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As humans, we need to know if something is “good” or “bad”.  We don’t like when the answer is “it depends.”   Unfortunately, with the human body, the answer is always “it depends.”  IL-10 is a good example of this.

Introduction To Interleukin-10

In humans, IL-10 is produced by a variety of immune cells.  Since they’re released by Th2 and Mast cells, they’re part of the Th2 dominance category.  This is overly simplistic, however, because IL-10 also suppresses a Th2 response. (R)

IL-10 stimulates antibody production (by stimulating Plasma B Cells). (R, R2)  It can also stimulate a portion of CD8+ T Cells and Natural Killer cells. (R)

The Good

We usually think of cytokines as “bad” and inflammatory.  IL-10 is an important exception.

IL-10 is anti-inflammatory cytokine because it decreases various immune cells such as Th1 AND Th2 cells (R, R2),  neutrophils (R), macrophages and natural killer cells. (R)  The last three are the guns of the immune system.

It also decreases a host of cytokines (IFNy, IL-2, TNF, and GM-CSF) and other alarm bells of the immune system (MHCII). (R)

It inhibits Nf-kB (R) , the master control of inflammation (in  two ways: by suppressing IKK activity and NF-κB DNA binding (R)).

It inhibits COX-2 (R), which is involved in migraines, pain, and inflammation.  COX-2 is classically blocked by NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

By inhibiting mast cells, it counteracts the inflammatory effect that these cells have at the site of an allergic reaction.  (R)

IL-10 decreases obesity by reducing overeating and decreasing insulin and leptin resistance in the hypothalamus, the gland that control appetite (by inhibiting cytokines, Nf-kB and ER stress). (R)

Figure 9<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Schematic diagrams of the proposed role of the hypothalamic anti-inflammatory response mediated by exercise.

Higher IL-10 was associated with more white matter volume in visual areas and tracts (R)

IL-10 Creates ‘Tolerance’

Perhaps the most important function of IL-10 is its ability to help create ‘tolerance’ to the proteins we ingest and the proteins in our body.

IL-10 has been shown to increase Treg cells, which suppress undesired immune responses toward ourselves, allergens and food proteins. (R)

When we ingest a protein, the body has an elaborate mechanism by which to send the message to the immune system that this protein is cool and not harmful.  This is called “oral tolerance” – because we tolerate a protein that we ingest.

IL-10  helps create oral tolerance, in addition to tolerance of our own body. (R)

The Bad

IL-10 can be considered good most of the time, but not all of the time.

For example,  if we have an infection,  elevated IL-10 can block our ability to fight it effectively.

In the modern era, this is usually good because we can kill bacteria with the help of antibiotics and not rely solely on our immune system

I have a friend who I figured had an anti-inflammatory immune profile because he never had any inflammation issues in his life.   Then he caught bacterial pneumonia and couldn’t get rid of it for 3 months.   Only with antibiotics did he kill it.  You can imagine someone with this immune profile would get killed off more readily pre-modern medicine.

Genetic predisposition to high IL-10 is associated with a higher risk of death in meningitis. (R)

IL-10 Can Block Response to Viral Infections

By inhibiting the action of Natural Killer cells, IL-10 can also disrupt our ability to suppress viral infections. (R)

Chronic viral infections can a source of cancer and autoimmune disease.

In fact, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)/’Mono’, Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and some other viruses produce a molecule that’s structurally similar to IL-10 in order to evade the immune system. (R, R2) (especially herpes family viruses (R))

Even more, IL-10 can directly increase production of viral proteins (R).

IL-10 produced by these viruses stimulate antibody production more than regular IL-10. (R)

In Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, IL-10 is increased (R,R2), but it’s not surprising.   CFS is suspected to be from a viral infection and an inability to fight it.  IL-10 probably contributes to this.

Chronically infected hepatitis C patients who are genetically predisposed to high IL-10 production had a less positive response to treatment and more likely to have problems after a transplant. (R)

IL-10 Can Promote Cancer

IL-10 also poses a problem when it comes to cancer.

The Th1 immune system, specifically CD8+ T cells and IFNy, is part of the mechanism that we fight cancer.   Blocking IL-10 shows promise as a cancer treatment.  (R)

However, IL-10 also plays a protective anticancer role in some contexts by promoting cytotoxic T cell activity and IFN-γ production . (R)

It’s important to realize that there’s a difference between IL-10 levels systemically and in cancer tissue.

If IL-10 is at healthy levels in normal tissue and low levels in cancerous tissue, then that’s ideal, health wise.

The problem is that there’s a correlation between systemic levels and levels in specific tissues.

This is true for all tissues.  Blood levels of IL-10 are not necessarily indicative of levels in your gut or other tissues, but there’s usually a correlation.  It’s always most accurate to test the tissue itself, however.

IL-10 Can Contribute to Some Autoimmune Conditions

Since IL-10 increases antibody production, it can cause or worsen some autoimmune conditions. (R)

So even though it’s overall beneficial for inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, there are some exceptions.  See below.

The Bottom Line

In the modern environment, having high IL-10 levels is probably better than low IL-10 levels.  This is because we can fight bacterial infections and most viral infections don’t cause us too much trouble, usually.

With regard to cancer, while it’s true that high IL-10 levels can contribute to cancer, so can chronic inflammation (TNF, IL-1, IL-6, IL-17A).

For example, Th17/IL-17A is elevated in many cancers and promotes angiogenesis and stimulates proliferation+recruitment of neutrophils that can promote DNA damage through production of ROS/Free radicals.  Their presence is associated with poor prognosis various cancers.  (R)

IL-10 (and type I IFN) suppress Th17 inflammation and can, therefore, be anticancer in that respect. (R) Indeed, in some cancers, IL-10 can help kill tumors (R).

If we are suffering from issues that are associated with high or low IL-10 levels, then we should rebalance it with diet, lifestyle, and supplements.  And the solution will be different if you have high or low IL-10 levels.

The bottom line: IL-10 is a complex cytokine, but it’s mostly good.  Obviously, having a balanced level is ideal.

Diseases Associated With Lower IL-10 Levels

This is a partial list

Diseases Associated With Increased Levels

The most important thing to realize about IL-10 is that it responds to inflammatory states.  So as opposed to other cytokines, when it’s elevated, it’s more likely to be the case that you’re already in an inflammatory state and the body is trying to bring the inflammation down.

  • CFS (R,R2) – may help cause it
  • Fibromyalgia (R)
  • Migraines without aura (R) – less so in children (R)
  • Schizophrenia (R)
  • Atopic dermatitis (R), SLE (R), Systemic Sclerosis (R),
  • Pancreatic cancer (R), Lymphoma, Melanoma (R),
  • Heart disease (R) – IL-10 is protective against heart disease (R), but is likely elevated in response to inflammation.  So elevated IL-10 is just a signal that something’s wrong, as far as science knows.

Genetics of IL10

SelfDecode, the best genetic analyzer, has the IL10 gene.  Sign up for 23andme and plug it into selfdecode to see if you have a genetic weakness here.

SelfDecode also has a system analyzer, so you don’t need your genes to benefit from the program.

How to Increase IL-10



Hormones and Neurotransmitters

Top Supplements/Drugs

Other Supplements/Drugs

Trauma, burn, and major surgery are some events that increase production of IL-10.  Sympathetic activation of the nervous system (fight or flight), increases IL-10.  This is probably because these all result in increased cortisol release. (R)  However, these are obviously not recommended.

Sleep deprivation also increases IL-10 (R), but I wouldn’t recommend it.

How to Decrease IL-10

The most healthy way to decrease IL-10 is by decreasing your sympathetic nervous system by increasing heart rate variability. When a study blocked sympathetic activation after major surgery by high epidural anesthesia, it significantly reduced the postoperative IL-10 release. (R)

  • Chronic circadian disruption (R). –  IL-10 trended lower (p = 0.08, t-test) in shifted mice 24 h after bacterial stimulus  Exposure to nontraditional work schedules has been linked with increased risks of multiple cancers (colorectal, breast, lymphatic, and prostate), ulcers, obesity, diabetes, and various types of heart disease (R)
  • Forskolin (R)
  • Lovastatin (R),
  • Cyanidin-3-O-β-glucoside (C3G) – typical anthocyanin (R),
  • DHEA-S (R) – decreases increased IL-10 in aged animals.
  • Lactoferrin (R) – depends on infection? (R)

Does Not Influence IL-10 or is Unclear


Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

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  • Cathy Davidoff

    I read the chronic fatigue article. They said that one other study had previously looked at IL-10 levels in the cerebro spinal fluid and found them increased- in contrast to their study, so the jury is still out.

  • Mikey

    Great post as always Joe- quick question though: overall is Forskolin beneficial for creating oral tolerance? Best bet would be to take it away from the consumption of antigens and other IL-10 raising substances I’m guessing?

    Thanks as always!

  • prioris

    Latest studies say people with ME/CFIDS have lower levels of IL-10 than healthy people so they need to increase it.

  • Deb

    Or if you have a chronic viral infection like many do in CFIDS that maybe using H2 Blocker ongoing would be a positive thing. Or at least pulsing one a week a month or something of that sort.?
    What do you think?

  • Deb

    In case of H2 Receptors. When using H2 Blocker wouldn’t it be true that because H2 histamine increases IL10 then Blocking it would decrease IL10. Therefore increasing TH1 System response to Viruses.
    This would be the case in tagamet or zantac therapy used in Treating EBV and Mono and Viruses. But once the virus is under control I wonder if the continued use of H2 Blockers would be a negative thing.?

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