Every parent wants the exact same thing for their child – they want them to be happy and healthy. The key to a healthy child is a properly functioning immune system. The job of the immune system is to protect and defend the body against infection from disease-producing organisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The “symptoms” that we experience (like runny nose, fever, and cough) are the natural response of the immune system; so instead of focusing our efforts on treating these symptoms, we should shift to supporting and strengthening our body’s immune system.
This is especially important in kids because as children grow and become exposed to more things, they are strengthening and developing their immune system.
“Whenever the immune system deals successfully with an infection, it emerges from the experience stronger and better able to confront similar threats in the future. Our immune system develops in combat. If, at the first sign of infection, you always jump in with antibiotics, you do not give the immune system a chance to grow stronger.”
– Andrew Weil, M.D.
So why are chiropractors talking about the immune system? Great question! The nervous system and immune system are very closely connected, both directly and indirectly. Let’s explore this further:
- There are many nerve endings found in the tissues of the immune system. The central nervous system is linked to both the bone marrow and thymus, where immune cells are produced and developed, and to the spleen and lymph nodes, where those cells are stored.
- Changes in the central nervous system alter immune responses (and vice versa). For example, stress activates the body’s ‘fight or flight response’ (also known as the sympathetic nervous system). Activation of the sympathetic nervous system drastically decreases the function of the immune system.
- Immune system cells are responsive to hormones as well as neurotransmitters (messengers of the nervous system). In fact, there is a whole field of study dedicated to the relationship of these systems, and it has the very long name neuro-endocrin-immunology or psychoneuroimmunology. In case you’d like to do some light reading… google it! If not, I’ll save you some time… changes in the nervous system directly affect how the immune system functions.
Since the close connection between the nervous and immune system exists, one way we can help strengthen the immune system is through a properly functioning nervous system – which is exactly the focus of chiropractic care! A study was performed by Dr. Ron Pero, a leading cancer and genetic research specialist, who found that chiropractic patients of ALL ages had a 200% greater immune competence than people who had never received chiropractic care, and 400% greater immune competence than people with serious diseases.
There are also very notable studies focusing on kids under chiropractic care, notably children suffering from asthma and children with ear infections.
One study followed children with asthma who were under chiropractic care and showed significant improvement in their quality of life. They also specifically monitored immune system changes, and check out these results as part of the neuro-endocrino-immunology relationship:
- Levels of IgA increased. When this immune system compound is too low it contributes to more respiratory smooth muscle contraction – something that is very detrimental to asthma sufferers.
- Levels of cortisol decreased. If levels of the hormone cortisol are too high this reduces the function of the immune system as well and increases respiratory smooth muscle contraction. Again, contraction of respiratory muscles is something that makes asthma considerably worse!
Pretty cool, huh?
Another very well researched topic in children is ear infections, also known as otitis media. One of the largest studies followed 332 kids with either acute or chronic ear infections, who were also under chiropractic care, for 6 months (Fallon). They found the number of days it took the ear to return to normal was 6.67 days for acute ear infections and 8.57 days for chronic ear infections. The children were followed for 6 months to monitor reoccurrence rate – the rate for acute infections was 11% and chronic was 16%.
We see this very frequently in our practice (and in our own families too): when the nervous system is functioning better, the immune system does too.