In many people, the immune system has started to attack its host (our bodies) in many different ways. In the Western world we are seeing an increase in diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, hypothyroid or multiple sclerosis.
We have to wonder why this collection of diseases is thriving i9n the 21st century. The common factor of all autoimmune conditions is low grade inflammation. Whenever the immune system makes an attack on an enemy, or foreign body, it releases inflammatory molecules whose job is to damage and, ultimately, kill the pathogen. But in the case of autoimmunity, it is your own healthy tissue that gets attacked.
The orthodox medical solution is to curb inflammation and suppress the immune system with powerful steroid drugs; such medications have severe side effects and often don’t alleviate symptoms sufficiently. However diet and lifestyle can provide a solution that is side effect free and shows remarkable results in a very short time.
Since 1900, humans have released more than 80,000 man-made chemicals into our environment; the foreign compounds found in pollutants create an immune reaction which can lead to an autoimmune condition.
Another possible culprit lies in the digestive system. When our gut is inflamed or leaky, food particles such as gliadin from gluten, casein from dairy and lectins found in grains can interact with our immune system, creating an autoimmune response. Increased intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’ is a common feature of many autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Considering that 80% of our immune system is located in our small and large intestines, it doesn’t come as a surprise that this is the very place to start when addressing an immune imbalance.
When talking about gut health we also have to mention the dramatic effect of gluten on our defense mechanisms; it is now well established that over 60 different autoimmune conditions are actually related to gluten intolerance. It is important to differentiate between celiac disease and gluten intolerance, however; whilst celiac shows a clear abnormality in the structure of the intestinal wall, people can still be gluten intolerant even if their gut wall looks normal and healthy. Once an antibody against gluten has been made, it is very easy for your body to make anti-bodies against our own tissue such as the thyroid gland. The more gluten we eat, the more we will be driving autoimmunity against healthy cells.
It is not enough to simply adopt a gluten free diet to find relief from autoimmunity. All possible triggers and drivers have to be addressed. The best place to start is to swap all cleaning and body care products to products that are free of harmful chemicals. Consume organic foods whenever possible and look for a holistic dentist who can safely remove any amalgam fillings. Removing toxic minerals such as mercury and lead is also an important step to take and should be done safely under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
Gluten is one of the most common immune disruptive substances, creating inflammation and damage to the gut wall; experts have linked over 60 different autoimmune conditions directly to gluten intolerance.
Once your environment is clean, levels of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids should be optimized; both compounds are essential for a well functioning immune system and people are often deficient or out of balance.
Adopt a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods including vegetables & low GI fruit, organic meat, eggs and healthy fats and oils.
You might have been told that there is no cure for autoimmunity but, with hard work and some guidance, it is possible to take control of your immune system.
Lola Renton, nutritionist