Today I want to briefly discuss how I now approach an individual with an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune means the body attacks itself. Unfortunately autoimmune conditions are on the rise as noted in this article from 2015 (The World Incidence and Prevalence of Autoimmune Disease is increasing, Lerner A et al, 2015. doi:10.12691/ijcd-3-4-8).

In conventional medicine, autoimmune diseases are usually seen by separate specialities eg rheumatologists for rheumatoid arthritis, endocrinologists for thyroid conditions and type 1 diabetes, gastroenterologists for coeliac disease and neurologists for multiple sclerosis.

Through a functional medicine lens, we look at the whole individual and see the body as interconnected. In considering why an autoimmune condition may start, we look at a four legged stool of: environmental triggers, genetic predisposition, weak, imbalanced immune system and intestinal permeability. Many times we will start with good gut health, often supporting the affected body part with prescribed autoimmune treatment while necessary, and addressing lifestyle and environmental triggers that are contributing to the immune system acting like an overwhelmed, cornered animal.

From Dr Terry Wahls, MD: “Chronic stress and resulting sympathetic dominance will then lead to chronically lowered levels of immune organ activity, higher levels of immune dysregulation and the inability of the immune system to react to threats appropriately.”

So what can be environmental triggers?

  • Poor quality foods
  • Toxins
  • Stress

And what can contribute to intestinal permeability?

  • Medications including the oral contraceptive pill, NSAIDs including Nurofen (Ibuprofen)
  • Imbalance in gut bugs – dysbiosis – overgrowth of bad gut bugs
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Antibiotics
  • Glyphosate (active ingredient in RoundUp)

Why might the immune system be weak or overwhelmed?

  • Multiple competing infections – Epstein Barr virus, Candida
  • Toxicity – eg mercury
  • Nutrient depletion – Vitamin A, D, K (all fat soluble vitamins), Zinc
  • Stress – high cortisol

What might cause long term immune system activation

  • Gluten and Intestinal permeability
  • Mould
  • Food sensitivities
  • Gastrointestinal dysbiosis (gut bug imbalance)
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Overt toxicity
  • Ongoing stress

How would we start to address an autoimmune condition in an individual?

  • Maximise:
    • Put in what’s needed for this unique person
    • Gut health strengthening – soothing and healing supplements, probiotics
    • Nutritional support where there are known nutrient imbalances
    • Wholefoods
    • Eating hygiene
    • Good hydration
    • Regular bowel movements
  • Minimise:
    • Take out what’s harmful for an individual
    • Excessive exercise
    • Medications contributing to intestinal permeability
    • Stress – raised cortisol (stress hormone) increases intestinal permeability
    • Foods that can cause intestinal permeability eg wheat – gluten is proven to cause increased intestinal permeability with undigested food able to access the whole body
  • Prioritise:
    • Create an environment for healing
    • Sleep. Soundly. Regularly.
    • Clean air, water and thoughts.
    • Eat real foods that don’t confuse the immune system eg GMOs and chemical laden Foods