What is your immune type: Th1, Th2 or Th17?

Knowing your immune type (Th1, Th2 or Th17) and how to reverse that type is fundamental to ridding ourselves of autoimmune disease.

Autoimmunity is on the rise and will quickly become the number one reason for disease, over and above cancer, diabetes and heart disease. In fact, some doctors are already putting these conditions into the autoimmune category. 

Our body is always sending us signals. Sometimes we have immune reactions that we do not think twice about – things like allergies, acid reflux or fevers. We often think these reactions are “normal” long before we get an actual disease diagnosis. If we heed these signs, then we can most certainly prevent an autoimmune process, or becoming stuck in a disease state. 

Allergies and fever are two responses of the immune system. They let us know that we are dealing with an immune situation in the form of an infection or something we have an allergic reaction to. They are the “messengers”, not the message, and they are normal responses to abnormal situations.

We spend a fortune on anti-febrile and anti-allergy medications, but in doing so, we are killing the messenger and not the message these symptoms are trying to tell us.

Don’t kill the messenger.

We always want our immune system to be able to adapt to threats and then find balance. It’s loss of adaptability that leads to chronic disease, not lack of homeostasis.

To understand what’s happening on the outside, we first have to accept that the symptoms of fever and allergies are different immune responses. Knowing your specific immune response is fundamental to understanding what is going on inside our bodies.

The immune system is split into four parts as we now know. Each part has its own subset of cells known as T-helper cells. “Th” is an abbreviation for T-helper, the cells of the immune system that recognise and destroy foreign organisms that can cause disease. These subsets all have a different symptom or response, which we can categorise into a “Th phenotype”. The symptoms that we get (allergy or fever) when we are mounting an immune response can tell us what part of the immune system we are engaging.

  • Th1 cells typically deal with infections from viruses and bacteria. It’s a fast-acting response that is catabolic in nature, as it is trying to break down and destroy pathogens. We often get a fever with this immune response. 
  • Th2 cells are highly allergic-type cells. Hence we get allergies with this immune response. They also deal with intracellular bacteria, toxins, and allergens and produce antibodies.

Knowing the difference between Th1 and Th2 allows us to understand why some people get allergies all the time and are always taking anti-histamines, while some are not, even though both groups are getting sick and having immune responses.

Th17 is the newest member of the family that we see a lot with inflammatory bowel conditions and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.

The last of the four immune phenotypes is Th3, Treg or T regulation cells. These are the mediators of the immune system; they are able to suppress the entire immune system to bring balance when we are getting out of control responses. This branch of the immune system is gaining steam as a possible role for calming autoimmune diseases and even cancer. However, if we continue only to have immune suppression, it can leave us at a disadvantage, as latent infections may surface.

All sides of the immune system work together, and there are checks and balances for each other to create a balanced immune system. Depending on the perceived threat, sometimes Th1 does more of the work, especially with acute infections where a fast response is needed, and Th2 may play a lesser role. As the threats change, the roles are quickly switched, and the immune system remains highly adaptable. So for example, when we mount a fever in a Th1 response to an infection, which is normal, we need to balance that with an anti-fever Th2 response in order to come back to homeostasis. Once the threat is over, the brain feels calmer, the two stand down, and we return to equal balance. If we lose these adaptations, that is when we can become “stuck”, this is what is called Th1/Th2/Th17 dominance. 

In an ideal situation, you want immune responses; they are there to protect you. What you do not want is Th1 or Th2 displaying a more dominant position, as your body is not able to switch easily. When a stuck pattern of either Th1, Th2 or Th17 dominance occurs, this is where health problems begin. This happens when we are dealing with an infection that is stubborn and evades the immune system. Or if we keep eating something that we are allergic to, and we just take medication for the allergies rather than removing the offensive food from our diet.

Knowing your immune system type, Th1 or Th2 or Th17 dominance plays an integral part in your health and is fundamental to resolution. As 80% of your immune system is in the gut, quite often it is what we take out rather than what we put in that plays an important role. This refers to diet and lifestyle modifications. Since our immune system is housed in the gut what we eat is very important as certain foods and supplements are going to stimulate the immune system. The trouble is what if we are taking something that is stimulating our immune system in the wrong direction? We actually can feel worse. This is the reason why some people can feel terrible with green tea, and why some people get no changes with turmeric or curcumin for their pain. This is because you might be taking the wrong supplement for your immune type.

Dr Stewart Gillespie, DC
Dr Stewart Gillespie, DC
Chiropractor and Osteopath specialising in Functional Medicine, which is the ability to scientifically uncover the true underlying causes of chronic disease, and correct them through nutritional and natural methods. His private practice is a virtual practice that allows him to treat clients all over the world.
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