Medications and Autoimmune Healing (Part VI)

Before we get started, let me say that I am not rendering advice on what to do with your medications in this article!  I am simply going to explore how some common medications may be obstacles in your healing process.  If you have followed this journey, we started with how an autoimmune disease happens, touched on the involvement of heartburn, gluten, nutrient deficiency, and discussed how leaky gut is involved.  Most of the medications I talk about, I will place in the category of things you can control.   That means I will not be talking about immunosuppressants or other common autoimmune meds; I will be talking about drugs like: antacids, antibiotics, birth control, steroids, and pain relievers. Let’s get started with heartburn meds because we talking about heartburn and stomach acid one of the first articles.

PPIs (aka Nexium or Prevacid) and H2 blockers (aka Pepcid and Zantac):

If you would like a reminder of how important stomach acid production is, feel free to re-read the heartburn article.  If we consider that any disease healing process requires adequate nutrients, we also must consider if we are able to get those nutrients based on the health and performance of our digestive system.  Stomach acid is a major component for the beginning of our digestion and without adequate amounts, we develop issues such as GERD, heartburn, H. pylori, and intestinal dysbiosis.  If you are taking a stomach acid reducer, you are hindering the first step in food breakdown.  This sets you up for impaired digestion, decreased nutrient absorption, possible infection, and leaky gut.  That’s a very basic understanding.  If we get more technical, PPIs have been shown to interfere with antigen presentation mechanisms by affecting lysosomes.  They also obstruct the work of cytotoxic C cells. These are IMPORTANT for immune function, so you can imagine if you have created the perfect environment for leaky gut, which can trigger an autoimmune disease, then impaired digestion setting you up for infection which can trigger an autoimmune disease, then took a medication for the heartburn that interferes with appropriate immune system functions…insert cry emoji here.

Birth Control Pills

I have spoken before in brief posts about hormone health and how taking the pill to correct hormone imbalance may be doing more harm than good.  I have also been vocal about the pill and it’s ability to significantly increase clotting risks in women that can result in strokes or pulmonary embolisms!  This is not a medication to be taken lightly, and from first-hand experience, I know these risks are not brought up.  I was speaking to a nurse the other day about how interesting pregnancy can be in autoimmune conditions and how that speaks to hormone involvement.  I have had autoimmune patients tell me their autoimmune condition completely goes into remission while they are pregnant, and they wish they could trick their body into believing it’s pregnant all the time!  Sex hormones play a role in immune system function, so the decision to artificially alter them, may be causing an immune system issue.  In addition to directly changing hormones, they cause disturbance in the gut flora resulting in dysbiosis and many times leaky gut.  Remember leaky gut being how autoimmune issues start?!


Antibiotics save lives.  Period.  However, they are way over-prescribed and many people take them multiple times a year.  If you are doing everything right, it can still takes months for the assault of antibiotics on your gut flora to fulling repair.  If we KNOW that the bacteria in your gut account for the majority of your immune system, then how could you not be worried to take a medication that would wipe them all out?!  Antibiotics are often broad spectrum and will have no issues wiping things clean, good and bad.  Imagine having to rebuild your house every time it got messy.  That is the task you ask of your body when you take antibiotics for every sniffle, sneeze and infection.  It is often common for antibiotics to be prescribed without a culture which means your infection could be viral.  Viral infections are not killed by antibiotics.  Antibiotics kill bacteria.  Oops.  In a nutshell, antibiotic need may be more scarce than you think, it has a dramatic effect on the bacteria balance in your intestines, and they should be avoided if possible.

NSAIDS (aspirin, advil, aleve)

These anti-inflammatory drugs are non-steroidal but they are used widely to control pain and inflammation.  So widely, that you probably have bottles in your purse, your bathroom, your desk drawer, etc.  I can say that I don’t even have a single bottle of these around and if I needed one on some off chance, I would have to go purchase them.  Most people know the dangers of taking too much because your doctor will warn you about how bad it damages your gut, which can result in ulcers.  I hope this connection is screaming at you before I tell you….wait for it….if they damage the gut, and your gut houses your immune system, then it can’t be good for conditions concerning the immune system! A SINGLE DOSE OF NSAIDs damages the intestine of even a healthy person.  It does this by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase which is essential for maintaining the gut mucosal barrier. They also inhibit the formation of the proteins that keep tight junctions together (remember that cell lining gate being damaged).  These drugs are popped like candy because most people see them as harmless when you can buy them in the store.

Well, those are the major ones I wanted to hit because so many people are unaware of the negative side effects.  If these are part of your “health” routine, you may be causing more damage than good.  If you have an autoimmune disease, these may be a part of your routine that you can control.  There are tons of natural compounds that fight infection and decrease inflammation.  These can be found widely in foods and many supplements now exist.  Try cooking with turmeric, adding garlic to everything, using onions abundantly, and fresh herbs are crazy good in the medicinal department.  Funny how all this complex material always lands us back at basic lifestyle changes.  Nature is so smart.


Fecal Transplants: My Prediction for the Future of Medicine

I have known about fecal transplants for years now, but they aren’t used very widely.  However, the topic came up in full force at Paleofx this year because the focus of the weekend was the microbiome.  If we are 10 times the amount of bacteria than cells, it is pertinent for our bacteria to be balanced, healthy, and happy in order for our body to express health.  Studies have shown over and over than when bacterial imbalance occurs, diseases such as recurrent infections, autoimmune disorders, bowel diseases, allergies, or even metabolic issues can develop.  When a person is in the middle of a disorder that keeps them feeling like crap, it can be a daunting task to think about all the lifestyle changes that need to happen in addition to a treatment phase of care on top of everyday life. That’s probably the toughest part of what I do: teaching a sick person to change their lifestyle while they feel like crap. There is a quick solution: fecal transplants.  Yup,  donated poop from a healthy individual into the intestinal tract of a sick individual.  This simple transplant has nearly cured diabetes in some, completely recovered patients from E. Coli complications, and reversed autoimmune diseases.

I think there is no question we are realizing just how important it is to take care of our bacterial health.  However, in a world of convenience and quick fixes, we don’t have many that address the underlying issues.  If the heart of most diseases today has a component of gut bacteria imbalance, aka dysbiosis, then this is surely the wave of the medical future.  In some ways, this makes me happy that a treatment will be addressing the cause.  In other ways, it is still just a bandaid.  If someone develops a disease and gets a fecal transplant to address it, it’s like giving a new liver to an alcoholic without the expectation that he or she quits drinking!  If the lifestyle factors that contribute to the imbalance in the first place are not addressed, the same dysbiosis will surely develop.  So, once again, lifestyle medicine is crucial to treatment and success.

The other problem I see is if everyone has crappy lifestyles and so many have bacterial balance issues, who is going to donate healthy poop?!  Maybe we will get it shipped from other countries.  That’s a thought, although it may not have great results due to the fact that your environment and ancestry determine the appropriate bacteria levels that are healthy for you.  However, this is a huge issue!  If every American has issues from diabetes to debilitating autoimmune diseases, who are the donors!?  Maybe this will be my side career.  Myself and my healthy friends and former patients will start a poop bank.  We have abundant resources if you consider the number of times one defecates in a week.  It would go for top dollar!  I may be on to something.

Moral of the story is: Bacterial health is crucial to your health.  If you have imbalance that is severe or unresponsive to changes implemented by a knowledgeable functional medicine practitioner, a fecal transplant may be worth trying.  If you were going to try it, you would need to be responsible about the donor.  AND mark my words, this will be the next big thing in medicine, but it will still not make a sick person well for very long if they continue the habits that caused the imbalance in the first place.  Would you take my poo?  That is the question.

Tips to treat your bacteria with love:

  1. Stay away from synthetic medication if you can, especially antibiotics (I can help you with this if you don’t know where to start!)
  2. Eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies, including some tubers (bacteria love to each soluble fiber)
  3. Cut out processed foods (yes, that means ANYTHING in a package)
  4. Take a probiotic (I have links to ones I like in the “store” across the top)
  5. Keep stress low
  6. Get 8 hours of sleep a night
  7. Don’t be obsessed with cleanliness; using antibacterial everything kills the good guys
  8. Buy organic produce and don’t worry too much about having it extra clean (soil organisms actually HELP the gut)
  9. Don’t use essential oils for ingestion on a regular basis, they act as potent antimicrobials and should be used orally for treatment of pathogenic issues for short durations only!
  10. Consume bone broth regularly in order to aid in digestion, maintain gut integrity, and create a nice environment for those little bacteria of yours!