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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Transfer Factor - Key to a Balanced Immune System

Contributing Author: Woeller, Kurt D.O.

Kurt WoellerKurt N. Woeller, D.O. is an osteopathic physician who specializes in traditional osteopathic medicine, cranial osteopathy and integrative medicine. His primary focus is treating children with autism-spectrum disorders. He graduated in 1995 from the University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine. He currently lives and practices in Temecula, California. Dr. Woeller serves as a clinical consultant for Great Plains Laboratory teaching doctors the latest in biomedical diagnostic testing and treatment protocols for children with autism-spectrum disorders. He lectures nationwide for Great Plains Laboratory, as well independently regarding the benefits of biomedicine for children with autism.



The more we understand our immune system, the more is revealed to us how this unique and expansive network of cells, chemicals, proteins, etc., is responsible for much of our health. Without our immune system, we cease to exist, and immune system weaknesses or malfunctions greatly increase our susceptibility to infections and degenerative diseases.

It is well known that immune dysfunction can play a role in autism. For example, a child with repeated colds, ear infections, and upper respiratory infections, or a child with chronic diarrhea and intestinal inflammation has all the indicators of a faulty immune system. Even situations involving neurological inflammation, such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s, are influenced by immune dysfunction. Many autism-spectrum children (ASD) also deal with a level of neurological inflammation, triggered by heavy metal exposure, adverse reactions to vaccines, or chronic viral infections. However, therapies are available.

For example, the antiviral prescription medication Valtrex (effective in reducing Herpes virus replication) is used on a trial basis to reduce viral load. Often, after only a three- to six-week trial period, an ASD child will respond positively with increased eye contact, spontaneous or more complex speech, and better focus and attention. At times, some of these positive changes may be short-lived while others are more long lasting. In either case, revealing that an underlying problem with an ASD child’s condition may be chronic infection is helpful. Antiviral therapies such as Valtrex and others focus only on one specific area – inactivating a virus from reproducing itself. Without a doubt, Valtrex is helpful in reducing a trigger for neurological inflammation, but ultimately does not remedy a potentially deeper problem – the immune imbalance that allowed this to happen in the first place. If this problem can be corrected, the susceptibility to infectious agents can be remedied. One very interesting product has the potential for this – Transfer Factor.

What is Transfer Factor?

Transfer factor (TF) was first discovered back in the late 40s and started a broad interest in immune function research. To date, well over 3,000 research articles exist on the specific use and function of TF, including autism and other pediatric conditions. What is TF and how can it be used to correct a faulty immune system? (Simply put – TFs are immune information “transferred” from one immune cell to another to direct the activity of the immune system. Just as we describe antibiotics as a specific category of medication – and there are many different types of antibiotics – the same applies to TFs in that there are many different types of TF products.)

Transfer factors are small molecules that transfer immune information from one cell to the next. They are products of white blood cells that have registered and catalogued specific immune information from exposure to various pathogens. In pregnant mothers, this immune information is passed to their offspring via breastmilk in the form of colostrum. Colostrum provides the newborn with initial immune protection and helps educate the newborn’s immune system against pathogens the mother was exposed to. Immunologists believe that each microbe has an identifying code that is registered by the mother’s immune system in the form of specific TFs. One could think of TFs as the beginning of a form of vaccine. They have similarities, but overall they act on a variety of immune cells in the body, providing more wide-scale protection and usefulness.

For our bodies to be healthy, our immune system must be able to perform three critical functions:

  1. It must recognize a virus, bacteria, yeast, etc., as a threat – an enemy to our body.
  2. Then it must attack and destroy the enemy.
  3. Finally, it must develop memory against the specific pathogen to be able to recognize it in the future.

This last step is critical and helps us build an immune library of all of the things we have been exposed to. If nothing else, TF can help our immune system be more efficient at controlling chronic infection, preventing us from being overly symptomatic. An example of this would be to take a specific TF that is targeted against the herpes virus, which could lead to less cold sores and lesions.

TFs also have the ability to promote an immune response to not only a specific pathogen that they have been exposed to, but similar-looking pathogens as well. This is called cross-reactivity or “molecular mimicry,” where the immune system reacts to one substance and anything else that looks similar. This works to our advantage and broadens our immune system’s ability to fight off invading infections. In cases of autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis, where the immune system is overcharged, TFs can be useful to downregulate this aberrant immune activity.

Transfer Factor is immune specificnot species specific

TFs are immune specific substances – not species specific. This means that TFs derived from animals such as cows or chickens (the most commonly used animals for TF production) are safe for humans to consume. The reason is that each TF produced in these animals is targeted against the specific pathogen to which it was exposed. This is the same (or similar) TF that our bodies would manufacture if we were exposed to that same pathogen. Many TF products are sequestered and filtered from cow colostrum (colostrum is the premilk substance that provides an offspring with a large quantity of nutrients and immune factors) or chicken egg yolk (the egg yolk providing the bulk of TFs). Each animal is exposed to a specific pathogen, for example, a virus such as Epstein-Barr or Cytomegalovirus. The animal’s immune system processes the pathogen and produces specific TFs. The exposures in animals can occur naturally from the same pathogens we are exposed to, or from vaccinations that the animals are given to bolster their immunity while in herds.

Concern always exists about the use of animal products for people who may be sensitive, such as an egg yolk allergy or casein intolerance in autistic children. As is usually the case, the potential exists for sensitivity reactions to any supplement. However, because of the ultrafiltering process for TF products, the amount of egg yolk and/or casein protein is very, very small, if present at all. Most individuals, even very sensitive ones, do not have a problem. For example, the common probiotic supplement Culturelle (acidophilus GG) widely used in the autism community contains a very small amount of casein – so small that it has been used for years without issue by many casein-intolerant children on the spectrum.

Long-Term Use Shows Good Safety Profile

TFs have been used for over 30 years in medicine and carry the label GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) by the FDA. Side effects are minimal, but in a severely immune compromised individual with high viral load, symptoms of fever, malaise, body aches, etc., may be experienced in the early phases of use. These reactions are not a cause for concern as they indicate that the immune system is being engaged and is helping remedy the situation. TFs activate the immune system by stimulating the activity of a particular immune cell called natural killer cells (NK cells). NK cells are primarily responsible for going after cancerous cells or cells infected with viruses. Lyme’s bacteria is another pathogen that hides in our cells. NK cells are responsible for promoting immune activity against the responsible bacteria. In many individuals with chronic illness, including children on the autism-spectrum, the activity (or responsiveness) of TF is compromised. TF helps prompt these cells into action.

Helpful for Many Conditions

Finally, TFs have the ability to upregulate (increase) the immune system against cancer cells and infections, and downregulate (decrease) the immune response in cases of allergy or autoimmune conditions when needed. They are considered immune modulating, which helps bring balance to our immune system, instead of immune stimulating, which can be problematic over the long term. This makes TFs safe to take for prolonged periods, such as months to years. Listed below are some of the conditions that TFs have been known to be helpful for:

  • Allergy
  • Asthma
  • Autoimmunity
  • Cancer
  • Chronic upper respiratory infections – lungs, ears, sinuses
  • Cold and flu
  • Digestive problems (constipation, diarrhea)
  • Eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions
  • Immune dysfunction, including NK cell activity, high viral loads, etc.

I have been using TFs as a way to help modulate the immune systems in many patients, including children on the autism spectrum. TFs to strengthen immunity with less repeated illnesses, as well as a broader use for chronic infections, have had good success. My feeling is that TFs are very useful for anyone needing greater immune balance, as well as specific activity against chronic pathogens.

TFs that are “antigen specific” are available. These TFs are directed against specific pathogens such as herpes viruses, strep bacteria, and even Lyme’s bacteria. These products are not considered drug therapy, nor are they used to treat a specific disease. Instead, they are used for immune supportive therapy. Dosing recommendations are always the same – start low, go slow, and allow the product to take effect over time. The key is to be patient and, with prolonged use, health benefits can be derived.