By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
When your immune system response can’t distinguish between your body and any toxins you’ve ingested, the result is called ‘systemic inflammation:’ when your body attacks its own tissues. Your body might intend to fight off an infection or an allergen, but instead points the attack at your joints or your thyroid, or maybe even your whole body. This is how autoimmune conditions, such as arthritis, celiac disease, thyroid disorders, and lupus, begin to grow.
Causes of Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune diseases typically stem from one of the following causes:
Genetic Predisposition: While your genes alone do not condone you to a fate of autoimmunity, having a family history is a good indicator that you should be proactive in preventing an autoimmune disease from developing.
The pathogenesis of autoimmune disease is multifactorial, meaning, just because you may have inherited the genes for an autoimmune disease, it does not necessarily mean you will develop one. Studies have shown that some combination of genetic and environmental factors are what ultimately cause or prevent autoimmunity from developing. In this article, we are going to break down some of the ways to prevent this from happening.
Leaky Gut: Food allergies, toxins in our food and environment, stress, gut dysbiosis and an inflammatory diet are causes of leaky gut. Leaky gut occurs when the gut lining is compromised, allowing large food particles and toxins to leak into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and autoimmunity.
Autoimmune conditions affect at least 50 million Americans, as well as millions more worldwide. However, autoimmune disease seems to exist almost exclusively in first-world countries. This is possibly linked to the diversity of the microbiome: in developed countries, we are regularly exposed to antibiotics and consume genetically modified foods laden with pesticides. These contribute to reducing the diversity of our microbiomes. Those in less developed countries have a wider range of gut flora, and don’t suffer from the same autoimmune diseases.
Trauma: Overwhelming stress or trauma, whether it be physical or emotional, such as a difficult break up, the death of a loved one, or a car accident, is enough to send your body into overdrive and trigger autoimmunity. The immune response due to physical stress (injury) causes profound inflammation, which is known to trigger autoimmune disease.
Up to 80% of people note that they experienced uncommon emotional stress before the onset of their autoimmune disease. Stress-related hormones are presumed to cause immune dysregulation, resulting in autoimmune disease. Stress can be responsible for more than just the onset of autoimmunity, it also feeds continues a vicious cycle of feeding the condition.
Prevention and Reversal of Autoimmunity
- Eliminate any foods causing allergies or sensitivities. Here is a breakdown of what an elimination diet entails. Basically, by eliminating foods that are potential allergens, you’ll learn what your body feels like when you aren’t ingesting inflammatory foods. Then, you add back foods gradually and are able to pinpoint which foods are triggers for your autoimmunity or other issues you may have been experiencing.
- Heal your gut to reduce inflammation. Your gut houses 70% of your immune system. If you don’t have a healthy gut balance, your immune system will be severely affected, contributing to autoimmune disease. An elimination diet can help you learn which foods are serving you and which are hurting your gut.
- High quality probiotic supplements, eating and drinking probiotics in the forms of kombucha and sauerkraut, and drinking bone broth will all support a healthy gut!
- Proper vitamin D levels. Research shows a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and autoimmune disease, cancer, and other serious diseases. This article studies the link between vitamin D and autoimmune disease in depth. Getting time in the sun, as well as supplementing with quality vitamin D, are ways to reverse and reduce risk of developing autoimmunity.
- Glutathione, the “master antioxidant,” helps your body detox any toxins you ingest. Glutathione is also a major player in immune system regulation, meaning it plays an important role in autoimmunity.
- Zinc is essential for white blood cell production, and provides powerful immune system support (maybe you’ve heard zinc recommended to get over a cold quickly). In fact, studies have shown that those with a zinc deficiency are more susceptible to developing diseases.
- Get good sleep will lower inflammation, heal your body, and reduce cravings for carbs, sugar, processed foods, and other junk that contributes to autoimmunity.
- Magnesium A deficiency in magnesium increases production of proinflammatory cytokines, raising your body’s total level of inflammation, a trigger for autoimmunity. Magnesium deficiency is rampant in our society due to chronic stress, soil depletion, and high-sugar diets, so it is important to supplement with magnesium.
- B vitamins support your immune system, hormones, sleep patterns, and much more. Vitamin B12 plays a role in your body’s production of white blood cells, which are essential components of your immune system. With lowered white blood cells, you are much more susceptible to illness, including autoimmunity.
- Reduce stress Studies show stress can act as both a trigger and a modulator in autoimmunity, and stress-reducing techniques (yoga, meditation, massage) are viable treatment options.
- Activated charcoal can be taken if you have consumed a food you are sensitive to, or any less than ideal foods. Activated charcoal binds to toxins to protect your body from inflammation.
If you are dealing an autoimmune disease, or have suspicions, please schedule a consultation with a qualified functional medicine doctor to assess your needs and help you heal.