January 16, 2013 in FAQ
This is the second of two guest posts written on the subject of Th1 versus Th2 dominance in the context of autoimmune disease by Mickey Trescott, blogger behind Autoimmune-Paleo (the first post is here). But first, let me introduce you to Mickey. Mickey is a personal chef and blogger from Seattle, WA who has both Hashimoto’s and Celiac disease. She writes about her struggles with autoimmunity, alternative treatments and protocols, and shares many AIP-friendly recipes on her blog. She is busy writing a cookbook for the autoimmune protocol that is coming out early this year (and yes, I will let you all know when it’s released! how exciting!). You can also find Mickey on Facebook and Instagram.
In my last article I explained the basic roles of Th1 and Th2 in the immune system as well as how they can be imbalanced in those suffering from autoimmune disease. In this article, I am going to cover the nutritional compounds that can shift the balance between Th1 and Th2, as well as those that are known to modulate them.
How do I tell if my immune system is imbalanced?
A Th1/Th2 Cytokine blood panel is the best way for a person to find out which side of their immune system is dominant. Alternatively, a person can also participate in a supplement challenge, where they take a nutritional supplement that stimulates Th1 for a few days and then switch to a supplement that stimulates Th2 for a few days, while noting the effect this has on their symptoms. (Update: there are some newer tests that can establish Th 1 versus Th2 dominance, discussed in the comments on this post)
What is the protocol for balancing the immune system?
Dr. Kharrazian is the practitioner who has developed the protocol for treating autoimmune disease by balancing Th1 and Th2. If Th1 is dominant, he will use Th2 stimulating compounds to raise the level of Th2, and vice versa. In addition, he uses other vitamins and compounds that are known to modulate the balance between Th1 and Th2. His view is that by balancing Th1 and Th2, the autoimmune attack is lessened and the body is able to function closer to normal. He also places his patients on an autoimmune gut-repair diet (which is very similar to the autoimmune protocol). Many people have been helped by using this protocol for the treatment of Hashimoto’s disease.
That being said, balancing the immune system for those with autoimmune disease is still tricky business and baffles even the most skilled practitioners. There are many people who have had a negative experience using this type of treatment, most likely because it is easy to accidentally stimulate their dominant pathway, causing the autoimmune attack to worsen. The Th1/Th2 stimulating compounds are as follows:
TH1 stimulating compounds:
Medicinal Mushrooms (Maitake and Beta-Glucan are common)
Glycyrrhiza (found in licorice)
Melissa Oficinalis (Lemon balm)
Grape Seed Extract
TH2 stimulating compounds:
Green Tea Extract
Pine Bark Extract
White Willow Bark
Lycopene (found in tomatoes and other red fruits excluding strawberries and cherries)
Resveratrol (found in grape skin, sprouted peanuts, and cocoa)
Pycnogenol (found in the extract of the French maritime pine bark and apples)
Curcumin (found in turmeric)
Genistin (found in soybeans)
Quercitin (a flavanoid found in many fruits and vegetables, such as onions, berries and kale)
Why is it important to know about these compounds?
As you can see, many items on the list are common and are used by many people on a regular basis. Echinacea, for example, is a common herbal cold and flu remedy, but it can cause someone with a Th1 dominant condition to worsen. Likewise, a person with a Th2 dominant condition that is drinking a few cups of coffee everyday could be unintentionally stimulating the already dominant Th2 pathway. The opposite could be true – a Th1 dominant person may benefit from the consumption of caffeine, although this gets a little messy when you add a person’s adrenal status to the mix (caffeine may help them if they have low cortisol, but they could still be Th2 dominant and have worsening autoimmune symptoms from it).
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, chances are you are going to be sensitive to supplements that effect the immune system. Just knowing how powerful these compounds are is useful information even if you are not going to attempt to use them to balance your levels of Th1 and Th2.
Is there a safer way to balance Th1 and Th2?
Playing with the balance of Th1 and Th2 is tricky and some people do not do well with it, even under the care of a practitioner. Using vitamins and nutrients that naturally modulate the balance between Th1 and Th2 or support T-regulatory cell function is much less risky than taking supplements that directly stimulate either one. The following compounds have been shown in studies to do this:
TH1 and TH2 modulating compounds:
Colostrom (a mother’s first milk that is available in supplement form)
T-regulatory supporting compounds:
Vitamin D (obtained by sunbathing, also found in liver, cod liver oil, sardines, raw dairy and pastured eggs)
In conclusion, I believe that it is good for autoimmune patients to know which compounds stimulate Th1 and Th2 because of how they can better or worsen the progression of disease. Knowing one’s Th1 or Th2 dominance and treating with supplements to achieve balance can be helpful to some, but I don’t believe that is the best and safest approach for everyone. If you do decide to go this route, make sure to enlist the help of a practitioner who is skilled at using this treatment for autoimmune disease. A safer alternative is to focus on compounds that have been shown to modulate the immune system, in addition to implementing other strategies that have been shown to help autoimmune disease.