Nora Gedgaudas

Autoimmunity and you

Autoimmunity and you

Autoimmune disease is currently recognized by the World Health Organization as being the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the entire industrialized world--- right behind cancer and heart disease. Sound like a big deal? It is—but in fact, this estimation is likely under representing the problem, and by quite a bit. The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) estimates that up to 53 million Americans have some form of autoimmune disease or an autoimmune disease-associated disorder. In comparison, cancer affects up to 9 million and heart disease up to 22 million.   Even as the “official” statistic refers to autoimmunity being the “#3 cause of morbidity and mortality in the industrialized world” this statistic may actually have some catching up to do with true reality. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association an estimated one in every 12 women and one in every 24 men today have an autoimmune disease.   The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also estimates more than 50 million Americans suffer from diagnosed autoimmune disease and that the prevalence is rising. Furthermore, though, polyautoimmunity (a condition where you may have more than one autoimmune condition simultaneously) is rapidly becoming the new dangerous and growing norm.

Autoimmune disease is currently recognized by the World Health Organization as being the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the entire industrialized world— right behind cancer and heart […]

The fact is that there is literally no one reading this who isn’t being affected, either directly or indirectly by autoimmunity. There are currently over 100 recognized autoimmune conditions and at least 40 more disorders are suspected of having an autoimmune basis. These conditions are chronic and many can be life-threatening.

And these numbers are growing at an alarming rate! Everyone reading this has at least some risk for developing some form of autoimmunity in the course of their lifetime. That’s our modern day reality.

Why the conflicting and confusing disparity in the official numbers?

The answer is simple: Because by today’s medical standards of diagnosis, few individuals are diagnosable with autoimmune “disease” until the autoimmune process is literally in its end-stages. In other words, few people are fortunate enough to find out what’s actually going on with them until the condition is very advanced and a great deal of your tissue has already been destroyed. To be fair to doctors, genuinely accurate and effective testing for the presence of autoimmune antibodies has really only evolved within the last five years or so. Only one laboratory, Cyrex Labs offers truly accurate and comprehensive testing, in this regard (presently only available in the US, the UK and Ireland, and soon to come to Australia). That said, within the Western medical paradigm there really is no such thing as a medical immunologist specializing in this broad range of disorders. The closest anything comes to this is a rheumatologist, who is mainly concerned with prescribing medications to merely treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, specifically. The rest of the field of medical immunology is mainly preoccupied with allergies (a very specific and obvious form of immune response). There are no medical advances designed to actually address autoimmunity at its foundational level, however. –And autoimmunity as a collective whole may well be the single greatest burden upon the entire medical system!

Think there might be a bit of a disconnect going on here? You bet!

It also seems as though women are significantly more prone to developing autoimmune conditions than men are, in general. This seems most likely due to hormonal factors like estrogen, as well as the gut microbiome (makeup of bacteria) in women as compared to men. Regardless, this can be a real concern when it comes to pregnancy, as having an undiagnosed or poorly managed autoimmune disease during pregnancy can lead to fetal antibody production associated with conditions like autism. Any woman planning to get pregnant should ideally first (if at all humanly possible) be tested for elevated antibody production and then be put on an appropriate management program to quiet the immune system as much as possible during the course of the pregnancy. The long-term health of your unborn child may very well depend upon it!

All this starts to sound somewhat frightening (if not outright dismal) until one recognizes that the most effective approaches to addressing autoimmunity at its foundational core are all natural and potentially accessible by anyone!

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First, it makes sense to first define what autoimmunity is and what the triggers are that can initiate autoimmunity in you. Once you know what it is and what mechanisms initiate and drive it, autoimmunity becomes much easier to address.


 

OK–WHAT IS AUTOIMMUNITY?

Autoimmune disease (in a nutshell) is basically an attack by your immune system on your own tissue. Even with specific tissues affected, though, the effects of any autoimmune condition are largely systemic and are primarily immune in nature. In other words (for instance), if you happen to have an autoimmune thyroid condition (and roughly 90% of people diagnosed with thyroid disorders do!) then your primary problem is not actually a “thyroid problem”, but instead an IMMUNE problem– and it absolutely must be addressed on this level if you are to experience any improvement in the condition or how you feel and function. Western medicine currently has nothing meaningful to offer such a person. Taking thyroid hormones may certainly be necessary if you aren’t making enough— but this is a far cry from truly addressing the root of the problem. Some doctors are getting some interesting results treating various forms of autoimmunity with a very low dose of a medication known as naltrexone… But this still isn’t addressing an autoimmune condition at its core and at best can only hope to alleviate some of the symptoms. You have to dig deeper!

There are basically three recognized stages in autoimmunity (as outlined by Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS):

The Silent Stage= You have positive antibodies but no symptoms or loss of function.

Autoimmune Reactivity Stage= Here you have positive antibodies and symptoms and some loss of function, but not complete destruction of the tissue associated with the condition…so you’re not likely to get this diagnosed yet. I also think of this as the “mysteriously symptomatic” or crazy making stage.

Advanced Autoimmune/End Stage= Here you will have positive antibodies with very significant symptoms and very significant loss of function. By this point the damage can be identified; usually with imaging studies such as MRI, and/or other imaging/testing. This is the point at which Autoimmune Disease is likeliest to be diagnosed, if it is diagnosed at all.

What causes your immune system to do this in the first place?

Autoimmunity is typically initiated and exacerbated by a combination of factors. Immunologic researcher, Dr. Aristo Vojdani refers to this as the “Triad of Autoimmunity” (AI).

Your body begins to produce abnormal antibodies against bodily tissues as though your very own tissues were an invasive presence. Although it is normal to find a small number of these antibodies, some immune systems become confused and begin producing them in larger and larger numbers in response to certain dietary/environmental triggers. These triggers can include foods, chemicals, heavy metals, things like radiation or EMF pollution, major life stressors, bad gut bacteria (a condition called “dysbiosis”) or other types of infections. –It is even possible for pregnancy to trigger an autoimmune condition in a susceptible woman!

The measurement of autoantibodies is the first, and usually the best, step to recognize and confirm the existence of many autoimmune conditions. If these can be identified early on, it can be much easier to get the progression of the condition under control or into remission—possibly even avoiding an eventual “disease” diagnosis.

The presence of certain antibodies does not guarantee an eventual diagnosis with an autoimmune disease, BUT it is well-established within the immunologic literature that elevated antibodies tend to have a highly predictive nature. If, for instance, you happen to be producing inappropriate levels of, say, islet cell antibodies, then, the implication is that if nothing changes, and everything is allowed to progress as it has been progressing, you may well be diagnosable at some point with type-I diabetes.

The idea here is not to give you nightmares over what you may supposedly have diagnosed someday, but rather to empower you with information as to what tissues are especially vulnerable and need specific support, as well is the awareness that there is a need to address the specific mechanisms surrounding the underlying progression of autoimmunity.  In other words, first and foremost, you have to address and modulate your immune system!


 

WHY IS ALL THIS AUTOIMMUNITY HAPPENING NOW???

We’ve had less than 500 generations now (out of over 100,000+ generations) of human evolutionary history eating a significant amounts of grains and legumes and increasing amounts of other carbohydrates. We’ve had roughly 13 generations now with exposure to an industrialized food supply.

And if that wasn’t bad enough–ADD TO THAT:

  • Depleted soils and diets (rampant nutrient deficiencies)
  • Dietary antigens (esp. Gluten, Casein, etc.)
  • GMO’s and glyphosate
  • EMF pollution
  • Dysbiosis/infections (due to overuse of antibiotics)
  • Vaccines
  • Fluoridation
  • Radiation contamination in air, water and soil (that is only getting worse)
  • Xenoestrogens and other estrogenic or estrogen-containing compounds/medications
  • Increasing toxic additives to processed and refined foods
  • Environmental haptens (immune-impacting industrial chemical compounds)
  • Heavy metals

And with each subsequent generation exposed to these things our health and over very genome is becoming ever-increasingly compromised.  We are becoming more and more vulnerable all the time—and the cumulative effect of all these factors is potentially devastating to all of us.

So what are the most common recognized causative factors in autoimmunity (when we have SO many great compromising things to choose from)?

WHEREVER autoimmunity presents itself (or is suspected) immune reactivity to gluten and/or celiac disease should always be included as a major suspect. Gluten is well known to either initiate or exacerbate virtually any and all autoimmune conditions. If autoimmunity is present, it is fairly safe to assume that there is a big problem with gluten.

Addressing gluten sensitivity (more properly termed immune reactivity) goes far beyond simply healing the gut. Although addressing leaky gut issues is absolutely critical in addressing any autoimmune condition, once healed it is never, e-v-e-r okay to resume the consumption of gluten or any of its cross-reactive compounds you may have an additional reactivity to—ever again. Gluten sensitivity (and not just celiac disease) is all by itself an autoimmune disorder that makes you extra-susceptible to additional autoimmune disorders. This is an area over which autoimmune sufferers have tremendous control. By simply eliminating all gluten containing foods (and whatever additional cross-reactive compounds there might be for you) it can improve the quality of life of an autoimmune sufferer immeasurably. Gluten’s role in autoimmunity should never, ever be underestimated.

Anyone that tells you that gluten sensitivity is a curable condition is severely misinformed. If someone continues to consume gluten once gluten sensitivity has been determined the odds of developing a second or third autoimmune condition is statistically extremely high.

Why pick on gluten (when there are so many fabulous food sensitivities to be had)?

Gluten can also be looked upon somewhat as a bit of as “gateway food sensitivity”.  It is known to increase an enzyme in the body known as zonulin, which controls intestinal permeability.

Elevated zonulin levels in the presence of gluten can also serve to allow other types of undigested proteins to slip past what would otherwise be more selectively permeable barriers and cause additional immunological reactions to other foods.

(YES–THIS EVEN HAPPENS WITH SOMEONE NOT IMMUNE REACTIVE TO GLUTEN)

Casein (milk protein) is one of the most common co-sensitivities with gluten—and happens to be its most common cross-reactor, but the immune system can come to react to almost anything if gluten consumption persists. This can be a very real problem.  Once multiple food sensitivities take over it can amount to a very vicious cycle that only worsens with time and becomes extremely difficult to manage.

Let’s face it, there really is no such thing as a dietary grain deficiency and grains are far more likely to compromise you then support your best health under even the best of circumstances– so eliminating them is essentially a no-brainer. Don’t fall prey to fear mongering “official” mainstream pundits telling you that you will somehow “dangerously compromise yourself” with nutrient deficiencies and who knows what else if you choose to eliminate this (highly profitable for Big Agribusiness and Food Industry) food group. We did fine for close to 3 million years before grains came along in any meaningful way, and back then autoimmune disease was either an extreme rarity or entirely nonexistent. You can only benefit from avoiding them. And I mean totally and permanently.

This little banner from national celiac awareness month says “most physicians learned during medical school that celiac disease was so rare that they would never see a patient with symptoms in their entire medical career.”

Now–When you’re told you’re never going to see something how often do you actually look for it? I’m just saying…

Is it really worth playing Russian roulette?

We need to ask ourselves: Is that donut, piece of birthday cake, slice of bread OR beer really worth it?

I guess it all boils down to being a matter of what you choose to prioritize.

A study published in 2009 in the peer reviewed journal, Gastroenterology (July;137(1):88-93) compared 10,000 available blood samples from individuals 50 years ago to 10,000 people today and found that there has literally been a 400% increase in the incidence of full blown celiac disease!  The following additional peer reviewed article in the Annals of Medicine had this to say:

This epidemic is NOT due to increased “public awareness”, or more widespread or improved testing, much less some “fad”. This is a literal increase in the percentage of people being adversely affected immunologically by gluten exposure… And this study barely scratches the surface of what is really likely happening out there.

Why is this getting so much worse now?

The answers are likely multi-fold. I see this autoimmune epidemic and reactivity to gluten as being due to a confluence of modern-day factors:

  • Greatly increasing environmental compromise (air/water pollution, depleted soils, GMO’s/genetic modification of the food supply, EMF pollution, radiation, fluoridation, poor diets, poor digestion, etc.)
  • A weakened, more susceptible genome (in response to the previous list of factors).
  • The deamidation of wheat – [produced by acid or enzymatic treatment of gluten. Gliadins are typically soluble in alcohol and cannot be mixed with other foods (like milk) without changing the foods’ qualities. Deamidated gliadin is soluble in water. The immunologic reactivity to deamidated α-/β-gliadin is much greater than regular α/β-gliadin and can result in symptomatic gluten-sensitive enteropathy. Once activated, though, this reactivity is universal and does not switch off.]
  • Selection for more gluten in the grains by industry that likes utilizing it for various purposes
  • Widespread–and growing–glyphosate use (active chemical in Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide), creating an enormous amplifying effect on gluten’s antigenic potential
  • Genetic modification of wheat (only recently begun)

But gluten-containing grains are not your only potential source of dietary immune reactivity!

By far the greatest potential for dietary antigenicity lies with post-agricultural-based foods: grains (of all kinds—not just the gluten-containing ones), legumes/peanuts/soy, nightshades, and even chicken eggs. Developing an immune reactivity to pre-agricultural or “Paleolithic” foods is far less common. I know I included chicken eggs in the last sentence. Although chicken eggs are a potentially superb and affordable source of high quality, biologically available, complete animal source protein, we have really only begun eating them as a daily staple, as opposed to merely a seasonal treat. Think about it: how often do wild birds lay eggs? I’m not saying that nobody should be eating eggs, only that it is important to test and be sure that you tolerate them well before making them a daily staple. When it comes to most things other than gluten, dairy and other cross-reactive foods a simple elimination diet can help easily identify this. Try going without eating eggs for a good 2 weeks, and then have a nice big omelet. Then pay attention afterwards to how you feel for about 3 days after that. ANY adverse symptoms (of any kind) should help alert you to eggs being a problem for you. If they are, then eliminating them from your diet and then healing your gut may eventually allow you to eat them again in at least a limited way someday.

The reason that the same is not true of gluten and it’s cross-reactive compounds is that gluten does direct damage to the gut and the brain, regardless of its antigenic effects, and is always a potential facilitator for the development of other immune reactivities.


JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT “GLUTEN-FREE” ON THE LABEL WAS SAFE…

There is also a phenomenon known as “cross-reactivity” that it makes sense to touch upon. The term “Cross-reactivity” relates to a phenomenon known as “molecular mimicry”. In other words, certain compounds are similar enough in their molecular structure to other compounds that the immune system in certain susceptible people (not everybody) can become confused and assume they are one-and-the- same. This is not at all uncommon! Once your immune system makes this association, it is unfortunately a permanent adverse association.

Don’t be overly suckered by buzzwords like “gluten-free” when it comes to processed foods. Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it can’t adversely affect your health or your immune system. Many products that are technically “gluten-free” often contain other potentially immune-reactive grains and/or legumes, in addition to other “nasties” that are going to do anything but support your best health. The more armed you are with an awareness of what your immune system can and can’t handle and the more carefully and closely you learn to read labels, the better!! ALWAYS read food labels carefully!

In this particular journal article the authors described cross-reactivity in this way:

“The phenomenon of immunologic cross-reactivity occurs when an adaptive immune response to one antigen results in reactivity to structurally related antigens.“

The recognized cross-reactive dietary compounds with gluten that are tested for by Cyrex labs array 4 panel include the following:

  • Milk proteins (and anything that contains milk proteins, like milk chocolate, cream, butter and even ghee)
  • Oats (even “gluten free” oats)
  • Bakers/Brewers yeast
  • Prepackaged, pre-ground and/or instant coffee (as opposed to rganic whole bean varieties)
  • Mllet
  • Corn
  • Rice (which itself is potentially cross-reactive with wheat—so much for safe starches…and the kind of rice they used in this testing was white rice, btw).

Cross reactivity is a very real and well-recognized as being common within the realm of actual immunologic research. Since food manufacturers either fail to understand these concepts or are counting on the idea that you don’t understand them they get away with a lot in the “Gluten-free Industry”. I’m not saying that all gluten-free products are necessarily misleading you or bad for you—we WANT our foods to be gluten free and accurately labeled as such– but I am saying that a “gluten-free” stamp on the label is no guarantee of being healthy for you. It’s easy to get tripped up by certain buzzwords we want to hear.

Here in this study titled: “Cross-reaction between gliadin and different food in tissue antigens“ the authors describe it this way:

“The consumption of cross-reactive foods as well as gluten-contaminated foods may be responsible for the continuing symptoms presented by a subgroup of patients with coeliac disease. The lack of response of some CD patients may also be due to antibody cross-reactivity with non-gliadin foods. These should then be treated as gluten-like peptides and should also be excluded from the diet when the GFD (gluten free diet) seems to fail.”

Obviously, any number of chemical compounds and other substances can also elicit an immune reaction in susceptible people. Obviously, testing with a world-class laboratory specializing in this (such as Cyrex Labs) to identify all the specific areas for you is best, but not available to everyone just yet.   Fortunately, there’s also a lot you can do by simply sticking to the kinds of foods that would’ve been most available to our prehistoric ancestors, coupled with an “elimination diet” approach (previously described) to figuring out the rest.


WHAT TO DO IF YOU KNOW YOU HAVE AN AUTOIMMUNE CONDITION?

The answer to this question is far too involved for the scope of a simple blog post on the subject. I am personally working on a much more detailed ebook on this subject full of practical, self-empowering information I hope to release in the next few months. The good news, however, is that by simply addressing many of the mechanisms that initiate and drive (which are actually quite well understood by research immunologists today) you can achieve some very real positive results.

The other good news is that the approach to addressing almost any autoimmune condition is fairly consistent:

  1. Do accurate testing via Cyrex Labs (if at all possible) to accurately ascertain what your dietary/environmental triggers are.
  2. Do what you can to consistently avoid those triggers
  3. Address chronic inflammation (i.e., “put out the fire.”)
  4. Take steps to heal the damage and provide specific support to the affected tissue(s).

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INFLAMMATORY FOODS I SHOULD PROBABLY CONSIDER AVOIDING UNTIL I KNOW MORE?

  • Sugars and starches
  • Grains
  • Legumes (including peanuts and soy)
  • Nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, hot peppers)
  • Nuts and seeds (especially those highest in omega-6 content, or those you know you have an immune reactivity to). Try an elimination diet to find whether your immune system is sensitive to these or not. These are not uncommon food sensitivities.
  • Chicken eggs (again, it’s a common food sensitivity. If an elimination diet or Cyrex testing proves this to be a non-issue, then have all the omelets you like!)
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Genetically modified foods (GMO’s). Only buy certified GMO-free. This is a biggie. Also, avoid GMO-fed meat and/or poultry.
  • Avoid conventional refined table salt (full spectrum Celtic and/or Himalayan sea salt are fine).
  • Feedlot meat and farmed seafood (and/or seafood from potentially contaminated waters).

WHAT ARE THE BEST FOODS FOR ME TO EAT?

  • Bone broths
  • Grass-fed/fully pastured meat, poultry and other quality sourced omega-3 rich foods.
  • Turmeric!
  • More turmeric!
  • Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage family)
  • Other sulfur-containing foods (garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, eggs, red meat)
  • Cultured vegetables
  • Cultured coconut milk yogurt and kefir (strictly the homemade kind!)

ARE THERE ANY SUPPLEMENTS I SHOULD TAKE?

Again, the answer to this can be complicated, depending on your particular needs. But there are some generalities that ought to be considered by just about anyone under these circumstances:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (high quality fish oil or Antarctic krill oil)
  • Vitamin D3 (either emulsified or micellized liquid)
  • Anything that improves your glutathione levels, such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), MSM, selenium/vit E
  • Turmeric together with extra curcumanoids
  • Trans-resveratrol
  • Acetylcholine-enhancing supplements like Alpha GPC, Vinpocetine or Huperzine-A can help dampen a destructive form of nitric oxide (iNOS) while supporting the good kind (eNOS, nNOS), effectively dampening certain destructive inflammatory pathways

Autoimmunity is an all too common problem today. The wonderful news is that a fat-based Paleo-oriented diet is your best foundational insurance against initiating or aggravating an autoimmune condition. It’s important to point out, though, that a Paleo (or any) diet, alone may not be enough to thoroughly address the problem. —Still, you will be light years ahead of everyone else suffering these problems that have not yet discovered The Paleo

By Nora Gedgaudas

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