Have You “Weathered” a Cytokine Storm?

Chances are you have if you are suffering from Hashimoto’s, autoimmune conditions or a confusing mess of symptoms, you may be experiencing your very own Cytokine Storm season where you will have bad days followed by calm days after the storm and again by bad days. You may have found yourself in the proverbial “up a creek without a paddle” in your autoimmune world.

Cytokine Storms occur when the immune system becomes and remains activated against the immune stimulants beyond the point of being helpful.

A good defense against most illness is a healthy immune system. We all know how a mother bear protects her cubs. At the first hint of danger she takes action to protect them in much the same way as our immune system seeks to protect us. We have been conditioned to think of external microbes as our enemy during a time of infection or inflammation. But our own immune systems are potentially more lethal. When the body detects foreign microorganisms or substances, it can respond by overprotecting the site of that irritation. In its hurry to get antibodies to the infection site, the body may dispatch so many that the level of cytokines becomes highly elevated, creating a Cytokine Storm.

“Storm” is an appropriate metaphor because it acknowledges a variety of mechanisms in a variety of circumstances. A Cytokine Storm is a symptomatic condition which occurs in varying forms and involves a number of different mechanisms. The primary symptoms of a Cytokine Storm are extreme fatigue, low mood, anxiousness, anxiety, insomnia, high fever, intermittent hot flashes, swelling and redness, and nausea. You may be more familiar with a Cytokine Storm known as Septic Shock, which is another example of the immune system gone berserk.

 

Cytokine Storms occur when the immune system becomes and remains activated against the immune stimulants or physical triggers (food, toxins, bacteria, virus, parasite, etc.) beyond the point of being helpful to where the immune response turns damaging or deadly. Researchers in Psychoneuro-immunology are now reporting emotional events can be a trigger as well. Cytokines are not simply immune, but rather neuro-immune modulators. The nervous system regulates immune cells and the magnitude of an immune response via the effects of peripheral neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, dopamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, acetylcholine, histamine and neuropeptides. The manner in which the cytokines are stimulated and balance between the inhibitory and stimulatory neurotransmitters determine the intensity of a Cytokine Storm.

Persistent, highly elevated levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines induce a complex, dysregulated condition resulting in massive inflammation and fluid accumulation, blood flow dysfunction and eventually tissue destruction. Thus, in Cytokine Storm, the body’s immune system fights to rid itself of the immune stimulant, but the fight somehow escapes from the normal regulatory controls that should have prevented an overzealous immune system from severely damaging or killing its owner. Read more about My Cytokine Storm

After the storm has passed: Cytokine-Induce Sickness Behavior

After the Cytokine Storm has subsided, sick individuals have common symptoms of sickness; little motivation to eat, withdrawal from normal social activities, fever, burning muscles, aching joints,  fatigue and have significant changes in sleep patterns. They display an inability to experience pleasure, have exaggerated responses to pain and brain fog. Pro-inflammatory cytokines acting in the brain cause sickness behaviors. Although Functional Medicine has defined pro-inflammatory cytokines as the central mediators of sickness behavior, each patient exhibits unique circumstances. Specialized lab testing provides a scientific understanding of how cytokines and neurotransmitters are communicating with each other.

What’s Next? 

 

Calming a Cytokine Storm  and regulating cytokine induced sickness requires a multiple focus approach involving cytokines, neurotransmitters, quenching inflammation, re-regulating the immune system and elimination of any potential triggers. It is crystal clear that there must be negative feedback loops in the immune system, as well as positive ones. The latter enable the system to react quickly to serious infections. The former are needed to keep the system itself from spiraling out of control.

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Neuro-endo-immunology is an emerging field of medical science that seeks to understand the interconnectedness of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems functioning as a larger whole, termed the “NEI Supersystem.” In order to regulate cytokine induced sickness, you need to find a doctor that has a working knowledge of Neuro-endo-immunology, cytokines and neurotransmitters. Most are found only in labs and are not practicing healthcare providers.

Here are some questions to discuss with your practitioner. 

  • What is a Cytokine Storm?
  • How is TH17 involved in the TH1/TH2 challenge?
  • Do you use lab testing or supplement challenges to determine treatment protocols?
  • What are the different supplements used to challenge your condition?
  • What lab testing do you use?
  • How would they treat your condition?
  • Do they use Stimulated Cytokine or Neurotransmitter testing?

Researchers and most physicians agree that peripheral neurotransmitters impact the brain, especially during a cytokine storm. To date, neurotransmitter testing shows only peripheral neurotransmitters. But imagine you were trying to understand someone who was speaking in a language for which you only knew 17 words! Nonetheless, if you heard the words “danger”, “help”, and “fire”, you would have a decent idea as to the meaning of the message. Similarly, perturbations in the cytokines that we are able to find in the Stimulated Cytokine testing are extremely useful as indicators of the patient’s immune status, or to use the more formal lingo, they are biomarkers of the immune system. Unfortunately, many accomplished Neurologists remain too “brain-based” and overlook the impact neurotransmitter in the body have on the body.

TH1/TH2 Challenge and More

Despite its seductive simplicity, the Th1/Th2 model does not adequately explain T-cell immunity. Many cytokines produced by T-cells do not fit obviously into either category. Recent studies have shown exposure to lectins or bacteria trigger T-cells to produce IL-6, IL-17, and GM-CSF, cytokines not associated with either the Th1 or the Th2 immune system. This has begun an explosion of interest in the generation and function of “Th17” immune system that has not shown signs of tapering off.

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When combined with a strong inflammatory cytokine such as TNFα, interleukin 17 (IL-17) triggers a severe inflammatory response. TNFα was thought to provoke only a TH1 response. Curiously, the ability to control the activity of IL-17 is relatively poor. It’s like being pregnant; once it has started you are just along for the ride.

 

Case example: We had one case where the doctor used Supplement challenges to determine the treatment. First, they did the GABA challenge. The patient felt great but was put on acetylcholine support and immediately crashed in a cytokine storm. Doctor said it was the flu. Next, they used (Gastro-ULC) making the patient feel better. Doctor stopped that and supplemented with digestive enzymes making the patient crash again. The doctor explained it as a “Healing crisis”. Patient came to our office for help.

Be wary of provoking immune responses. Those having bad reactions to the TH1/TH2 challenge are provoking a Cytokine Storm. Normally, the TH1/TH2 feedback loop is kept in check by the body. However, in some instances, when purposely provoked, the reaction becomes uncontrolled and too many immune cells are activated, much like pouring gas on a fire. This propagates a Cytokine Storm where far too many immune cells are caught in an endless loop of calling more and more immune cells to fight the irritation.

Those who have experienced a Cytokine Storm and have cytokine induced sickness should avoid, herbs and foods, which boost the immune response. TH1 boosters are astragulus, echinacea, goldenseal, immune boosting mushrooms. TH2 boosters are caffeine, green tea, grape seed extract, pine bark extract, and lycopene. Sambucol (which is Elderberry juice), Chlorella algae, Spirulina, Chocolate, Kimchi and Honey are additional foods that can increase cytokine production and should be avoided during a Cytokine Storm. These foods are good for treatment of less severe colds and flu, when the immune response appropriately regulated, but should be avoided when symptoms are being caused by a cytokine storm. Symptoms of a cytokine induced episode vary greatly from individual to individual. A limited list of symptoms are extreme fatigue, low mood, anxiousness, anxiety, insomnia, high fever, intermittent hot flashes, swelling and redness, and nausea.

Cytokine Storms are very serious and with the right set of circumstances can be fatal. If the storm is concentrated in the lungs and airways, the mucus and inflammation has the potential to block airways and result in death. This is recognized as a Type II hypersensitivity allergic reaction and only an Immunologist would connect cytokines with it. Many believe that the Cytokine Storm response was what caused the deaths of so many young adults in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. New research and understandings have caused some to question vaccinations, especially three-stage vaccinations.

More about Stimulated Cytokine testing?

Stimulated Cytokine testing is intended to assess whether an individual’s symptoms could be attributed to an imbalanced immune response. Our goal is to understand, as best we can, where to target therapeutic interventions, minimizing emotional decisions and guesswork in the therapeutic protocol.

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It’s important to note that the standard immune testing by itself cannot distinguish between an immune response that is currently in progress, and one that happened in the past. That’s because it cannot tell the difference between so-called “effector” T cells that are currently fighting an active infection, and “memory” T cells that responded years ago to a prior infection and continue to circulate in the bloodstream.

However, at the same time it’s important to recognize that even a test that measures up to 17 cytokines, as NeuroScience Stimulated Cytokines Comprehensive panel does, is far from actually being “comprehensive”, considering that over 100 cytokines have been described to date!

The Best Option

The Neuro-Endo-Immune (NEI) Supersystem incorporates three vital disciplines: Neurology, Endocrinology, and Immunology, which is the evaluation of the NEI Supersystem through the measurement of neurotransmitters, hormones, and cytokines. Assessment of these essential biochemical mediators provides important insight into the root causes contributing to clinical conditions of a Cytokine Storm and cytokine induced sickness.

Concerned about your Health?

Fill out the Thyroid Health Assessment Form

Fill out the 2100 GIFX – Stool & Bowel Assessment Form

Send in the Thyroid Health Assessment Form or 2100 GIFX – Stool & Bowel Assessment Form to schedule a free 15 minute consultation.

Call today! 530-615-4083

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