Autoimmune (AI) conditions have dramatically risen over the past 10 years leaving most people scratching their heads as to why. For those of you who don’t know what an AI disorder is, it is basically where the immune system becomes dysfunctional and attacks bodily tissues. The type and location of tissue differs from person to person but some examples include the nervous system (MS, lupus), skin (psoriasis), connective tissue (rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma) and gut (Crohn’s, Celiac’s).
Most medical treatment is focused on managing the symptoms while largely ignoring underlying causes.
Unfortunately, the underlying causes are about as diverse as the symptoms they produce. While the exact mechanisms and causes remain somewhat elusive, we have honed in on some common underlying themes. These include leaky gut, bacterial infections, drugs, chemicals and environmental triggers.
I have worked with many autoimmune cases in practice and have discovered that there are other underlying triggers that a) many people are not aware of and b) practitioners are not addressing. If you are suffering from an autoimmune disorder, I would strongly encourage you to look into these as well as get help from a competent practitioner who understands how to address these issues.
I have yet to come across someone with an AI disorder that doesn’t have an underlying stress issue. Anything that the body perceives as stress will elicit a stress response. This can include hectic lifestyle, over-work, money issues, negative emotions, chemical sensitivities, food allergies and more. Cortisol (the primary stress hormone) can decrease digestive function, promote intestinal bacterial overgrowth and ultimately trigger leaky gut. Many of my clients report that a single stressful event triggered their AI issue – sometimes to the point of knowing exactly which date it was!
Multiple studies have demonstrated that estrogens can, and do, affect immune cell signaling. It is also interesting to note that most AI sufferers are women (~75%); who naturally produce more estrogen. Note that I use the word ‘imbalance’ as opposed to high or low estrogen. This is because estrogen can be protective in some AI disorders (MS) while being harmful in others (SLE)[i]. Bottom line is that if you suffer from any AI disorders and you have hormone issues as well, you should get yourself checked out to properly evaluate what’s going on. A saliva hormone panel that tests estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and DHEA is a good way to go.
Lectins in food
Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins present in most plants, especially seeds and tubers like cereals, potatoes, and beans. Many lectins are (a) toxic, inflammatory, or both; (b) resistant to cooking and digestive enzymes; and (c) present in much of our food. Food lectins can get past the gut wall and deposit themselves in body tissues. This can trigger the immune system to attack them and the tissue itself[ii]. Again, the location and type of tissue will differ from person to person. Foods with the highest lectins are: grains of all kinds (especially wheat), legumes (especially soy), nuts, dairy, and nightshade plants (e.g. eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc.). Important to note: not all AI sufferers are lectin-sensitive.
There is a growing body of research suggesting that viral infections are present in all AI disorders. Simply put, viruses can lay dormant embedded in body tissues and then become active when we are stressed out, depleted or sick. This kicks the immune system into gear and in the process of attacking the virus, the tissue also gets attacked. Viruses can also mimic body tissues (termed ‘molecular mimicry’), causing a similar immune response[iii]. Without taking measures to wipe the virus out, it is near impossible to dial down the immune system
GM plants have been engineered to produce more of their innate defence chemicals: prolamins, agglutinins, digestive enzyme inhibitors, and saponins. These chemicals contribute to leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, and inflammation, all of which negatively impact AI disorders and inflammatory conditions. Some GMO’s are also engineered to produce higher amounts of a natural soil antibacterial compound – Bt. While biotech companies maintain that Bt does not pass from the GI tract into the blood stream, there are now multiple studies proving that in some cases 93% of participants showed traces of Bt in their blood[iv]. Bt damages tissues and can induce leaky gut. The only way to minimize your exposure is to eat organic.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to reversing AI conditions.
These are chronic and complex issues that require a multi-pronged approach that a) identifies the underlying causes, b) removes the major triggers and c) restores proper function to the gut and immune system. I encourage you to explore some of the topics listed above as I have merely scratched the surface in this article. Good luck. Be well!
[iii] Clin Exp Immunol. 2009 Jan; 155(1): 1–15. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03834.x PMCID: PMC2665673 the role of infections in autoimmune disease A M Ercolini and S D Miller