What is the Immune System?
You probably already know that our Immune System keeps us healthy, but do you understand how it works? The Immune System is so fascinating when you break it down and understand how it works. I want to take this time to review the Immune System, how it relates to the Brain, and what is happening in an Autoimmune Disorder.
The Immune System
The portion of the Immune System that helps fight disease are the White Blood Cells (WBCs). White Blood Cells are broken down into 5 major cells, Neutrophils, Lymphocytes, Monocytes, Basophils, and Eosinophil. Neutrophils help fight Bacterial Infections, Lymphocytes help fight Viral Infections, Monocytes are immature macrophages, Basophils are non-specific, and Eosinophils help fight off Allergies and Parasites.
For the purpose of this reading we are going to dive into the Lymphocytes because that is where all the “magic” happens. Lymphocytes breakdown and mature into 3 major cells, T-Cells, B-Cells and Natural Killer Cells (NK cells). NK cells are the Immune System’s “killer cells” and helps modulate autoimmunity. The B-Cells produce Antibodies that target or “tag” cells that need to be attacked by the NK cells. The T-Cells themselves breakdown into 4 major cells, T-helper Cells, T-Suppressor cells, Regulatory T-Cells, and Cytotoxic T-Cells.
T-Helper Cells signal immune cells to bring NK cells and Cytotoxic T-Cells to actively destroy the Antigen or the “foreign invader.” The T-Suppressor cells signal T-Helper cells to stop attacking, to reduce inflammation. T-Helper and T-Suppressor Cells are modulated by the Regulatory T-cells, which is very important for autoimmune mechanisms.
The Immune Response
Step 1: Macrophages immediately attach to the foreign antigen to begin the fight, this becomes the Antigen Presenting Cell (APC).
Step 2: APC stimulates the production of T-Helper Cells.
Step 3: T-Helper cells produce cytokines to activate Cytotoxic T-cells and NK Cells.
Step 4: Cytotoxic T-Cells, NK cells, and Macrophages begin to destroy the foreign antigen.
Step 5: T-Suppressor cells eventually signal T-Helper cells to stop the attack.
If the immune system has a difficult time destroying or finding the Antigen, as in Viral Diseases then:
Step 6: B-Cells are initiated to make Antibodies. After a few days B-Cells will start “marking” the antigen so that it can be recognized by the Cytotoxic T-Cells and NK cells. Viral cells are so small that it is difficult for the T-Helper Cell to find it, so the second response from the B-cells are needed to recognize the virus. This is why it is sometimes a few days before a Virus is recognized.
–The Initial response with the T-Cells is known as cell-Mediated Response or TH-1 Response
–The response when B-Cells are being released and Antibodies are being formed is called Humoral Response or TH-2 Response.
Now that there is a better understanding of the Immune System, how it works, and that there are two driving forces behind it, TH-1 and TH-2 responses, we can now explain how the brain ties into this and what happens when there is an an Autoimmune Disease.
In order for our Immune System to properly function there needs to be a proper balance in TH1 and TH2 response to disease. We do not want the TH1 response to be over-active because then the T-cells will be out of control, destroying everything. We also do not want TH2 to be over-active because then we will be having B-cells out of control, “tagging” to many things to be destroyed.
So how can there be an imbalance in these systems? The first and most common way that this can occur is with imbalances in our Nervous System. Research has shown that the Left Side of your brain TENDS to stimulate the TH1 response and the Right Side of the Brain TENDS to stimulate TH2 response. In simpler terms, the left side of your brain TENDS to stimulate the immune system, whereas the Right Side of the Brain TENDS to regulate or suppress the immune system. When these two systems are working in perfect unison, we have a strong immune system, but when there is an imbalance in this system, the immune system is no longer fighting off disease properly.
TH1/TH2 Balance and Autoimmune Disorders
Understanding that there must be a balance in the TH1/TH2 immune responses, will give you a better understanding on what happens with Autoimmune Disorders. Autoimmune Disorders means that the Body is beginning to attach its own tissues and the disorder is characterized by what tissue is being attacked. Some of the more common Autoimmune Disorders are:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)- Auto-Immunity to Cartilege/Joints
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)- Auto-Immunity to the Myelin of the Nervous Sytem
- Fibromyalgia- Auto-Immunity to our Muscles
- Diabetes- Auto-Immunity to the Pancreas
- Hoshimoto’s Thydoiditis- Auto-Immunity to the Thyroid Gland
When there is an imbalance in the TH1/TH2 immune responses, any of these disorders can occur. The thing that need to be understood is that Autoimmune Disorders are IMMUNE SYSTEM disorders, they are not a problem with that specific tissue. Most of these disorders are treated using medications that help to relieve the SYMPTOMS of the disorder, NOT THE CAUSE of the disorder. Many Doctors don’t even look into the immune system as the cause to these disorders. To get a better picture of the immune system, TH1/TH2 balance, and overall Nervous System function, a Comprehensive Metabolic/Immune Blood Test needs to be evaluated, in addition to a Comprehensive Neurological Evaluation.
Functional Neurologists are very well rounded in Autoimmune disorders and imbalances in the Nervous System. Make sure you find your local Functional Neurologist that can coordinate the proper treatment plan for you.