Lower inflammation cytokines to feel better, boost your immune system, and to decrease Herxheimer reactions. In this article I review the good and bad of cytokines and provide detailed plans for you to lower these chemicals made by white blood cells. Everyone with Lyme and tick borne illnesses should take steps throughout treatment to lower cytokines. Here is how.
Cytokines are proteins made by various types of white blood cells to turn on the immune system to attack invaders like:
- bacteria (for example, Lyme germs and the co-infections),
- intestinal yeast,
- lyme and mold toxins,
- environmental toxins, and
- heavy metals toxins like lead and mercury.
Cytokines are good, right? Well yes and no.
In the right amount they promote healing. In excess, they cause all of the major Lyme disease symptoms and suppress the immune system. The problem in chronic Lyme and associated diseases is that they are usually made in excess. Fortunately there are some great steps you can take to lower cytokines.
Good: The right amount of cytokines
- make antibodies work more effectively,
- increase active white blood cells,
- recruit white blood cells to where they are needed,
- turn on white blood cells, and
- decrease viral and bacterial replication.
Bad: Too many cytokines:
- suppress the immune system,
- cause pain,
- decrease hormone production from organs like the thyroid and the adrenal glands,
- disturb sleep,
- decrease brain function,
- increase fatigue and tiredness,
- waste muscles,
- cause depression, and
- decrease the function of various organs throughout the body resulting in many other symptoms and medical problems.
Let’s Be Clear; They are Excess Cytokine Symptoms
So to be correct, most Lyme symptoms are really excess cytokine symptoms. And other conditions that increase cytokines add to your cytokine pool.
That is why some people with Lyme disease must also address other cytokine producing problems like MTHFR and mold detox issues, yeast overgrowth in the intestines, parasites, and viral infections.
Herxheimer Die-Off Reactions
A cytokine flare that occurs when a person starts killing Lyme germs is called a Herxheimer die-off reaction. This occurs when the immune system sees dead bug parts from killing Lyme germs and toxins that get released form the inside of the germ. In this situation the immune system makes more cytokines causing a person to feel much worse.
Marty Ross MD Speaks About Cytokines
The recording is from our Lyme Q&A webinar Conversations with Marty Ross MD recorded 3/9/16.
Cytokines: How They are Made and Regulated
Cytokines are made when immune cells are stimulated by germs, toxins, oxidizing agents, other cytokines, and other agents. Once the immune cells are stimulated an intracellular messenger called NF-kB (nuclear factor kappa beta) causes genetic programming for the production of cytokines and the turning on of white blood cells to fight infections. Within the white blood cell cytokines are then produced in chemical reactions which require enzymes called kinases.
Antioxidants lower triggers for NF-kB. Cells also have a genetic messenger that increases cell production of antioxidants like glutathione. This messenger is called Nrf2 (nuclear factor 2).
How to Lower Cytokines
Sleep. First it is important to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Sleep lowers cytokines.
Use Supplements. To lower cytokines there are a number of interventions to:
- increase antioxidants,
- decrease NF-kB genetic programming of cells,
- increase Nrf2,
- block kinase enzymes and,
Antioxidants. Based on the work of Martin Pall, PhD, it is critical to lower oxidizing agents that trigger cytokine production. Glutathione which is made in every cell and its building blocks alpha lipoic acid (ALA) and n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) are helpful. Curcumin which is a component of turmeric and quercetin are also good antioxidants.
Detox. Glutathione and its precursor building blocks ALA and NAC also help remove toxins.
NF-kB. Curcumin, quercetin, and resveratrol decrease NF-kB induced genetic signals to produce cytokines.
Nrf2. Curcumin, resveratrol, and black tea extracts containing the polyphenol EGCG increase Nrf2 which increases cell level production of glutathione and other antioxidants.
Kinase. Quercetin also blocks kinase enzymes required in the production of cytokines. Blocking kinases with quercetin interferes with the cytokine production line.
Step 1: Throughout Treatment
Use a good multivitamin that includes alpha lipoic acid, n-acetyl cysteine, antioxidants, and other micronutrients that decrease oxidizing agents and support liver detoxification. I prefer multivitamin products in powder form made by Thorne or Integrative Therapeutics.
- Sleep 7-9 hours a night. See the Sleep Chapter to learn techniques to aid sleep and sleep prescription and supplement options.
- Curcumin 500mg 1-2 pills 3 times a day or AntiCytokine Combination (find a combination product that contains curcumin, resveratrol, black tea extract, and NAC) 1-2 pills 3 times a day.
- Multivitamin. Use multivitamin powders by Thorne or Integrative Therapeutics. Use as directed on the product label.
Step 2: Add More Anti-oxidants and Detox Agents
For more severe cases add oral glutathione while continuing the multivitamin and curcumin or AntiCytokine Combination. Glutathione is also a great choice if there is nerve pain or numbness. If the addition of glutathione is not effective then consider adding quercetin. This combination works to block the cytokine production line and decreases oxidizing agents that trigger production. These treatments can take 1-2 weeks for maximum effect.
- Glutathione 500mg (as oral liposomal glutathione) 1 or 2 times a day.
- Quercetin 250mg 2 pills 3 times a day.
If glutathione is not tolerated then work with one or a combination of the following anti-oxidants that are used to make glutathione.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid 350mg 1 pill 2 times a day.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine 500mg 1 pill 3 times a day.
Step 3: Severe Situations like Herxheimer Die-off Reactions.
For severe situations and bad Herxheimer die-off reactions that are not improving with Step 1 and Step 2 use IV glutathione as a potent antioxidant and to support liver detoxification. This is administered in an integrative medicine physician’s office. Another option is to use glutathione in a nebulizer. Glutathione IV is stronger than glutathione by nebulizer in my experience. Using a nebulizer you breath in a fine mist of the glutathione which is absorbed into the blood throught the blood vessels in the lungs. Sometimes I will start a person with four IV glutathione treatments and then change to glutathione by nebulizer to continue the treatment.
- Glutathione IV 1200mg to 2500mg 2 times a week for a minimum of four treatments. If it helps but there are still improvements with the last treatment, consider weakly treatments until improvements plateau. You will likely feel more tired after the first treatment.
- Glutathione by nebulizer 200mg/ml 2ml 2 times a day for adults. Children can take 100mg/ml 1ml to 2ml 2 times a day.