As we endure the cold and flu season, this is the perfect time to review some of the important research demonstrating the positive impact of chiropractic care on increasing immunity against disease. Chiropractic adjustments restore proper spine function, which allows your nervous system – which is housed in your spinal canal – to perform optimally. Your nervous system controls every physiologic function of your body, including the immune system. Thus, regular adjustments are part of maintaining strong defenses against illness.
One mechanism behind the connection between the nervous system and immune function is the direct control of immune system components by the division of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. This was suggested in 1987, when researchers reported the presence of norepinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline, a stress hormone) from sympathetic nerve fibers in immune system tissues and organs, such as lymph nodes and the spleen. Norepinephrine was thus proposed as an important regulator for these components of the immune system, stemming from the sympathetic nervous system. (1)
An early exploration of this link between the nervous system, immunity, and Chiropractic was performed in 1989, at New York University. The immune systems of those under chiropractic care were compared to members of the general public, and patients with cancer and other terminal illnesses. Over three years, those people under chiropractic care for more than five years demonstrated 200% greater immune function than those who had not received chiropractic care. Their immune systems worked 400% better than patients with cancer and terminal disease. These findings prompted further exploration of the reasons behind the chiropractic-immunology connection. (2)
A 1992 study continued examining the regulation of immunity by the sympathetic nervous system, finding dense collection of adrenaline-specific receptors in immune system organs. This research lays the foundation for the three-way connection between the nervous, endocrine (hormone), and immune systems. Importantly, the sympathetic nervous system is also closely connected to the body’s stress response. With chronically elevated stress, sympathetic activity increases, and stress hormone concentrations fluctuate. This alters immune system function, thereby changing susceptibility to various diseases. (3)
Another mechanism connecting chiropractic care and immune function was studied in 1991. This research found improve immune response in adults that had been adjusted by chiropractors. White blood cells called neutrophils and monocytes, which consume and destroy pathogens and diseased cells, undergo a respiratory burst of activity in response to illness or infection. This burst response is enhanced by chiropractic care. (4)
A research group at the Sid E. Williams Research Center of Life Chiropractic University studied a group of HIV positive patients who were adjusted over a six-month period. The adjusted patients had a 48% increase in CD4 cells, the immune system cells most impacted by HIV and AIDS. The control group of patients that were not adjusted did not demonstrate this dramatic increase in immune function, rather an 8% decrease in CD4 cell counts over the same period. (5)
In 2000, a comprehensive review of the literature was performed to summarize our current understanding of the integration between our nervous system and immune system. The study confirms the brain and immune system are the two major adaptive systems in the body. These systems must communicate during illness, to maintain homeostasis and health. This communication is accomplished by direct sympathetic nervous system influence, and by hormone output from the pituitary gland. (6)
Further research is being performed to fully understand the influence of Chiropractic for enhanced immunity. You may have already noticed suffering fewer colds, avoiding the flu, or simply recovering from illness more quickly, since you’ve started Chiropractic care. There are scientific reasons for your experience, and continued tune-ups will keep all of the systems your nervous system controls healthy and strong.
- Felton DL, Felton SY, Belonged DL, et al. “Noradrenergic sympathetic neural interactions with the immune system: structure and function.” Immunol Rev. 1987 Dec;100:225-60.
- Pero R. “Medical Researcher Excited By CBSRF Project Results.” The Chiropractic Journal, August 1989; 32.
- Murray DR, Irwin M, Reardon CA, et al. “Sympathetic and immune interactions during dynamic exercise. Mediation via a beta 2 – adrenergic-dependent mechanism.” Circulation 1992 86(1): 203
- Brennan P, Graham M, Triano J, Hondras M. “Enhanced phagocytic cell respiratory bursts induced by spinal manipulation: Potential Role of Substance P.” J Manip Physiolog Ther 1991; (14)7:399-400.
- Selano JL, Hightower BC, Pfleger B, Feeley-Collins K, Grostic JD. “The Effects of Specific Upper Cervical Adjustments on the CD4 Counts of HIV Positive Patients.” The Chiro Research Journal; 3(1); 1994.
- Elenkov IJ, Wilder RL, Chrousos GP, Vizi ES: “The sympathetic nerve-an integrative interface between the two supersystems: the brain and the immune system.” Pharmacol Rev 2000;52:295-63