Autoimmunity affects 50-75 million people, and there has been a 300% increase in autoimmunity in the last 50 years. This tells us autoimmune isn’t all genetic. In fact, the cause of autoimmunity is 75% environment & 25% genetics. The 75% is in our control! Examples of autoimmune diseases include: alopecia, celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, polymyositis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, vasculitis, vitiligo.
If you have one autoimmune disease, you are 3x more likely to develop another one, and unfortunately it takes an average of 5-6 doctors and 5 years to get a diagnosis, so people are really frustrated and not feeling any better.
The biggest autoimmune secret of them all…you can prevent and reverse autoimmune disease. It is possible and isn’t your destiny. There is a better way.
What Are The Five Environmental Factors Influencing Autoimmune Disease?
Leaky Gut, Diet, Toxins, Infections, Stress
Conventional Medicine Says There Is No Other Way
Conventional medicine believes autoimmunity (AI) is all related to your genetics, so you’re set up to be on harsh medications to suppress the immune system for the rest of your life. Conventional medicine doesn’t believe AI can be prevented or reversed, but you can get rid of your autoimmune disease. Don’t suppress the immune system – rather, support it and find the root cause (the functional medicine way). There is no cure for AI disease, but it can be prevented and reversed! This means you can become medication free, antibody free and symptom free.
What is Autoimmunity?
Your body is attacking itself and is very angry – it’s a problem of the immune system. Your organs are the target, and your immune system is taking aim. Treat the Cause, NOT the Symptom.
These five functional medicine strategies are easy to implement so you can start to heal.
STEP 1: HEAL YOUR GUT
The gut is so important when talking about autoimmunity because 60-80% of our immune system is located in our gut. Whether you have digestive issues or not, if you have something wrong with your immune system, it is highly likely something is going on with your gut.
There are tests to determine any gut infections and leaky gut. If positive, you need to seal up the leaky gut and get rid of any infections. Supplements aren’t required but can be a helpful addition.
What is Leaky Gut?
Most people with an autoimmune condition also have leaky gut. Our gut is semi-permeable to allow nutrients, vitamins and minerals to pass into our body. However, certain things trigger too much gut permeability, causing the tight junctions in the gut to work improperly. What causes the tight junctions to work improperly, leading to leaky gut? Food sensitivities, candida or yeast overgrowth, parasites, SIBO, medications and stress.
Leaky gut allows larger particles of food (ie: gluten) and infections, never meant to get into our system, to pass into the bloodstream. Our immune system sees the larger particles, knows it isn’t supposed to be there, and triggers our immune system. This can eventually cause the immune system to inadvertently attack your organs too (ie: thyroid). Heal your leaky gut with the 4R program.
STEP 2: OPTIMIZE YOUR DIET
First, if you’ve been diagnosed with autoimmunity, ditch gluten from your diet (forever). Wheat has been hybridized over the years, so there’s more gluten in wheat now. Wheat is also sprayed with Round-up, which may be a larger cause of leaky gut than the gluten itself. More than 55 diseases are linked to gluten, and autoimmunity is one of them.
If you have a gluten sensitivity, which if you have autoimmunity – you do. So every time you eat gluten, it can stimulate your immune system for up to 3 months! This means you get to eat it four times per day and you never gave your immune system a break. Yikes!
Where is Gluten Hidden? It's lurking in all kinds of places, from playdough to medication, shampoos and even the stamps you lick! Don't let it sabotaging you.
Eliminate Toxic and Inflammatory Foods.
Toxic foods: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dyes/colors/preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, GMOs
Inflammatory foods: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nightshades, grains & legumes, nuts & seeds. It's important for you to find your "no" foods. Everyone is different.
Healthy foods: animal protein (include lean, organic meats), Organic fruits and vegetables (eat a rainbow of nutrient-dense produce), Healthy fats (try coconut, ghee, avocado, sardines and wild-caught fish)
STEP 3: TAME THE TOXINS
Our modern world is filled with toxins in everyday products, including home cleaners and body products. These toxins overtax your detoxification system which creates inflammation, wreaks havoc on your endocrine system, and assaults your immune system – leading to autoimmunity. The EPA has classified 689 chemicals as toxic, meaning in large enough quantities they're capable of causing adverse health effects. The good news is, there are many natural ways your body can eliminate these toxins. Here are 7 simple ways to start detoxifying your body, and here are 13 hormone-altering chemicals to avoid.
Testing is left up to the manufacturer to prove if something is harmful – not whether it’s safe. Low level, chronic exposure to toxins every day is much worse than a single large exposure, and it can cause autoimmunity. Exposure, although small doses, add up quickly.
For example, take a typical day: A person takes a shower (chemicals in water), puts on makeup or lotion (parabens), uses an anti-perspirant (aluminum), cooks breakfast in nonstick pan (aluminum), stops for a to-go coffee and water bottle (BPA & plastics), snacks on non-organic fruit (pesticides), reheats lunch in the microwave. You get the point. Drip-Drop, Drip-Drop, all these exposures add up, and it damages our cells and overstimulates the immune system.
Start by making small lifestyle changes to begin reducing your exposure to toxins. For example, cleaning towels that only require water are an effective natural alternative to harsh, and often harmful, household cleaners. Hydrogen peroxide is also a healthy option for all types of cleaning (especially bathroom & kitchen).
STEP 4: HEAL YOUR INFECTIONS
There are a number of viruses and bacteria that can damage the tight junctions in the gut, and cause autoimmune disease. Someone with an autoimmune condition must test for and be treated for these infections. Most conventional doctors can test for this – they just don’t think of it.
Infections may be lying dormant in your body and they can flare up on occasion, which fuels the fire of your autoimmune disease. Common infections associated with autoimmune conditions, include:
Citrobacter, Klebsiella, Proteus, Porphyromonas
|E. coli, Proteus
||Autoimmunity, in general
||Graves disease, Hashimoto's thyroiditis
STEP 5: RELIEVE YOUR STRESS
The stress-autoimmune connection is likely the most overlooked factor in your control. Many AI diseases respond to stress and flare during particularly stressful events. The stress hormone, cortisol, is highly inflammatory and suppresses the immune system to 50-70% below baseline, so as soon as the stressful event is over, BOOM, you get sick.
We all need ways to reduce our stress because we can’t get rid of it. Find down time, rest and relax. Everyone is different – acupuncture, deep breathing, aroma therapy (like the relaxing benefits of lavender) – whatever works for you.
This is a life-long journey, and focusing on these dietary and lifestyle tips will support, optimize adn enhance your immune system.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Reference: Dr. Amy Myers at Austin UltraHealth