The Immune System
The immune system is the body’s defense network. It protects us from many things, both living (like bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites) and not (like chemicals, metals, foreign bodies). It is comprised of a variety of cells that directly kill, cells that make antibodies, cells that signal, and those that regulate the process. Lymph and lymph tissue (lymph nodes, tonsils, and the spleen) are also part of the immune system.
Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response to injury or infection. It is the body’s way of signaling the need for repair or the presence of an invader. Without it, wounds would fester and infections could become fatal.
A healthy immune system has an appropriate balance of all the cell types and has the ability to differentiate the tissues of our body from the things that don’t belong. It also knows when to turn on and turn off inflammation.
The Immune System Behaving Badly
Autoimmune diseases are evidence of serious malfunctions in this crucial system. Our immune cells can’t differentiate self from non-self. They start seeing bodily tissues as foreign or pathogens and attack them. No tissue is safe. In multiple sclerosis, cells attack the covering of nerves. In rheumatoid arthritis, the cells target the joints. In Hashimoto’s, cells destroy the thyroid. Some folks suffer attacks on multiple tissues. Inflammation becomes chronic and rages out of control, potentially causing collateral damage to the heart, lungs or other vital organs.
The Perfect Storm
Autoimmunity is the result of the interactions between your genes and your environment. The genetic factors involved are complex. It isn’t one gene variant or mutation at fault, but many different genes together that increase susceptibility to autoimmunity. Sadly, only a small number have been identified.
The environmental triggers are equally complex and can include but aren’t limited to:
- Emotional or psychological trauma; feeling unsafe, insecure, and/or out of control
- Stress (acute and chronic)
- Bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections (past or present)
- Exposure to toxins, heavy metals, chemicals, pollutants, medications, and even some supplements (echinacea and spirulina)
- Micronutrient deficiencies
- Hormones (whether existing naturally in the body or pharmaceutical)
- Leaky gut (increased leading to increased immune system exposure to pathogens and toxins in our gastrointestinal tract)
- Diet (our gastrointestinal tract is probably the largest interface we have with our environment)
While a definitive causal link between diet and most autoimmunity has yet to be made, more and more autoimmune diseases (and some non-autoimmune diseases) are being linked to gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein in wheat (and some is the known causal trigger for the autoimmune condition, celiac disease. It is also one of the primary drivers of a leaky gut.
Calming the Storm
The conventional approach to autoimmune conditions is to take medications to reduce inflammation and to suppress the dysfunctional immune system. These medications are fraught with side effects including possible gastrointestinal distress, renal impairment, opportunistic infections, and increased cancer risk to name just a few.
Short of a miracle from God (we do believe in those around here), someone with an autoimmune condition will always have the propensity to autoimmunity. However, remission can be achieved and obtained through diligent management of those environmental factors and triggers within our control:
- Eat organic, whole foods
- At a minimum, avoid gluten
- Consideration should be given to the Paleo or the Autoimmune Protocol Diet
- Possible dietary modification based on food sensitivity testing
- Reduce and manage stress
- Prayer and meditation
- Breathing techniques
- Exercise, Yoga, Tai chi
- Identify and correct nutrient deficiencies
- Identify and address chronic infections
- Ozone therapy
- Herbal antimicrobials
- Avoid and remove toxins
- Using clean and organic personal care and cleaning products
- Heavy metal chelation
- Deal with unresolved emotional and psychological issues or trauma
- Consider reading When the Body Says No, by Gabor Maté
- Counseling, EMDR, Neurofeedback
- Balance hormones
- Avoid synthetic hormones
- Avoid hormone disruptors
- Testing and replacement with bioidentical hormones may be appropriate
Getting by With a Little Help from My Friends
You didn’t get here overnight and the changes necessary to recover may take some time and effort to implement and get to stick. In the meantime, there are some adjuncts that could be very helpful on your journey.
Some helpful supplements include:
- Fish oil
- Boswellia (Frankincense)
- Reishi mushroom
- Bone broth
A Low Dose with Big Benefits
Naltrexone is a medication that we will frequently use with our autoimmune patients. It was originally licensed in 1984 as adjunctive therapy for opiate and alcohol addiction as its main effect is to block opioid receptors in the body. In doing so, it actually increased the production of endogenous opioids (those feel-good chemicals made in our bodies, like endorphins and enkephalins). One of the noted side effects of naltrexone was the improvement in immune function. It was later discovered that endogenous opioids are part of the system regulating immune function.
Since 1988, naltrexone has been used off-label in much lower doses (about 1/10 the dose used in patients with substance dependence) to reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system in patients with autoimmunity, mental health challenges, and cancer. It is typically well-tolerated and hasn’t the significant side effects or most conventional medications prescribed for autoimmunity. Click here to read a helpful resource for those interested in finding out more.
Putting it All Together
The path to the remission of autoimmune conditions can be long and confusing. Call today. Let us help you identify your triggers and put together a customized plan to address the many factors contributing to your autoimmune condition.