From the Archives
Added online October 2016
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Some molds release toxins, as certain snakes are poisonous. These mold toxins are diverse1,2: They can activate or impair our innate immune system, may provoke disabling chronic inflammation, cause many hormonal disturbances, and more – even promote cancer.3-8 This is quite distinct from the hay fever-allergic reaction that molds can produce.9-11 There is a third way that fungi (mold, yeast, etc.) can make us sick. This is generally neglected because of scientific orthodoxy and institutional dogma.
Fungus Hypersensitivity Can Create Inflammation that Mimics Infection
Case 1: Doc's oldest son got fungal ringworm (tinea corporis).12 Doc prescribed Lotrimin cream (clotrimazole 1%), applied 4 times daily by the boy's mother, a nurse. It was no better after 10 days and the boy was taken to a dermatologist, Dr. W. When he prescribed Lotrisone cream (clotrimazole and betamethasone dipropionate, 1%/0.05%), Doc protested: This was the same antifungal that already had failed and it had steroids, which promote fungus growth. Dr. W winked and said: "Try it!"
In three days, the ringworm was gone. Allergy skin tests confirmed that No.1 Son reacted to Trichophyton, not immediately but quite strongly 24 and 48 hours after the test was placed. The Trichophyton causing No.1's ringworm had been arrested by the antifungal in Lotrimin, but the fungal remains in his skin provoked immune inflammation – until that was quenched by the steroid in Lotrisone.
Inflammation from Fungal Hypersensitivity Responds to Immunotherapy
Case 2: Both of M. B.'s ear canals started itching and progressed to became painful and swollen for years. A sensible ENT surgeon had performed a right mastoidectomy but found no disease. On Doc's examination, both ears were red and chronically thickened with "peau d'orange," and neither canal could admit even a newborn speculum. She had skin tests for allergy and days later had big reactions to Aspergillus, Candida, and Staph phage lysate–normal flora of the external canals.13-15
Desensitization shots were started and she was put on a "candida program."16,17 Several months later, Doc operated on her worst ear, removing a mass of scar tissue that obstructed the ear canal and placing "pinch" skin grafts. Six months later, the operation planned for her other ear was unnecessary: Both ears had returned to normal appearance and function.
To understand what happened to these people, we must examine the immune system.
The Role of the Immune System
The immune system has one great task: It protects us from dangerous invaders. These microterrorists include parasites, bacteria, viruses, toxins (such as tetanus and Stachybotrys), and cancer cells.18
To master this task, the immune system must first discriminate between the many, many things that make up our own body (properly called "self") and the vast amount of everything else that is not our body (called "non-self"). Certainly, the immune system should not attack "self"!
Secondly, it must sort through that vast array of non-self and differentiate between the harmless and the dangerous. It must leave "harmless" things alone and save its killing energy to attack and destroy the "dangerous" foreign matter. All things considered, that is an awesome task. To achieve it, the immune system has two main divisions.
Immunity 101: The Innate ('Nonspecific') Immune System
First, some immune protection is programmed right into our DNA. Virtually all living things, even plants and quite primitive creatures, are genetically – innately – directed to defend themselves by attacking a variety of biochemical molecules.19
In humans, this innate immune system has developed several "operational arms." First, white blood cells (WBCs) called macrophages – literally big eaters – using primitive amoebic action engulf annoying foreign material and "process" it chemically. This material is importantly used to direct acquired immunity.
Second, these white cells also release a variety of chemicals, by which the innate immune system recruits more WBCs (think "pus") and promotes inflammation, which should be defensive and "direct" wound healing, if not in excess or prolonged.20
Finally, a sequence of proteins collectively called the complement cascade is considered part of the innate immune system. When triggered by various immune responses – and by toxins – these proteins activate each other in a chain reaction that amplifies the power of the immune response.21
Immunity 102: The Acquired (Adaptive) Immune System
We higher vertebrates are also equipped with more versatile defenses, the acquired immune system (also called adaptive). It fields a team of "programmable" WBCs, including T and B lymphocytes. These cells are at first called "naïve," and indeed they are harmless as puppies – but they won't stay that way. Here's how immune cells learn "what to attack":
These naïve cells become educated by hooking up with "big eaters" of the innate system.22 From them, they receive their load of ingested foreign material. Having been processed by the macrophages, this is now unmistakably labeled as "bad." The T and B cells are thus galvanized to attack the foreign material – and so the immune response is acquired. It is also enduring.23 These educated immune cells alter their DNA, passing sensitization to all their descendants – creating clones of protective cells.24
On receiving this molecular mug shot, T lymphocytes are programmed to fasten onto and destroy anything carrying that particular foreign "label." They become killer cells – certainly no longer naïve.25
B lymphocytes, having received the same information and similarly primed, begin to make protein antibodies called immunoglobulins (especially IgG, -M and -E).26 These molecular equivalents of Predator drones are released into the blood and specifically target the foreign material presented by the macrophages. Some reactions provoke little incident, but others produce very much inflammation indeed.
Both T- and B-cell activity lead to the release of chemicals that promote inflammation and recruit many other cells to the sites of conflict.27,28 Both these effects amplify the innate system and trigger the complement cascade. Please note that ultimately, the innate and acquired immune systems both stimulate the same final consequences. This is a key point.
Immunity 201: Immune Protection
Many of a pregnant woman's immunoglobulins-G cross the placenta to her child. Thus, babies at birth are endowed with a good measure of immune protection, received "passively" from mother.29 This is temporary, lasting 12 months or more (hence, babies of HIV-positive women are tested for antibodies only after age 18 months).30 So, the baby's acquired immune system quickly gets busy learning its "craft," a lifelong process.
History, 1796: Smallpox killed 1 of 5 people who contracted it, but survivors never got it again; their acquired immune system had become educated to kill the virus on sight and prevent a recurrence. When Dr. Edward Jenner noted that the mild infection called cowpox rendered milkmaids immune to smallpox, he inoculated his patients with cowpox. They were then protected from smallpox.31 From this concept, he is popularly credited with saving more lives than anyone else in the history of the world.32
Vaccinations educate our immune systems. They present harmless proteins that will stimulate an immune response protecting us from dangerous ones. When the immune system attacks dangerous "invaders," it keeps us healthy. This is beneficial immunity.
Immunity 103: Unwanted Immunity
History, 1819: Tom was a gentleman farmer. Every year, he'd get sick when the harvest was brought in: Watery eyes, running nose, sneezing, and fullness and itching in his throat. He thought it was a cold, noting that the farm workers had it too – but it happened every year. In London, he saw Dr. John Bostock, who diagnosed "hay fever."33
When the immune system is confused between harmless and dangerous, it attacks harmless nonself substances. This unnecessary immunological "warfare" makes us sick. We call this illness allergy.
Case 3: Big Al was a surgeon with five kids and a stressed wife. He was really tired and needed to drink two pots of coffee daily to keep going. He repeatedly asked his GP to test his thyroid gland. Every time it was checked, thyroid-stimulating hormone was normal, though the level got worse and worse. The gland was failing. Fine-needle aspiration biopsy showed that Big Al had autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT), which was slowly destroying his thyroid gland.
When the immune system cannot recognize that "self" is harmless, trouble follows. It may attack some part of its own body and can destroy it, as though it were rejecting a mismatched transplanted-organ. Our thyroid gland is the most common target: 12.5% of Americans test positively for antithyroid autoantibodies, including 24% of allergic women.34,35 We call this autoimmune disease.36
Graduate Immunology: Application to Patient Care
Medical science has several occupations. In the simplest form, we endeavor to:
- Observe what is happening.
- Understand what we have observed.
- Apply this knowledge to cure people or relieve their suffering.
- Improve our results by observing what is happening … etc.
There are many types of immune reactions – as you might expect from having learned that there are two types of immune system, many types of white blood cells, and very many chemicals produced by their activities. Doctors have observed these reactions for generations. Unfortunately, they still argue about what they mean.
Case 4: When Henry's cat scratched him, his skin swelled all along the scratch.37 The first deliberate skin test for allergy was done in 1869 by Charles Harrison Blakely, who himself had hay fever. He nicked his skin (having been unsuccessful in recruiting other volunteers), put some pollen onto the abrasion, and within 20 minutes saw his skin swell up and itch intensely around the application.38
Do skin tests actually identify trouble-making pollens? Yes: When pollens or other allergens identified by positive skin tests are spritzed into the person's eyes, nose, or airways, they provoke the person's "hay fever" symptoms and more.39,40
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