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Cytokine Basics

A valuable way to check that status of your immune system in general is a cytokine test. Cytokines are chemical messengers the immune system uses for internal communication. Different components of the immune system coordinate their efforts with cytokines. We can listen in on their conversation by checking levels of different cytokines.

Cytokines are classified in five basic categories: pro-inflammatory, anti-inflammatory, chemokines, growth factors and miscellaneous.

Cytokine testing is done in two different ways. The first is to check the base levels, that is the levels of cytokines from the white cells in the condition they are in as they arrive at the lab. The other is to challenge the white cells with different chemicals to see how they respond.

The base test gives us information about the general alert status of your immune system. With five different groups and with 2 to 6 cytokines per group, many different responses are possible. This information will be helpful in interpreting the challenged profiles.

A lot has been written about Th1 and Th2 dominance. The immune system is more complicated than just this simple classification however, having some information about which system is more active can be helpful in some cases. The Pharmasan Labs profile labeled Pro-Inflammatory lists cytokines that are often considered Th1 related. The profile labeled Anti-Inflammatory lists cytokines that are often considered Th2 related. Therefore if you have too elevated Pro-Inflammatory cytokines and normal Anti-Inflammatory cytokines, you can be classified as having a Th1 dominant response. The vice versa is also true.

We like to start with the base test. Again, we are checking cytokine levels without challenging the white cells. We will have to look at the pattern and then decide on which kind of therapy would be appropriate for that clinical pattern and cytokine profile. The pattern is as always, test, treat and retest.

If the base test comes back equivocal, meaning that no clear pattern emerges, we can then test the white cell response to a challenge. The two primary challenges are PHA and LPS. PHA or phytohaemagglutenin is a plant lectin that is very active biologically and stimulates a wide range of responses in mammalian systems. LPS or lipopolysaccharide is a common product of bacteria.

We expect to see a certain response from a challenge of the white cells. The response can either be typical of what’s expected, greater than or less than what is expected. A greater than expected response means a heightened response to the substance tested maybe meaning that the body is sensitized that class of problems and is on alert. A decrease could mean fatigue of the immune response. Give us a call at 877-465-0844 and we can set up the testing for you. You will receive a kit in the mail that you will take to the lab for the blood draw. You don't need to fast or change your supplements or diet before the test. Once we have the results, we will talk about what it means and what steps you might take to move the profile to something more ideal if necessary.
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