Which Of The 4 Immunotypes Do You Have? An Immunologist Breaks It Down
Did you know your immune system has its own identity? It's true: According to allergist and immunologist Heather Moday, M.D., author of The Immunotype Breakthrough, four common "immunotypes" can help you understand your own body's needs, so you can create a unique plan to develop a stronger, healthier immune response. After all, two people with different immuno-identities may have totally different reactions to the same trigger.
We should note: Not everyone identifies with these four types. If your immune system is balanced, you might not notice any of the following signs or symptoms. Moday concurs: "That's not all that I see, obviously, but I do see people who come in with allergies, chronic diseases (like diabetes, heart disease, etc.), autoimmune disease, or people who just come in and say, 'I cannot shake a cold,' or 'I constantly get sinus infections, and I don't know what's going on,'" she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. So these immunotypes are more for people with unexplained, sometimes confusing, symptoms that they'd like to uncover.
But enough chat: Below, Moday breaks down the four immunotypes and how to tell which you potentially have:
"Smoldering is really anyone who has chronic inflammation that is not resolved," says Moday. For example, chronically elevated blood sugar can lead to reduced function of white blood cells (which are part of the innate immune system1), which can affect the immune system's ability to battle viruses. A study in the American Journal of Nutrition found that the effectiveness of white blood cells2 is at just 50% efficiency after one to two hours of eating sugar, and this effect lasts up to five hours. So you can imagine the effects of the constant blood sugar roller coaster.
"You can also have smoldering inflammation if you're suffering from a chronic infection and if you have autoimmune disease," Moday continues, which underlies some of the other immunotypes we'll get into later. But for the most part, people who just have a smoldering immunotype don't have these other disease processes going on—they're just chronically inflamed," she adds.
Signs you may have it.
To determine whether you have this immunotype, Monday recommends opting for a C-reactive protein lab. "It's not a super-specific test, but it can indicate the increase of certain cytokines, these inflammatory messengers that our white blood cells use to communicate. C-reactive protein can be elevated in lots of different diseases," she explains, so that may be a helpful test to consider.
But in terms of actual warning signs, she recommends noticing any hallmarks of chronic inflammation. "For example, do you have prediabetes? Do you have a BMI that's up in the obese range? Do you have a history of gout? High blood pressure? Those would put you into that category," she says.
Then we have the misguided immunotype: This refers to people whose immune systems have become "confused," says Moday. "Instead of tolerating their own tissue or their own cells, they become confused or misguided, so the cells start to attack their own tissues," she explains. As you can probably guess: Those with misguided immune systems typically have autoimmune disease. "It can be anything from autoimmune thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, you name it," Moday adds.
Signs you may have it.
Autoimmune diseases are complex, and symptoms and flares run the gamut. But if you have a hunch and want to take a closer look at your health, Moday recommends asking yourself a few questions. First, "Do you have a history of a thyroid problem? A lot of times when people go to their doctors and they're told that they have a thyroid issue, they're never told that it might be autoimmune. But about 90% of thyroid problems are autoimmune. So I always ask your doctor to check your thyroid autoantibodies," she says.
Next, do you have any flare-ups or symptoms when you're stressed? Chronic stress, as we know, can be a significant trigger for some, as it can negatively affect the way your body handles inflammation. "Do you have issues in your family with autoimmune disease? There tends to be a very strong familial tendency for autoimmunity," she notes. For our full list of symptoms and signs, check out our autoimmune guide here.
Hyperactive immune systems are a little self-explanatory; they're hyperactive against intruders, some of which might be harmless. "Our immune cells are trained to see things that are going to harm us," explains Moday. You know, like bacteria or a virus that could potentially damage those cells. "But something like tree pollen is not going to take us down and is part of our natural environment—but because of certain triggers and underlying things, people develop antibodies against relatively harmless things, like peanuts, cat dander, things like that." Hence, a hyperactive immune system.
Signs you may have it.
"These are people who have a lot of chronic allergies," says Moday. Do you face seasonal allergies year-round? "Do you have a history of asthma?" Moday poses. "Do you break out in hives randomly?" If you notice these patterns, you might be dealing with a hyperactive immunotype—but speaking with an immunologist can help you make the call.
Finally, we have the weak immunotype: "They may not necessarily have allergies; they may not have autoimmune disease, but they have problems mounting a strong immune response against viruses, parasites—anything that potentially could harm them," says Moday.
It casts a rather large net, she continues, as there are a variety of ways to acquire this immunotype. Some are naturally born with a weaker immune response, while others obtain it through lifestyle factors—poor nutrition, chronic stress, and the like—that can "actually weaken our white blood cells2, our ability to make antibodies," Moday explains.
Signs you may have it.
Of course, there is some crossover between a weak immunotype and some of the others mentioned above. But according to Moday, you might fall under the "weak" type if you have encountered any of these risk factors: "Have you, or do you, take [oral] steroids at all? Have you ever taken any immunosuppressive medications? Do you get frequent colds? Do you commonly get food poisoning or diarrhea when you travel?" You may not have a diagnosed condition of any kind, but your immune system may have a harder time doing its job.
Identifying your immunotype is only part one of the equation. But to know how to strengthen your own immune system, it's important to identify which "personality" it actually has. As Moday notes, "The immune system doesn't work on a linear scale—it really is multidimensional." And adding one of our favorite immune-supporting supplements to your routine may help, too.