Our knowledge of how the body works has come so far in the last decade. One of the things I love about my job is being able to help someone not only cure their symptoms but heal the root cause of those symptoms with nutrition and well-placed supplements (and, in rare cases, perhaps working with a medical doctor and medication).
Because chronic illness is, usually, really not that straight forward as most involve multiple systems in the body, and many illness involves some sort of inflammation and immune system reactions, knowing exactly how the immune system is functioning in an individual often makes getting to the root cause and supporting the body to activate healing becomes an invaluable tool in our arsenal as health professionals.
Over the last few years there is a lot of chatter going on about Th1 and Th2 dominance in the functional medicine community. We must be onto something as the allopathic medicine community has started to “catch up” with the buzz.
Ever heard of “immune modulation”? It all started in the 1980’s when a theory was developed based on the cytokine pattern T (helper) cells in mice. As it evolved, the theory was developed for human immune systems and the pharmaceutical and supplement manufacturers pounced.
They speculate that autoimmune disorder sufferers are either Th1 or Th2 dominant. The hypothesis goes that when there is an autoimmune response in the body, our T-helper cells send out signals to the interleukins (a cytokine) that either proliferate an overabundance of T-cells or B cells.
The theory says that either proliferation will trigger an autoimmune attack and to balance the immune system, or modulate, we must calm the overactive pathway and strengthen the underactive, thus restoring the balance.
Can it be simple?
Before we go forward let’s take a look at the immune system and give you a basis of understanding in how the immune system works.
Simply, imagine you are at the beach, walking in the beautiful white sand and, all of a sudden, you cut yourself on a rusty beer can some lout has left in the sand.
The first line of defense is the macrophage that are activated as the bacteria from the dirt and rust penetrate the skin. These are the “tackles” the first “line” invaders meet as they try to get through the barrier. They are big, heavy, and can be slow so they call on the “safeties” or the T helper cells. The T helper cells alert the entire immune system through chemical signals that there is an invader that crossed the barrier. The T helper cells are considered the B team.
The T helper cells call to action natural killer cells and cytotoxic T cells. They begin to attack and kill the bacterial invaders. Once the invaders are killed off, T suppressor cells are called in to contain or “suppress” any stray “fighting”.
If, however, the invaders are too strong for the T cells, the varsity team is called in. This is often the case with viral infections. The “team” that is called in is called the B cells. T cells are “marking the targets” but B cells make antibodies for the invaders that the T cells have targeted. When they find these invaders, they latch onto the invaders and the cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells can finish the job and win the game.
The first T cell response is called the Th1 response and the B cell response is called the Th2 response.
This works in balance in a perfectly working immune system. The T cells are called when needed and the B cells are called in when needed to do its job and everything is balanced. T
There are times when the Th1/Th2 imbalance works in our favor. During pregnancy, Th2 tends to be dominant. If Th1 is dominant it could, theoretically, attack the embryo or fetus, associating it with a foreign invader. This is why women with some forms of autoimmune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis can have a tendency towards miscarriage. Sometimes, Th2 goes dramatically out of balance, such as in the case of Sytemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), antibodies that are created that can attack the fetus rarely. Complications such as preeclampsia, preterm delivery, excessive bleeding after birth, and low birth weight are more common symptoms.
In our next installment we will be discussing Th1 vs Th2 imbalances and dominance and which disorders are associated with each.
Wishing you health, beauty, and elegance,