Chiropractic methods are utilized for many complaints, of which the majority of research-based evidence supports conditions related to the musculoskeletal system—that is, neck, back, upper and lower limb conditions. However, when applied to certain areas of the spine, spinal manipulation can have other beneficial effects that are also supported by research. One of these additional benefits involves the immune system. So, can chiropractic adjustments be of benefit for conditions such as the common cold? Let’s take a look!
The quick response to this question is, “Possibly!” Studies report that regulation of our immune responses (our body’s ability to fight off infections, allergens, and the like) rely on an intimate relationship between our nervous system and immune system. The steps that occur to make this happen include complex interactions between various chemicals including neurotransmitters (chemicals in the nervous system), cytokines (these help “recruit” immune cells to sites of infection), and others. When studying cell cultures taken from healthy humans who received a single chiropractic adjustment to the upper thoracic spine, researchers observed the production of a key immune system chemical (a cytokine called “interleukin-2”). This study used 74 healthy age-matched subjects who were assigned to one of three groups: upper thoracic manipulation (group 1), sham (fake) manipulation (group 2), or venapuncture only (group 3 – control group). Blood samples were drawn from each participant before (initial base line), 20 minutes after treatment, and two hours following treatment. Blood samples taken from the subjects representing the three groups were placed in separate cultures infected with an agent and analyzed for differences in antibody production (the immune response). They found that ONLY the manipulation group produced protective antibodies (IgG and IgM). Hence, this supports the hypothesis that upper thoracic chiropractic spinal manipulation can stimulate the immune system via the nervous system and result in an increase in antibody production allowing us to better fight off those nasty bugs like the rhinoviruses that result in the common cold. Continued studies will hopefully tell us more about how all this works, but the current science looks very promising! Remember, there are at least 99 DIFFERENT recognized types of rhinoviruses, each individually unique, thus making it next to impossible to “cure” the common cold since any one or several rhinoviruses may be attacking us at one time.
Here are some other reported ways to strengthen the immune system:
- Probiotics: Supplementing with “friendly” bacteria that NORMALLY live in our GI tract (intestines) which include two types: 1. Lactobacillus acidophilus (LA) and 2. Bifidobacterium bifidum (BB). LA normally resides in the upper GI (small intestine) and BB in the lower GI (large intestine). Studies show that these friendly bacteria strengthen the ability of the immune cells surrounding the GI Tract to defend the body against toxins, (“bad”) bacteria, and allergens.
- Exercise: Moderate exercise boosts the immune system function, but intense exercise can have the opposite effect. “Post-exercise immune function dysfunction” is most pronounced when the exercise is continuous, prolonged (>1.5 h), of moderate to high intensity (55-75% VO2 Max), and especially when performed in the absence of eating.
- Other vitamins and nutrients: The partial list includes carotenoids, Co-Q10, Echinacea, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.
- Reduce stress: There is a great deal of evidence that stress reduces our immune functions.