HOW AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES DEVELOP
Autoimmune diseases develop when the body’s immune system produces an inappropriate immune response against its own tissues. Because the vast majority of our immune system is located in the composition of our gut microbiome, this is where we need to focus to understand how we come to develop an autoimmune disease (probably more than one) and also how to reverse these types of diseases.
When the immune system stops recognizing as “self” something that’s a normal constituent of the body, it starts producing auto-antibodies that attack the body’s own cells, tissues, and/or organs. This produces chronic inflammation that damages these body parts and leads to autoimmune disorders.
Autoimmune diseases are generally classified as systemic (those that damage more than one organ or part of the body) or localized (those that damage a single organ or type of tissue). This distinction is somewhat artificial since localized autoimmune disorders often extend beyond the targeted tissues, indirectly affecting other organs and systems. (American Association for Clinical Chemistry, 2014)
In a scientific literature review article entitled The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system, the authors examined articles on atopic* diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases and treatment of these conditions with probiotics. They concluded that the evidence strongly points to the intestinal microflora’s having important “protective, metabolic, trophic** and immunological functions” and that the micro-organisms comprising the gut microbiome are “able to establish a ‘cross-talk’ with the immune component of mucosal immunity…. When one or more steps in this fine interaction fail, autoimmune or auto-inflammatory diseases may occur. Furthermore, it results from the data that probiotics, used for the treatment of the diseases caused by the dysregulation of the immune system, can have a beneficial effect.” (Purchiaroni et al, 2013)
* Atopic: A predisposition toward developing certain allergic hypersensitivity reactions
** Trophic: Of or relating to nutrition; promoting cellular growth, differentiation, and survival
Here’s my short hand version of the process:
Chronic unbalance in the content of the gut microbiome (gut dysbiosis) –> leaky gut –> chronic inflammation, which eventually –> one or more autoimmune diseases.
Some examples of autoimmune diseases:
- Cardiac myopathy
- Celiac disease
- Chronic inflammatory liver disease (autoimmune hepatitis)
- Lyme disease, chronic
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Rheumatic fever
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
See AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS for a more complete list of the autoimmune disorders and more information about them.
HOW TO PUT AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES IN REMISSION
In talking about how to prevent autoimmune diseases disorders and how to reverse them if you’re already suffering with one or more, I’m going to focus on the work of a very smart scientist, writer and mother, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne in this discussion. As you read on, you’ll see why.
Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, earned a doctorate in medical biophysics at the age of 26 and then spent the next four years doing research on innate immunity and inflammation before becoming a stay-at-home mom. After the birth of her second child, she began experimenting with the Paleo lifestyle – which greatly improved her health.
Over time, she healed herself of a long list of autoimmune conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, and Lichen Planus (an inflammatory skin condition).
Inspired by this success, Dr. Ballantyne created the popular health blog ThePaleoMom.com and became co-host of a top-rated podcast, The Paleo View.
Ballantyne is passionate about providing straightforward explanations of the science behind her diet and lifestyle recommendations for managing autoimmune disease. A lover of food and cooking, the next logical step for her was to write a book called The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. (Ballantyne, 2014b) This was soon followed by a companion book called The Paleo Approach Cookbook: A Detailed Guide to Heal Your Body and Nourish Your Soul (Ballantyne, 2014c)
From Amazon.com’s description of The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body:
An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease. If you’re among them, you may know all too well how little modern medicine can do to alleviate your condition. But that’s no reason to give up hope. In this groundbreaking book, Sarah D. Ballantyne, Ph.D., draws upon current medical research and her own battle with an autoimmune disorder to show you how you can become completely symptom-free—the natural way.
The Paleo Approach is the first book ever to explain how to adapt the Paleo diet and lifestyle to bring about a full recovery. Read it to learn why foods marketed as “healthy”—such as whole grains, soy, and low-fat dairy—can contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions. Discover what you can eat to calm your immune system, reduce inflammation, and help your body heal itself. Find out which simple lifestyle changes—along with changes in diet—will make the biggest difference for your health….
Simple strategies for lifestyle adjustments, including small steps that can make a huge difference, guide you through the most important changes to support healing.
Do you have a complicated condition that requires medical intervention, medication, or supplements? Dr. Ballantyne also walks you through the most useful medical tests, treatments, and supplements (as well as the most counterproductive ones) to help you open a dialogue with your physician.
This comment about Ballantyne’s first book on its Amazon.com page struck me as summing up the battle against autoimmune diseases – and sound advice on how to live a satisfying life in general. The writer describes how she used Ballantyne’s guidelines to make her autoimmune diseases go into remission and get her life back on track. The comment is long but I think very much worth reading:
How The Paleo Approach Saved My Health (after years of low-carb paleo)
By Stacy & Matt, the Paleo Parents on January 28, 2014
While you all have waited patiently for years as Dr. Sarah Ballantyne wrote The Paleo Approach, I was lucky enough to begin following her protocol well before it was available to the public. I started my journey on healing when Practical Paleo first came out and I started with the methodologies Diane put forth for autoimmune conditions (autoimmune protocol: AIP).
Problem was, after following the AIP for nearly 3 months I wasn’t seeing healing. Some of the super negative symptoms were alleviated, like adrenal fatigue, clumps of hair falling out and terrible acne, but when I reintroduced foods I would get flares again. I distinctly remember it being SO. HARD. Like, temper tantrums in the car hard because everything, EVERYTHING I was used to eating had eggs or nightshades and I was overwhelmed at the idea of living the rest of my life that way. All of which contributed to my ongoing struggles with depression – the obsession with food was beginning to overwhelm me, it was starting to cause disordered eating again, as I looked for ways to “get around” the AIP.
I was so frustrated, I began talking with Sarah about what her thoughts and recommendations were. It was at this time that Sarah was hundreds of thousands of words deep into writing The Paleo Approach (no, seriously, it’s a tome). There were a few things she shared with me about what she found in the scientific literature about recommendations she was going to make, versus things I’d read in Practical Paleo and other resources.
And so it began, in 2013 I started following The Paleo Approach. Mostly this meant that I focused more on what to add to my diet instead of what to remove from it. Sarah and I talked every week on The Paleo View and nearly each episode each one of us would get more and more geeked out on nutrient-density, our new favorite word. We began exploring healing foods; Matt and I became so inspired that we wrote the nose-to-tail cookbook, Beyond Bacon – almost every recipe of which includes bone stock and/or lard (high in Vitamin D and easy for me to digest).
I’d been following a low-fat, low-carb version of paleo for years. Turns out, it made me sick. It affected my adrenals, thyroid function, and ability for my body to heal itself. I was nutrient-poor, despite eating what I thought was the best diet possible. Perhaps for some people eating that way is healthy for them, but for me as a busy woman with no gallbladder and previous metabolic syndrome, it ended up as a disaster long-term. Turns out, a high protein diet (especially when the protein is mostly poultry) wasn’t doing what I thought it was for my health. I got over my fear of fat and incorporated more nutrient-dense healing fats, specifically lard, coconut oil and ghee/butter (I was shocked how well I tolerated ghee and butter after a lifetime of being dairy intolerant). I switched my proteins to a majority of grass-fed red meat and pastured pork, added seafood and incorporated the true superfoods: organ meat and bone broth.
One of the things I learned from Sarah is the importance of vegetables. I’ve popularized #morevegetablesthanavegetarian in social media – but it was Sarah’s focus on the importance of vegetables – specifically a variety of colorful ones – that really made me focus on them. For a while, I’d actually reduced the types of vegetables I was eating because I wanted to stay away from foods high in insoluble fiber – which I personally let affect the quantity of veggies I was eating. When Sarah told me she had research that greens rich in insoluble fiber, even cruciferous ones, showed to be positive healing foods from her research it was a big change in how I approached nourishing myself. As I started adding in much more vegetables, especially leafy greens, it was amazing how much it affected my digestion and how I felt.
From the prior AIP protocol I was already consuming fermented foods rich in probiotics, which is another big important factor in helping to heal the gut through food. So then I turned to lifestyle factors.
I learned to love myself and let things go. I know… it’s hokey. And intangible. And something I can’t possibly define for you to replicate… although I’ve tried to articulate it a zillion times on The Paleo View. Stress Management was defined and something I began when I first started Practical Paleo`s AIP. But it’s not something one can fix overnight. Over time, and through Sarah’s repeated reminders of the scientific backing behind stress being a leading causes of health deterioration, I learned how to slay the stress monster.
First, I gave myself permission to do something(s) for me. Without guilt or remorse. It was really hard in the beginning to know I was missing out on time I could (or as I thought, should) be doing: helping with dinner, spending time with the kids, staying later at the office, etc. But then I realized I deserve to take care of the only body I’ll have to carry me through this life. My children deserve a role model to show them that sometimes it’s OK to stop and put the gas mask on yourself before helping others – I learned to take care of myself first before putting others ahead of me. This, was huge.
I learned to breathe. There was a point at which my stress levels had caused an eye twitch I couldn’t get rid of for months. And I had begun grinding my teeth and experiencing frequent headaches from it. I even had about a 6 week period of time where I was experiencing frequent anxiety attacks in crossfit, unable to breathe when something ended up being harder than I anticipated. It made me want to quit, and I’ve never been a quitter. It was at this time Sarah talked to me about relaxation techniques she highly encouraged. It was so bizarre for this scientist to be telling me to do some hokey-pokey-crunchy-granola-meditation… but she was right. My body was overwhelmed and needed a break. So several times a day I intentionally stood up and walked around the office, finding someone to smile with and change my environment while activating happy hormones. During crossfit I learned to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth with deep, intentional breaths. Soon, the twitching and anxiety attacks just went away!
I learned to let things go. This was the hardest for me and is something I’m still actively working on. I talk out loud about what I can or cannot do. It’s about acknowledgement, doing what you’re able the best you can, and then forgiveness. What a concept… all backed by science to help you be healthier!
Be positive! No, really. Of course not everything’s great. But almost everything has something positive about it. So I learned to frame things to myself positively and it helped me have an overall positive outlook and attitude.
Sarah goes over LOTS more stuff in The Paleo Approach but these are the things that I personally applied to my own life.
I’ve resolved ALL of the autoimmune related health issues I experienced in 2011 and 2012.
Let me restate that, because I want to make sure it’s heard. I no longer have symptoms of autoimmune disease, adrenal fatigue, micro-nutrient deficiencies, skin breakouts or depression (at all). My body has not only recovered fully from the autoimmune flare, but I’ve actually been able to heal my body even further – now able to consume foods like high quality heavy cream and cheeses without distress! And when accidentally exposed to gluten or intentionally eat things I know my body has a difficult time with (like nightshades or grains) I find each and every time my body responds better than the time before. I have successfully reintroduced nuts, seeds, chocolate, egg yolks and seed spices (all in moderation) but have found that egg whites and nightshade vegetables (except peeled white potatoes) are something I can not (yet) tolerate.
I plan to continue my healing journey and hope to be a role model for those out there with autoimmune conditions. Keeping in mind that 2 years ago I was depressed with barely enough energy to slog through the day (thyroid and adrenal issues), I now am a fully charged woman who manages this blog, a podcast, writing books, a full-time job, raising 3 boys AND am training for a StrongMan competition in just a few months. I’m happy to report that The Paleo Approach quite literally gave me my life back.
On her own blog, ThePaleoMom.com, Sarah Ballantyne says this about how autoimmune diseases develop and how to put them into remission (Ballantyne, 2014a):
Autoimmune disease is caused by the immune system losing the ability to differentiate proteins belonging to your own body with proteins belonging to a foreign invader (like a bacteria, virus or parasite). What causes symptoms is the build up of damage to cells, tissues and/or organs in the body–damage caused by your own immune system attacking those cells. Which proteins/cells are attacked is what separates once disease from another. In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the thyroid gland is attacked. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, the tissues of your joints are attacked. In psoriasis, proteins within the layers of cells that make up your skin are attacked. However, the root cause is the same.
Genetic predisposition to autoimmunity makes up about one third of your risk of developing an autoimmune disease. The other two thirds of your risk come from environmental factors, which include: diet, lifestyle, infections (both prior and persistent) exposure to toxins, hormones, weight, etc. While you cannot control your genetics or whether or not you had mono as a kid, you do have an immense amount of control over your diet and lifestyle (and the extent that these affect hormones and weight and even toxin exposure). By removing the foods that contribute to a leaky gut, gut dysbiosis (the wrong numbers, relative quantities, or types of microorganisms typically growing in the wrong locations in your gut), hormone imbalance, and that stimulate inflammation and the immune system, you can create the opportunity for your body to heal. By addressing important lifestyle factors and changing your focus to eating nutrient-dense foods that support optimal gut health (and optimal health of your gut microorganisms), that restore levels of important nutrients and provide all of the building blocks that your body needs to heal and properly regulate the immune system, that help resolve inflammation and support organ function, you create an environment in your body conducive to healing.
This is not a cure (once your body learns to attack itself, it can never un-learn this), but you can put your disease into remission, often permanently.
And a little humor to close:
American Association for Clinical Chemistry. (2014). Autoimmune disorders. Lab Tests Online. See: http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/conditions/autoimmune/?gclid=CLOyz8GNy8ECFSZo7AodHwgAKQ
Ballantyne, S. (2014a). The Autoimmune Protocol. ThePaleoMom.com. See: http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol
Ballantyne, S. (2014b). The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. See: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1936608391?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1936608391&linkCode=xm2&tag=wwwthepaleomo-20
Ballantyne, S. (2014c). The Paleo Approach Cookbook: A Detailed Guide to Heal Your Body and Nourish Your Soul. See: http://www.amazon.com/Paleo-Approach-Cookbook-Detailed-Nourish/dp/162860008X/ref=la_B00B0QLZ5W_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411740448&sr=1-2
Ballantyne, S. (2014d). The Paleo View Podcasts. See: http://www.thepaleomom.com/podcast
Hardin, J.R. (2014). Autoimmune Disorders. AllergiesAndYourGut.com. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/symbiosis-versus-dysbiosis/autoimmune-conditions-diseases/
Purchiaroni, F. et al. (2013). The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 17:3, 323-33. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23426535
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