The Autoimmune – GUT Connection
Have you ever gone to multiple doctors and done extensive lab testing only to be told, “Everything looks fine Your results are normal.”
AND finally, after hours and hours of research, numerous doctor’s visits and countless tears you figure out you have an autoimmune disease.
Perhaps along the way you experienced:
- Fatigue that made it difficult to even leave the house
- Debilitating joint pain that made everyday movements unbearable
- Guilt for wanting to rest, while your kids and spouse needed your attention
- Numbness and tingling in your hands and feet
- Skin rashes that seemed to appear from nowhere
Perhaps, you haven’t experienced these exact things (not everyone does; for others it’s better, for others it’s worse).
And while experiencing this…the doubt crept in that you could never get better, only worse.
I’m here to tell you that addressing one of the main root causes of autoimmune disease can potentially halt the progression and even reverse symptoms of your autoimmune disease.
Why is your body attacking you?
Sometimes your immune defense cells lose the ability to tell the difference between the mean guys (i.e. bad bacteria, viruses, etc) and your healthy body cells and identifies all the cells as foreign invaders. When this occurs, your body can start attacking itself.
Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ, (e.x. type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas). Other autoimmune conditions may affect the whole body (e.x. lupus).
The most common autoimmune conditions are:
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Celiacs Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
- Psoriasis/Psoriatic Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
- Addison’s Disease
- Graves’ Disease
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune conditions and symptoms can be vague, overlap with other conditions and in some cases the symptoms might come and go.
However, the main symptoms are:
- achy muscles and joints
- swelling and redness
- low-grade fever
- trouble concentrating
- numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- hair loss
- skin rashes
In functional medicine, the goal is to treat the root cause – otherwise any other treatment not addressing the roots of a disease is merely symptom suppression.
The origins of many autoimmune diseases are murky, however leaky gut syndrome is almost always considered a contributor to an autoimmune disease.
In fact, stopping the progression and reversing symptoms of autoimmune diseases depends on addressing and healing leaky gut.
What Exactly is Leaky Gut?
Think of the lining of your gut as a security checkpoint. It allows certified officials (micronutrients found in food) to pass back and forth without a problem. This allows important nutrients into your bloodstream to be absorbed and used by the body.
Different aspects of our lifestyle (food, toxins, stress) can affect the structural integrity of these check points. When they become damaged, it allows the “bad guys” (food particles, toxins, microbes, etc) through the checkpoints into the bloodstream.
The security guards (your immune system) raises the alarm, “Danger, danger! There are invaders in the bloodstream!”
They take a picture of the invaders’ shape and send messages with the image along to all the troops. However, those security guards don’t have the best “eyesight”.
So your immune system guards can go haywire and attack any molecule that looks similar (including your body’s own tissues) because they’d rather be “safe than sorry”. A specific example:
Gluten molecules are large and often bully their way past the gut’s security checkpoints and into the bloodstream. The immune system takes a picture and sends out the “most wanted” picture to its troops. Your immune system troops can get “too” excited and have an over reactive response.
And since gluten molecules look very similar to thyroid molecules the troops can get carried away and not only attack all the gluten molecules, but your thyroid as well. This leads to the autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s.
What Contributes to Leaky Gut?
Common foods that irritate the gut lining and can contribute to autoimmune flares are gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, peanuts, eggs and processed foods.
If you have multiple food sensitivities this could be a sign that your immune system is developing antibodies to the things you are eating and causing the immune system to overreact.
Often when someone first noticed symptoms associated with their autoimmune disease, there’s almost always a major life stressor or the culmination of multiple stressful events around that time.
Stress can cripple your immune system’s effectiveness, leading to inflammation and leaky gut, which reduces your overall ability to repress foreign invaders as they pass through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream.
In today’s environment, toxins are all around us: beauty products, air, cooking utensils, water, food and more.
Our bodies are naturally designed to detox, but when it becomes overloaded from many different sources, the body can’t process the toxins fast enough.
This leads to many different health problems including leaky gut, autoimmune deficiency and autoimmune disease. For example, every time you consume pesticides with your produce, it kills off gut bacteria and damages the lining of the gut
Bacterial imbalance is when there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria.
“Good” gut bacteria helps keep the security check points (the lining of your gut) intact by blocking the cell’s receptor to keep the “bad”bacteria away and increase the amount of the proteins that strengthen the gut walls.
In addition, 70-80% of your immune system lives in your gut and you want to create a healthy and secure environment for them. The good bacteria helps “train” the immune cells to distinguish between friendly and harmful bacteria (and your own body’s tissues).
3 Steps to Reverse Leaky Gut to Address your Autoimmune Symptoms
Want to start finding relief from your autoimmune symptoms by healing your gut?
There are 3 steps you can take to address and reverse symptoms of leaky gut.
Food: Remove food that you are sensitive to. Common sensitivities include: gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, peanuts, eggs, legumes, nightshades and nuts for people dealing with autoimmune diseases.
Doing an elimination diet with a careful reintroduction plan can find which foods YOU are sensitive to.
Stress: What are the core things that are affecting your stress levels? Make a list. Once you’ve identified the stressors, how can you eliminate the stress associated with them?
- Is it re-framing the situation in a positive light?
- Is it avoiding the stressful situation altogether?
- Is it accepting the stressor as something you don’t have control over?
Toxins: Eat organic food whenever possible to reduce exposure to pesticides and start reading labels on your beauty products to find and avoid harmful toxins.
Eat nutrient dense foods: Drink bone broth and eat lots of vegetables to heal and nourish your body and gut.
Bone broth is filled with collagen and essential amino acids. It helps heal the damaged cell walls of your gut to stop unwanted particles passing through the security checkpoints. Either make your own or find them at a local health food store (look for grass-fed, grass-finished sources).
Vegetables contain many different vitamins and they help reduce inflammation in the gut. If you’re healing your gut (and not currently eating many vegetables), it may be best to eat cooked veggies so they are easier to digest and less likely to cause an upset stomach.
Stress reduction techniques: What helps reduce your stress? Find a few things that work for you and stick to them. Examples include; get more sleep, add fun time into your schedule, meditate, journal, breathe, spend time in nature and surround yourself with positive people.
Replace toxic products: Slowly start to remove toxic products in your home (cleaners, beauty products, kitchen essentials) to reduce the overall toxic load in your body.
Now that you removed the gut irritants and replaced them with things that make the gut happy, let’s give the good bacteria a boost and a chance to flourish in your gut!
Prebiotics: Eat a diet rich in prebiotic foods to feed and nourish the healthy bacteria in your gut and the probiotics you consume. Natural sources of prebiotics are: chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, leeks, onions and jicama.
Probiotics: These help replenish good bacteria and crowd out the bad bacteria. Natural probiotics can be found in fermented food, sauerkraut and kimchi are excellent sources. These miracle workers support the ut and contain organic acids that help balance intestinal pH. Either make your own, or find them at a local health food store.
I’d like to hear your story! Share with us on Facebook any changes you’ve made regarding your gut health that affected your autoimmune disease!