The Neurol Connection with the Immune System


Gary H. Campbell, DO
Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine

The osteopathic and ecological physicians have recognized the importance of the autonomic nervous system’s relationship to the state of a patient’s health. The ecologic physician recognizes the integration of the autonomic nervous system with the immune system. A competent immune and autonomic nervous system is essential for optimal health.

Early contributors to scientific literature, including Cannon and Selye, describe the physiologic autonomic response of the human to a stressful event. Continuously applied stressors have levels that do not cause mortality lead to chronic unwellness and malaise. These stressors include allergy, hypersensitivity, toxicity, dietary inadequacy, inappropriate exercise, and the osteopathic concept of somatic dysfunction. The ability of an organism to deal with these stressors is primarily genetically mediated.

Any type or combination of stressors, be it physical, psychological or structural, leads to tissue dysfunction if severe or prolonged.

The final target of the autonomic and immune system commonly includes the smooth muscle of the vasculature in the organ system that is involved. This effect is as apparent in the vasculature of the central nervous system as it is peripherally. Vessel spasm commonly associated with vasculitis or sympathetic autonomic input is a recurrent presenting complaint to the osteopathic and ecologic physician. Vascular spasm can be due to a singular environmental cause or through complex humoral neuronal interaction initiated by structural dysfunction and segmentally activated by the spine. A combination of environmental and structural triggers may cause marked vascular reaction readily evaluated by palpatory changes, including changes in temperature, tissue texture, edema, and tenderness.

The ability to diagnose the segmental relationships by tactile skills allows the physician to determine visceral and somatic interrelationships. For example, the gastrointestinal reaction may be readily defined through palpation of the parathoracic tissues from the 5th to the 10th thoracic segments. These tissue changes allow the physician to determine quantitatively the condition of the visceral target. Furthermore, many painful syndromes associated with ecological triggers are often complicated by structural disorders. Significant symptomatic relief may follow appropriately applied physical therapy and/or manipulative therapy to the stressed areas.

The ecologically-oriented physician may overlook the structural relationships of a stressed organ system. Likewise, the osteopathic physician often does not recognize that an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction may be an important factor in the patient’s musculoskeletal complaints. It is important to understand the ecologic and somatic interrelationships so the physician can apply both principles to insure an optimal outcome for the patient. To apply only one of these techniques is similar to rowing a boat with only one oar. One may get to where one wants, but the route is often erratic and prolonged.