by Kebbie Stine, CNTP
The immune system exists to protect the body from foreign invaders, infection and disease, but occasionally it turns on itself and attacks healthy tissue; this is when autoimmunity occurs. There are over one hundred different autoimmune diseases affecting one in five Americans, with women being three times as likely as men to develop one. Autoimmune disorders are a leading causes of chronic disease, and can have a variety of symptoms ranging from itchy skin to fatigue to debilitating joint pain to paralysis.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
The direct cause autoimmune diseases has stumped the medical community for years, and are often difficult to diagnose. However there are several known triggers which include genetic susceptibility, infection, environmental exposures, diet and lifestyle. And in some situations, it's just an unfortunate case of bad luck. As of now there are no tests that can determine susceptibility of getting an autoimmune disease or any known cures. We do know that by improving lifestyle habits, symptoms can be greatly improved and often completely eliminated.
Can diet improve autoimmunity?
Chronic inflammation is often associated with autoimmune diseases. Inflammation is important for acute injuries to speed up the healing process, but when it spreads to other parts of the body it can actually damage tissue. The Standard American Diet tends to incorporate foods that increase inflammation in the body (sugar, additives, preservatives, pesticides, inflammatory oils, etc) and lead to immune dysfunction. Implementing an anti-inflammatory diet can often reduce chronic inflammation throughout the body, help heal the gut lining and improve symptoms of disease. The best way to start is with an elimination diet or food sensitivity test to determine foods that may be causing inflammation; this is very individual and different for every person. Gluten -a protein in wheat, rye, spelt and barley- causes leaky gut is best eliminated by anyone with an autoimmune disorder.
What is Leaky Gut?
A significant portion of the immune system resides in the gut. The walls of the gastrointestinal tract act as a barrier to the rest of the body and determine what goes into the bloodstream and what gets eliminated. Small gaps in the intestinal walls known as tight junctions allow nutrients and water to enter the body to keep us healthy. These gaps can loosen to allow bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to get through; this is called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. Leaky gut causes chronic inflammation throughout the body resulting in a variety of symptoms including headaches, joint pain, skin conditions, food sensitivities, and a host of other complaints. It is believed that everyone with an autoimmune disease has Leaky Gut. The first step in treating autoimmunity naturally is to heal the gut and support the microbiome.
Why are Lifestyle Habits Important?
In addition to a nutrient dense diet that supports healthy digestion, habits like regular exercise, quality sleep and stress management are imperative for a balanced immune system. Exercise not only releases mood boosting hormones but it also lubricates joints, decreases inflammation, and improves immune system balance. Sleep is imperative for repairing the body, synchronizing hormones, and regulating immune function. Managing stress may be the most important thing you can do for your health. Chronic stress negatively impacts all systems of the body, and can trigger autoimmune diseases. People with high levels of stress are not only more likely to develop autoimmune disorders, but are also at increased risk for suffering from multiple autoimmune diseases.
What to do if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease?
If you suspect you may have an autoimmune disease it is important to seek out the help of health care professionals that can assist with diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you understand your symptoms the sooner can begin the healing process and improve quality of life. Although there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, by implementing healthy lifestyle habits, improving gut health and following the advice your doctor it is often possible to put disease into remission and live a symptom-free life.
Kebbie Stine is a Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner in the Denver area. She practices nutrition therapy at Washington Park Chiropractic and is the owner of Whole Choice Nutrition Therapy. Kebbie is an Autoimmune Protocol Certified Practitioner. Contact Kebbie at firstname.lastname@example.org