Your Immune System: The Key to Both Fighting & Preventing Cancer
Your Immune System: The Key to Both Fighting & Preventing Cancer
Welcome to the Back to Health Chiropractic Podcast
I’m your host, Dr. Marc Dupuis
On Today’s episode we are going to dive in on the immune system, which by the way is absolutely designed to search out and destroy cancerous cells. I will discuss how the immune system does this and what can we do to optimize the function of our immune system.
Let’s get going. First let’s define a few terms. What exactly is Cancer: Cancer is a cell or group of cells that have not properly differentiated or that grows uncontrollably. Cancer cells do not adhere properly to other cells.
Every single one of us began as a single cell that divided countless times until we were a hollow ball of cells, then these cells divided countless times until we became a solid ball of cells and then a number these identical cells began to differentiate or morph into specific cell types that eventually went on to form our three main tissue types and then from those tissue types every single one of our organs, tissues and glands developed. It really is quite miraculous!
It is normal for cells to differentiate into their mature endpoint type cells. Some cancerous cells do not go on to this critical next step. Some cancerous cells regress and become undifferentiated. Also, normal cells replicate or grow at a set rate of growth and normal cells have an internally regulated lifespan. This means that after so much time passes internal mechanisms are triggered that cause the cell to die or turn over. Cancer cells do have behave this way, they replicate and replicate at an unusually high rate and do not have this self terminating life span. they will continue to grow and divide indefinitely. This continuous replication process is how tumors form. Tumors cause problems by eventually disrupting function in the organs they are either growing near or in.
Now let’s define our immune system: The immune system is the bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances, cells, tissues and abnormal bodily cells by producing the immune response. The immune system includes the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, special deposits of lymphoid tissue (remember we talked about GALT in prior shows (Gut associated lymphatic tissue) macrophages, lymphocytes including B cells and T cells and antibodies.
Now for the exciting part. Each and every one of us has a cancer surveillance system. It is run by our Natural Killer Cells. Our natural killer cells are a special type of T cell lymphocyte designed to hunt down and destroy abnormal, cancerous cells and they do this by releasing damaging cytokines into the abnormal cell. Cytokines are inflammatory mediators.
Did you know that each and every person has cancer cells developing in their body, however, not everyone develops CA. That’s right only when the developing cancer cells either evade the immune system or overwhelm a poorly functioning immune system does cancer develop.
Knowing this information, the next logical question is, what are the key factors that influence our immune system. Because cytokines are inflammatory mediators, our inflammatory state combined with our bodies hormone balance together play a major role in how well our immune system functions. Why hormone balance? It’s simple, many hormones play a direct role in either stimulating or suppressing both inflammation and immune system function.
Inflammatory State: how do we best assess this? My favorite way is with the Omega 3 index performed on many micronutrient blood panels. Omega fatty acids play a major role in balancing our inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation is neither good nor bad. Inflammation is essential to proper immune system function as it uses inflammatory mediators when destroying foreign invaders and abnormal cells and inflammation is essential in the repair process from damaged tissue after injury, however excessive inflammation can damage healthy tissues and and is therefore associated with all major degenerative diseases. The major dietary omega fatty acids are Omega 3’s which decrease inflammation and Omega 6’s & Omega 9’s which are pro-inflammatory in nature.
In a perfect world we should consume Omega 3, 6 and 9’s in a 1:1:1 ratio. However the standard American diet (SAD) provides over 50 X’s the Omega 6’s and 9’s compared to Omega 3’s. In the US, we subsidize farmers that grow wheat, corn and soy. Therefore wheat, corn and soy are found in so many of the most common foods eaten every day. These grain producing crops are extremely high in omega 6’s & 9’s. Eating the standard American diet rich in the pro-inflammatory omega 6’s & 9’s can lead to an imbalance in one’s inflammatory state which can actually suppress your immune system function! Blood tests that assess the Omega Index will break down exactly what your current dietary inflammatory status is by looking at the ratios of anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory omega fatty acids.
Hormone Balance: One of the key hormones that influences immune function is the stress hormone Cortisol. Cortisol should peak in the early morning hours and slowly taper off as the day goes on. What is so interesting about cortisol and its role in immune function is this; Did you know that just after peak cortisol release, for those that have normal cortisol levels, every day there is a tidal wave of immune cells released throughout the body. In this tidal wave of immune cells are countless Natural Killer T Cells. One of the major jobs of the Natural Killer T Cells, as I mentioned earlier, is to look for and destroy cancerous cells. So, If you are under chronic stress as we see both in overworked, overstressed individuals but also see in high performing athletes (after all stress is stress, hard training sessions will stimulate stress just as much as severe work/relationship stress will)Your cortisol curve may no longer be optimal and if this can result in a failure of that healthy tidal wave of immune cells from being released into the body each and every day. This can greatly increase the risk for both getting sick and more importantly developing cancer.
How do we best test for cortisol output? Through Salivary cortisol testing. Why saliva? Most conventional doctors will order a blood test to assess cortisol levels at one point in the day, whenever the patient has their blood drawn. There are two problems with this type of testing. #1: Cortisol, although transported in the blood does not perform its key functions in the blood. Cortisol operates in the tissues. By testing salivary cortisone levels we are able to assess how much cortisol is actually getting into the tissues. #2: Looking at cortisol levels at one point during the day does not give any information about the day long cortisol output curve.
This is why modern lab tests, like the Adrenal Stress Index we often use, from Diagnos-Techs labs, has the patient send in multiple saliva samples at specific times throughout a 24 hr period so we can actually determine if they are secreting peak cortisone in the morning followed by proper tapering throughout the rest of the day. Makes sense right? I think so. Why have most people not heard of such testing before? Given how much stress we are all under nowadays and given how much this stress can affect our immune system and especially increase our cancer risk, you would think that this type of testing would be done on an annual basis. The reality is these tests are just not yet part of the conventional medical education program. Hopefully in the future as more institutions begin teaching functional medicine, that seeks to treat the individual patient and his or her underlying imbalances, these tests will become more well known in the future!
Now let’s dive in to the 4 additional things we can all do to further bolster our immune system:
1: Optimize your vitamin D levels. Current research suggests new target blood levels between 50 and 80ng/ml. Did you know that most conventional labs, base their reference ranges on nutrients tested on research linked to the RDA, which is over 50 years old, and was designed to see how much of a nutrient does one need to stave off disease? It had little to do with how much of a nutrient one needs in order to function Optimally! Why is vitamin D so important: Now we know it really is more of a hormone than just a vitamin for bone health. Vitamin D, binds to the vitamin D receptor (which is in virtually ALL of our cells) which modulates the transcription of more than 50 genes that promote differentiation, apoptosis (normal cell death- like house cleaning) and prevents proliferation…all key aspects of cancer prevention! It has been estimated that as many as 85,000 cases of breast cancer could be prevented in North America alone, if we all achieved the newly recommended vitamin D levels!
2: Regularly Exercise: When it comes to exercise it’s all about consistency. If you want the health benefits of exercise it has to be done on a regular basis. Exercising really is similar to eating well or brushing your teeth. Do we really expect to be healthy if we eat really well on the first day of each month but then eat junk for the rest of the month? Can we expect to have healthy teeth if we brush and floss once every two or three weeks…of course not. Why exercise? Simple. Research has shown for years that regular exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood which reduces your risk of both getting sick and developing cancer. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce your insulin levels and improve your body’s insulin sensitivity, both are critical in lowering your body’s blood sugar levels which is so important since cancer cells thrive on sugar. Lastly, regular exercise can help mitigate the effects of every-day stress!
However, more is not always better. Those of us that love endurance sports, especially long course triathlons and marathons, must remember that stress is stress. All good training sessions/workouts produce stress. For those of us training and dealing with full time jobs, over training is a clinical condition that can easily develop that leads to adrenal fatigue which results in abnormal cortisol outputs! High intensity interval training seems to hit the nail on head in terms of bang for the buck, 3-5 sessions per week of 30-45 minutes per session seems to provide what we currently believe to be an optimal dose for exercise. Again, for those of us that like to do more and in some cases.. a lot more, we have to take adequate steps to ensure we are fully recovering from the work outs that we are doing!
3: Sleep. Sleep is when most recovery occurs. Recovery for all bodily systems including your immune system! Adults need 8 hrs per night period. Adolescents need 9-10 hours per night period. Unfortunately, there are NO shortcuts or hacks to this one folks. There are many people out there suggesting otherwise but the research does not support any of it. I could go on for an hour on this topic alone, but I won’t, however, stay tuned as in the next few weeks we will be releasing a podcast solely focused on sleep. In the meantime I highly recommend the book “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker PhD. Those most at risk for sleep related immune compromise are people that have to work the 3rd shift. Many studies have shown the devastating effects shift work can have in altering the body’s cortisol output. If you or a loved one has to do such work, I implore you or them to work with a functional medicine provider and have their cortisol output tested.
4: Last, but certainly not least: Have your spine checked for joint dysfunction, known as vertebral subluxation, and get adjusted if subluxations are found. As we have talked about before, your nervous system is the master control system of your entire body. Your spine and the spinal cord that it contains & protects is the highway linking your brain to your body. Abnormal movements in your spine send altered afferent or incoming nerve signals to the brain which can cause abnormal efferent or outgoing messages from the brain to the body. These abnormal outgoing messages have the potential to negatively effect every cell, tissue, organ and organ system including, the immune system! This explains why those with vertebral subluxations often have lowered immune system function.
For those of you wanting to know more, an amazing study was done in the Chiropractic Research Journal 1994; 3(1) 32-39, titled, “The Effects of Specific Upper Cervical Adjustments on the CD4 Counts of HIV Positive Patients”. In this study the immune system CD4 cell counts were monitored in HIV positive individuals who were under chiropractic care and compared to a control group of HIV positive individuals who were not under chiropractic care. The patients were monitored in an independent medical center where they were under regular medical supervision and the results were astounding: Those HIV patients under chiropractic care had a 48% increase in their CD4 cell counts over the six month duration of being adjusted! Meanwhile, those in the control group experienced a 7.96% decrease in their CD4 cell counts!
So to review: Balancing your inflammatory state, optimizing your cortisol levels by managing stress, optimizing your vitamin D levels, regularly exercising, getting consistent, quality sleep and getting regularly checked for subluxation and getting adjusted, if needed, are all things we can and should be doing to bolster our immune system which is key to both fighting and preventing cancer.
That wraps up today’s discussion on Your Immune System: The Key to Both Fighting & Preventing Cancer. If you would like more information on cortisol testing or Omega Index tested, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 207-324-7098
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Thank you very much for listening & have a great day!
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