Your immune system is incredibly active right now as you read this newsletter. An amazing interplay exists between every system in your body and your immune system—the complexity is truly staggering. All of this goes on without your even thinking about it, day in and day out!
Over the past hundred years we have begun a steady assault on normal immune function. Asthma, allergies, eczema and hay fever have sky-rocketed in the past century, as have autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and type-1 diabetes—despite all the advances in modern medicine—why?
The answer lies within the question, these disorders are a direct result of the advances in modern medicine. Better put, these disorders result from abusing modern medicine. While we have significantly cut down rates of infectious disease, we have created an epidemic of immune system dysfunction and immune disorders. It is my opinion that we have done so to an extent that causes greater harm than good.
The culprit for creating this epidemic of immune disorders is over-prescription of antibiotics and vaccinations. Please understand that I do believe that these drugs can be helpful in life-threatening diseases—but I also feel that they are so over-prescribed that about 90% of their usage is extraneous and detrimental.
As you continue to read, consider the references for the information I am providing. These are the very best journals on the subject.
The following is a review of some of the recent literature that implicates antibiotics and vaccination in the development of immune dysfunction. Many of these references were reviewed in a recent article by my hero, Dan Murphy, DC.
In 1998 an article published in the journal Thorax noted that atopic diseases (asthma, hay fever, and eczema in this study) are rapidly rising in the western world. They also noted that the mechanism for this increase in atopic diseases is reduced exposure to microbes. The researchers found that atopic diseases were significantly statistically linked to immunization with the Pertussis vaccine and to treatment with oral antibiotics in the first two years of life. In addition to a negative effect of these drugs, they found that actually getting certain infections represses atopic disorders!i] In other words, the illnesses that we fight off naturally protect us against immune dysfunction.
The English journal The Lancet published a study in 1999 that concluded that increased rates of atopic disorders in children are related to vaccination programs and antibiotics that alter the intestinal flora.ii] It is important to note the role that a healthy “flora” (that’s the nice word for all the good bugs that live in our guts) plays in immune function. These bugs help regulate the immune system, produce nutrients for us, and help break down the food we eat so that we do not develop allergic reactions to the foods we eat. Ironically, we decimate this flora with antibiotics in the name of health!There are actually more good microbes in and on your body than there are cells in your body!
The journal Clinical Experimental Allergy published a 1999 article concluding that antibiotics used in the first year of life increase risk of asthma by 305%. After the first year of life antibiotics result in a 64% increase in asthma. Each additional course of antibiotics results in greater risk.iii]
A 2000 article in the journal Allergy agreed that antibiotics increase asthma risk. They also stated that infection with natural measles cuts the risk of developing atopic disorders and allergy to dust-mites to half that of vaccinated children! This is a radical shift in thinking—certain infections help us to develop a healthy immune system!iv]
A 2001 article published in Allergy titled “The causes of the increasing prevalence of allergy: Is atopy a microbial deprivation disorder?” made a bold statement—“If the assumption that early viral or bacterial infections protect against the development of allergic diseases is correct, vaccination should lead to an increase of allergic disorders.” These authors also stated that atopic disorders are associated with antibiotic use and MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination. They conclude that infections acquired at a young age play a protective role in the developing immune system, and that lack of these infections combined with antibiotic and vaccination use creates immune system dysfunction.v]
Another article in the journal Allergy links both the DTP and the MMR vaccines to immune dysfunction. This article also states that among children who develop atopic disorders, 80% had antibiotics in the first 2 months of their lives!!vi]
A New England Journal of Medicine article pointed out that asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood in industrialized nations. This same paper showed that exposure to microbes plays a crucial role in the developing immune system, and that antimicrobial products (antibacterial soap, antibiotics, vaccinations) strongly affects the development of immune dysfunction.vii]
Another study in the same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “There is a certain irony in the fact that we must now search for new ways to reproduce the infectious diseases against which we have been fighting with great success over the past three decades.” The authors linked exposure to infectious agents to protection against multiple sclerosis, type-1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a type of cancer), as well as asthma, rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis. These authors believe that it is necessary to be exposed to natural forms of infectious disease in order to develop a healthy immune system.viii]
One study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care examined whether antibiotics affect a developing child in-utero. They found a definite association with immune dysfunction in the developing infant when the mother took antibiotics. The type of antibiotic did not matter, nor did it matter during which trimester the drugs were taken. My guess is that these same effects would be seen if a nursing mother were on antibiotics.ix]
A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal linked lack of exposure to infection with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—a form of cancer, and with type-1 diabetes. These authors state that a lack of infections in the first year of life may precipitate a highly dysregulated immune system.x]
A 2000 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics specifically looked at the role of the DTP vaccine in inducing immune dysfunction. The authors found the following increases in immune disorders:
Condition Increase with DTP Vaccination
Asthma 100% increase
Severe allergic reaction 50% increase
Any allergy or allergic reaction 66% increase
Sinusitis or sinus problems 81% increase
Nose and eye symptoms 122% increase
Any lifetime allergy history 69% increasexi]
What Have We Learned?
With any intervention that involves putting drugs in our bodies we must weigh the benefits versus the risks. In the past several years I have treated my children for roseola, whooping cough (Pertussis), strep throat, scarlet fever, and ear infections without drugs. If I plug my children into the equations generated by the above research, they have very low risk of developing atopic disorders and a greatly reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, type-1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and certain cancers.
To me it has made sense to support my children’s immune systems rather than to assault them with drugs that are unable to discern “good” from “bad” bacteria. It must be remembered that there are more friendly bacteria in a person than there are bodily cells! It must also be remembered that from a standpoint of evolution, our immune response has developed a complex relationship with infections. We have been participating in an ill-thought-out experiment by depriving our children from acquiring natural immunity to these infections—one that has resulted in an epidemic of immune dysfunction.
How Does it Work?
We actually have a lot of good data on how this type of immune dysfunction occurs. Simply put, immune cells called “T” cells in your body mature primarily into two types of cells, T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 cells (Th2). In utero we primarily generate Th2 cells—Th2 cells are less likely to cause the fetus to have an immune reaction against the mother. After birth, T cells are stimulated by viral and bacterial infections to generate primarily Th1 cells.
The following chart shows general feature of Th1 and Th2 dominance:
Ability to fight bacterial and viral infections, able to distinguish self from pathogen.
—poor ability to fight infection, promotes stress, promotes autoimmunity and atopic disorders such as allergy and asthma.
In this country we have shifted largely to a Th2-dominant immune system. This is the crux of the modern epidemic of immune dysfunction. What Can We Do?
Find an alternative minded health practitioner. Health is a condition that takes some work to achieve—exercise, nutrition, chiropractic care, and stress reduction are all important parts of a healthful lifestyle. All of these modalities support an arm of your immune system called the “innate” immune system. The innate immune system is your first line of defense against disease. When this part of your immune system is finely tuned, it can eradicate most disease causing microbes before you are even aware of it! In cases where the innate immune system cannot handle a problem on its own, the innate immune system is responsible for activating the “humoral” arm of immunity. This portion of your immune system creates an army against the specific invader that is giving you the trouble.
Good nutrition is necessary for proper immune function. We are standing at the brink of a host of discoveries that I believe will revolutionize our understanding of nutrition’s role in a healthy immune system. For example, recent studies have shown that vitamin D is necessary to activate mechanisms in immune cells that are capable of killing antibiotic resistant tuberculosis! This has huge implications for the role of adequate nutrition in human health. Be sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Remember that different colors are produced by different nutritional components. For example iron produces the deep reds in beets and raisons, vitamin A creates the orange in carrots and yellow chard stems. Also be sure that you are getting your “good fats”—these include fish oil and olive oil. For more information read my article titled “Omega 6/3 Balance” on the articles page at www.docroberts.com. More on specific foods with immune-enhancing qualities next month.
Many herbal therapies support and enhance immune function. Andrographis panniculata is an excellent herb for viral infections such as cold and flu. Neem and Tea Tree oils are effective against a host of superficial infections. I’ve actually had patients use neem oil on skin infections that are resistant to antibiotic therapy. Many other herbal treatments can be used to boost immune function. Next month’s newsletter will focus primarily on herbal therapies that have a beneficial effect on the immune system, as well as specific foods that are “immune superchargers!”
Chiropractic care modulates the nervous system so that your body can better fight disease. As an example, during the great flu pandemic of 1918 patients receiving chiropractic care fared extraordinarily well with a very low death rate. Chiropractic has been shown to decrease DNA oxidation, stimulate the immune system, and coordinate the nervous system—the immune system is an extension of the nervous system.
Stress creates immune dysfunction. Chronic stimulation of your sympathetic, or “fight or flight” nervous system, pushes your immune system towards atopic disorders. Some people actually break out in hives during stressful periods! Breathing techniques, meditation, prayer, and exercise all help to relieve stress. I will describe specific techniques next month.
Exercise is critical to proper immune function. Literally every system in your body is affected by movement and exercise. Most studies show that it takes a couple months of regular exercise to boost your immune system. Choose an activity you enjoy, develop a habit of regularly partaking in it, and keep it up! More on exercise in the next newsletter.
The Holistic Model
A holistic model of health care is what we are in dire need of. Creating health, vitality, and joy in our lives through conscious, well informed decisions will put us in a position where the wondrous powers inherent within the human body can express themselves. In this state we are better able to resist and recover from disease. Our “pill for everything” society has endangered our health through side effects and immune dysfunction—and for what? The majority of us live to eat rather than eat to live, we are constantly stressed out, and we don’t take the time to enjoy family, friends, and the earth. We get sick and we suppress the symptoms with a pill. As a result degenerative diseases are commonplace—they are actually the norm! We have actually created the above-described immune disorders in our very effort to be well!
I urge you to take the time in your life to chart your course to health. I have seen patients literally transform their lives in a matter of months—you can do this too!
Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter, which will be full of specific foods and herbs that you can use for an immune tune-up. I will also talk more about exercise duration, type, and intensity for stimulating the immune system.
ii] Alm JS, Swartz J, Lilja G, Scheynius A, Pershagen G, Atopy in Children of Families with an Anthroposophic Lifestyle , The Lancet, Vol. 353, May 1, 1999, 1485-88
iii] Wickens K, Pearce N, Crane J, Beasley R, Antibiotic use in early childhood and the development of asthma , Clin Exp Allergy 1999 Jun;29(6):766-71
iv] Wahn U, The immunology of fetuses and infants: What drives the allergic march? Allergy 55 (7), 591-599 (2000)
v] Strannegard O, Strannegard I-L, The causes of the increasing prevalence of allergy: is atopy a microbial deprivation disorder? ” Allergy 56 (2), 2001, 91-102.
vii] Braun-Fahrlander C, Riedler J, Herz U, Eder W, Waser M, Grize L, Maisch S, Carr D, Gerlach F, Bufe A, Lauener RP, Schierl R, Renz H, Nowak D, Von Mutius E, Environmental exposure to endotoxin and its relation to asthma in school-age children , N Engl J Med, Vol.347, No.12, September 19, 2002, 869-877
viii] Bach JF, Mechanisms of Disease: The effect of infections on susceptibility to autoimmune and allergic diseases , New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 347, No. 12, September 19, 2002, 911-920
ix] McKeever TM, Lewis SA, Smith C, Hubbard R, The importance of prenatal exposures on the development of allergic disease: a birth cohort study using the West Midlands General Practice Database, American Journal Of Respiratory And Critical Care Medicine Vol. 166, pp. 827-832, 2002.
x] Gilham C, Peto J, Simpson J, Roman E, Eden TOB, Greaves MF, Alexander FE, Day care in infancy and risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: findings from UK case-control study , British Medical Journal, June 4, 2005.
xi] Hurwitz EL, Morgenstern H. Effects of diphteria-tetanus-pertussis or tetanus vaccination on allergies and allergy-related respiratory symptoms among children and adolescents in the United States. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2000;23: 1-10.