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Nutrition and Lifestyle for Immunity: The Th1 and Th2 balance

T-helper (Th) cells are classified in a variety of classes, the main ones being designated Th1 and Th2.  The balance between these two types of T-helper cells can determine the state of your immune system functions in and impact your overall health.

Th1 cells correlate to the idea of Wei qi, or defensive energy, in Chinese medicine, and promote cell-mediated immunity (CD4 type of T cells, killer T cells (CD8 type), natural killer cells, macrophages).  Being in a Th1 dominant immune state directs killer T-cells (CD8) to attack microorganisms and abnormal cells at the sites of infection inside the cells, kills specific fungi, viruses, and bacteria, stimulates natural killer cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes to kill cancer cells.  This state is enhanced by several immune communication chemicals, specifically Interluken-2 and 12, and gamma-interferon.

Th2 cells promote humoral immunity (B cells and antibodies) to produce antibodies (e.g., IgG, IgE) to neutralize foreign invaders outside of the cells.  This state is enhanced by immune communication chemicals Interleukins 4, 5, 6, and 10, and alpha interferon.

Failure of Th1 and overactive Th2 is found in many chronic diseases, including AIDS, candidiasis, multiple allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities, some autoimmune diseases, viral hepatitis, and cancer.  As many serious diseases, such as HIV infection, progess, the immune system shifts from the more effective TH1 state to the ineffective Th2 state.


  • Omega-3 Fatty acids (DHA/EPA) improve cell-mediated immunity, and reduce Interleuken-6 and triglycerides; found in all cold water fish, especially salmon, sardines, mackerel, halibut, and trout.  Fish should be canned, boiled, or broiled instead of fried. Lesser amounts found in dark-green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables (blue green algae, chlorella. (Chlorella also increases cell-mediated immunity by other factors.)
  • Oleic acids (monounsaturated) increase IgA antibody (immunity on mucus membranes/ Th3); found in cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut or filbert oil (or the whole nuts), green and ripe olives, and almonds.  (Coconut oil neither suppresses nor enhances cell mediated immunity.)
  • Vitamin A increases IgA; found in cod liver oil, cooked carrots, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes/yams (any yellow/orange vegetable).
  • Vitamin E induces interleuken-2, natural killer cell function, and gamma interferon, and acts as an antioxidant.
  • Garlic activates natural killer cells, T-lymphocyte function, and the level of interlueken-2.
  • Silica reduces excess IgG, which improves natural killer cell function and improves the integrity of the skin and mucus membranes; found in cooked oatmeal or millet, and the herb horsetail.
  • Glutathione acts as an antioxidant and removes toxins from inside cells.  It is increased by alpha lipoic acid, selenium, and the amino acids N-acetyl cysteine, L-cysteine, and L-glutamine.  Good quality sources of protein can supply many of these amino acids through the diet.
  • Proper digestion, including protein digestive enzymes, naturally found in fresh ginger root, raw pineapple, and kiwi fruit.  Cayenne before meals stimulates hunger and digestive enzymes. Lemon juice or apple cider vinegar stimulates hydrochloric acid (vinegar also kills HIV). Most of immune system and neurotransmitter receptor sites are in our intestines!
  • Healthy balance of intestinal flora increases Interlueken-2 and 12, and gamma interferon production, decreases IgE antibody production (associated with allergic reactions) and all Th2 factors, and increases the anti-tumor activity in macrophages.
    • NOTE: One species of intestinal flora promotes Th2, which is streptococcus thermophilus, widely used in the making of commercial yogurt.  So if the yogurt contains more thermophilus than acidophilus, there will be more Th2 than Th1!

Sunlight, water, exercise, touch, positive attitude, and acupuncture also increase Th1!  Be cautious with echinacea and astragalus because they can increase both Th1 and Th2.



The three most common factors that increase Th2:

  1. Faulty digestion, leading to absorption of partially digested and unusable proteins, which increases the antibody immune response to these foreign food particles.  This can be improved by proper stomach acid and digestive enzyme function, chewing slowly and eating only when hungry.
  2. White sugar, which directly weakens the functioning of macrophages, natural killer cells, and other white blood cells, and weakens systemic resistance to all infections.
  3. Trans-fatty and omega-6 acids, found in most heated and processed vegetable oils (soy, canola, safflower, corn, and sunflower), and the processed foods made from these oils.  The trans-fatty acids weaken CD8 killer-T cell activity.  Except for expeller pressed oils, nearly all other vegetables are processed with solvents, hexane or gasoline, to remove oils from the seeds.  The process also twists the fatty acids out of their normal shape, so when they are incorporated into cell membranes, they produce membranes that are porous and vulnerable to viral infections.  The heat, light, and oxygen in the process cause the oils to go rancid.


Other factors that increase Th2 include:

  • asbestos, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals, pesticides,
  • morphine, tobacco, alcohol, steroids,
  • pathogens (including HIV, Hepatitis C, and candida), streptococcus thermophilus,
  • continuous stress, negative attitudes and suppressed emotions,
  • sedentary lifestyle, lack of water, low body temperature, and chronic insomnia.


Lectures by Satya Ambrose, L.Ac, N.D.

Konlee, Mark. “A Consumer’s Guide to Immune Restoration: The Search for ‘Th1’.” Positive Health News. Report No. 18. Spring 1999.

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