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Immunosuppressants vs immunomodulators

A while back, there was a series of posts made both on the multiple sclerosis (MS) forum and also here on the Lyme forum about whether immunosuppressants (meaning meds or other substances that *suppress* the immune systems are the same as immunomodulators (meaning meds or other substances that *modulate* [regulate or adjust] the immune system.  The term 'modulate' sounds so mild and gentle, but my concern was that it could create problems in someone with Lyme because these substances *affect* the immune system, whether gently or harshly, and whether upward or downward.

A poster from the MS forum had cross-posted here (rather adamantly) that modulators and suppressants are *not* at all the same thing and do not have the same effect.  

Not knowing much of anything about MS, I limited my comments to Lyme-related aspects, but just now happened to run across elsewhere on the internet a mildly interesting article taking the view that immunosuppressants and immunomodulators are indeed quite similar in their nature and/or effect.  I would say that suppressants push things down (suppress), while modulators adjust (which could mean raise or lower).

This is of concern to Lyme patients, because we are sometimes prescribed steroids (which are immune suppressants) on the theory that they are moderating or modulating the immune system.  If however a modulator is actually acting as a suppressant, then those with Lyme need to be aware of that fact, because suppressing the immune system in a bacterial infection should be done knowingly and with a good reason (if at all) and certainly not on an unproven premise that the treatment cannot be harmful because it is 'only' adjusting.  

Slamming your car into a brick wall will adjust the speed of the car, but not with good effect; thus 'adjust' or 'modulate' is not a purely benign term.

Below is a portion of the [apparently undated] post from the "****" website that I ran across today.  If you are interested in reading the entire post, you can search for the author's [rather unique] name and 'immune modulation', and I am guessing you will find the article easily.

This is a fairly minor point I am making here, but given the dust-up that occurred earlier, thought it was worth posting for those interested.  So -- y'all make up your own minds!

====================begin quoted material [slightly edited for length]=======================

"Immune Modulation - A QUESTION OF BALANCE

"It used to be the case that if someone mentioned immune modulators, the market they had in mind consisted almost exclusively of cold and flu products. No longer. Today, Americans are drawn to immune enhancers for a variety of reasons. For many, such products provide a type of insurance directed toward health maintenance much as daily vitamin and mineral supplements are taken for insurance against nutritional deficiencies. For others, immune stimulants are intended to address more serious issues. In recent years, a rash of stories have made the public more aware of the drawbacks of conventional treatment with antibiotics and, more ominously, of the looming potential failure of antibiotics to provide the sort of defense against infection which has come to be expected. Whether in infection or cancer, more and more of us are looking to give more "punch" to our immune systems.


"The immune system is the defensive army the body uses to protect itself against infection. It defends against the daily attacks of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. These tasks require a major commitment of the body's resources, yet the role of the immune system does not end with its defense against external invaders. The immune system also protects against the damage caused by exposure to ultra violet rays and radioactivity, removes worn out cells and scar tissue, renews the skin, and acts as an internal policeman to guard against the development of cancers. Why does one person catch a cold, but not another? What causes allergies? How does cancer develop? The immune system plays many different roles, some of which are only now being uncovered.

"These facts might lead one to believe that good health depends largely upon making the immune system more active. If you want to improve your health, you need to stimulate immune function, right?


"Scientists now understand that the immune system can be overactive, as well as underactive, and that balance is the key. On the one hand, the immune system needs vigilante macrophages, natural killer cells and other 'soldiers' to be on alert to attack invading organisms before these can take hold in the body. For instance, the cold virus is most successfully combatted if the immune system can react and eliminate it before it has had a chance to multiply. On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases where the body attacks itself afflict millions of Americans. Immune overactivity causes unpleasant side effects, such as allergies and inflammation, and can lead to immune exhaustion and collapse, one aspect of HIV/AIDS infections. One of the most important roles of antioxidant supplementation is to control the side effects of excessive immune system activity. Several products very popular in Europe, such as extracts of butcher's broom and horse chestnut, similarly act in part by reducing the destructive side effects of immune function. The answer to maintaining health, therefore, is to balance the body's immune system so that it is neither overactive nor underactive.

"Balancing the immune system, however, is a bit harder than simply stimulating it. Fortunately, there are a few supplements that do this and more. One of the most extensively tested of these supplements [includes] ... a proprietary blend of phytonutrients called sterols and sterolins. The sterol family of compounds includes fatty substances such as beta-sitosterol found in saw palmetto. Sterolins are sterols with a glucose (sugar) molecule attached, something that greatly improves absorption into the body. Taken together, sterols and sterolins are more active than when supplemented as single pure substances.

"Research into the impact of mixtures sterols and sterolins on the immune system goes back several decades. It grew out of observations made on the benefits of many items found in the diet, as well as in special herbs. Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of these compounds. The sterols and sterolins can have profound effects upon health, but typically they are removed from vegetable oils (they make the oil murky), thrown out with the water when vegetables are cooked, and destroyed by enzymes when frozen fruits and vegetables thaw. The fibers found in fruits and vegetables also bind tightly to sterols and sterolins, making them difficult to absorb from the diet. ...

"More readily available immune modulators include, perhaps surprisingly, many probiotics. Few individuals realize that probiotic organisms can stimulate immune function, and fewer still know that these special bacteria can also tone down excessive immune activity. Such benefits may help to explain why populations that regularly consume fermented foods appear to be healthier. ..."
===============================end quoted material==================================

So there it is, probably not worth bringing up, but I re-read the previous discussion and thought this was worth posting for anyone interested.  
2 Responses
Avatar universal
I am particularly interested in this point, Jackie, so thanks for posting.

I've now read the whole article, & find it to be very helpful. I'll duly address it in my own thread too.

For those interested in the author, he has his own website:


And on the 'About Dallas' page, it says:

Dallas Clouatre, Ph.D. earned his A.B. from Stanford and his Ph.D. from the  University of California at Berkeley.  A Fellow of the American College of  Nutrition, he is a prominent industry consultant in the US, Europe, and Asia,  and is a sought-after speaker and spokesperson.  He is the author of numerous  books.  Recent publications include “Tocotrienols in Vitamin E: Hype or  Science?” and “Vitamin E – Natural vs. Synthetic” in Tocotrienols: Vitamin E Beyond Tocopherols  (2008),  “Grape Seed Extract” in the Encyclopedia Of Dietary Supplements  (2005), “Kava Kava:  Examining New Reports of Toxicity” in Toxicology Letters (2004) and Anti-Fat Nutrients (4th edition).
Avatar universal
Hi everyone,

Please keep to the original topic.  


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