Without the audience having an in depth knowledge of the body, this can be a confusing process to explain. However, I’m going to put on my teacher hat and try my best to explain how your body could ever be so confused that it begins to attack it’s own tissues resulting in diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Psoriasis, Hashimoto’s, etc. Even though these diseases are present in different systems within the body, the same mechanism of trigger initiates the cascade. Every autoimmune disease is an IMMUNE SYSTEM disorder. However, most people focus on the system involved by taking thyroid medication for Hashimoto’s, creams for psoriasis, digestive aids for Crohn’s, and the list goes on. Most of the heavy duty medications on the market for these problems are immunosuppressants. That means their entire job is to dampen the ability of the immune system to function in hopes it will quit attacking itself. This has a nasty side effect of also leaving patients vulnerable to sickness because their immune system is being shut down (hence the fine print in commercials saying not to take them if you are sick, in contact with the sick, etc.) Many patients will say “Isn’t there a way to help this WITHOUT shutting down my immune system?!” The answer is “absolutely,” but you will not find those methods in medication. I hope now you are asking “HOW?!” Let’s look at how it happens to try to address that question later…
Proteins: Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are made up of things called amino acids and we use about 20 different amino acids to build every single kind of protein that we need. Based on how you put the amino acids in sequence, you can create different kinds of proteins. These creations make up the cells of your organs, your hormones, and the antibodies we call immunoglobins. You may have heard of some of these amino acids without even knowing it! We have all heard of tryptophan around Thanksgiving because people blame the sleepiness on it’s presence in turkey. Maybe you’ve heard of Glutamine if you are in the fitness industry. Perhaps phenylalanine has popped up as you search the risks of artificial sweeteners? These amino acids are essentially the legos that make up parts of your structure.
Well, these proteins tend to have a lot of similarities to the proteins in other life forms such as animals, plants, and even viruses. For heaven’s sake, we have 67% DNA similarity to an earth worm! Like I’ve said before, this is why biological principles are important to know; we all exist under the same fundamentals! Small sections of these proteins are recognized by antibodies. This is the recognition system for our immune system to be able to ID, tag, and get rid of foreign invaders by recognizing specific amino acid sequences present on the protein structure. When the antibody binds to one protein, it’s common that it will also attach to other proteins containing a similar sequence. This is a good thing if those other proteins are also foreign invaders, but it’s a bad thing if the other protein happens to be our own tissue.
Don’t worry though, we have a quality control system. Because of so much shared DNA sequencing, this happens all the time! It happens in everyone really. However, we have a process called “selection,” that allows T and B cells to recognize self and they are destroyed. This is all happening in the bone marrow and the thymus gland (hence T and B cells, haha…ok, not funny). It can also happen via suppression where certain T cells shut down autoantibody production from any cells that may have escaped the first check. In a healthy individual, this system of checks and balances works beautifully! However, for those with autoimmune conditions, the body has a breakdown in the second process and simply can’t keep up with the quality control process of destruction. Let’s just say your employee came in drunk and is no longer paying attention to the bad specimens rolling through! So, it’s not really a problem with the body making antibodies against itself, because everyone does that. It’s more about a faulty system in the ability to keep them at a minimum.
Once this breakdown occurs, it’s much easier for the body to then create another autoantibody to a different tissue, which is why so many autoimmune patients can then get another autoimmune disease fairly easily. When enough damage has occurred to the tissue being targeted, you will start to express systems of the disease. This is when you show up at the doctor with digestive distress due to Crohn’s, or unbearable joint pain due to Rheumatoid, or heaven forbid the neurologic symptoms of MS. Here is where the fork in the road happens. How do you treat it? You can take medication to address the symptoms presenting, you can take an immunosuppressant to try and shut down your body’s ability to produce antibodies (to itself or to foreign invaders), or you can eliminate the triggers that cause the immune system to attack in the first place.
The environmental triggers for immune system attack can include anything from vitamin D deficiency, bacterial infections, silicone implants, chemical exposures, and yes, intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut). Even though genes may create the perfect recipe for an autoimmune disease, the environmental triggers are really what start the cascade of events. This is the reason why many people will say that genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. This is why it is so important to be testing for underlying infections, nutrient deficiency, eliminating chemical exposure, and doing all we can to correct leaky gut. If you correct intestinal permeability, you can reverse an autoimmune disease. I have done this over and over with patients, and the changes in their quality of life and thought of such a different future makes me overwhelmed sometimes. THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. If you don’t believe that, then I can only imagine the thoughts that run through someone’s mind knowing it will only progress and get worse. That part of my job breaks my heart.
The silver lining is that even though you can’t control your genes, you CAN control your lifestyle. I will be writing a number of articles focusing on different aspects of this including the story of gluten, dairy, nightshades, and eggs in addition to the powerhouses I utilize with patients including ferments, broths, and organs. I never know much to simplify my explanations to help someone understand the connection, so I have decided to go a little bit more in depth on the blog. That way I have the easiest answer possible “Go take a look at the articles on the blog and let me know if you still have questions!” For a professor, it’s like trying to teach 8 years of physiology in 30 seconds (because that’s how long you have until people tune you out if they aren’t understanding). Good luck with that one! I hope you enjoy, and if you have any questions you would like to make sure I touch on along the way, feel free to shoot me a comment!