By Howard Benedikt, DC, MS
Board of Directors, American Academy of Health Practitioners
Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Howard Benedikt
Plant sterols and sterolins are proven to be effective compounds modulating the immune system and, as a result, relieving people of symptoms associated with numerous autoimmune diseases. In the past, autoimmune conditions have been treated with toxic drugs, which cause immuno-suppression. There is another approach which is being researched and falls under that branch of immunology called neuroimmunomodulation: this approach uses sterols and sterolins. As a result of using this approach, the activity of certain cells in the immune system are enhanced and the activity of other cells in the immune system are inhibited. This modulation has led to successful treatment of a number of autoimmune diseases.
Essential for one’s health and well-being is a normally functioning Immune system. Over the past several years, researchers have begun not only to better understand the intricate functioning of the many tissues and cells that comprise the immune system, but also have begun to better understand the important role of nutrition and diet in keeping the immune system functioning optimally.
Many published studies have looked at diets rich in fruits and vegetables and how they may reduce the rate of certain types of degenerative diseases. These include cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and macular degeneration. These studies have looked at such complex components as vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, beta-carotene and vitamin E. They have failed to look at certain types of fats, which are found in plants and seeds.
The human immune system is a complex adaptive defense system that has evolved over the years to protect vertebrates from invading pathogens and cancer. It is able to generate an enormous variety of cells and molecules capable of specifically recognizing and eliminating an endless number of foreign Invaders. These cells and molecules working together create a unique network whose complexity would rival any computer system. An effective immune response involves two major groups of cells, lymphocytes and antigen-presenting cells. The two major populations of lymphocytes are labeled B-lymphocytes (B cells.) and T-lymphocytes (T cells). B-lymphocytes mature within the bone marrow, while T- lymphocytes, which also arise within stem cells of the bone marrow, migrate to the thymus gland to mature. The thymus gland, located in close proximity to the heart, secretes specific proteins, called thymic proteins, which signal T cells to perform a certain way. With aging comes atrophy of the thymus and altered production of thymic proteins referred to as “thymicpause”.
There are two well defined populations of T cells: T-helper (TH) and T-cytotoxic (Tc) cells. Further research has now isolated two types of helper cells referred to as TH1 and TH2. TH1 releases interleukid-2(IL-2) and gamma interferon, which activate cytotoxic cells to become effective scavengers. This type of response, cell-mediated, is crucial for the body to survive the attack of a wide host of pathogens. Should this type of response falter, an infection can become chronic. TH2 cells secrete IL-4, IL-6 and IL- 10, all of which are involved in B-lymphocyte development. This is referred to as humoral immunity and this type of response is capable of limiting the damage induced by most extracellular organisms. In a healthy individual, there exists a delicate balance between TH1 and TH2. These cells are directly related to one another; when Th1 levels are high, then TH2 are low and vice versa. Under certain conditions of illness, one line may predominate, creating an imbalance between TH1 and TH2 cells.
TH2 dominated conditions include:
TH1 dominated conditions would include the following:
In the past, the management of immune conditions has usually involved the use of toxic drugs in order produce immunosuppression. Alternative therapies have looked at those natural remedies designed to strengthen the immune response, making one more resistant to disease. Now comes a new branch of immunology referred to as neuroimmunomodulatlon. This involves the use of naturally occurring substances able to normalize the immune response. In essence, taking a TH1 dominant state and pushing it to a Th2 state. The same would be true of a TH2 state being pushed to a TH1 state. Hence the result is TH1/Th2 balance.
Plant sterols are natural compounds found in edible vegetable oils. Although green and yellow vegetables contain significant amounts, their seeds concentrate the sterols. Most of the research on these phytonutrients has been done on the seeds of pumpkins, yams, soy, rice and herbs. Studies have shown that oral administration of plant sterols combined with plant enzymes is able to balance TH1 and TH2 cell types.
Numerous studies have now emerged showing that plant oils in the form of sterols and sterolins have profound health benefits. These studies have indicated that plant sterols may be beneficial in the management of benign prostatic hyperplasia; they may inhibit breast, prostate and colon cancer cell growth as well as reducing the inflammation seen in rheumatoid arthritis. Other studies have demonstrated that sterols inhibit the uptake of cholesterol in the intestines, making for the ideal treatment for lowering high levels of cholesterol.
As we enter the 21st century, we are faced with an ever-growing challenge of a toxic environment and other assaults placed on our body’s metabolic machinery. Our immune system due to its complex makeup is especially prone to insult and resulting damage. Plant sterols appear to offer a way of maintaining an integrative immune system. Further investigation is needed as to the health benefits of sterols and the benefits of their use in managing both acute and chronic illness in humans.
Bouic, Patrick, Lamprecht, J., Plant Sterols and Sterolins: A Review of their immune Modulating Properties, Alternative Medicine Review, Vol. 4 No. 3, 1999, p. 170-177.
Rook GA, Hernandez-Pandro R, Lightman SL. Hormones, peripherally activated prohormones, and the regulation of the TH1/TH2balance. Immunol Today 1994; 15:301-303.
Brock S., Transfer Factor and Its Clinical Applications, International Journal of Integrative Medicine, Vol. 2 No.4, July/August 2000, p.44-49
Rose N., Mackay I, The Autoimmune Diseases, 3rd Edition, Academic Press, 1998, p. 163-182.
Kuby J., Immunology 3rd Edition, Freeman and company, 1997,p. 285-306.
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