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We treat quite a bit of biotoxin illness in our practice, including mold, Lyme Disease, and other tick-borne illnesses. One of the tests we run very often is TGFb1. This tends to be high in many biotoxin illness patients (though we usually also run complement c3a and c4a, since I’ve found the biotoxin marker high for a given individual isn’t always the same).

Here’s what we know about TGFb1 and why we run it.

Benefits of TGFb1

TGFb1 is produced by most immune cells. It’s best known for its role in tissue repair, and production is typically induced by reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by the mitochondria secondary to tissue damage.

It’s also very important for inducing immune tolerance for those prone to food reactions. This is because it increases serotonin transporters and uptake in the gut, which helps to regulate peristalsis and the release of digestive secretions. Just as it helps induce immune tolerance to allergens, it also tends to decrease autoimmunity.

Problems When It’s Too High

The down side to dialing down some autoimmune and allergic responses is that TGFb1 can instead allow true pathogens to go undetected, leading to chronic infections. This is in part because it causes macrophages (the little “Pac-Man” of the immune system, that typically consumes potential pathogens) to self-destruct (apoptosis). 

The suppression of TGFb1 can extend beyond other inflammatory cytokines to suppressing red blood cell production as well.

It can also decrease formation of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter necessary for formation of new memories.

While production of TGFb1 is induced by oxidative stress, presumably as part of its repair function, it also increases activity of the mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cells), producing more ATP and consuming more oxygen. As a consequence, though, more reactive oxygen species are produced as well, since the vast majority of endogenous (internally produced) oxidative damage occurs in the mitochondria. This may lead to more oxidative damage. Excessive TGFb1 activity in a localized area, such as the lungs, has also been known to result in tissue fibrosis, possibly as a consequence of this.

Approaches for Excessive TGFb1

Of course the real treatment is to treat or remove the cause for the excessively high levels, if you can. Very often the cause is due to biotoxin illnesses.

In the meantime, due to the tendency of TGFb1 to overproduce oxidative damage, eventually glutathione depletion tends to occur. Support for the redox pathways is therefore important. Such support can also directly lower TGFb1 as well.

This site also contains a dizzying list of substances that have been shown to either increase or to decrease TGFb1 production, though the vast majority of them seem to do both, with a presumed net effect of zero. The few healthy natural substances that appear to have only a lowering effect include:

The Upshot

Like all physiologic activity, TGFb1 has a positive purpose; complete suppression is not the goal. But when levels are excessively elevated, it signals a problem that needs to be found and addressed.