The Pandemic of 2020 has made many of us more aware of the critical role our immune system plays in maintaining our health. Our immune system has the responsibility of distinguishing between friend and foe amongst myriad viruses, bacteria and fungi that live on, within and all around us and make up our microbiome.
Most of the microbes we encounter daily are beneficial or at least safe, but some are pathogenic or cause disease. Disturbingly, many can fool our immune systems, tricking them to attack ourselves, when conditions are right, in the process of attacking and protecting us from the invader. This results in autoimmunity. There are at least 80 named conditions today that are known to be autoimmune-based and that list continues to grow. Consider that if your immune system is busy attacking itself, how could it have the reserves to protect you from a pathogenic virus like COVID-19 or any cold or flu virus?
The prevalence of autoimmunity is growing worldwide. Common autoimmune, or AI, conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis with joint damage at its core, Crohn’s disease that affects the intestines, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s, which attack the thyroid, and Lupus, a whole-body connective tissue disorder, all continue to rise in numbers. Symptoms can be vague or profound, intermittent or persistent, mild or debilitating. Our modern environment, with increased toxins in our air and water, along with the ultra-processed and synthetic foods we eat, plays a major role in the rise in AI conditions.
All AI conditions have three common factors 1) the right genes 2) an environmental trigger; a virus, proteins in gluten or dairy, acute or chronic stress, etc., and 3) a leaky gut that allows undigested food particles and proteins to enter the blood, where they don’t belong. The foreign particles trigger an immune response, producing antibodies that attack not only the foreigner but also mistakenly attack healthy tissues and then organs whose chemical makeup looks very similar. Crazy, right? That can’t be a good thing.
So, what can you do? Obviously, you can’t change your genetics, but we can influence how your genes turn on and off by improving the environment they live in. We can also reduce the permeability of the gut lining, resulting in less response by the immune system.
Conventional medicine responds to AI conditions with NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen, steroids or immune-suppressant medication like Enbrel and Humira. These medications can lead to intestinal bleeding, depression, osteoporosis and, most worrisome, overwhelming infection and cancer. Of course, these medications can be helpful to treat a flare, but they do not get to the root cause.
With at least 70% of our immune system found in our gut and intimately communicating with the adjacent gut bacteria, it makes sense that a healthy microbiome is what really keeps us healthy. Lucky for us, a change in diet and lifestyle results in a change in the microbiome in as few as three days, often with positive results quickly to follow.
Incorporating the following lifestyle changes will aid in avoiding or reversing autoimmunity, along with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, arthritis and dementia. You will also restore balance to your immune system, allowing it to do its intended job, protecting you from foreign invaders:
• Make healing your gut a priority.
Eliminate gluten (wheat, barley and rye), corn, soy, dairy and refined sugars which tend to be the biggest offenders in leaky gut syndrome. Watch out for gluten-free processed foods, as they are frequently loaded with unhealthy starches and sugars. Concentrate on eating whole foods. Learn to cook, make ahead and freeze in smaller portions for easy thawing. Freeze in glass as often as you can, to avoid using plastics.
• Eat more veggies, especially green leafy and cruciferous ones.
Work on enjoying a wide variety of veggies and eat a rainbow of colors. Eat berries liberally, but minimize other fruits to reduce sugar intake. Consider a probiotic and eating more fermented foods.
• Eat organic.
Choose grass fed & finished beef, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and wild-caught fish whenever possible. This is good not only for you but also the environment.
• Cook with butter, ghee, high quality avocado oil and coconut oil.
Invest in high quality olive oil and use a lot of it raw. Avoid vegetable oils like canola, sunflower and safflower. They are highly processed and cause inflammation. Eat avocados regularly.
• Eat in a state of calm.
Avoid eating in the car if you can. Sit down before a meal and take a moment to feel grateful for your food. Avoid watching TV, especially the news, while eating. Chew your food well. Decreased stress while eating improves digestion, making more nutrients available.
• Start reading labels.
Gluten and wheat flour, sugar and dairy are sneakily added to processed foods. Look for products with the fewest ingredients. Again, avoid highly processed oils.
• Find ways to reduce stress, which reduces excess cortisol.
Take a walk. Practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness. No doubt your blood pressure, pulse, breathing and immune response will all improve.
• Limit screen time & social media, especially regarding negativity.
Turn off the TV and screens at least an hour before bedtime. Start going to bed a little earlier and try to stick with a routine for rising at the same time, even on the weekend. Take melatonin, 3-10mg nightly, to direct your brain that it’s nighttime. Melatonin also acts as a powerful antioxidant while we sleep.
• Drink filtered water to eliminate chlorine, fluoride and numerous contaminants. Change your furnace filter monthly to help breathe cleaner air at home.
• Eliminate chemicals in your household and personal products, opting for natural alternatives as much as you can.
• Invest in personal testing.
Find out what your microbiome looks like and how to nurture it with specific foods. Test for food sensitivities, autoantibodies, specific genetic traits and micronutrient levels to streamline your healing journey. Optimize micronutrients, especially vitamin D3, B12, magnesium and omega 3s.
• Consider Low Dose Naltrexone LDN, a novel and safe immune modulator, not suppressant.
For more information about avoiding and reversing autoimmunity, I encourage you to look at these fabulous resources:
The Autoimmune Fix, by Tom O’Bryan, DC
The Wahls Protocol, by Terry Wahls, MD
The Hashimoto’s Protocol, by Izabella Wentz, PharmD
The Autoimmune Solution, by Amy Myers, MD
Wheat Belly, by William Davis, MD
Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter, MD
Here at BESANA Health & Wellness, we are passionate about helping you reclaim balance and optimal health. To learn more about healing your gut and reversing autoimmunity, please call us at 303.327.7300 or complete our consultation request form today.
— Susan Eichorst, PA-C