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why “boosting” your immune system can be risky business


Boost Your Immune System

“The microbiota plays a fundamental role on the induction, training, and function of the host immune system. In return, the immune system has largely evolved as a means to maintain the symbiotic relationship of the host with these highly diverse and evolving microbes. When operating optimally, this immune system-microbiota alliance allows the induction of protective responses to pathogens and the maintenance of regulatory pathways involved in the maintenance of tolerance to innocuous antigens.

However, in high-income countries, overuse of antibiotics, changes in diet, and elimination of constitutive partners, such as nematodes, may have selected for a microbiota that lack the resilience and diversity required to establish balanced immune responses. This phenomenon is proposed to account for some of the dramatic rise in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders in parts of the world where our symbiotic relationship with the microbiota has been the most affected.” From a 2014 issue of the journal Cell (Role of the Microbiota in Immunity and Inflammation)

“The role of the gut microbiome in models of inflammatory and autoimmune disease is now well characterized. Renewed interest in the human microbiome and its metabolites, as well as notable advances in host mucosal immunology, has opened multiple avenues of research to potentially modulate inflammatory responses. The complexity and interdependence of these diet-microbe-metabolite-host interactions are rapidly being unraveled. Importantly, most of the progress in the field comes from new knowledge about the functional properties of these microorganisms in physiology and their effect in mucosal immunity and distal inflammation.

This review summarizes the preclinical and clinical evidence on how dietary, probiotic, prebiotic, and microbiome based therapeutics affect our understanding of wellness and disease, particularly in autoimmunity.”  The abstract of a study (The Role of the Gut Microbiome in Systemic Inflammatory Disease) from the issue of the British Medical Journal that was published less than 48 hours ago.

In the WINTER TIME I hear it every day — a steady stream of talk about using products claiming to be immune system boosters.  If your wish is to boost the immune system, all I can say is be careful what you wish for!  With a scientifically verified EPIDEMIC OF AUTOIMMUNITY exploding across the length, width, and breadth of our increasingly Westernized world (make sure to read the two studies above as they are both free online and between them have over 500 studies in their collective bibliographies), it’s important to realize that for many of you, “boosting” your immune system is the last thing you want to do. 

The very first thing you need to do is grasp the fact that when it comes to the immune system, 80% of it lives in your Gut (HERE).  And as you are going to see throughout today’s post, it’s impossible to talk about autoimmunity without simultaneously discussing the health of your Gut (as I have shown you before, most disease processes are slightly different manifestations of the same fouled up metabolic processes that all seem to start with screwed up Gut Health — HERE). 

To kick things off, take a look at what Harvard researchers published in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Autoimmunity (Rethinking Mechanisms of Autoimmune Pathogenesis).  Although several theories were mentioned concerning why people become autoimmune, the study talked at length about “the role of the intestinal microbiome in influencing helper T cell polarization and the development of autoimmunity.”  What’s funny about this study is that the author was beating the “genetics” drum. Why do I say “funny”. 

Only because we have seen time and time again that the field of epigenetics is far more responsible for health, good or bad (cancer included), than genetics are (HERE and HERE) — a fact discussed in Dr. Seyfried’s very cool video at the end of THIS POST as well as Dr Marr’s in her guest post on mitochondrial dysfunction.

The gist of this study is that you are either training your T-cells or polarizing your T-cells.  It’s not really a new idea and is something you would have seen back when I showed you that a certain kind of T-cell actually prevents your immune system from running away from itself (T-REG), because it is “trained” by your gut bacteria.  Speaking of T-Cells and the immune system, let’s take a moment to review the two main parts of your immune system; TH-1 and TH-2 (you can find more in the link at the very top of the page).  Remember that TH stands for T-Helper. 

  • TH-1:  TH-1 is often referred to as cell-mediated immunity and is designed to deal with threats inside the cells and tends to be associated with excess inflammation (remember that INFLAMMATION is an immune system response).  It also happens to be a chief mechanism responsible for perpetuating autoimmune responses.  TH-1 is the part of your immune system associated with the killer T cells, T helper cells, and T suppressor / T regulator cells we call Tregs (remember Tregs for future reference and make sure to check out the link in the previous paragraph).  It is the part of the immune system designed specifically to deal with chronic viral infections and gram negative bacteria infections (the CDC says that “Gram-negative bacteria are resistant to multiple drugs and are increasingly resistant to most available antibiotics“).  People with TH-1 dominance often show extremely low levels of Vitamin D and will frequently exhibit food sensitivities (GLUTEN is one of many you can read about HERE). 
  • TH-2:  TH-2 is often called humoral or antibody-mediated (B-Cell) immunity, and is designed to address extracellular (outside the cell) threats.  It also happens to be anti-inflammatory (remember that inflammation is a good thing, and only when it goes haywire is it bad).  The TH-2 part of the immune system is designed to deal with gram positive bacteria (strep and staph are the biggies) and allergens (hay fever type stuff) as well as parasites (TH-2 dominant people will sometimes react against their own “good” gut flora as well).  Another unique characteristic of TH-2 dominance is that these folks tend to react against “toxicity” such as CHEMICAL EXPOSURES, POLLUTION, CIGARETTE SMOKE, or almost anything with an artificial or chemical smell.  It’s a well known fact that women have far greater issues with autoimmunity than men, part of which is likely due to their body becoming TH-2 dominant during PREGNANCY so as not to attack the baby growing inside of them (this is why TH-1 dominant women feel great during pregnancy, while TH-2 dominant women feel terrible).  The TH-2 side also happens to be the side of the immune system associated with sedentary lifestyles, negativity, and STRESS.

In similar fashion to the way that people’s Autonomic Nervous System can unbalance (usually leaving them with Sympathetic Dominance — see previous link), either part of the immune system, TH-1 or TH-2, can likewise become dominant and thus tilt the balance of power away from center to one side or the other.  This is not always a bad thing depending on the type of threat or invader your body may be dealing with. 

In fact, this information can be used to your advantage if you build on the basics found in today’s post (as you will soon see, there are certain HERBS / SUPPLEMENTS that stimulate only one side of the immune system).  In other words, there are actually advantages, depending on what sort of health issue you may be dealing with (particularly when talking about chronic health issues), of doing things to tip the immune system one way or the other.

THYROID PROBLEMS (Graves / Hashimoto’s), 90% of thyroid issues are autoimmune.
Type I Diabetes
Sjoren’s Disease
Lichen Planus
Chronic viral infections
(PANDA, CMV/EBV, or HERPES are good examples)
ROSACEA or Vitiligo
ECZEMA, histamine intolerance, hives, hay fever, nasal drip, massive mucus production, IgE / eosiniphil response, etc
COPD not caused by smoking
IBD / IBS (Ulcerative Colitis, not Crohn’s)
MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity)


Increase Immune System Response

We can’t talk about TH-1 and TH-2 without at least touching on TH-17.  The TH-17 system, highly related to the cellular apoptosis system (pre-programmed cellular death), is hugely inflammatory and plays a significant part in autoimmunity.  TH-17 is similar to TH-1, and what’s rather amazing and at the same time scary is that the body’s chemical messenger for boosting TH-17 production actually shuts down Treg production (remember that Tregs prevent your immune response from running away with itself).  What do we know about the TH-17 system as it relates to chronic disease and chronic pain?

A decade ago, a group of rheumatologists published a study (TH17 Cells in Human Disease) in the journal Immunology Review (their bibliography contained 300 books and studies) which concluded…  “Our understanding of the role of T cells in human disease is undergoing revision as a result of the discovery of T-helper 17 (Th17) cells, characterized by production of interleukin-17 (IL-17). IL-17 is a highly inflammatory cytokine.  Inflammation and pathogenesis induced by Th17 cells is a result of the pro-inflammatory cytokines these cells produce.” 

Some of the specific diseases mentioned in this study that are affected by TH-17 include….

psoriasis, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), allergic asthma and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic sclerosis / fibrosis, lupus, reactive arthritis, MS, endometriosis [yes, it’s autoimmune], VKH, type I diabetes, autoimmune thyroiditis, asthma, allergic disease, atopic dermatitis, eczema, contact hypersensitivity, atopic rhinitis, IBD, periodontal disease, and cancer.” 

The authors also mentioned almost every type of infection (fungal, bacterial, viral, parasitic, mycobacteria, etc, etc) you care to mention.

A very cool study from a 2015 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation (Pouring Fuel on the Fire: Th17 Cells, the Environment, and Autoimmunity) had more to say on the topic.  From the title, we already know that epigenetics is going to play a huge part in this study.  “Unfortunately, the incidence of a number of autoimmune diseases, particularly those in which the IL-23/IL-17 axis has been implicated, has risen in the last several decades, suggesting that environmental factors can promote autoimmunity.” 

What are some of the “environmental” factors specifically mentioned by these Harvard researchers?   Whether or not your body is in a state of HOMEOSTASIS, Gut health (MICROBIOME), and yes, diet.  “Both obesity and dietary fat intake can alter the production of cytokines involved in Th17 differentiation and potentially predispose to the development of autoimmunity.”  It’s why your choice of fats you eat is critical if you want to get healthy and stay healthy!  Bottom line concerning TH-17……

“Interactions between diet, the microbiota, and intestinal immune cells can markedly alter both systemic immune function and host metabolism, and this appears to be largely mediated by cytokines, particularly those in the IL-23/IL-17 axis.  While the past several decades have seen marked changes in diet, it is also likely that improvements in hygiene, the development of antibiotics, and widespread vaccination have resulted in significant changes in the intestinal microbiota.

This raises the possibility that altered regulation of cytokines as a consequence of changes in diet, metabolism, and commensal microbes, particularly in the intestinal microenvironment, may contribute to the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases, especially those involving the IL-23/IL-17 axis.”

Re-read that quote if you didn’t quite grasp it’s importance.  Researchers from Harvard said (in a round about way of course — they likely value their careers as much as you or I) that both HYGIENE and VACCINES play a big role in developing autoimmunity.  This is why genetics is a dying science — eipigenetics is where everything is headed (see earlier link). 

This means that the things you do to your body and put into your body have the power to either turn on or turn off the genes that experts tout as the root of sickness and disease.  In other words, you are not nearly as defined by your genetics as you have been led to believe.


Let’s look at this relationship between GUT HEALTH and AUTOIMMUNITY.  Firstly, allow me to say that this relationship is not new, novel, or unknown (except, probably, by your physician).  In fact, I would go out on a limb to say that it is arguably the hottest area of research in all of medicine, and has been for several years — one more proof of the chasm between the medical research community and practicing doctors (HERE). 

A 2015 study from Johns Hopkins and published in Clinical Immunology (The Microbiome and Autoimmune Disease) concluded this very thing by saying that, “established animal models of autoimmune diseases indicate that local and systemic bidirectional interactions with the microbiome play a signaling or promoting role through the immune system.”  If you want to see what bi-directional or multi-directional interactions look like, I have a very cool diagram of this phenomenon HERE.

A 2008 issue of Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology (Infections and Autoimmunity: A Panorama) verified exactly what I showed you earlier; that “Chronic and multiple infections with viruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus, and bacteria, such as H. pylori, may, in susceptible individuals, play a role in the evolvement of autoimmune diseases.”  Interestingly enough, I’ve also provided you plenty of information on chronic infection from ROOT CANALS as well as the relationship between H. PYLORI INFECTIONS AND WEAK STOMACH ACID (GERD).

Listen to what the Journal of Autoimmunity had to say about this relationship in a late 2016 study called A Clinical Update on the Significance of the Gut Microbiota in Systemic Autoimmunity.  After revealing to us that “in recent years,” incidence of certain autoimmune diseases has tripled, the authors revealed why. 

…The increasing incidence of autoimmune disease is due to considerable shifts in the bacterial communities resident the gut, collectively known as the gut microbiota, following a change in diet and the widespread introduction of antibiotics. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence suggests that the gut microbiota plays a role in the development of a range of autoimmune diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, type one diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.” 

If you follow my site you already know all this.

After looking at over 150 studies, researchers from Europe published their review in September’s issue of Frontiers in Immunology (Modulation of Multiple Sclerosis and Its Animal Model Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis by Food and Gut Microbiota), stating that, “Although the cause of MS is not known, the infiltration of peripherally activated immune cells into the CNS has a key pathogenic role. Accumulating evidence supports an important role of diet and gut microbiota in immune-mediated diseases.” 

These authors went on to discuss the fact that MS can be caused, or better yet modulated, by factors that can largely be controlled (ANTIBIOTICS, DYSBIOSIS, MICROBIOME, and even FMT).

Two years ago this month, a Spanish study (Antibiotics and the Human Gut Microbiome: Dysbioses and Accumulation of Resistances) carried by Frontiers in Microbiology showed just how big a factor antibiotics are in the destruction of Gut Health and subsequent development of autoimmunity. 

The human microbiome is overly exposed to antibiotics, due, not only to their medical use, but also to their utilization in farm animals and crops. Microbiome composition can be rapidly altered by exposure to antibiotics, with potential immediate effects on health, for instance through the selection of resistant opportunistic pathogens that can cause acute disease. Microbiome alterations induced by antibiotics can also indirectly affect health in the long-term. The mutualistic microbes in the human body interact with many physiological processes, and participate in the regulation of immune and metabolic homeostasis.

Therefore, antibiotic exposure can alter many basic physiological equilibria, promoting long-term disease.  Atopic, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases have been linked to gut microbiota dysbiosis, and, in some cases, significant associations have been established between these diseases and the intake of antibiotics during early life. Clearly, the effects of antibiotic-induced dysbiosis will be even more relevant if they occur early in life, a critical period for maturation of the immune system and establishment of immunological tolerance.

July’s issue of Microbiome (Control of Lupus Nephritis by Changes of Gut Microbiota) published a study by a team of 20 authors showing that the same thing is likely true of LUPUS.  “Systemic lupus erythematosus, characterized by persistent inflammation, is a complex autoimmune disorder with no known cure.”  But after treating people with Lupus with certain “good” bacteria, the authors concluded that said treatment, “Inside the kidney skewed the Treg-Th17 balance towards a Treg phenotype.”  If you recall what both of these systems do (Treg -vs- TH-17), it’s easy to see why this is huge. 

And just last summer, the journal Nature published a collaboration between one of the Ivy League schools (Columbia) and a lab in California (La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology — an institution whose chief goal is new and improved vaccines) called T Cells from Patients with Parkinson’s Disease Recognize α-Synuclein Peptides that concluded that yes, PARKINSON’S is in fact an autoimmune disease.

I’ve shown you how big a factor antibiotics are in starting the body down a path to autoimmunity, but now let me talk about diet.  I’ve said forever that in the average chronically sick or chronically inflamed American, antibiotics typically cause the dysbiosis (the ratios of commensal bacteria or other micro-organisms are out of whack), but the situation is propagated by our collective HIGH CARB LIFESTYLES.  This thought process is not coming from thin air (although many would claim that’s what resides between my ears)

Six years ago, authors from the University of British Columbia published a study in the journal Nutrients called Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease.  Although the gist is readily seen from the title, here are their conclusions.

“The GI tract functions as a major immunological organ as it must maintain tolerance to commensal and dietary antigens while remaining responsive to pathogenic stimuli. If this balance is disrupted, inappropriate inflammatory processes can result, leading to host cell damage and/or autoimmunity.

Evidence suggests that the composition of the intestinal microbiota can influence susceptibility to chronic disease of the intestinal tract including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as more systemic diseases such as obesity, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, a considerable shift in diet has coincided with increased incidence of many of these inflammatory diseases.

It was originally believed that the composition of the intestinal microbiota was relatively stable from early childhood; however, recent evidence suggests that diet can cause dysbiosis, an alteration in the composition of the microbiota, which could lead to aberrant immune responses.”

This is why the very earliest microbial exposures — VAGINAL BIRTHS and BREAST-FEEDING YOUR BABIES — is so darn important!  And beyond diet, when you notice that they mention how susceptible the immune systems are in babies and young children, we need to realize that this issue of aberrant immune responses and abnormal tolerance goes beyond diet to the increasingly ridiculous VACCINE SCHEDULE being promoted in Westernized nations. 

It should concern you that the number of studies on ALUMINUM and it’s potential to foul both the microbiome and the brain are increasing exponentially.  In fact, I would say that this issue is at critical mass and virtually impossible to hide any longer (although BIG PHARMA continues to try).

Another study from two years later (a collaboration between Yale, MIT, and several European institutions) was published in Current Asthma and Allergy ReportsRole of “Western Diet” in Inflammatory Autoimmune Diseases.  The authors started out by saying, “Developed societies, although having successfully reduced the burden of infectious disease, constitute an environment where metabolic, cardiovascular, and autoimmune diseases thrive.” 

This, folks, is exactly what I have been harping on by continuing to beat my “HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS” drum. Thanks to any number of factors (vaccines included), we see that we have traded acute infectious diseases (FLU is a great example) and most particularly the childhood diseases that everyone used to get, for CHRONIC INFLAMMATORY AND NEUROLOGICALLY DEGENERATIVE DISEASES (not to mention  autoimmunity). 

“Living in westernized countries has not fundamentally changed the genetic basis on which these diseases emerge, but has strong impact on lifestyle and pathogen exposure. In particular, nutritional patterns collectively termed the ‘Western diet,’ as well as frequent consumption of processed and ‘fast foods’, promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

These factors have also gained high interest as possible promoters of autoimmune diseases. This review discusses the current knowledge relative to the association of “Western diet” with autoimmunity, and highlights the role of T cells as central players linking dietary influences to autoimmune pathology”

I would suggest you read these last two studies as they are free online.  But reading alone isn’t going to solve your problem.  What do you plan on doing to get better?  The first thing to do is understand that pharmaceutical drugs are not going to solve this problem.  But then again, neither are supplements.  In the same way that many churchgoing folk would rather give money than time (it’s way easier), many chronically ill people — maybe the majority of chronically ill people — are looking for a magic bullet in the form of a supplement. 

In other words, they want to continue with the same detrimental lifestyle that helped get them to this point in the first place, but somehow counteract / antidote it by taking supplements (many of which are touted as “immune system boosters”).  In case you haven’t heard, MONOTHERAPIES in the absence of lifestyle changes are meaningless for anything other than short term responses.

There are certain foods, however, that settle the immune system.  First and foremost among these are good fats — things like COCONUT OIL, OMEGA THREES, EVOO, avocados, and even SATURATED FATS that come from grass-fed livestock (this would include BUTTER and EGGS as well as meat and poultry).  Vitamin D is critical as well (along with two of the other fat soluble vitamins, A & E).  And don’t forget about GLUTATHIONE.  In many cases, fermented foods can also be beneficial.  As for probiotics, just remember that while potentially extremely beneficial, they can also cause real problems (HERE, HERE, and HERE).

And while I am not going to list them for you (the internet abounds with lists), it’s critical that you grasp the fact that certain herbs tend to stimulate TH-1, while certain herbs stimulate TH-2.  What does this mean?  Allow me to give you an example of how this could actually work against you. 

A person who is TH-2 dominant (see the earlier list of TH-2 diseases) gets all excited about anti-inflammatory herbs such as THE YELLOWS, resveratol, dark chocolate, green tea, pycnogenol, quercetin, and who knows what else.  Little do they realize that these are all TH-2 stimulants.  In other words, if you are chronically ill, study up on this issue and use it to your advantage instead of your detriment.

I get it; the whole thing can get very complex.  Bottom line, as your Gut goes, so goes your immune system.  It’s why natural healers were talking about healing the Gut long before it was popular or supported by mountains of peer-review.   How do you solve the two sides of the coin that make up most common Gut problems (DYSBIOSIS and LEAKY GUT)?  For starters, take a look at THIS POST. And be sure to like, share or follow on FACEBOOK if you appreciate what we are doing here.


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2 Responses

  1. Doc, I wonder if you could give an opinion on autoimmune and the Covid vaccine. I have psoriasis, which is pretty mild at the moment, but I remember about 15 years ago when itching was a verb of being. It was so excruciating that I went to a “western” dermatologist and took Cyclosporine for a while. I did give that up, and the psoriasis has not since come back as badly as it once was (a lot of stressors went away), but-I can’t go back to that itching time if I can possibly avoid it, and I get what you have to say about the dangers of “boosting” the immune system, and so I am VERY hesitant to take any of the vaccines on offer for Covid. Any thoughts? I know no one else will tell me…thanks

    1. Without going into any real detail or making suggestion one way or another about your healthcare, realize that in its simplest form, this shot is actually creating an autoimmune response. Your body is programed genetically (RNA/DNA) to make the antigen and your immune system then reacts to it.

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