An Autoimmune Approach
An Autoimmune Approach
As I began seeing more and more chronic and complex cases, I began to see the prevalence of autoimmunity, but I also began to see that regardless of an autoimmune “diagnosis”, an Autoimmune Approach was still the best route to take.
An Autoimmune Approach says “what’s driving my inflammation?” We then put those “drivers” into priority order, and we go down the list and check the boxes. So - what drives autoimmunity? There are 5 things that really drive autoimmunity.
Before we discuss the “drivers”, your genes absolutely matter. If your mom and sister both have autoimmunity, there is a HUGE chance that you do too. There are certain genes that are implicated, like HLA-DQ genes, but overall it’s important to note that you can’t change your genes, just which ones are being expressed. Genetics play a role in your predisposition and risk, but as is often said, “Genetics load the gun, but your environment pulls the trigger.”
Foods and Gut Health
Gut health is strongly associated with autoimmune disease development. This is because our digestive tract is constantly exposed to foods and toxins, and over time the gut lining becomes inflamed, good/bad bacteria become imbalanced, and the gut becomes inflamed and “leaky”, meaning food particles can get in and create food sensitivities. These food sensitivities can then contribute to overall inflammation, or even worse they can “cross-react” with certain tissues - gluten can cross-react with thyroid or cerebellar tissue for example - and make those autoimmune processes worse. In today’s autoimmune world, diet won’t fix all your problems, but you can’t do it without it. We have several videos and resources talking about an Autoimmune Paleo Diet, or our Ten Steps of Autoimmune Eating.
Stress and inflammation are “co-activators”, meaning stress makes inflammation worse, and inflammation makes stress worse. Stress can be multiple things - mental and emotional stress from relationships, job, life, bills is the most obvious source, but you can also have physical stress from the gut, from physical injuries, or blood sugar imbalances, or you can have toxic stress from man-made chemicals, heavy metals, or even infection will create a “stress response” in your body and make autoimmunity worse.
Toxins, like those in our food, damage our gut lining (see #1), create a stress response (see #2), disrupt hormones (see #4), and can suppress the immune system (see #5). Food isn’t the only source of toxins - we breathe toxic air pollution, we apply toxic personal care products, we use plastics to drink tap water. There are over 80,000 manmade chemicals in our environment, and if our bodies aren’t clearing toxins faster than they are accumulating them, damage occurs and this can both TRIGGER autoimmunity or WORSEN autoimmunity, or both. Some of the biggest offenders are mercury, aluminum, glyphosate, mold/mycotoxins, BPA, formaldehyde, and benzene.
Hormone fluctuations can exacerbate autoimmunity, which is one reason why women are more susceptible to autoimmunity than men. There are 3 hormones that can really impact autoimmunity: insulin and blood sugar spikes, cortisol and stress (and blood sugar dips), and estrogen, which is why autoimmune diseases “flare” around puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause, and often patients will notice symptoms are better or worse during different times of their menstrual cycle. Thyroid hormone is also very important for every cell in the body, and is often disrupted by an autoimmune process against the thyroid.
Infections agents are known causes of autoimmunity, including but not limited to: Lyme disease, herpetic viruses (Epstein-Barr Virus, Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, HHV-6, Cytomegalovirus), Yersinia, Strep, even influenza! Viral and bacterial infections are supposed to turn on the immune system, so when the immune system is turned on and the “attack” is aimed at the wrong target, the immune system could end up attacking the brain or the thyroid or the joints instead. Our bodies are host to nearly 400 trillion viruses, so it’s not about “one virus”, but more a total accumulation of “pathogen burden” that can make chronic, low-grade inflammation worse and allow autoimmunity to worsen.