As we age, one third of us will test positive for antibodies to our own tissues.
Yet, only a few of us will develop full-blown autoimmune illness.
Autoimmune illness is incredibly frustrating as it can drastically reduce a person’s quality of life. It also puts an enormous financial burden on our healthcare system.
Because a relatively small percentage of those who test positive for autoimmune antibodies will actually develop full-blown autoimmune disease, researchers have concluded that other triggers must often be present.
What triggers autoimmune disease?
The dynamic interplay of viral and bacterial infections, toxic chemicals, and dietary proteins and peptides are believed to be the missing links between why some develop autoimmune disease and others do not. Researchers also believe that having leaky gut syndrome / intestinal hyper-permeability, and interestingly, living in too clean of an environment may also increase your risk for having autoimmune complications.
A testing panel that looks at a more complete range of reactivity to these triggers, may offer greater precision and accuracy in predicting and preventing autoimmune illness. These new panels not only help you and your doctor correctly project risk for future disease, but also point you on how to manage it more effectively and keep it from progressing once it is present.
How does this work in real life? Let’s take a quick example of autoimmune thyroiditis such as Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease, two of the most common autoimmune diseases prevalent today.
An autoimmune thyroid problem is not always a disease of the thyroid. It simply means that something is throwing off the delicate balance of the immune system – which in effect is damaging healthy thyroid tissue.
Medicine might recommend synthetic thyroid medication, or eventually even recommend thyroid ablation where you destroy thyroid tissue so that the body has nothing left to react to, or, it may suppress the immune system so that it is less reactive.
Most conventional approaches still miss the elephant in the room….what is triggering the immune system to be overactive in the first place?
Immune System and the Gut
Do you know what it means that 70% of your immune system actually resides in the gut?
The gut is lined with gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. It acts as a primary defense between your inside world and the outside world. If you think about it, your gut is actually an open and vulnerable tube to the outside world. The body goes to great degrees to protect this barrier. If you damage the gut, you damage your immune system.
Typically, the gut acts as a very selective sieve – letting safe elements in and blocking foreign invaders. If your gut is bombarded with unnatural pathogens, toxins, as well as proteins and peptides that may come from poorly digested food, your defenses can become compromised.
A compromised gut, is a “leaky” gut – where outside elements are now able to be absorbed readily into the bloodstream. Additionally, “overgrowth” of naturally-occurring bacteria and yeast may occur such as in Small Intestine Bowel Overgrowth or SIBO. This also leads to further complications and immune overload.
Once in the bloodstream, they are acted upon by our immune system. When the immune system confuses our own tissues as intruders, a process theorized as “Molecular Mimicry”, autoimmune complications begin. A vicious cycle ensues.
Why Does Autoimmune Disease Vary?
When these triggers are overlayed on your unique genetic profile, any range of autoimmune problems could develop.
This could mean multiple sclerosis-like symptoms, Celiac disease, autoimmune thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, and more. In the lead-up, it could just mean benign symptoms like post-nasal drip, skin hypersensitivity, loose stools, fatigue, mental fogginess and more, but as you age, more serious autoimmune symptoms can develop. In fact, many autoimmune symptoms do not begin until you are in your mid 20’s to late 30’s – so what used to be tolerated as a teenager and young adult, may not be so well tolerated as you approach middle age.
When foreign proteins are presented to our immune system, the body reads it like a passcode. If the passcode is incorrect, access is denied and an attack is signaled. Molecular mimicry is when pieces of foreign passcode closely resemble healthy passcodes on our own tissues. Autoimmune disease is in effect friendly fire against our own tissues. Remove the invaders, and the friendly fire will cease.
Correctly identifying those triggers of immune imbalance in the first place is how we diagnose and manage autoimmune illness more effectively. Unfortunately, most health professionals do not delve into this level of diagnosis. The standard of care is to “name, blame and tame” and not to understand why a diagnosis developed in the first place.
When you appreciate and recognize the diverse triggers of autoimmune disease, you can see why a one-size fits all approach does not exist. You can also understand why experience with specialists can be so frustrating. More often than not, most professionals are looking to treat your autoimmune disease, and fail to identify what is triggering it.
There are now predictive panels available from Cyrex Labs, or Immunosciences Lab (and others) that analyze the full scope of potential triggers. Equipped with this information, you will learn how to optimize gastrointestinal function, remove infectious and toxic triggers, and even learn how to stimulate your immune system in novel ways.