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Balancing the Immune System with Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis

The wonder of our immune system

Our immune system is miraculous and complex. Research into how it functions reveals a sophisticated
security system that constantly scans the body to identify and remove any threat to our wellbeing.
Receptors associated with the immune system are concerned with interrogating the environment for
evidence of danger, infection or abnormal cell death. They are also present inside the cell where they
play an important role, acting to detect evidence of infection.

Organisms such as viruses can spend most of their life hidden in the complicated cytoplasm of the cell,
making them difficult to recognize from the outside. Infections reproduce much more rapidly than their
hosts and can change their appearance allowing them to evade recognition. An effective immune
system must adapt to these constant changes.1

Our immune system can harm

A pathogen that has penetrated the body’s defenses and established itself within or between cells can
only be eliminated by killing. This is a dangerous business, and when the immune system is battling with
an infection, it may put the life of the host at risk. For instance when a common cold virus has hijacked a
cell to replicate itself, the cell is not rehabilitated, it is destroyed by killer cells. There is growing evidence
that cells are damaged not directly by replicating viruses but by a specific immune response that
produces the symptoms of disease.2 The immune response must take a middle path that is between too
much destruction and not enough.1

One factor that that can limit damage is interleukin 10 (IL-10). IL-10 is an anti-inflammatory cytokine
that may be of particular importance to constrain the severity of inflammatory reactions caused by
chronic infections. It corrects the impairment of epithelial barrier function and restores small intestine
homeostasis. And in a recent study IL-10 production by virus specific effector cells during the acute
response to influenza virus was shown to be responsible for minimizing the severity of pulmonary
lesions in mice.3 However, IL-10 production by intestinal resident macrophages is impaired by nutritional
deprivation.4 Inadequate nutrition impairs the functioning of the immune system. This can result in, not
only increased susceptibility to infection, but an increased severity in cell damage as the immune system
responds to invaders.5

When nutritional status is compromised due to infections, malabsorption and chronic disease, the
body’s free radical quenching capabilities may be reduced considerably, even during a normal immune
response. The immune response can be affected not only by individual nutritional deficiency, but also by
nutritional imbalances.6

The two branches of our immune system and how they work

The primary organs of the immune system include the thymus and bone marrow. The thymus is involved
in hormone production and the development of immunocompetent T-Cells. Whereas the bone marrow
produces the stem cells that differentiate into lymphocytes, erythrocytes, granulocytes and

The secondary organs of the immune system include the lymph nodes and tonsils which are responsible
for prevention and spread of infection; the spleen, which primarily produces B-Cells and T-Cells; and
finally the Peyer’s Patches of the gut, which are responsible for T-Cell production.7 Our immune system can be classified into two different branches, the cellular and humoral.

The cellular immune system

The cellular immune system is mediated by antigen-specific T-Cells which are produced in the bone
marrow and matured in the thymus. These T-Cells are the body’s defense against viruses, fungi, and
intracellular organisms. They can be found in blood as well as lymphoid tissue. T-Cells activate the BCells
of the humoral immune system.6

The humoral immune system

The name humoral immune system, comes from its involvement in substances found in the humors or
body fluids. It protects the intracellular spaces where antibodies, produced by B-Cells, destroy
extracellular microorganisms, and prevent bacterial infection.6

These two branches, the cellular and humoral, function together in a normal healthy individual.
However, one group can become dominant and become antagonistic to the other. This causes the
immune system to lose its synergistic relationship and become unbalanced causing the dominant side of
the immune response to suppress the other.

For example, the humoral immune system can act to the detriment of the host, and block the activity of
the cellular immune system in its attempt to destroy abnormal cells. On the other hand when the
cellular immune response dominates there is a suppression of the humoral immune system.6
Let’s examine nutritional deficiency and its impact on the two branches of the immune system.

Endocrine and immune system interactions

Recently, it has come to light that while the immune system interacts directly within brain regions that
regulate autonomic function, the autonomic nervous system innervates organs that contain immune
cells, such as the spleen and bone marrow. Indeed, effects on immune cells of both the parasympathetic
and the sympathetic nervous system have been described.8

Our endocrine system is intimately involved with our immune system. Hormones and neurotransmitters
are specific modulators of cells and of the immune system by fine tuning their activation. Hormones are
able to regulate the recruitment of immune cells to an inflammatory site, and have an impact on the
intracellular signaling cascades that follow after tissue injury.13

The sympathetic and parasympathetic influence

Generally speaking the sympathetic nervous system speeds up the activity of the body, while the
parasympathetic branch slows it down. They have an effect on the rate of organ function, enzyme
activity, immunity, and hormone release. The parasympathetic and sympathetic branches oppose each
other and work in concert with the endocrine glands of the body.7

Endocrine system according to stimulating or sedating effects

Sympathetic Endocrine Glands  Sympathetic Endocrine Glands 
Hypothalamus (Medial portion) Hypothalamus (Lateral portion)
Anterior Pituitary Posterior Pituitary
Adrenal Cortex (Catabolic) Adrenal Cortex (Anabolic)
Adrenal Medulla Pancreas (Endocrine)
Thyroid Parathyroid
Ovaries (Progesterone) Ovaries (Estrogen)


Parathyroid and the cellular immune response

Both B and T-Cells contain receptors for parathyroid hormone (PTH). This indicates that they are
probably target organs for the action this hormone. PTH affects T-Cell function and plays a role in the
commencement of abnormalities in cellular immunity. The action of PTH on T-Cells in culture is
dependent on the presence of calcium and is accompanied by a rise in cytosolic calcium. 10

Excessive calcium increases viral proliferation and is generally found in the presence of an increase in
thymus response. Viral infections produce a sedative effect that slows down the metabolic rate. Both
calcium and magnesium have a sedating influence and are classified as parasympathetic minerals, with a
predisposition to viral manifestation and parathyroid dominance.6

Sympathetic and the humoral immune response

Bacterial infections produce a stimulatory response and increase the metabolic rate.7 When an antigen
enters the body, local activation of immune cells leads to the release of pro-inflammatory mediators, if
these are strong enough it signals to the brain resulting in the activation of the sympathetic nervous

The sympathetic endocrine group can be referred to as the stress glands. They are activated by stress
and in turn raise the metabolic rate. In a sympathetic dominant individual sodium, potassium and
phosphorus can build up due to a change in intestinal absorption and reabsorption by the kidney.7

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and nutrients for the parasympathetic response

As stated previously the parasympathetic dominant individual will tend toward a cellular immune or
thymus mediated response. In its extreme state it can result in the inability to initiate a humoral or
bacterial immune response. On a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) report this metabolic type will
display an elevation of calcium and magnesium relative to lower phosphorus, sodium and potassium.
This type can often show lowered zinc levels, which is associated with increased viral susceptibility, and
elevated hair tissue levels of copper.7

Elevated calcium concentrations can be viral-inducing. Nutrients synergistic to calcium can be seen as
viral-activating agents. These include vitamin D and copper. However, any substance that contributes to
the reduction in tissue calcium should aid in viral resistance. These include vitamin C, vitamin A,
panthothenic acid, niacin, vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium, iron and phosphorus.7

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and nutrients for the sympathetic response

The humoral response is associated with resistance to bacteria and thymus suppression. Low hair tissue
copper, calcium and magnesium relative to elevated sodium and potassium is typically found in an
individual with a sympathetic dominant response.

In bacterial infections, one of the first things to occur is the withholding of nutrients to prevent bacterial
outgrowth.12 The most significant form of nutritional immunity involves the body taking iron out of
circulation to reduce its availability to bacteria which need iron to proliferate. During bacterial infections
a hair tissue study shows high levels of iron, however serum iron will be low. This will be accompanied
by a mobilization of copper into the blood to combat the infection. Therefore, hair tissue would show a
marked reduction in copper.7

Nutrients that support the individual with a humoral immune response can help to sedate the
sympathetic metabolic process and balance the immune response. These are calcium, magnesium, zinc,
copper, chromium, vitamin B2, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.7

InterClinical Comment

Understanding the two sides of the immune system, the cellular and humoral, can provide a practitioner
with a wealth of information. Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis can help unravel the puzzle of how to support
a patient during times of chronic viral or bacterial infection. Identifying your patients nutrient mineral
deficiencies and excesses, combined with the knowledge of significant mineral ratio imbalances will help
provide, an otherwise very difficult to determine, individualised program of nutritional supplementation
to rebalance an out of kilter immune system.

For more information, please open the link below to access an article written by Dr. David Watts in 1994
Immunology (David L. Watts, Ph.D., Director of Research TEI Lab)


1. Nicholson, L. B. (2016). The immune system. Essays In Biochemistry, 60(3), 275–301. doi:10.1042/ebc20160017
2. Notkins, A. L., Koprowski, H. (1973) How the Immune Response to a Virus Can Cause Disease. Scientific American
228(1) 22-31.
3. Rouse, B. T., & Sehrawat, S. (2010). Immunity and immunopathology to viruses: what decides the outcome?
Nature Reviews Immunology, 10(7), 514–526. doi:10.1038/nri2802
4. Ochi, T., Feng, Y., Kitamoto, S., Nagao-Kitamoto, H., Kuffa, P., Atarashi, K., … Kamada, N. (2016). Diet-dependent,
microbiota-independent regulation of IL-10-producing lamina propria macrophages in the small intestine. Scientific
Reports, 6(1). doi:10.1038/srep27634
5. Beck, M. A., & Levander, O. A. (2000). Host Nutritional Status and Its Effect on a Viral Pathogen. The Journal of
Infectious Diseases, 182(s1), S93–S96. doi:10.1086/315918
6. Watts D. (1994) The Immune System and Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis. Nutritional, Neuro-Endocrine
Immunology. Newsletter.
7. Watts DL. Trace Elements and Other Essential Nutrients. 5th Edn. Writers BLOCK, USA.; 1995.
8. Rosas-Ballina M, Olofsson PS, Ochani M, Valdés-Ferrer SI, Levine YA, Reardon C, Tusche MW, Pavlov
VA, Andersson U, Chavan S, Mak TW & Tracey KJ (2011). Acetylcholine-synthesizing T cells relay neural signals in a
vagus nerve circuit. Science 334, 98–101.
9. Carvalho, L. A., Gerdes, J. M., Strell, C., Wallace, G. R., & Martins, J. O. (2015). Interplay between the Endocrine
System and Immune Cells. BioMed Research International, 2015, 1–2. doi:10.1155/2015/986742
10. Shurtz-Swirski, R., Shkolnik, T., & Shasha, S. M. (1995). Parathyroid Hormone and the Cellular Immune System.
Nephron, 70(1), 21–24. doi:10.1159/000188538
11. Pongratz, G., & Straub, R. H. (2014). The sympathetic nervous response in inflammation. Arthritis Research &
Therapy, 16(6). doi:10.1186/s13075-014-0504-2
12. Skaar, E. P. (2010). The Battle for Iron between Bacterial Pathogens and Their Vertebrate Hosts. PLoS
Pathogens, 6(8), e1000949. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000949
13. Ravven, W. (2001) Signals from nervous system influence immune system, study shows. Research by the
National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Council of the UK

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