The Effect of Acupuncture on the Immune System

By Craig Amrine

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

Granulocytes

Neutrophils = Most abundant type of white blood cell. Become phagocytic when encountering infectious materials; meaning they eat foreign, infected, or dying cells.

Eosinophils = Weakly phagocytic.. Very effective against parasites (worms). Ingest antigen/antibody combinations. They also moderate histamine induced allergy and inflammatory responses.

Basophils = They release histamine, an enzyme that is triggered by cell damage.

Histamine is responsible for increasing blood flow to a target area, increasing permeability of blood vessels to promote fluid to flow from blood vessels to surrounding tissue spaces resulting in swelling. It is secreted by basophils, mast cells and platelets and is responsible for much of our undesirable allergy symptoms left unchecked.

Natural Killer Cells (NK) = These cells directly attack and kill infected and cancer / tumor cells. They don’t have to rely on any prior “conference” or anti-body based reactions, although they do respond to “some” instructions from other immune cells. They are considered the “shock-troops” of this defensive battle.

Agranulocytes

Phagocytes = These are derived from monocytes, a type of white blood cell that wander through connective tissue. The macrophages here are designed to ingest cellular debris and foreign invaders.

Lymphyocytes = These ar responsible for developing cell immunities.

T Lymphocytes = These cells can either directly kill certain tumor or virally infected cells (CD8+ or “cytotoxic” version) or they can secrete factors that activate other white blood cells (CD4+ or “helper” version). There are several other subtypes of T-lymphocytes that I didn’t include in order to keep this article at a reasonable a length.

B Cells = The main function of these cells is to secrete antibodies; specific markers for one particular antigen(foreign body). These antibodies serve as markers to trigger other types white blood cells to attack and kill it.

Cytokines = Proteins secreted by various white-blood cells that act as messengers and mediators during the immune response. They are often responsible for both enhancing or modulation inflammation, fever, and immune responses led by white-blood cells. There are SEVERAL sub-types of cytokines including Interleukins (IL-1, IL-2 subfamily, IL-10 subfamily), Interferon (IFN), lymphokines.

The overall immune response mechanism (both cell-mediated and humoral immunity) is an ingenious and complex dance that involves all of these cell types listed above as well as several other cells and processes designed to provide an effective but regulated defense against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and cancer. Imbalance in this process can lead to, on one extreme, a weak immune system where we are left vulnerable to any external or internal invader. On the other extreme, the imbalance can lead to a situation where the immune system is too active and will attack healthy body tissue and undigested proteins as characterized by several types of auto-immune disorders.

What can acupuncture do? Can acupuncture actually affect the number of leukocytes and cytokines responsible for our immune system? The answer is without a doubt YES!