Chiropractic and Immunity

Your nervous system, the endocrine system (glands), and the immune system are inextricably linked, like a three-legged stool.  (For some great articles on this concept, click hereherehere, and here)  Numerous research studies have shown that chiropractic care positively impacts immune system function. 

During that 1918 flu, researchers in Davenport, Iowa found that out of the 93,590 patients treated by medical doctors, there were 6,116 deaths — a loss of one patient out of every 15. Chiropractors at the Palmer School of Chiropractic adjusted 1,635 cases, with only one death. Outside Davenport, chiropractors in Iowa cared for 4,735 cases with only six deaths — one out of 866. During the same epidemic, in Oklahoma, out of 3,490 flu patients under chiropractic care, there were only seven deaths. Furthermore, chiropractors were called in 233 cases given up as lost after medical treatment and reportedly saved all but 25. In another report covering 4,193 cases by 213 chiropractors, 4,104 showed complete recovery.

These results are part of the proven, critical link between the body’s central nervous system and the immune system.

Dr. Ronald Pero, Ph.D, chief of cancer prevention research at New York’s Preventative Medicine Institute, ran a study that measured 107 patients receiving long term Chiropractic Care. These patients receiving treatment from their Doctor of Chiropractic showed a 200% greater immune aptitude than individuals who had never received Chiropractic care. These Chiropractic patients also showed a 400% better immune competence than people with cancer or other chronic and serious diseases.

Dr. Pero concluded that “Chiropractic may optimize whatever genetic abilities you have so that you can fully resist serious disease…I have never seen a group other than this show a 200% increase over normal patients”.

What is also interesting is the power of one chiropractic visit on immunology. In 1991, Patricia Brennan, Ph.D., leading a team of researchers, discovered an immediate immune boost following a single chiropractic adjustment. The study showed a “phagocytic respiratory burst of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) and monocytes” right after being adjusted by chiropractors. (Phagocytes are the white blood cells that go out, engulf, and destroy unwanted cells and foreign invaders.) This is something only an adjustment and no flu shot can do.

The nervous, immune, and endocrine systems share tiny messenger molecules that mediate communication between them.  One of these messenger molecules, IL-2, used to be classically thought of as an immune system molecule; however, studies published within the past decade have clearly shown IL-2’s presence and activity in the nervous system (click here for more information).  One recent pioneering study,”Enhancement of in vitro interleukin-2 production in normal subjects following a single spinal manipulative treatment”(click here for the article) clearly demonstrated an increase in IL-2 levels and also in the function of T-cells, which are key players in the immune system’s army of cells, following chiropractic adjustment.  The authors concluded that chiropractic adjustment can influence the biological immune response. 

In another elegant study by Selano et al, “The Effects of Specific Upper Cervical Adjustments On The CD4 Counts of HIV Positive Patients'”  (Chiropractic Research Journal 1994;  3(1): 32-39), the effects of six months of regular chiropractic care on the immune system function of HIV patients was measured.  At the end of six months of care, the patients who had received regular adjustments had a 48% increase in the number of CD4+ T cells (p=0.06), whereas the patients who were not adjusted had an 8% decrease in CD4+ cells.  (This article is not readily available on the web, but copies are available at Path of Life upon request) 

A series of studies published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Theraputics (JMPT) by Brennan and Triano showed that several types of immune system cells, including phagocytes, neutrophils, and PMNs, showed increased biological activity after chiropractic adjustment.  Links to the PubMed abstracts can be found here and here.  These studies all suggest that chiropractic adjustment can enhance immune system function.

The idea that chiropractic care can help the immune system work better is not a new one.  In fact, this concept has been supported by credible data for a century.  For example, Dr. Dan Murphy compiled some very interesting data regarding the use of chiropractic care during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.  Click here for an excerpt.  According to the statistics presented in this excerpt, influenza patients who were under chiropractic care rather than medical care during this epidemic had significantly higher survival rates.  (Note:  some cite the success of chiropractic treatment in this epidemic as the historical turning point that allowed chiropractic care to survive as a profession.) 

And let’s not forget that the endocrine system is the third leg in the stool of neuro-endocrine immunology.  The endocrine system’s main players are epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), nor-epinephrine, and cortisol.  These molecules are produced in the adrenal glands, endocrine glands which have direct connections with the nervous system by way of a division called the sympathetic nervous system.  Cortisol in particular is a stress hormone that inhibits the immune system (which is why stress really can make you sick!)  So if the sympathetic nervous system is too “turned on” due to stress and subluxation, it can increase the adrenal glands’ synthesis of cortisol, in turn affecting the immune system.  Vertebral subluxation promotes this exact situation (see here for and article abstract and here for an full article describing this).  

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