Think of cytokines as carriers of a chemical message surrounded by protein molecules. Depending on which cells they interact with, and the type of cytokines, the result of the message will be different. Cytokines are present in virtually all biological responses, causing cells to replicate, develop, or fight disease; although they can also cause cells to stop working.
Types of Cytokines Involved in Immune Responses
Given the diversity of cytokines, they can be classified into several groups: interferons, tumor necrosis factors, and growth factors. These types of cytokines are included in the group of “proinflammatory cytokines”. Proinflammatory cytokines activate an inflammatory response in cells, while anti-inflammatory cytokines (interleukins) do the opposite.
Cytokines: the frontier of modern medicine
The power of cytokines lies in our ability to manipulate or stimulate their production in order to achieve a certain biological response. Knowing how they work, when they occur and, most importantly, what biological response they trigger, is revolutionizing modern medicine treatments.
Damage to proinflammatory cytokines is related to the development of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease, and periodontal disease. Furthermore, research has shown that these autoimmune diseases can lead to cancerous tumors.
The link between cancer and proinflammatory cytokines is just as important. There is a strong belief that therapeutic treatments to block or inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines can be used to treat certain types of cancer. Cytokines are showing potential to influence how we treat debilitating and deadly diseases.
Cytokine therapy: a new perspective for the treatment of chronic diseases
Achieving a balance of cytokines is essential, not only in the fight against autoimmune diseases, but also to maintain health. This balance is evident when one considers that while proinflammatory cytokines are associated with cancer, anti-inflammatory cytokines are used in cancer immunotherapy.
By synthesizing it in a laboratory, more interleukins (anti-inflammatory cytokines) can be generated than our body produces. Interleukin 2 (IL-2) stimulates the production of antibodies, while a similar cytokine, interferon alpha (IFN-α), helps regenerate immune cells that have stopped functioning.
Cytokine balance: the new approach to a healthy lifestyle
Fortunately, many of us naturally produce a healthy balance of cytokines through our diet. People on a gluten-free diet will benefit from a better balance of cytokines, as gluten could be linked to stimulating an inflammatory response. In addition, superfoods promote the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, making them valuable additions to our diet.
While our dietary choices help produce beneficial cytokines, stress can cause our nervous system to block anti-inflammatory cytokine functions. Good stress management is essential to ensure healthy and natural cytokine production and to improve our overall health.