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Triggering Autoimmune Disease


Functional Medicine, A Smarter Approach To Your Health

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Do you ever feel like your own worst enemy when it comes to health? In the case of autoimmune diseases, this is what people are often led to believe. Most people are told their immune system is making a mistake and their only option is to shut off the immune system with drugs, but this is far from the truth. In reality, the immune system is doing its job exactly like it is supposed to.

So what gives then? Why are more and more people being diagnosed with autoimmunity? First thing is first – a person has to have a genetic predisposition to autoimmunity. In a person that is susceptible to develop an autoimmune disease, exposure to certain triggers can cause a gene to be expressed which can lead to the immune system attacking one’s own healthy tissues. It is this genetic susceptibility that accounts for why only certain people develop full-blown autoimmunity after being exposed to a trigger and why the trigger is not as problematic for another person without these genes.

There is more research starting to show that there are a multiple things going on in our environment that are contributing to the rise of autoimmunity. One is the “hygiene hypothesis’ – basically our environment is too clean. Kids don’t play in the dirt and everything is sanitized on a regular basis. This goes hand-in-hand with the ‘old friend’ hypothesis. Since developed countries don’t get exposure to certain parasites and infections, these countries are seeing higher levels of autoimmunity than people of the same genetic background in different parts of the world. For example, Africans have a genetic predisposition to Lupus, but West Africans have lower incidence of Lupus than Africans Americans. Lastly, the environment in developed countries is becoming saturated with more and more chemicals that our immune system was never designed to deal with, especially on a daily basis.

people, ecology, environment and pollution concept - close up of woman hand holding watering can with toxin or poison and dna molecular structure over gray background

For most autoimmune diseases to occur, there is also more and more research solidifying the concept of a ‘leaky gut’ that is present when autoimmunity starts. The bacteria in our GI tract play a pivotal role in not only developing and maintaining this barrier of protection, but also educating our immune system as we grow. It is important to note that one of the chemicals that has been shown to alter how bacteria in the gut work and be the most damaging is Glyphosate (found in Round-Up and sprayed on GMO crops).

glyphosate and celiac

Ever since the discovery that gluten causes Celiac Disease, there is now a race to determine the triggers of other autoimmune diseases. These triggers can vary, and so can the autoimmune disease they are correlated with. Some triggers can be a single event (like a hit-and-run), but it appears that it is an accumulation of these triggers that initiates autoimmunity in most cases. In the example of Celiac Disease, it appears the gluten sprayed with Round Up is more likely to trigger an immune response than gluten not sprayed with these chemicals.

Common Triggers

Drugs

  • Methyldopa is a drug that is used to treat high blood pressure. It has been shown to cause an immune response that leads to a condition called Hemolytic Anemia. Basically, red blood cells are attacked and broken down by the immune system.
  • Beta-Blockers are prescribed to treat angina, abnormal heart rhythms, and high blood pressure. There is a correlation between these and Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can attack multiple types of tissues in the body like the nervous system, kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, skin, and blood.
  • Statins have been associated with myopathy (muscle weakness) and in severe cases can lead to rhabdomyolysis where the muscle tissue is being broken down by the immune system. In the worst-case scenario this can lead to kidney failure and even death.

Supplements

It was long thought that adding iodine to salt could prevent goiters. People were given high doses of iodine to help with their goiters. While it is true that iodine does help reduce the size and frequency of goiters, levels of iodine that are too high are a known to trigger for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s  Thyroiditisis a disease where the immune system attacks an enzyme in the thyroid glands responsible for making thyroid hormones. The latest research is showing that iodine intake should not exceed 135mcg/day.

Pregnancy

Or other estrogen fluctuations like birth control, hormone replacement therapy, or even monthly cycles can trigger autoimmunity. Most autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in women, sometimes as high a ratio as 9:1 because of how hormones affect immune system functions. This trigger can not only be due to the fluctuating levels of estrogen, but also because oral birth control pills change how the bacteria behave in the gut.

Major stresses or trauma

This isn’t specific to developing a certain autoimmune disease, but is a common trigger for someone with autoimmunity genes. This can range from a mental stressor like a loss of a loved one, unemployement, a divorce, to a car wreck or surgery. A traumatic brain injury is also another event that can lead to autoimmunity, especially since it has been shown that within 12 hours of a Traumatic Brain Injury, a person develops a leaky gut because the brain can no longer properly coordinate the function of the GI tract.

Foods and Food Additives

There is growing research that it is not only certain food proteins that are problematic, but also the chemicals that are added to food or sprayed on the ingredients that is also driving a rise in autoimmune disease.

By far, the most problematic protein in the human diet is gluten. There are many different parts to wheat, and most people are only screened against alpha gliadin and tested for Celiac, but there can be other components of wheat that causes issues for people. There is a crossover of the genes that put someone at risk for developing autoimmunity and a reaction to gluten. That is why there is such a high correlation between gluten and autoimmune disease. More about gluten can be found here.

One of the worst chemicals that people are ingesting on a regular basis is Glyphosate. The research is becoming clearer that this chemical (when combined with aluminum – also in Round-Up) is very detrimental to our micro biome and gut health, immune health, as well as brain health. If a person’s autoimmune disease promotes a leaky gut (like Celiac Disease), then they are at a higher risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, especially if offending triggers are not removed. About half of people with one autoimmune disease have more than one. The is referred to as poly-autoimmunity.

Pesticide warning sign on a bright green lawn

There is also research that an increase in certain additives such as salt, sugar, emulsifiers, transglutaminase, and nanoparticles are also a factor in the increasing rise of autoimmunity because they have been shown to increase intestinal permeability, or leaky gut.

Pathogens and autoimmunity

Almost every autoimmune disease investigated is linked to one or more infections agents. There is a strong correlation between different types of pathogens and different types of autoimmune diseases. Coincidentally, people with autoimmune disease are more than twice as likely to acquire infections. Prescription immune-suppressant drugs can contribute to this, but a big player is the immune dysfunction that caused their autoimmune disease in the first place.

There are several ways a pathogen can contribute to autoimmune disease progression, but we will only discuss two. The first is a process called molecular mimicry. This is where on a molecular level the part of the pathogen that the immune system attacks looks like a part of a person’s own cells. Another process is called bystander activation. This occurs when a virus invades a cell and replicates itself. This infected cell is tagged by the immune system as bad and can signal an attack on healthy tissue that wasn’t part of the initial reaction to the virus.

Virii

  • Coxsackie – Is correlated with GAD-65 antibodies leading to Type 1 Diabetes and Stiff Person Syndrome. This can also be exposure to a fetus while in the womb. However, it seems there are other factors in place before exposure to this virus that are initially driving type 1 diabetes in some cases
  • Hep B – This virus has been associated with the immune system attacking Myelin Basic Protein which drives Multiple Sclerosis, as well as being associated with Fibromyalgia.
  • Hep C – This version of hepatitis is associated with Autoimmune Thyroiditis, Crohn’s disease, Pemphigus Vulgaris (PV), Vasculitides, Anti Phospholipid Syndrome, and Cryoglobulinemia.
  • EBV – Epstein-Barr Vius is associated with several autoimmune diseases. Lupus (skin and joint symptoms), RA, Giant Cell Arthritis, Wegener’s Granulomatosis, Polyarteritis Nodosa, MS, Sjögren’s Syndrome and Polymyositis
  • Rubella – This particular virus has been shown to provoke Lupus, but more of the neuropsychiatric symptoms such as depression and psychosis.
  • Cytomegalovirus – This has been shown to have a link with Lupus, Systemic Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Vitiligo

Helicobacter pylori bacterium art work in high details

Bacteria

  • B Hemolytic Streptococci – There is a correlation between these bacteria and Rheumatic Fever and heart autoantibodies. It is estimated that up to 1/3 or heart attacks are autoimmune in nature, typically following an infection.
  • Group A Beta-hemolytic streptococcal and PANDAS. PANDAS is where the immune system starts to attack the brain and children can start to develop OCD behaviors, as well as tics. There are sometimes other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, other mood changes, and even thoughts of self-harm.
  • Campylobacter Jejuni – Has a strong correlation with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (peripheral nerve gangliosides) where people experience muscle weakness. More recently this bacteria has been associated with anti-CdtB antibodies (what causes a person to bloat) and Vinculin. This is the nervous system in the GI tract called the Enteric Nervous System, which is responsible for things like bowel motility, and can contribute to SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Over Growth) due to less bowel motility allowing bacteria to flourish in the small intestine. To learn more about SIBO visit here.
  • H. Pylori – This bacteria has been associated with several autoimmune diseases such as Autoimmune Gastritis, Henoch-Schonlein purpura, Sjogren’s syndrome, Autoimmune Thyroiditis and Raynaud’s syndrome. Coincidentally, H. Pylori has been demonstrated to actually decrease the incidence of certain autoimmune diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. The difference appears to be due whether a strain is pathogenic or not. More about H. pylori can be found here.
  • Lyme – Associated with antibodies to a part of the joints called Endothelial Cell Growth Factor, as well as autoimmunity to a part of the brain called the limbic system. This part of the brain is responsible for controlling emotions like fear and anger, and instincts such as hunger, dominance, and care for offspring. Lyme has been known to mimic a wide variety of ailments and diseases, as well as re-activating co-infections.

Tapeworm in a human intestine. It is anchored with his head to the intestinal wall

Parasites

  • Trypanosoma cruzi has been associated autoimmune cardiomyopathy, a disease where the actual heart muscle has trouble working correctly.
  • Toxoplasma gondii and Autism Spectrum Disorders. ASD is a multi-factoral problem, and there will never be a single ‘smoking gun’ for this spectrum of diseases. There is evidence that an infection with T. gondii will alter Testosterone and Dopamine levels in the brain, as well as negatively impact areas of the brain responsible for learning, cognition, and behavior. Also, T. Gondii was associated in patients with Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
  • Helminths – Unlike most parasites, there is research showing that Helminths can actually decrease the chance of developing autoimmune disease, and slowing the attack on tissues of people that already had autoimmune disease. Specifically, helminths were shown to decrease the severity of IBD, MS, RA, and Type 1 Diabetes. The way they work is by altering how the immune system communicates in autoimmune disease to calm the inflammatory process down. They do this for their own survival, but a person with autoimmunity can benefit as well.

Fungi

  • Aspergillus has been shown to involve the immune system in the lungs, leading to breathing issues.
  • Candida has been demonstrated to be a problem for people in developing MS directly, as well as Vitiligo. A few of the major reasons Candida is so bad is because it can promote a leaky gut, but also changes immune function to increase the likelihood of developing autoimmune disease for people with a genetic susceptibility.

Anfections and AI

Vaccines

As mentioned before, it appears the ‘burden of disease’ is what drives an autoimmune response. Not only is the research indicating it can be due to repeat exposure of multiple pathogens as described above, but the adjuvants in vaccines like aluminum which are designed to provoke an immune response, can provoke the immune system too much in a genetically susceptible person leading to autoimmunity. Also, the recombinant proteins (aborted fetal cells) are hypothesized to cause autoimmunity through molecular mimicry. Below is a table of the current findings of specific vaccinations and their correlation with autoimmune disease.

Vaccines and autoimmune

As you can see, there are several contributing factors to what is perpetuating an overactive immune response. It is important to find a Functional Medicine Practitioner that will take into account not only how the different organs in the body are being affected and destroyed, but also how to effectively remove these triggers. Some things can be started immediately, especially if a person knows they have autoimmune disease, or suspect they do. Three things a person can do for themselves is to:

  • Eat organic
  • Eat gluten free
  • Remove chemicals in environment – i.e. stop wearing perfumes and other care products or cleaning products that are problematic

References

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26223095

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24914359

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25424202

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25676324

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26773256

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26643061

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26772647

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19643667

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26040054

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23091569

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23044924

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25451629

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25309376

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24678255

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24688790

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24967373

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26188072

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24763539

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