By Dr. Christopher Kent
Previous columns have addressed the role of the nervous system in modulating immune system activity, and the bidirectional communication that takes place between these two “supersystems” of the body. [1,2,3]
A recent paper presented by Owen and Rix  describes a study that examined the effects of thoracic or lumbar diversified technique on serum immunoglobin M levels.
The authors wrote: “It is now quite clear that primary and secondary lymphoid organs and tissue receive a direct innervation from the sympathetic nervous system and that cells of the immune system bear specific surface receptors for a wide array of neurotransmitters, neurohormones and neuropeptides associated with the SNS.
“These findings are offered as one mechanism whereby the central nervous system may be available for the modulation of immune responses to antigens. The spleen, which makes a major contribution to the serum levels of immunoglobin M, receives a sympathetic innervation mainly from T6 TO t10. Therefore, it was hypothesized that thoracic spinal dysfunction, and any segmentally or regionally associated increased sympathetic tone may result in a downregulation of splenic Bcell activity and a lowering of serum IgM.”
The investigators recruited 60 healthy students for the study. One third served as controls, while the remaining two thirds were examined from T6 to T10, L4 and L5, and the SI joints using static and motion palpation. Depending on the findings, these subjects were assigned to receive thoracic or lumbar/SI specific diversified technique. The intervention period was two weeks, which began two weeks after the initial examination. A total of 35 subjects completed the study.
Serum IgM levels were measured prior to any intervention, and at days 30 and 37. Day 30 was 4 days after the last chiropractic intervention; day 37 was 11 days after the last chiropractic intervention.
The group receiving thoracic diversified technique showed an 11% increase in serum IgM levels on the 30th day, which increased to 22% on day 37. These changes were statistically significant. The lumbar/SI group had a two percent increase on day 30, and a 16% increase on day 37. This was not found to statistically significant. There was no statistically significant change in the control group.
The authors concluded that the rise in IgM levels that persisted several days after the last session of thoracic diversified technique appeared to be consistent with the sympathetic innervation to the spleen.
It is gratifying to see that clinical evidence is emerging which is helping to clarify the mechanisms by which chiropractic care may affect immune system activity.
Hopefully, we will see more studies exploring the relationship of chiropractic adjustment to immune function. Such studies would be strengthened by the addition of objective assessments of somatic and autonomic activity, such as SEMG and skin temperature differential analysis.
1. Kent C: “Neuroimmunology — an update.” http://www.worldchiropracticalliance.org/tcj/2001/aug/aug2001kent.htm
2. Kent C: “The mental impulsebiochemical and immunologic aspects.” http://www.worldchiropracticalliance.org/tcj/1999/feb/feb1999kent.htm
3. Kent C: “Two ‘supersystems.’” http://www.worldchiropracticalliance.org/tcj/2003/may/may2003kent.htm
4. Owen DE, Rix GDW: “The effect of chiropractic manipulation on serum levels of immunoglobin M.” European Journal of Chiropractic 2003;48:55.