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What are Leukotrienes?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 21, 2024
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Leukotrienes are a naturally occurring chemical substance that promotes an inflammatory response. When produced and released in the body, this chemical causes airway constriction, the tightening of muscles, and excess mucus and fluid. In a normally functioning immune system, some leukotrienes have a chemotactic effect on nuetrophils in the blood stream. This means that leukotrienes cause white blood cells to travel to the area of intrusion or damage so that the body can heal itself. However, in an abnormally functioning immune system, leukotrienes can cause uncomfortable or even deadly responses.

The human body has a natural and healthy response to damage or dangerous intrusion. One of these responses is the inflammatory response. When the body is damaged or when there is a harmful invader in the body, the immune system reacts by opening blood vessels in order to send blood and fluids to the area. The blood carries white blood cells which seek to destroy the intruder, and the excess fluid carries the nutrients necessary to rebuild the damaged tissue and promote healing. Without the body’s inflammatory response, the body would not be able heal itself. However, if the inflammatory response goes unchecked, it will lead to various diseases including hay fever and rheumatoid arthritis.

Leukotrienes are one of the substances the body creates to regulate inflammatory response. The chemical is not always found in the body but is released as a response to certain stimuli. Unfortunately, this is one of the substances released when a person is exposed to allergens. Leukotrienes are also involved in asthmatic reactions where they can cause airway constriction. This makes it harder for an asthmatic to breathe.

Allergies are a disorder of the immune system that occurs when an nonthreatening substance triggers a response from the immune system. Such stimuli are called allergens. When exposed to allergens, a person’s immune system will react in order to rid the body of the substance. Leukotrienes are produced causing the person to sneeze, their eyes to get puffy and red, and their breathing to become labored. As long as the allergen is in the environment, the person will continue to have these responses.

The medical community has created medication dedicated to stopping leukotrienes from being detected by the body. These medicines are called leukotriene inhibitors or leukotriene receptor antagonists. Leukotrienes trigger an inflammatory response when they bind to protein receptors. By blocking these receptors, the inhibitors prevent leukotrienes from triggering the response. This reduces allergic symptoms.

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Discussion Comments
By Ru Justfive — On Jun 20, 2010

Regarding your article on Leukotrienes, if you are not asthmatic and are given a Leukotriene Inhibitor, such as Zyflo, can it suppress the immune system?

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