Interferon: The Purpose Within the Body and Its Benefits

Interferon is a type of protein that is released by cells in response to the presence of pathogens such as bacteria, viruses or infections. This substance can be thought of as a type of communication between these cells that allows them to respond defensively and destroy the foreign body. There are three types of interferon that are produced.

Alpha interferons are designed to treat a cancer such as a melanoma as well as certain types of leukaemia. These interferons have also proven powerful combatants in the fight against hepatitis C. Drugs such as Ribavirin are a form of this protein. Beta interferons are only available in the form of injections and are primarily used to treat MS, as it helps reduce the inflammation of nerve cells that cause this condition. A gamma interferon is highly specialized and can help in treating osteoporosis, otherwise commonly known as "brittle bones".

So, we can see that these protein "messengers" have many important uses within the body. Without interferons, it would be impossible to fight off infection. Cancerous cells would thrive. Conditions such as melanoma and multiple sclerosis would affect a great many more individuals and our life expectancies would be profoundly shortened.

To review, the three types of proteins and their primary functions are:
  • Alpha interferons combat cancer and other forms of abnormal cellular reproduction. These interferons are the only substances proven effective in treating hepatitis C.
  • Beta interferons can help treating neurological disorders such as MS.
  • Gamma interferons can mitigate the onset and effects of osteoporosis.

Important Things to Understand About Interferon Treatment

As interferon is quite a potent substance when given orally or through shots, there are some side effects that need to be taken into account. These will naturally vary depending on the type of interferon that will be administered.

An alpha interferon can be dangerous if a patient has a previous heart condition. Also, some patients will experience shortness of breath, a lower in white blood cell count or easy bruising due to a drop in blood platelet count.

A beta interferon can cause mild symptoms such as muscle pain, sleep problems, weakness and headache. More serious effects that should be reported can include bruising around the site of the injection, weight changes, nausea and jaundice. These should be reported to a doctor if observed.

A gamma interferon will sometimes produce flu-like symptoms as well as fatigue and headache. However, effects such as unusual bruising, black and tarry stools or blood in the urine may signal a more significant problem and a doctor should be notified.

These more severe side effects should be recognized as potential dangers, regardless of which type of interferon is being taken.

To review, these effects can include:
  • Sever bruising or bleeding.
  • Pronounced weight changes.
  • Severe nausea.
  • A yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
  • Black, tarry stools or blood in the urine.