broad-spectrum Support is Not Enough
Mar 04, 2019 05:36PM
By Marigot Vreeland
Modulating the immune system is the new frontier of natural healthcare. The immune system is an intelligent and complicated system that uses inflammation to “talk” to us and destroy pathogens. Commonly, the immune system is thought of as a singular process: a too weak or too strong immune system that needs to either be enhanced or mitigated. However, the newest research delves into how to control the specific maturation process for different divisions of the immune system. Gone are the days of blanket “immune-boosting” supplements and green drinks. Now it is time for us to realize what nutritional compound, lifestyle factor and food steers which inflammatory process, and how to control the immune system on a more precise basis.
The immune system is a complex mix of cells with different roles. Inflammation, a trendy buzzword, is an amalgam of chemical processes all managed by the immune system. Inflammation can be good when it repairs tissue and keeps away dangerous intruders. But when the balance of the immune system goes unchecked, the chronic, low-grade, persistent inflammation incites degenerative diseases. The job of the immune system is to keep the body healthy and to fight foreign invaders; it has evolved different ways to do so. When exposed to a new bacterial, viral, parasitic, spirochete or other pathogen or intruder, these cells read and then destroy the new enemy. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss the intricacies and differences of Th1 and Th2 immunity, and how, if these two systems are left unopposed, serious complications can arise.
To simplify, Th1 cells fight and destroy small bugs. They are constantly surveying the body to destroy them. Th1 cells are activated through the presence of bacteria and viruses inside other cells. Th1 cells alert other cells to phagocytize, or to completely engulf and eat, cells infected with bacteria and viruses. Th1 cells also secrete the tumor necrosis factor (TNF), making Th1 immunity particularly helpful in fighting not only infections, but also cancers.
Th2 cells help to tag and fight bigger things outside of the cells, such as parasites. They can aid in the mediation of tissue repair and conduct the antibody system.
Antibodies are a way in which the immune system marks to destroy a specific antigen or intruder. The antibody fits like a key into a lock when it finds its specific protein or antigen; in this way it marks the antigen to be destroyed. This process can manifest as a classic anaphylactic response or as a chronically inflamed individual that is sensitive or “allergic” to everything they encounter. Unfortunately, antibodies can be formed to any antigen that the body deems as foreign. Antibodies can be helpful if formed against an antigen like the measles virus. But they can also cause chronic inflammation if formed against things like food or environmental toxins. This chronic inflammation will lead to autoimmunity if formed against self-tissue.
System Out of Balance
The optimal state is one in which our bodies are able to move freely between a Th1 environment and a Th2 environment since both are necessary to fight infections in different ways. However, when one system becomes excessively or chronically activated, it inhibits the other. That’s when the body can spiral into a constant Th1-dominant or Th2-dominant environment.
When one system gets locked into dominance, it can escalate into more serious health concerns. Then the antibody-antigen system can actually be used against the body that produced it. A Th2-dominant patient displays chronic allergies, asthma, always seems to be coming down with a cold, and easily develops new food sensitivities. This Th2 dominance puts the antibody system on overdrive. Since that immune system is set at hypersensitive mode, every thing that comes into the body is seen as a foreign invader, whether it is food, environmental irritants or allergens. As these triggers enter the body during Th2 dominance, the immune system is primed to make antibodies, causing chronic low-grade inflammation. This inflammatory cytokine-rich environment can influence the immune system to start attacking its own body tissue, resulting in an autoimmune disorder. At this point, an elimination diet or removal of the environmental triggers will not help to quell the inflammatory storm.
Bolstering the immune system as a whole won’t be sufficient anymore at that stage. Food choices, lifestyle, herbs, botanicals, vitamins, smoothies and even probiotics all have specific influences on the development and maintenance of the Th1/Th2 immune system. But it is no longer enough to say that the immune system is compromised and it needs aid. It is imperative to look deeper and find where the system is going awry and what specifically will inhibit or enhance either a Th1 or Th2 dominance or deficiency. For example, perhaps it is necessary to focus on regulating an individual’s Th2 system and the associated inflammatory cytokines.
The key is to modulate the immune system. We all should have a flexible immune system to be able to move from a Th1 to a Th2 response to match whatever fight is ahead, but everyone has genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that push toward a Th1 or Th2 dominance. However, if one becomes too strong and actively inhibits the other, the full use of the immune system is paralyzed. The person who never gets sick typically has a strong Th1 system that fights bacteria and viruses inside the cell. But an overactive Th1 system often leads to an underactive Th2 system. Without the proper use of the Th2 system’s parasite destruction, tissue repair and the utilization of the antibody-antigen system will be hindered. An overactive Th2 system can lead to asthma, allergies, a hypersensitivity to foods, constant cold or flu diagnoses and subsequent overuse of antibiotics, and perhaps even the development of an autoimmune-prone environment.
Inflammation in and of itself is a neutral process. The body is constantly under siege from foreign invaders. We need the immune system and some inflammation to keep the host alive. Ideally, pathogens are efficiently destroyed and inflammation is effectively resolved after each battle. Chronic, unresolved inflammation is the hallmark of many diseases and one answer is restoring harmony to the Th1 and Th2 systems.
Dr. Marigot Vreeland is a clinician and owner of Gold Coast Chiropractic and Functional Medicine in Westport. She specializes in immune, autoimmune and neuro-immune disorders with a holistic approach that emphasizes the gut-body connection. Connect at 203-998-8225.