Updated: September 2022
I realize that you might be thinking, “Really, Dr. Currie. Are you saying that having my tonsils removed could impact my health in a negative way and even affect my digestion”?
Yes, I am saying that it is possible. Not only is it possible, but digestive imbalances can be a significant contributor to the overall systemic immune/inflammatory response.
In fact, it’s possible that having a leaky gut (gastrointestinal hyperpermeability) could be what caused your tonsils to become inflamed to begin with.
What if you had known that you had a leaky gut that could have been driving up your inflammation levels causing your chronic tonsilitis?
Can a Leaky Gut cause a high White Blood Cell Count?
In “functional medicine”, it is understood that a “leaky gut” can cause a condition called “leukocytosis”. Leukocytosis is an increase in white blood cells which is a sign of an elevated immune response.
When the intestinal mucosal membrane is disturbed, as is the case with leaky gut syndrome, an immune system reaction will take place.
Also, your tonsils are part of your lymphatic system and the lymphatic system is an integral part of your immune system.
Why do my Blood Vessels Leak?
All blood vessels leak. Type 2 diabetics have severe leakage because their blood vessels leak more due to chronic inflammation and damage.
That is why diabetes is so damaging and is such a silent killer. It’s not like a cancer or tumor that shows up and gives someone 3-6 months to live. Diabetes is a slow brew.
Diabetes causes damage to the delicate inner lining of the blood vessels and causes them to get weak. Over time, they start leaking more than what is normal and excess fluid accumulates in tissues. These factors give rise to the side effects of diabetes such as loss of eye sight, kidney damage, slow wound healing, etc…
Why do Diabetics not Heal?
This is why diabetes is known as a slow killer. Diabetics have a hard time healing because they are so inflamed and because their blood vessels are so leaky.
Plus, diabetics have high blood glucose. Microscopically, glucose is a sharp and jagged molecule. It has sharp edges and can easily scuff the inner lining of your blood vessels. That damage is what contributes to plaque formation and hardening of the arteries leading to cardiovascular disease.
However, whether you are a diabetic or not, all blood vessels leak and the lymphatic system cleans up the fluid that leaks out of your blood vessels.
Without a lymphatic system, we would all be very sick and severely swollen because fluid filled toxins and cellular debris would just accumulate and collect in our body tissues.
Why is my Spleen Important?
In addition, the most well known lymph node, the spleen, collects debris and toxins from the lymphatic fluid and traps them so that white blood cells can destroy them. You can think of the spleen like the recycling center of the body.
Your immune system has white blood cells that clean up debris and foreign substances throughout your body and high concentrations of white blood cells are found in lymph nodes.
The immune system is also intimately tied in with inflammatory responses and chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation of tissues is what causes those tissues to eventually become diseased.
How is the Liver related to the Lymphatic System?
The hepatic portal vein has very low pressure in it. The portal vein leaves the small intestine and travels straight to the liver. When you digest food, most absorption of nutrients, fats, iron, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, etc… takes place in the small intestine.
Once these substances get into the bloodstream, they travel straight to the liver via the hepatic portal vein. The liver is where the magic happens.
The liver controls inflammation. It is also the body’s detoxification center. It cleans and purifies the blood and takes amino acids from digested proteins and builds them into new proteins for the body to heal and repair.
That is why hepatitis is so life threatening. Or, if you have low grade chronic hepatitis, you don’t feel good at all. It’s because the liver controls inflammation but when it’s inflamed, there’s big trouble in little China.
What about Kupfer Cells in the Liver?
An overlooked function of the liver is its own in-house white blood cells called the Kupfer cells. These powerful macrophages engulf foreign debris and particles (viruses and bacteria, etc…) with lightning speed.
This lightning fast cleaning system in the liver is part of how we stay healthy and fight infections. It is also what can cause chronic health problems when liver function is sluggish or congested.
An inflamed liver is going to turn on inflammatory genes throughout the body. Sometimes, it will cause systemic aches and pains and other “unexplained” pathologies.
What does it mean when my Legs and Feet are Swelling?
A known cause of swelling in the legs or feet is congestive heart failure. What about someone who has swelling in their feet that doesn’t have congestive heart failure?
Albumin is a protein made in the liver. Albumin helps the body heal and repair. Another interesting fact about Albumin is that it is hydrophilic, meaning albumin loves water.
You can think of albumin like a bunch of tiny sponges. Sponges love water. If you have enough albumin in your blood, there are plenty of sponges to hold water in the blood vessels.
When you don’t have enough albumin (a low number of sponges), more water can leak out of your blood vessels than is normal. Once it has leaked out, your lymphatic system has to clean it up, but it can’t do it lightning fast.
It takes time for your lymphatic system to clean excess tissue fluids. However, when the liver is unhealthy and can’t make enough albumin, your legs and feet can swell all over again. It’s a viscous cycle.
In addition, what if you are protein deficient from a dietary standpoint? It could be low protein in your diet, or it could be malabsorption of protein (common with antacids) from various digestive health problems.
What about a Diuretic?
Identifying the cause of swelling is important. A diuretic “water pill” helps get the excess water out but isn’t going to the cause of the problem. Diuretics can also cause dehydration and low potassium levels which could cause nerve damage or death.
This is just another important example of why liver health is so important. Everything circles back around to the liver in one way or another.
Where is Lymphatic Fluid Made?
Besides having its own resident immune system, the liver is the organ that makes lymphatic fluid. This is important because lymphatic fluid travels throughout the lymphatic system.
Lymph fluid transports cellular wastes out of the body and also carries white blood cells to areas of infection, inflammation, etc…
What about the Adenoid Tonsils?
There are many lymphatic nodules or nodes throughout the body. The one this article is titled for are the adenoid tonsils. Simply put, the adenoid glands (tonsils) are 2 lymph nodes on the sides of the throat.
On the microscopic level, lymph nodes look like a fine mesh work that crisscross back and forth in random patterns.
Lymphatic fluid carries foreign particles to the “node” and the mesh work will trap the invader and keep it there so the white blood cells can trap it and kill it.
This is what happens when you get a sore throat and you get those lumps that are tender and swollen on the right and left sides of the front of your neck.
Those are swollen lymph nodes that have trapped substances that don’t belong in your body. The reason they are swollen and tender is because of the associated inflammatory response.
Are Swollen Tonsils caused by an Infection?
When white blood cells see something that is foreign, all they see is an enemy. White blood cells don’t care about who, what, where, when, why or how. When they see a foreign substance that doesn’t belong, they go on an immediate mission to destroy the enemy.
In doing so, they will bring in other inflammatory substances such as cytokines, interleukins, and other inflammatory substances which further drive the inflammatory state.
When you think about it, we all eat, breath and drink through our mouths. Even though the human body has up to 700 lymph nodes, the tonsils are some of the first lymph nodes to come in contact with possible infections that enter through the mouth and respiratory system.
Interestingly, about half of our lymph nodes are found in the digestive tract. Another tie in with digestion and infections?
Food for thought!
Remember, your white blood cells don’t care! All they see is a foreign substance and go on their mission.
What about Autoimmune Disease?
This is how autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sarcoidosis, Lupus, Sjogren’s, etc… destroy tissues in the body.
I have written about it before in other articles, but up to 80% of your immune system function is in your digestive tract or “gut”.
In understanding this phenomenon, it should be easy to realize that when your gut is in an inflamed state, it could drive an inflammatory state in your liver.
By calling in inflammatory substances, it could also put your entire immune system on notice which in turn could affect the health and inflammatory state of your tonsils.
Is a Tonsillectomy Good?
Often, Drs. will see chronically inflamed tonsils and recommend a tonsillectomy. The real issue I have with a tonsillectomy is that the adenoids are part of your immune system.
The adenoids (tonsils) are necessary just like the appendix is necessary. These aren’t just 2 little insignificant byproducts of God’s creation. They are there for a reason.
Of course, if your tonsils are chronically inflamed and you are having sore throat after sore throat, it’s not fun. In fact, it’s miserable. But, when they are inflamed, they are swollen for a reason.
What causes Tonsils to Swell?
Is the reason because there is some type of chronic underlying infection that is causing the immune system to be called into action over and over again?
Are they inflamed because of food sensitivities causing a leaky gut, a gluten sensitivity or a chronic candida (yeast) infection?
I say, do everything in your power to find the cause of whatever health situation you are dealing with so you can keep your body parts!
I realize that may sound a little crude, but it is what it is. Body parts where put there for a reason and are meant to stay unless it’s an emergency.
So, why did I write this article? Why am I on this bandwagon or kick about tonsils? If you don’t have yours, it’s too late to keep them. They are gone forever.
However, it’s not too late to get healthier than you are today. Chances are, you still have the same underlying inflammatory processes that caused your tonsils to swell and become painful to begin with.
What are signs of Inflammation?
Your inflammatory reactions could just be showing up in other areas, such as joint pain, stiffness, fatigue, digestive health issues, brain fog, headaches, autoimmune disease, chronic sinusitis, anxiety, thyroiditis, etc… All of these symptoms I just listed are tied in with immune mediated inflammation.
Here’s the reason I wrote this article: I don’t watch the news. I believe that the news is filled with an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of negativity.
I also believe that negativity breeds fear and that so much of what we see on news programs generates fear. I just don’t have a use for it.
Why I Won’t Watch the News
In 2008, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to watch the news any longer. I made a decision to not allow stress to be imposed upon me from unwelcome sources.
I decided to not hear about one murder after another, one burglary after another, the stock market just crashed, we are in a recession, or this politician said xxx.
It was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I chose to be happy through omission of negative news.
However, I turned on my television yesterday morning to watch some tennis and a news program happened to be on.
Negative Impacts of a Tonsillectomy
Just as I was about to change the channel to the tennis program, I heard the news say, “The New York Times just released an article about negative impacts of a tonsillectomy”.
It went on to say that people who have had their tonsils removed can be more likely to get infections, have dermatological reactions, and had a significant increased risk for developing respiratory tract infections.
Of course, if you have read many of my articles, I’m all about information like this so I listened. I still have my tonsils. However, many of my patients don’t.
Even though physicians are realizing that tonsillectomies aren’t all that they once believed they were (for over 50 years), and that they are becoming less common, there are still about 530,000 of them done in the U.S. each year.
Improve Immune System Function
A primary focus with all of my patients is their immune system function and how their immune system health is tied in with the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract).
I analyze a complete blood chemistry of every patient as part of my workup. On each blood work, there is a part of the test that shows different types of white blood cells.
What are the Types of White Blood Cells?
As I said above, white blood cells fight infections. On the blood work, there will be a section that shows absolute values of neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils.
There are usually 2 categories regarding white blood cell values seen on routine laboratory tests: Absolute Values and Percentages of white blood cells.
Absolute values and percentages will go high with an acute infection. Chronic infections can elevate both as well, but an acute infection will usually spike the numbers much higher than a chronic infection.
What Do White Blood Cell Elevations Mean?
As a general rule of thumb, the following information pertains to each type of white blood cell:
- Neutrophils elevate with bacterial infections, gout, thyroiditis, acute or chronic inflammation, and stress.
- Lymphocytes elevate with viral infections, mononucleosis (Epstein Barr Virus), systemic toxicity, and inflammation.
- Monocytes elevate with bacterial endocarditis, chronic inflammation, parasites, autoimmune disease, liver dysfunction, and recovery after an infection.
- Eosinophils elevate with parasitic infections, food allergies, autoimmune disease, eczema, asthma, and allergies/sinusitis.
Of course, there are other factors that can cause an elevation of the different types of white blood cells but these are some of the most common.
It’s interesting that the article showed increased tendency to develop dermatological reactions after having a tonsillectomy. I have worked with many patients who had significant improvements with various skin reactions, such as eczema, and psoriasis after getting their body healthier and less inflamed.
It makes sense that when you get the body into a less inflamed state, the immune system can calm down and not be on such a high level of alert and attack.
Can Poor Digestive Health cause Inflammation?
So, I would say that 100%, Leaky Gut Syndrome and poor digestive health could lead to a heightened immune and inflammatory response inside of the body and lead to disease over time.
Often, it’s as simple as crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. The right tests have to be ran for the right patient. Sometimes, I have to dig deep with my patients to get to the root cause of what is causing their health problems.
The one thing all of my patients appreciate about me is that they know that I’m willing to do the work.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie