― Albert Einstein
One of the biggest booms in over the past decade has been in autoimmune disease. We have other articles trying to identify questions like what is causing this increase and how do they develop. In this post we would like to try and explain a healthy way to think about how to get better if you suffer from an autoimmune disease. To understand how to solve this autoimmune problem we must understand the dynamics of the disease.
Autoimmune Disease: The Immune System or the Target Tissue?
The point I want to make is that nearly all autoimmune diseases are WRONGLY classified. Most people think of the disease by what tissue is destroyed. This is a subtle but important point. When your immune system thinks your thyroid needs to be destroyed…is the problem the thyroid or the immune system? When your immune system thinks your joints need to be destroyed…is the problem the joints or the immune system? The real answer is both are true. The target tissue and the immune system are problems with any autoimmune disease but the ROOT cause is the immune system malfunction.
Here is a quick list of common autoimmune conditions we’ve seen in the office and the part of the body the immune system is attacking in each disease.
|Disease Name||Body Target Tissue Destroyed|
|Addison’s Disease||Adrenal Glands|
|Type 1 Diabetes||Pancreas|
|Lupus (SLE)||Kidneys, Skin, Joints, Immune|
|Multiple Sclerosis||Nerve Myelin Sheath|
|Parkinson’s Disease||Basal Ganglia|
|Sjogren’s Syndrome||Saliva and Tear Glands|
|Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS)||Phospholipids|
|ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)||Motor Neurons|
This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you the idea that there are many autoimmune diseases but they are not classified based on their immune system defects (the root cause). Autoimmune diseases are classified based on the secondary problem. They are classified based on the tissue that is destroyed. Therefore, most of these conditions are treated by different doctors who have no idea about the root cause (the immune system malfunction). In order to get any autoimmune disease better 3 things must be done. The immune system malfunction must be addressed, the patient must remove possible triggers, and typically you must offer the body some help to repair the tissue that is damaged.
Key Concept #3: Any autoimmune disease will have a target tissue.
This is the easiest concept for most of our patients to grasp. Whatever tissue is being attacked and destroyed by the immune system needs some support to repair and be as healthy as possible. This is a supportive approach. If you autoimmune disease is against nerves, how can we help provide nutrition and protection for nerves? If your autoimmune disease is against the thyroid how can we provide nutrition and protection for the thyroid. If you autoimmune disease is against your skin how can we help and provide nutrition and protection for your skin? You get the point. The key here is understanding that this piece of the puzzle can help patients feel better, but will never, ever, ever get to the root cause of the problem.
Key Concept #2: Any autoimmune disease will have triggers.
If you start doing research on autoimmune diseases, you will quickly realize they have triggers. These triggers are various things that stimulate or modify your immune system in a certain way. When your immune system is activated, it attacks the target tissue of your autoimmune disease more. Common triggers are:
- Infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic etc),
- Foods (often in conjunction with leaky gut)
- Toxicity(Mold, Heavy Metals, Pesticides, Chemicals)
- Hormone fluctuations like puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Trauma (physical trauma like car accidents, broken bones, or concussions, and emotional trauma such as abuse or shocking events like the sudden loss of a loved one or the foreclosure of a house)
As you read the list of triggers it should be obvious that some of these triggers are avoidable and some are not avoidable. Avoiding high impact triggers is a huge deal. This is why people change their diets, go “autoimmune paleo”, remove excess chemicals from their life, and get rid of microbial imbalances like viruses or a yeast/bacterial overgrowth in the gut.
While this is an extremely important step…the problem is at the core we want the immune to become less reactive! Some people come to me having avoided a trigger like gluten, but then they go through menopause or get in a car accident or they have a child/parent die unexpectedly and their autoimmune disease goes crazy! Avoiding triggers is important, but it is impossible to avoid everything and if we do not take care of key concept #1 you will slowly develp more and more triggers as time goes on.
Key Concept #1: Any autoimmune disease is an immune system malfunction.
This is the biggest, untapped category in people’s brains surrounding how to heal from autoimmune diseases. How does the immune system work? How do various anti-inflammatories work? What do steroid do to the immune system? What do anti-inflammatories like Resveratrol, green tea, mushrooms, Vitamin D, fish oils, turmeric, glutathione, and others do to the immune system? What are all the parts of my immune system? What are cytokines? If this is all Greek to you do not despair! We will post another article highlighting key concept #1 and #2 in the future where we go into more detail. The point here is to realize the core of any immune system problem is the miss targeting! Your immune system is supposed to be absolutely deadly. Think of it like the army. When called upon we want our army to be lethal to defend us from invaders (such as bacteria and viruses). However, if the army malfunctions and starts harming citizens we have a major problem with how our army is identifying and targeting enemies. If there is no strategy to repair the targeting mechanism of the immune system, you will never, ever have true healing from an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are like a gun (your immune system) pointing back at yourself rather than at the correct target.
How do we pull off repairing a miss targeting immune system?
So how do we do repair the targeting mechanism? That will be a topic for another article but the easy first step is to promote proper function of the “Treg” cell. I call this cell the “Mom” of the immune system. She makes sure all the kids behave. The short list of things that promote healthy Treg cell function are the following:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
- Fish Oil
- Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) from good gut bacteria digesting healthy fiber
For this reason we thoroughly investigate gut function, vitamin D, vitamin A, and antioxidant levels in autoimmune patients as a fundamental part of their health care.
In summary remember there are 3 key points to address with any autoimmune disease. One must support the target tissue being destroyed, avoid triggers, and help the immune targeting system.
For further reading check out some of our other blog articles!