Autoimmune diseases are fast on the rise in our modern society. In fact, at least 5% of Australians are thought to be suffering with some form of an autoimmune disease (1). While some of these may be little more than an annoyance, some autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis can be chronic and crippling.
Digestion, or rather poor digestion can play a big part in developing an autoimmune condition. Yes, you may need to have the genes to develop the condition, but the environment also needs to be ‘right’ (or rather wrong) for the disease to develop. The right conditions for developing autoimmunity include stress, hormonal disruption, infections, medications and diet.
When our digestive system is not working optimally we end up with undigested food particles in our small intestine. These undigested fats, proteins and carbs release toxins as they are broken down by gut bacteria. The toxins damage the mucosal lining of the small intestine, and the proteins then have the ability to pass through the junctions of the cells lining the gut – also known as intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’.
When our immune system senses a foreign invader (i.e. food where it isn’t supposed to be, or food we are intolerant/allergic to), it creates an antibody to attack the invader. This is the way the body protects itself from gut infections and toxins. However, when the immune response is constantly triggered with a constant stream of invaders, the body gets tired of fighting and creating all these antibodies and the immune system weakens. With a weakened immune system and chronic inflammation, the body starts creating antibodies against itself. So it has lost the ability to define between ‘self’ and ‘not-self’.
People with autoimmune disease are often diagnosed due to high levels of antibodies against a certain organ, i.e. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in an autoimmune disease where the body creates antibodies that attack the thyroid gland.
It is possible to heal and reverse the symptoms of an autoimmune condition by focusing on diet and digestion and healing the gut. Once the foreign invaders (common allergens like gluten, dairy, soy) have been removed, the small intestine can start to heal itself, and the body eventually stops creating antibodies that attack itself.
If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and are struggling to find relief from your symptoms, an autoimmune Paleo type diet could help. Check out Dr. Sarah Ballantyne of The Paleo Mom for a thorough and scientific run down of how the protocol can help you heal; and Mickey Trescott & Angie Alt over at Autoimmune Wellness for great recipes, tips and tricks.
Do you have an autoimmune disease? How do you manage your condition?