More than 80 autoimmune conditions have been identified so far; the incidence of autoimmune disease is increasing and women are at greater risk of developing an autoimmune disorder than men. I am seeing an increasing number of clients with chronic conditions and autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system turns on itself and starts attacking healthy tissue. It is well known that approximately 70% of the entire immune system is located in the gut. What is perhaps not so commonly known is that chronic and autoimmune conditions stem from inflammation and poor gut health.
An autoimmune disease can only exist when the following three factors are in place – 1. genetic predisposition; 2. gut dysbiosis (gut bacterial imbalance, inflammation and loss of microbial diversity in the gut); and 3. environmental factors including bacterial or viral infections, antibiotic use, poor diet, stress, toxin exposure e.g. pesticides and pollution By addressing factors 2. and 3. you can break the cycle of autoimmune disease.
The name of the condition is irrelevant – all autoimmune disorders can be treated in the same way by reducing inflammation and improving gut health.
Many of us will be directly or indirectly affected by autoimmune conditions including psoriasis, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease, MS and Irritable Bowel Disease as well as chronic inflammatory conditions such as eczema, allergies, rosacea – health concerns, which are on the rise. If you have one autoimmune condition you are three times more likely to develop another autoimmune condition. This topic is very close to home as my mother was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disorder, cerebellar ataxia, four years ago. Shortly afterwards, I met Dr Tom O’Bryan, a world-renowned expert in the field of gluten-related disorders, who recommended I get myself tested due to the genetic component of the disease. A series of functional and genetic tests confirmed that my gut function was severely compromised and I had compromised liver detoxification capability amongst other issues. These results fitted with the symptoms I was experiencing at the time and further research made me realise that I was at significant risk of developing an autoimmune disorder. Over the last few years I have implemented various dietary and lifestyle changes and have managed to turn my health around.
What we eat and how we support and treat our digestive system plays a vital role in addressing the underlying cause of autoimmune disorders, and has a huge impact on how well we feel, how well we are and our quality of life.
It is possible for us to invest in our health and take pre-emptive measures, whether we are already diagnosed with autoimmune disease, experiencing symptoms or just want to look after ourselves and enjoy optimal future health. It is never too late to reverse the symptoms of autoimmune disease.
Cutting out foods that are pro-inflammatory, e.g. sugar, gluten grains and anything containing gluten,dairy products and foods containing dairy, alcohol, caffeine, refined carbohydrates, processed foods or trans fats, is crucial for good gut health in order to reduce inflammation. We need to support and strengthen our gut environment to encourage growth of a diverse spectrum of bacterial species that will help to protect us from disease and illness. We also need to provide fuel for the cells lining our gut to carry out repair and maintenance. To achieve this we need to eat anti-inflammatory foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids i.e. fish and sea vegetables, as well as a rainbow of fresh whole vegetables and fruit, rich in phytonutrients and soluble fibre, which feed the beneficial bacteria and promote microbial diversity (seven servings a day, covering half your plate). I also highly recommend bone broth (click here to read more), of which I am a huge fan. It is rich in minerals that support the immune system and contains superb gut-healing nutrients such as collagen.
Additionally, probiotic foods and probiotic supplements play a key role in populating the gut and fighting off strains of bad bacteria. Probiotic foods include fermented foods like kimchi, water kefir and sauerkraut. In terms of probiotic supplements there are two types of probiotics – traditional and spore. The bacteria in spore probiotics are taken from a healthy human gut. They are in spore form i.e. coated with a tough, natural, protective outer layer, which allows them to survive in the environment outside the human body and in the stomach’s acidic conditions. They have been shown to be 100% successful in arriving intact in the intestines. Most traditional probiotics contain lactobacillus, an abundance of which has been linked to autoimmune disease. Spore probiotics perform a host of vital functions, from controlling bacterial overgrowth to detoxifying the intestinal tract, reducing inflammation and very importantly helping to improve the diversity of the beneficial bacteria species present in our gut to help balance our immune system.
Taking control of our gut health and reducing inflammation can clearly have a beneficial effect on our general health and wellbeing. This is the approach I take with my clients and how I turned my own health around. Implementing nutritional interventions can be overwhelming especially when you are unwell. Some interventions, for example fasting and eliminating foods, are not always suitable for everyone and are best done under the professional guidance of a qualified practitioner. If you have any questions or concerns relating to autoimmune disease and or the symptoms mentioned, I would be happy to talk to you and discuss helping you to implement achievable changes to your diet and lifestyle. For tailor-made advice, contact me on 07747 780035 or via email at email@example.com
The role of gut dysbiosis in autoimmune disease
The gut separates the inside of the body from the external environment. The gut wall is lined with a single layer of cells that form a physical protective barrier against toxins, undigested food particles and microbes entering the bloodstream. There are gateways known as tight junctions between each cell, which open to allow nutrients to pass through to the bloodstream and close to block the entry of foreign particles. Bacterial microbes, which are a combination of beneficial and harmful bacteria, form a protective layer on top of these cells lining the gut. Various factors including stress, alcohol, all medication especially antibiotics and poor dietary habits can disrupt the balance of the bacteria allowing the harmful bacteria to proliferate. This leads to a reduction in both quantity and diversity of the beneficial bacteria. For example, a single dose of antibiotics can take our gut two years in recovery time as many good bacteria are destroyed. This bacterial imbalance is known as ‘dysbiosis’. As a result of dysbiosis, the cells lining the gut become exposed and vulnerable to damage particularly the tight junction barriers, which can break apart. This then leads to intestinal permeability, which is when the gut lining becomes sieve-like allowing foreign particles such as undigested proteins and toxins to pass through your intestinal wall into your blood stream. Studies have shown that diversity in microbial bacteria seems to play a role in protecting the gut from increased permeability.
The diagram below shows a cross section of the small intestine and illustrates intestinal permeability.
Your immune system targets these foreign invaders as pathogens and mounts an attack, calling for back up in the form of antibodies. This then triggers an inflammatory response. Antibodies can get confused and target your own tissue instead of that of an invader resulting in autoimmune disease. The attack is not just localised to the gut but can occur anywhere in the body. For example, if you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacks your thyroid. If you have multiple sclerosis, it attacks the myelin sheath surrounding your brain and spinal cord. It is important to note that gluten has been shown in recent studies to damage the tight junctions and contribute to the development of intestinal permeability and the development of autoimmune disease.
Digestive issues such as wind, bloating, IBS, diarrhoea, asthma, hormonal imbalances, skin issues such as acne, rosacea or eczema, food allergies or intolerances, low energy, headaches and sore joints are all potential signs of intestinal permeability. Many of my clients suffer from these common inflammatory symptoms. Left untreated, this inflammatory response caused by compromised gut health could be responsible for a host of autoimmune conditions in the future.