Our own immune system can attack us? That doesn’t sound right. Unfortunately, autoimmunity is a lot more common than you may think, affecting one out of seven men and one out of five women. In our latest free webinar, Susan Eichorst, PA-C, MMSc, discusses what autoimmunity is, how autoimmune diseases work against our immune system and how we can find a pathway back to health.
The immune system and autoimmunity
Before we can discuss autoimmunity, let’s have a refresher on the immune system. The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that protect the body against infection through the production of antibodies. It’s quite clever, keeping a record of every microbe (germ) that it meets so it can respond and defend quickly. Our immune system protects us from bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, cancer cells and foreign bodies. But when the body’s immune system attacks itself, this is what we call autoimmunity. Autoimmunity may be non-specific, where autoimmune activity is widely spread throughout the body, and can cause cell, tissue and organ damage. You may not even know you are autoimmune because symptoms may not be present for 10 or more years after antibodies develop. Minor transient symptoms are frequently missed as red flags, but lab tests are one of the best ways to look for antibodies.
Typical symptoms and conditions
Some common symptoms of autoimmunity include feeling fatigued or tired, dry eyes, mouth or skin, multiple miscarriages or blood clots, rashes, hives or photosensitivity, unexplained weight gain or loss and hair loss. There are over 300 different conditions resulting from this type of immune response, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, Parkinson’s disease, psoriasis and fibromyalgia. An autoimmune attack can affect many tissues in the body, including the thyroid, brain, blood, bones, GI tract, nerves, lungs, skin and muscles. A lot of these autoimmune diseases have a high association with gluten, dairy, corn and soy sensitivity, with leaky gut as the root cause. In fact, the three major factors of autoimmunity are:
- Genetic predisposition/family history
- Trigger or invading antigen: gluten, milk protein-A1 casein, viruses, stress
- Leaky gut/intestinal permeability
Understanding intestinal permeability
Increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, is a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are able to “leak” through the intestinal wall. When there’s dysfunction in the intestinal barrier it can lead to a food allergy and intolerance, which can lead to immune system abnormalities and eventually autoimmunity. This process can even influence the blood-brain barrier and neuro autoimmunity. When there is an immune response to an antigen in the bloodstream, antibodies will form against the foreign pathogen, i.e., gluten, triggering molecular mimicry which attacks you as well. You should be mindful of the triggers of increased intestinal permeability, which include:
The development of autoimmunity
Altered intestinal permeability can lead to a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance, malnutrition, or an increased uptake of toxins and lipopolysaccharides, all of which can lead to the development of a systemic disease. Lipopolysaccharides (bacterial toxins) are actually a major player here, causing inflammation and health issues if they reach the bloodstream. But remember, autoimmunity exists on a spectrum. You don’t just wake up one day with an autoimmune disease, it develops over time. The process can start early in your 20s and 30s and keep progressing. Knowing your family history can give a lot of clues, but it only contributes to less than 10% of your outcome. While you may not be able to change your family or personal medical history, you can change your future.
Finding a pathway back to health
Common treatments for autoimmunity include steroids and immunosuppressants. However, diet and lifestyle changes, supplements and Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) are more impactful and long lasting. Try an elimination diet for 30 days, cutting out gluten, wheat, barley, rye, dairy, soy, corn, sugar and sweeteners, refined vegetable oils and GMOs. The intestinal tract has the fastest growing cells in the body, which is why it only takes three weeks to start seeing improvements in your gut health if you modify your diet. Other ways to improve your health include reducing stress with yoga or meditation, going outside and enjoying nature, having frequent, positive social interactions and getting consistent good-quality sleep.
Autoimmunity can affect many different tissues in your body, leading to a myriad of autoimmune diseases. Since autoimmunity develops over time, it’s good to know your family history so you can look out for any potential health issues. However, what you do now to improve your health is even more important. By taking small steps to support your immune system, such as cutting out an inflammatory diet, exercising and practicing stress management, you can reduce your risk of autoimmunity.
At BESANA Health & Wellness, we can’t wait to help you establish and discover your path to optimal health and wellness. Watch the full webinar today and reach out to our team at 303.327.7300 or request a consultation online.