How to Augment the Immune System in response to childhood vaccinations
History of Vaccines
The vaccine controversy has been a source of heated debate amongst the natural and traditional medical and parenting communities for many years. Many don’t understand what a vaccine is or how it works, let alone the potential issues that may arise from vaccinating. The history of vaccines has been well documented by many researchers.
The most notable scientists in vaccine history are Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur. The term “vaccination” was coined by Edward Jenner in 1796. The first vaccine came from the cowpox virus and was used to combat smallpox in humans. The well known Louis Pasteur continued Jenner’s research to develop current day vaccines such as anthrax and rabies. Pasteur later published the name “vaccine”, giving homage to Jenner’s discoveries. Following these researchers, Maurice Hilleman developed many of our current day vaccines, including measles, mumps, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, meningitis and more. There are many different types of vaccines today. Though historically, vaccines have played a significant role in reducing infectious disorders such as small pox, it is today’s usage of vaccines in civilized communities throughout the US and Europe that is the focus of this heated debate.
The Issues: Vaccines and Heavy Metals—The Rise in Autism
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a vaccine as “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.”1 This means that a vaccine is composed of living or dead pathogens that are aimed at increasing a person’s immune response. Typically, in addition to the pathogen, vaccines include heavy metals that are used as preservatives such as the well known “thimerosol” (organic mercury), aluminum, and more. For the past two decades, the potential negative effects of these heavy metals have been fueling the vaccine debate.
The issues that arise from vaccinating are multiple. Many families avoid vaccinating their children out of religious belief. Some do not vaccinate because of apparent medical issues with their children. Depending on the medical practitioner, avoiding vaccinating your child when they have health issues is often not even considered.
The most notable issue with vaccines today is the questionable correlation with the rise in autism spectrum disorder. A recent 2011 study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry found 2.64% of children or 1 in 38 children have autism.2 These numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. Many people attribute this rise in autism to vaccines.
Recently in the news, there have been some concerns voiced about the validity of the famous Danish study, “Thimerosal and the occurrence of autism: negative ecological evidence from Danish population-based data”, published in Pediatrics in 2003.3 This study found that there was no link between Thimerosol and autism. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). One of the primary researchers involved in this study, Paul Thorson, who was in charge of managing the monies for the study, was recently charged with fraud related to the funding of the project. He has been cited for academic misconduct by Aarhus University in Denmark where the study took place and is being charged by the US Department of Justice with embezzling a $1 million grant for autism from the CDC. Thorson has been involved with multiple studies defending Thimerosol as a preservative in multiple vaccines.4 This Danish study is the primary study cited when discussing the correlation between vaccines and autism.
The Potential Effects of Vaccinating
Today, there is a tremendous amount of anecdotal evidence supporting the correlation between autism and vaccines. As a health practitioner, I treat many children with autism spectrum disorder. Often, I hear from parents that they can remember when their child’s symptoms and changes started, correlating it directly with their child receiving one or multiple vaccines.
Consider two children of similar histories and similar body make-up. Why would one develop autism following vaccinations and the other not? In this country, it is common for children to visit their family doctor and receive multiple injections with levels of heavy metal way above recommended limits. But even with just one vaccine, is the heavy metal level too much for a child’s body? What if the child had some kind of illness? What if that illness affected their immune system? What if this illness was not apparent and easily missed by the family doctor? Would that child be more affected by the vaccine then another healthier child? Would there be a greater possibility for the onset of autism? There are so many questions today regarding the issue of whether to vaccinate your child. A helpful resource in sorting out all of these questions is the National Vaccine Information Center at www.nvic.org. In addition to reviewing all the current-day issues with vaccinations, the website also offers information on state-by-state regulations.
The Immune System
The immune system is a complex system of the body that has many components, including the lymphatic system which supports drainage of waste from the body, the liver which is in charge of detoxification or breaking down of toxins, the bowel and bladder for optimal elimination and excretion of toxins from the body, and even the skin as a route of elimination. The immune system’s greatest task is twofold: to break down toxins and excrete them. If toxins build up, this can have damaging effects on the whole body, including contributing to general inflammation, an increased load on the heart, neurological impairment, and so much more. In children and adults, this can manifest as a myriad of issues such as fatigue, learning deficits and decreased mental clarity, behavioral issues, chronic pain, and more. It is helpful to imagine the immune system as our foundation. Without a healthy immune system, our bodies go into slow motion and begin to store toxins. This type of toxicity could even lead to depression and anxiety.
Vaccines target the immune system with the overall goal of increasing immunity. However, in a child or adult who has a challenged immune system, the vaccine process could be derailed significantly. Consider the previously mentioned child who has undetectable immune deficiency. That child visits their family doctor for a routine exam and during the visit receives multiple vaccines, commonly exceeding the allotted amount. This child would be affected strongly by the elevated heavy metal and pathogen load. This toxicity could contribute to a change in health for that child which could manifest as any number of issues, including learning, behavior, socialization, and more. It could contribute to autism or another neurologic impairment.
Though the issue of vaccinating or not vaccinating your child is a comprehensive decision-making process that ultimately is made by the parents, hopefully after careful and extensive thought, there is a lot that a parent can do to support their child’s immune health by making dietary and lifestyle changes as well as implementing other alternative health modalities to promote immune competence.
Augmenting the Immune System through Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Gluten Elimination
There are many ways to augment the immune system through dietary and lifestyle changes. One such approach is to implement an anti-inflammatory diet for the family. By decreasing general inflammation as well as decreasing the allergen load in the body, the person’s immune system becomes stronger. The foremost strategy in anti-inflammatory eating is a gluten elimination diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oat. Gluten is pro-inflammatory. This means that when a person ingests or is exposed to gluten, the level of inflammation in the body is increased. This is the case for ALL persons. Gluten free cooking and gluten free products are widely available today. One of my favorite gluten free cooking books is “Gluten Free Baking Classics” by Annalise Roberts. Her follow up book, “The Gluten Free Good Health Cookbook” is a great resource for gluten free living as well.
Other Elimination Diets
A second strategy to decrease inflammation in the body through diet is to consider performing systematic elimination diets of other well known allergens. Some of these allergens include: soy, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy (casein), eggs, and shell fish. Often, people suffer from various food sensitivities. An elimination diet can help to hone in on the particular allergies that are contributing to a variety of body issues. An elimination diet is best performed when adopted for a minimum of three months and performed 100%. As for gluten, it is presenting as toxic to all persons and a gluten elimination diet is best continued long term. When performing an elimination diet, look for a decrease in signs and symptoms beyond just digestion. Food sensitivities can contribute to all kinds of body issues, including headaches, joint pain, learning deficits, behavioral problems, and so much more.
Another step to augmenting a person’s immunity through dietary changes is by reducing refined processed sugar. Refined sugar is the major culprit behind so many of today’s illnesses, including the enormous rise in childhood and adult obesity in this country. Some of these refined sugars, such as aspartame, have been found to be carcinogenic. Processed sugar is neurotoxic as well. This means that it contributes to degeneration of the nervous system which ultimately can lead to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and more.
In addition to reducing intake of allergenic and ‘unhealthy’ foods, it is also beneficial to consider decreasing ‘toxic’ foods in our diet. For example, foods that are overly processed and have preservatives can cause inflammation in our gut as well as other problems. Often, we have limited knowledge about how our food is processed. The food may be presented as natural or organic but still have toxic consequences. For example, consider almonds. In 2007, the Almond Board at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that almonds could potentially carry harmful bacteria and ruled that all almonds would have to be pasteurized. Even today, there are no raw almonds available because of this USDA edict. When ingesting almonds today, because of the processing involved, they are more inflammatory and more persons are sensitive to them. Other toxic foods include foods with synthetic chemical based additives and preservatives. The easiest way to avoid these toxins is to limit processed packaged foods. For the typical child, this is difficult to avoid altogether. But minimizing the amount and limiting purchase of packaged foods to those that do not have refined sugar and preservatives is ideal.
Household Chemical Exposure
Minimizing exposure to toxic foods is a great start to reducing inflammation and augmenting immunity in the body. Another common source of toxicity is what we use to clean our home and wash our clothes. Household cleaners and detergents can be full of toxic chemicals. Everyday exposure to these chemicals can contribute to immune deficiency and general inflammation. The major role of the liver which is the primary organ for detoxification is to break down toxins so that they can be easily excreted from the body. The liver considers these toxic chemicals as xenobiotics and does not have a successful way of breaking them down. If the body does not have the ability to excrete a toxin, it will store it. The longer the exposure to these chemicals, the more there is storage of toxins. This storage of toxins can lead to illness. There are many alternatives today to chemically-based household cleaners.
Buying produce that is organic or natural and free of pesticides and growth hormones is an important step in leading a toxin-free life. It is true that organic foods are more expensive. Hopefully, one day, this will change. One option is to search for a local ‘CSA’ or community supported agriculture co-op farm that sells memberships. These farms will provide you with great natural produce through the warm months of the year and often they provide a winter share as well. CSA memberships are typically inexpensive options. One example is ‘Holcomb Farm CSA’ in Granby. A great website to search for local CSAs in your area is: www.ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm. Another great option is local farmer markets and farm stands. Farmer markets and farm stands can be a lot of fun for children and they provide you with the opportunity to buy straight from the farmer. When considering other types of natural foods, there are many ‘regular’ supermarkets that sell natural meats without growth hormones or other synthetic additives.
Augmenting the Immune System with Integrative Manual Therapy
In addition to changing your diet, there are other steps that you can take to improve your overall immune health. Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT), developed by Dr. Sharon Weiselfish-Giammatteo, is one great option. IMT targets the immune system by promoting circulation to and from immune tissue as well as improving overall lymphatic drainage in the body. It is a non-invasive therapy that can be performed on all people, children and adults, with all types of body issues. A typical IMT treatment plan begins by reducing inflammation in the body. As this is achieved, more specific dysfunction is addressed. Therapists trained in IMT can be found through www.InstituteofIMT.com.
Making dietary and lifestyle changes to augment immunity is an essential step to improving overall health. The recommendations listed previously are beneficial whether choosing to vaccinate or not. If the choice is to vaccinate, there are several precautions that help to mitigate potential side effects:
- Whenever possible, only vaccinate with one vaccine at a time.
- If possible, spread vaccines apart by six months or more. This way, you can be sure that your child has not had any delayed reactions.
- Never vaccinate on a day when your child is presenting with any signs of sickness such as a cough, fever, or vomiting.
- Request separate vaccines when available rather than combined such as the MMR.
- Take steps to change diet and lifestyle to ultimately augment immunity prior to vaccinating.
Making the choice to lead a healthy life for you and your family is vital for prevention of all illnesses. There is so much that can be done in childhood and early adulthood to promote a long and healthy life. Considering these fundamental steps will help you and your family to achieve this optimal level of health.
Submitted by Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C is the Practice Manager and Director of Pediatrics for Regional Physical Therapy and The Institute of Integrative Manual Therapy (IIMT), headquartered in Bloomfield, CT. She is also the Dean of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy (CSIMT). Dr. Connell-Giammatteo has taught courses in IMT nationally and internationally for over 15 years. She received her doctoral degree focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism.
Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist. She has been practicing in the field of IMT for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a graduate of the Institute of Functional Medicine’s program “Applying Functional Medicine into Clinical Practice” focusing on nutritional wellness. She is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years. In addition to managing the clinical and educational arms of IMT, she also integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her husband, children, and dogs.