The global population is constantly exposed to toxins – be it chemical, physical, or biological – which can have detrimental effects on the immune system and overall health. While the immune system is inherently capable of self-regulation following an immune response to toxin exposure, chronic exposure can strain it to the point of malfunction. This can lead to greater susceptibility to illness and infection, as well as a slower recovery process.
Impaired immune function resulting from the accumulation of toxins within the body can cause endocrine disruption and inflammatory dysregulation resulting in tangible but vague symptoms. A growing toxin burden among the population has heightened the risk of immunotoxicity, or adverse effects on local and systemic immune systems resulting from exposure to noxious substances, and sparked an increase in autoimmune illness prevalence.
How Toxins Affect the Immune System
The concept of immunotoxicity implicates that toxic substances can modulate the immune system leading to cellular alterations, some of which could be irreversible. Environmental and chemical toxins have been proven to adversely affect the immune system in numerous ways, stimulating an immune response by mimicking hormones or causing systemic inflammation. As an example, patients with asthma or other respiratory conditions can experience severe breathing difficulties when exposed to excessive indoor air pollutants.
Environmental Exposure to Pollutants
According to the latest research, environmental pollutant exposure can affect reproductive, respiratory, and nervous system function across multiple generations, with higher risks found among individuals living in urban areas. A recent animal study reported that maternal exposure to common industrial pollutants can harm the immune system of offspring, with this injury carrying forward to subsequent generations. Such a multi-generational weakening of the immune system could help explain variations in health outcomes during seasonal and pandemic viral episodes.
As part of the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to environmentally relevant levels of dioxin, which like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is a common by-product of industrial production and waste incineration that can also be found in certain consumer products. Dioxins and PCBs bio-accumulate as they move up the food chain and are found in greater concentrations in animal-based food products.
The researchers examined the production and function of cytotoxic T cells in mice infected with the influenza A virus. A weakened immune response was reported in not only the offspring of mice exposed to dioxin but also in several subsequent generations; this reaction was also noted to be more pronounced in female mice.
As a result, the study’s authors concluded that dioxin exposure can alter the transcription of genetic coding. While toxin exposure itself did not trigger a genetic mutation, cellular mechanisms of gene expression can be changed and passed on to subsequent generations. If verified by large-scale human clinical trials, these findings would have significantly troubling implications on immunocompetence.
Enterotoxins and the Immune Response
Often associated with food-borne illnesses, enterotoxins are toxins produced in or affecting the intestines. When introduced into the body due to staphylococcus aureus bacteria, the specific bacterial toxins can trigger an extreme immune response by reducing the number of cells capable of suppressing this reaction.
During an infection, staphylococcus aureus releases a noxious cocktail of substances into the body – including staphylococcal enterotoxins A and B (SEA and SEB). Researchers from the Technical University of Munich and the University of Tubingen studied the role of these bacterial toxins in excessive immune responses to pathogens. They examined the impact of these substances on a group of immune cells – myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) on twenty different staphylococcus aureus strains – including ones resistant to many different antibiotics.
Their results found that the concentration of enterotoxins had a modifying effect on suppressing MDSCs. Certain strains released high levels of toxin, resulting in a much lower number of inhibitor immune cells. Meanwhile, lower toxin levels had the opposite effect, with more MDSCs observed.
Adverse Effects of Toxin Exposure
The latest scientific findings confirm that high concentrations of toxins can trigger excessive immune responses; thus, weakening the body even further and making it even more challenging to fight off disease.
To obtain a comprehensive picture of the impact of toxins on the immune system, further research on human participants conducted on a larger scale is needed. Nonetheless, the latest scientific evidence implicates that pollutants and toxic substances are able to impair immune function with adverse effects potentially spanning multiple generations.
Many health concerns can develop due to exposure to toxins, including immune system dysregulation and impairment. Environmental pollutants, bacteria, chemicals, and other factors can disrupt cellular pathways, diminish immune function, and increase susceptibility to various conditions.
With the incidence of toxin-related diseases rising over recent years, the complexity of patient care necessitates a well-informed clinical approach. To equip clinicians with top-tier knowledge, Module VI will review the various etiologies of modern-day living that skyrocket the incidence of immune and mitochondrial dysregulation and inflammation, leading to the clinical manifestations of autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, pain, and sleep dysregulation. Register for the upcoming course here.