Chiropractic adjustments, oxidative stress and DNA repair
by Dr. Christopher Kent
There is a growing body of evidence that wellness care provided by doctors of chiropractic may reduce health care costs, improve health behaviors, and enhance patient perceived quality‑of‑life. [1,2,3,4] Until recently, however, little was known about how chiropractic adjustments affected the chemistry of biological processes on a cellular level.
In a landmark study published in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research, chiropractors collaborating with researchers at the University of Lund found that chiropractic care could influence basic physiological processes affecting oxidative stress and DNA repair.  These findings offer a scientific explanation for the positive health benefits reported by patients receiving chiropractic care.
The researchers measured serum thiol levels in 25 patients under short term chiropractic care, and 21 patients under long term chiropractic care. The results were compared to those of a non‑chiropractic control group of 30 subjects. Long‑term chiropractic care of two or more years was shown to re‑establish a normal physiological state independent of age, sex, or nutritional supplements. Symptom‑free or primary wellness subjects under chiropractic care demonstrated higher mean serum thiol levels than patients with active disease, and produced some values that were higher than normal wellness values in non‑chiropractic subjects.
Serum thiols are primary antioxidants, and serve as a measure of human health status. The test provides a surrogate estimate of DNA repair enzyme activity, which has been shown to correlate with lifespan and aging.
Going through life, we experience physical, chemical, and emotional dis‑stress. These stresses affect the function of the nervous system. The investigators hypothesized that these disturbances in nerve function could affect oxidative stress and DNA repair on a cellular level.
Oxidative stress, metabolically generating free radicals, is now a broadly accepted theory of how we age and develop disease. Oxidative stress results in DNA damage, and inhibits DNA repair. DNA repair is the mechanism which fixes the damage caused by environmental impact.
Chiropractors apply spinal adjustments to correct disturbances of nerve function caused be vertebral subluxations. Chiropractic care appears to improve the ability of the body to adapt to stress. Further research is planned to gain additional insights into mechanisms that will ultimately lead to improved clinical outcomes.
The study was a collaborative involving Camgen, Inc. of Victoria, B.C. Canada; Chiropractic Leadership Alliance in Mahwah, NJ; Biomedical Diagnostic Research, LLC in Chesterland, Ohio; and Department of Cell and Molecular Biology of Tumor Immunology, University of Lund, Sweden.
A related pilot study to assess the feasibility of evaluating paraspinal skin temperatures, paraspinal SEMG potentials, and serum thiol levels in patients attending a private chiropractic practice was conducted. Serum thiol levels were measured in a convenience sample of 11 patients who had been under chiropractic care for periods ranging from 99 weeks to 550 weeks. The findings of these examinations were compared with the results of paraspinal thermal and SEMG scans.
In a population of long‑term chiropractic patients, where paraspinal thermal and SEMG scans were used as criteria for subluxation‑centered care, serum thiol levels were higher than those found in populations with active disease processes, and compared favorably with the serum thiol levels in healthy subjects.
The study concluded that it is feasible to evaluate paraspinal skin temperatures, paraspinal SEG potentials, and serum thiol levels in patients in a private chiropractic practice. A prospective study, tracking changes in these parameters throughout a course of chiropractic care should be undertaken.
Research into basic cellular processes common to human adaptive mechanisms, and chiropractic care, are immensely rich with clinical promise. Such studies hold the potential of explaining the neurobiological basis for the favorable effects of chiropractic care on specific health issues, and general well‑being.
1. Blanks RHI, Schuster TL, Dobson M: "A retrospective assessment of Network care using a survey of self‑reported health, wellness and quality of life." Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research 1997;1(4):15. http://www.jvsr.com
2. Coulter ID, Hurwitz EL, Aronow HU, et al: "Chiropractic patients in a comprehensive home‑based geriatric assessment, follow‑up and health promotion program." Topics in Clinical Chiropractic 1996;3(2):46.
3. Rupert RL, Manello D, Sandefur R: "Maintenance care: health promotion services administered to US chiropractic patients aged 65 or older, Part II." Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2000;23(1):10.
4. Hannon SA: "Objective Physiologic Changes and Associated Health Benefits of Chiropractic Adjustments in Asymptomatic Subjects: A Review of the Literature." Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research [April 26, 2004, pp 1‑9]. http://www.jvsr.com
5. Campbell CJ, Kent C, Banne A, Amiri A, Pero RW: "Surrogate indication of DNA repair in serum after long term chiropractic intervention ‑ a retrospective study." Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research [February 18, 2005, pp 1‑5]. http://www.jvsr.com
6. Kent C: "Assessment of DNA repair, autonomic tone, and paraspinal muscle tone in a population of long term chiropractic patients: a pilot study." Conference Abstracts. International Research and Philosophy Symposium. Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic. Spartanburg, SC. October 9‑10, 2004. http://www.sherman.edu/edu
(Dr. Christopher Kent, president of the Council on Chiropractic Practice, is a 1973 graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic. The WCA's "Chiropractic Researcher of the Year" in 1994, and recipient of that honor from the ICA in 1991, he was also named ICA "Chiropractor of the Year" in 1998. He is director of research and a co‑founder of Chiropractic Leadership Alliance. With Dr. Patrick Gentempo, Jr., Dr. Kent produces a monthly audio series, "On Purpose," covering current events in science, politics and philosophy of vital interest to the practicing chiropractor. For subscription information call 800/892‑6463.)