One of the challenges with autoimmune disease is identifying the cause. Fortunately our ability to sequence genes and measure immunological markers of inflammation has lead to a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying autoimmune disease. So what we do know, is that there is an interplay between genes, the environment and your specific immune response to that.
Whilst we have little control over our genes, the good news is that there are many ways we can manage environmental factors that trigger inflammation and autoimmune reactivity. Below are four common types of triggers for autoimmune disease:
1. Infection – bacteria, candida, parasites, virus, fungi
If a pathogenic microorganism “bad bug” enters the body, the immune system will target that microorganism for destruction. Now, this is a good thing, right? As we don’t want to become ill or die from the “bad bug. The problem with autoimmune conditions is that the response to the “bad bug” becomes indiscriminate. This means that instead of the body targeting only that bug, the immune system becomes confused and extends the attack towards healthy tissue.
This is the part of the reason that maintaining a healthy microbiome is so important. An overgrowth of “bad bugs”, parasites, etc, can continuously excite the immune system creating an aberrant reaction, leading to the ongoing destruction of healthy tissue alongside the intended destruction of the “bad bugs”.
2. Food sensitivity – gluten, dairy, grain, yeast
Foods are a common source of inflammation in autoimmunity. Gluten is associated with a number of autoimmune conditions , in particular, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Gluten is also strongly associated with increased intestinal permeability which then amplifies the individual’s sensitivity to other foods that would normally be well tolerated. Fortunately, antibody tests are available to measure the immunological response to different foods, as well as tests to ascertain function and composition of the microbiome.
3. Nutritional deficiency
Nutrients such as Vitamin A, C, D, zinc and selenium play a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Maintaining a healthy immune system will help to protect you from infection and toxins. When these nutrients are low our normal repair and detoxification pathways are limited and hence you are more prone to inflammation and aberrant immune reactions. Both assessing the diet for adequate intake of nutrients, as well as testing to ensure proper absorption and metabolism of nutrients can help to rectify nutrient deficiencies.
Toxins come in many forms including BPA, heavy metals, asbestos and mycotoxins to name a few of the possible triggers for autoimmune. Therefore being mindful of your exposure to plastics, pesticides, mouldy environments and personal care products can potentially limit the toxin load on the body. It’s important to keep in mind that the body does has some capacity to detoxify these toxins, however this is where maintaining a healthy gut and adequate nutrient intake becomes integral to supporting the body with it’s innate repair and detoxification processes. A number of tests are available to assess both the accumulation of toxins and the efficiency of metabolic pathways which remove toxins from the body.
The bottom-line is that many triggers which can contribute to autoimmune disease. The key is to identify and manage those factors which are possible to control, in order to decrease the inflammatory response which is the common denominator for all triggers.
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Cindy Morris has been working as a naturopath for over 15 years, she is currently adding to her clinical skills with further study at Griffith University. Her clinical focus is around chronic fatigue, thyroid health and auto-immune conditions.
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