Gut & Autoimmunity: The Intimate Ties

The ways in which factors like genes, infections, the microbiome/gut, and environment—the formulaic composition of the autoimmune system—interact collectively create environments that promote either disease or health. Though genes cannot technically be altered, they can easily be influenced, and manifest themselves differently through the microbiome, infections, and environment.

Autoimmune diseases are the third leading cause of morbidity in the industrialized world, surpassed only by cancer and heart disease. Several researchers are proponents of a framework that uses scientifically based targeted nutritional therapies to address the underlying systemic imbalances of these diseases.

This approach, rooted in Functional Medicine, concentrates on the body holistically, as a whole, rather than a collection of separate entities and organs. Because autoimmune diseases can be influenced through food and nutrition, and the gastrointestinal track ‘controls’ between 70 and 80% of the body’s immune cells, certain dietary changes can both feed the microbiome and reduce inflammation: ultimately lessening allergies and autoimmunity.

The gut is the gateway to health, as it houses 80% of the immune system, and it is impossible to have a healthy immune system without a healthy gut. Research from Alessio Fassano confirms that if you have an autoimmune disease, your gut has become leaky, meaning the tight junctions that typically hold gut lining together have become loose, allowing undigested food particles, microbes, toxins, and more to escape your gut and enter your bloodstream.

All of these particles are recognized by the immune system as foreign invaders, sending the immune system into high alert and triggering an extreme spike in inflammation. This continual strain on the immune system ultimately causes it to go haywire, and it ends up attacking the body’s own tissues by mistake.

Moreover, gluten contributes to autoimmune disease in three key ways. It is the primary cause of leaky gut because gluten triggers the release of zonulin in the intestines, a chemical that tells gut lining to “open up.” Gluten is also highly inflammatory, causing stress to the immune system. Additionally, the gluten protein has a similar chemical structure to some of the body’s tissues (specifically the thyroid), which can lead to molecular mimicry: wherein the body mistakes its own tissues for gluten and attacks them.

Toxic molds, like mycotoxins, and heavy metals such as mercury are the two primary toxins found in those with autoimmune conditions. Mycotoxins are volatile compounds produced by toxic molds that wreak havoc on the immune system. We are exposed to heavy metals like mercury in different ways: mercury amalgam fillings in teeth, fish consumption, and the environment–yet mercury is toxic to the human body.

Some other interventions include eating more plant foods, particularly fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, and kombucha; removing cow’s milk and adding supplements and vitamins can also help fight disease—rather than feed it. If you are interested in comprehensive metabolic, functional, and nutritional approaches to gastrointestinal dysfunction and diseases, sign up for our Module IV: Gastroenterology, taking place in Nashville, Tennessee from September 27-30, 2018.