Immune balance is an important aspect of good health. Within the immune system are many different types of cells, all operating within a delicate balance. T helper cells are the regulators of the immune system. Two different types of T helper cells - Th1 and Th2 have been studied extensively and the balance between these two types of cells can have a significant influence on how well the body fares when the immune system is called to action. A healthy immune system is both dynamic and balanced between Th1 and Th2 activity, switching back and forth between the two as and when needed. However, genetic and/or environmental factors can cause a Th1 or Th2 dominated response to occur, and once a T cell response begins to develop along one pathway (Th1 or Th2), it tends to be progressively polarized in that direction.
When genetic and/or environmental factors causes one or the other of these responses to become excessive or ‘dominant’ an imbalance occurs that can lead to immune-related disorders.
• Th1 cells defend against intracellular pathogens such as virus and certain bacteria by directing cell-mediated immunity. A Th1 dominant response is implicated in organ-specific autoimmune disease and some delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions.
• Th2 cells direct humoral immunity (antibody-mediated) fighting extracellular pathogens, and initiating allergic reactions. A Th2 dominant immune response is associated with allergy and atopic disease and systemic autoimmune disease.
Natural therapies can help to re-establish Th1/Th2 balance and may help to provide significant relief for patients with allergic disorders:
Plant Sterols have been shown to modulate both an under-producing and an over-performing immune system and may be a beneficial support for those suffering from allergy and atopic disease. Clinical evidence has also shown that plant sterols can provide relief of symptoms associated with seasonal allergic response. Plant sterols inhibit the release of interleukin 4 and so histamine production is reduced and allergy symptoms are controlled.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids – The increased prevalence of atopic disease has recently been associated with an imbalanced consumption of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and this can also have a negative effect on Th1 / Th2 immune balance. Supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil may help to improve the ratio of omega 6: omega 3 in the diet and help to support immune and inflammation balance.
Vitamin E may help to protect against allergic disorders via antioxidant activity as well as influencing Th1/Th2 balance and reducing inflammation.
Probiotic supplementation – In a recent study, supplementation with probiotics was found to alleviate the allergic inflammation associated with Th2 dominant immunity in infants. It is suggested that adequate microflora colonization may help to prevent Th2 shifted immunity and thus prevent chronic allergic disease in infants. Recent research also suggests that probiotics may have beneficial effects on allergic adults too.
Stress Support – The impact of acute or chronic stress on immune function has been the subject of many scientific studies. Research indicates stress may cause increased susceptibility or progression of allergy / atopy. It is thought that stress hormones promote the dysregulation of cytokine production that is associated with Th2-dominant immune disorders. Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, rhodiola and cordyceps may prove helpful in individuals with allergies exacerbated by stress. Other stress support nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C may also be useful for supporting a balanced stress response.
Vitamin C & Bioflavanoids – Vitamin C has a long history of use as a natural anti-histamine. In addition, research has shown that select flavonoids possess anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant activities.