There are many different diagnoses’ that fall into the category of “auto-immune”: R/A, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Grave’s, inflammatory bowel disease (colitis), diabetes, hypothyroidism, psoriasis and many others. There are more than 100 different types of autoimmune diseases – all have a huge impact on quality of life.
Most people think of these diseases as all different but they really are a “horse of a different color” – the same cellular dysfunction is occurring but manifesting with different symptoms.
It is an individual’s genetic predisposition, imbalance in the microbiome and other factors that causes the variations in symptoms.
Autoimmune disease affects the body at almost every level. It can affect the nervous system (autism), cause depression, affect joints and muscles, the skin, brain, endocrine glands, heart and more.
It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, mistakenly taking good tissue for a foreign molecule such as bacteria.
Conventional medicine takes the approach to “shut down” the immune system with powerful medications that usually come with dangerous side effects. Things like NSAIDs (Advil or Aleve), steroids (prednisone), anti-cancer drugs or some of the newer ones like Enbrel, Humira, Avonex, or Rebif – all block the effects of the inflammatory molecules causing problems, but they also slow down the immune system to a dramatic point where it increases a person’s risk of cancer or life-threatening infections. These drugs treat symptoms, they do not attack the root cause of the disease.
The root cause of almost all autoimmune disease is one or more of the following: microbes, environmental toxins, allergens, stress, poor diet, yeast and/or candida overgrowth, are the most common.
Conventional doctors don’t give much hope to people with autoimmune conditions, but within functional medicine and holistic nutrition, it is common knowledge that these conditions can be reversed, or at the very least, managed in a way that limits the impact on quality of life.
Just because your doctor doesn’t know about this information, doesn’t mean it is wrong.
Basic Information about Your Immune System
The immune system includes a group of cells throughout the body that protect you against infections and illness. We are each exposed to various things every day that cause the immune system to take action.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that is one of the main types responsible for protecting the body from things that are harmful, such as toxins or bacteria. If they aren’t working correctly, lymphocytes are the cells that cause autoimmune disease.
There are two types of cells within the lymphocyte category: (1) killer T cells that attack anything they don’t recognize that is perceived as an invader, and (2) B cells which produce antibodies that grab on to anything that the immune system thinks is foreign and dangerous.
After these molecules get a hold of the invading substance, the immune system initiates a bigger response – an inflammatory reaction. We need the inflammatory response to help us fight off infections and viruses; it isn’t always a bad thing.
There are other types of T cells that are called “T helper” cells. They tell the killer T cells and B cells what to do – when to turn on or off the immune response. If there is an imbalance among the T cells, then the immune system goes haywire.
An autoimmune problem develops when the immune system fails at maintaining health. The body begins to make too many killer T cells or too many antibodies, and then eventually fails to turn itself off, so the immune reaction continues and the inflammatory response continues. Eventually, the immune cells begin attacking the body’s good tissues, thinking they are foreign invaders.
So “autoimmune” is a category of conditions that all have similar characteristics. They are all serious chronic diseases with an underlying problem in the immune system, and all involve inflammation in the body.
Research has discovered many potential triggers for these diseases. A trigger is anything that activates an unhealthy immune response. Known triggers for autoimmune conditions include gluten, sugar, heavy metals, toxins, infections, food allergens and stress.
Restoring Health Begins in the Gut
Improving a person’s health status must begin in the gut where approximately 70% of the immune system resides.
There are two primary conditions given particular focus in a nutritional program to restore balance to the GI system: (1) dysbiosis, and (2) intestinal permeability.
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance in the microbiome bacteria population. Bacteria, yeasts, parasites or candida are typical causes of these imbalances, also called “dysbiosis”. Dysbiosis does not present as an infection. More often, it is a condition that sometimes “simmers” for long periods of time (months or years) before symptoms occur. It can manifest as irritable bowel syndrome in one person, migraines in another person, eczema, psoriasis, depression and many other illnesses in yet others.
There are several causes of dysbiosis but one of the most common is prolonged use of antibiotics. Antiobiotics alter the balance of intestinal microbes, creating an environment for unwanted bacteria, parasites or yeast. Candida is a yeast found in the GI tract and is another cause of dysbiosis. Candida overgrowth is also frequently found in cases of autoimmune disease.
Intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”, as it’s more commonly known, is a symptom of inflammation and imbalance that has multiple causes, with the list of health conditions associated with it growing each year. It occurs when the barrier function of the gastrointestinal lining becomes damaged, allowing small particles of bacteria, fungus, toxins and undigested food particles, to pass through the membranes of the intestines and enter the blood stream. This passage immediately alerts the immune system, specifically lymphocytes and antibodies, to go to work fighting these particles. The ensuing “battle” eventually causes ongoing inflammation, food sensitivities, and puts extra pressure on the liver’s blood filtration process.
There is a very long list of conditions associated with leaky gut syndrome. A few of the more common health issues are: abdominal pain, anxiety, bloating, chronic joint pain, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, indigestion, nervousness, compromised immune system, arthritis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, eczema, liver dysfunction, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis.
As both dysbiosis and leaky gut are known to contribute to the body’s internal inflammatory process, both are addressed in a nutritional protocol for autoimmune disease.
There are several key goals I have in mind when working with an individual who has been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, which are outlined below.
Goal of nutritional counseling:
Identify nutrient deficiencies and imbalances through use of confirmed diagnosis (if available), copies of lab studies (if available), detailed review of symptoms, and review of current diet.
Create a nutrition-based program which will include dietary dos and don’ts, supplements, as well as lifestyle recommendations.
Follow-up every 4 to 6 weeks during first 3 to 6 months and every 3-4 months thereafter to discuss symptom progression, make dietary and supplement adjustments as necessary.
Educate you on how to take control of your health and manage symptoms.
Lastly, I want to inspire you to have a vision for a healthier YOU.
I look forward to working with you!
Nature Communications (June, 2016). “Alterations of the Human Gut Microbiome in Multiple Sclerosis”. Article 12015(2016), doi:10.1038/ncomms12015.
Boroch, A. (revised 2014). The Candida Cure. NY: Quintessential Healing Publishing, Inc.