“You can’t change your genes. But if we’re even half right about all this, you can change the way your genes behave—which is almost the same thing. By adjusting your environment you can adjust your gene activity.”
– Steve Cole, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in the UCLA School of Medicine
Some of the most exciting advances in autoimmune disease research, understanding and awareness have emerged in the past decade. As a result of these discoveries and giant leaps forward with Functional Medicine, you now have enough information and resources to help yourself reverse and prevent autoimmune conditions today.
These are the 5 giant leaps that continue to help me and my clients keep MS and other autoimmune disorders at bay:
1. Environmental Factors Matter More Than Your Genes
There is now consensus that only a small fraction of the risk for developing an autoimmune disorder is genetic, whereas the lion’s share — 90-95% of the risk — for developing an autoimmune condition is due to “environmental factors” a.k.a. triggers or root causes. Even the CDC agrees!1CDC, Exposome and Exposomics, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/exposome/ There is ample evidence that stress, gluten, casein (a protein in dairy), medications (even those provided to arrest autoimmune progression),2Drugs and autoimmunity–a contemporary review and mechanistic approach; Chang C, Gershwin ME; J Autoimmun. 2010 May;34(3):J266-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2009.11.012. Epub 2009 Dec 16.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20015613 Bisphenol A (BPA), vitamin D deficiency, exposure to mercury, oral infections, viruses and even medications can trigger autoimmune disorders in genetically susceptible people.3Infection, vaccines and other environmental triggers of autoimmunity; Molina V., Shoenfeld Y.; Autoimmunity. 2005 May;38(3):235-45; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16126512 Sounds daunting, but data suggest that the top factors can be grouped into six categories I call F.I.G.H.T.S.™ for Food, Infections, Gut health, Hormone balance, Toxins, and Stress.4Environmental Triggers and Autoimmunity, Aristo Vojdani, K. Michael Pollard, and Andrew W. Campbell; Autoimmune Diseases; Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 798029, 2 pages; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/798029 http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ad/2014/798029/
What Can You Do?
a. Identify your trigger foods
The “gold standard” among holistic and Functional Medicine practitioners is the 30-day elimination diet, which I prefer to call a 30-Day Food Vacation. Remove the top autoimmune culprit foods: gluten, grains, sugar, dairy, eggs, legumes (e.g., soy, peas, and peanuts are legumes), tree nuts, coffee, alcohol, nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplants, peppers, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder and curry powder) for 30 days, or ideally until your symptoms disappear, which might be 60 or 90 days. For help dialing in your optimal foods, download your free Optimal Food Guide ebook.
b. Lower your toxic load
Start simply. Gather and dispose of all your chemically-laden household cleaning and personal care products & medications at a hazardous waste facility. Replace plastic food containers with glass or stainless steel. Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for assistance in finding healthy replacement products. Consider getting your silver (mercury amalgams) fillings removed by a biological dentist. And, last but far from least, reduce your stress!
c. Check out the Manifesto for Healing Autoimmune Conditions for a (w)holistic approach to nourishing your mind-body-spirit. Print it out and put it on your fridge or bathroom mirror for beautiful daily reminders.
2. Epigenetics Puts You in Control
The emerging science of “epigenetics,” which literally means “above the gene,” is rapidly revealing how we start with a certain genetic code at conception, but the decision of which genes get “expressed,” or “activated,” is mostly controlled by ‘environmental factors.’ The expression of genes can change rapidly, can be passed along to offspring, and can literally hold the key to health outcomes.
What Can You Do?
a. Learn more about epigenetics. You may appreciate the concept that your environment matters most; but did you know that it’s possible to transform killer bees into docile honey bees? Check out the article, The Social Life of Genes in the Pacific Standard.
b. Read The Biology of Belief by cellular microbiologist and author, Bruce Lipton, PhD who once taught university students the “central dogma” that your DNA is your destiny. His own research proved that wrong and now he’s a spokesperson for empowering epigenetics!
c. Be intentional about your daily habits. What you eat, drink, think and do are highly consequential. Even one night of poor sleep (e.g. only 6 hours) turns on inflammatory genes.5Loss Of Sleep, Even For A Single Night, Increases Inflammation In The Body, Elsevier. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080902075211.htm
3. Leaky Gut Is the Gateway to Autoimmune Disorders
In 2012 Alessio Fasano, MD and his team published breakthrough research, revealing the third element in the equation necessary for the development and perpetuation of autoimmune disease: the loss of intestinal barrier function, a.k.a., a “leaky gut.” Now we know that three conditions must coexist to bring on and perpetuate most autoimmune disorders:
- A genetic predisposition to autoimmunity
- Inflammatory F.I.G.H.T.S.™ factor(s): Food, Infections, Gut health, Hormone balance, Toxins, and Stress
- Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut)6Tight Junctions, Intestinal Permeability, and Autoimmunity Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes Paradigms; Jeroen Visser, Jan Rozing, Anna Sapone, Karen Lammers, and Alessio Fasano; Ann N Y Acad Sci. PMC 2010 Jun 16.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2886850/
What Can You Do?
a. Determine if you have a leaky gut.
If you have mysterious symptoms or an autoimmune diagnosis, it’s near certain you have a leaky gut too. This is why I’m not advocating getting tested for leaky gut. But, if you’d rather get the data, consider getting a comprehensive stool test. My favorite is Vibrant Wellness’ Gut Zoomer, which includes markers of leaky gut, potential pathogens and other autoimmune triggering microbes, like Candida (yeast) and parasites.
b. Follow a “5R” gut repair program: 1. Remove (“weed”) inflammatory foods and pathogenic organisms. 2. Replace missing digestive enzymes and stomach acid. 3. Reinoculate missing beneficial bacteria with probiotics (“seed”); and “feed” good bacteria with prebiotics (fiber). 4. Repair the gut lining with targeted nutrients like vitamin A, L-glutamine, zinc, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), aloe vera, and essential fatty acids. 5. Rebalance your life with more movement, better sleep & less stress (stress can create or perpetuate a leaky gut!).
c. Follow the autoimmune reversal equation which can be summarized by the simple and effective mantra: Detect. Remove. Repair. For help with all the elements to address read my post, The 6 Keys to Beat Autoimmune.
4. Your Microbiome is Your Secret Weapon
Did you know that about 80% of your immune system is housed in the lining of your gut? A vast collection of diverse microbes called the “microbiome” is housed in your large intestine, aka your colon. The microbiome is central to immune function and gut barrier integrity. Imbalances in our microbial populations -– clinically called “dysbiosis” — caused by diet, overuse of antibiotics, hand sanitizers, and lack of getting our hands dirty, is linked to the explosion of autoimmune disease in the modern world.7Role of the Microbiota in Immunity and inflammation; Yasmine Belkaid and Timothy Hand; Cell. 2014 Mar 27; 157(1): 121–141.; Doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.011; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056765/
What Can You Do?
a. Tend your “inner garden.” To seed your gut garden, eat probiotic foods like sauerkraut, plain, organic coconut yogurt or kefir, and/or kimchi. And take high quality probiotics. To feed your gut garden, eat “prebiotics” (a fancy word for fiber) from a wide variety and rainbow of vegetables and emphasize “prebiotic” (food that feeds “probiotics”) veggies: garlic, onions, artichokes and asparagus. Add 100% grass fed collagen powder to beverages; and make and sip meat or bone broth which contains amino acids, collagen, gelatin and trace minerals.
b. Learn more about the microbiome: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) studies the microbiome to gain a better understanding of its complex relationships with the environment, and how these interactions may contribute to human health and disease.
c. Stay tuned for more research on the promising area of fecal microbial transplants (FMT).8Fecal microbiota transplantation broadening its application beyond intestinal disorders; Xu MQ, et.al.; World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Jan 7;21(1):102-11. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i1.102.: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/255740839Medicine’s Dirty Secret: Fecal Transplants Are the Next Big Thing in Health Care; Byyn Nelson, May 20, 2014, Pacific Standard, http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/medicines-dirty-secret-fecal-transplants-next-big-thing-health-care-81789
5. Functional Medicine Gets to the Root of Autoimmune Conditions
Functional Medicine (FM) is a systems-based, whole-person medicine that seeks to answer the question, WHY do you have xyz condition or symptoms; and then provides solutions that restore balance and function naturally. Where conventional medicine provides medications to treat surface symptoms, Functional Medicine seeks to resolve the symptoms at their roots, thereby reversing disease processes for good.
What Can You Do?
a. Learn the difference between conventional and Functional Medicine in this fun downloadable ILLUSTRATION
b. Learn more about Functional Medicine by checking out the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) website. There you can read: A Clinical Model to Address Chronic Disease and Promote Well-Being
c. Consider working with me (U.S. only — except NY which has strict state laws). As a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach I collaborate with Naturopathic physicians (NDs) who are experts in helping to resolve infections, toxins and hormonal imbalances that underlie autoimmune disorders. The first step is a 30-minute health consultation with me. If you’re committed to living your optimal life, I’m committed to helping you get there.
Here’s hoping you now have greater awareness and actions you can take to beat autoimmune — or ideally, prevent it altogether. What is one takeaway you will put into action right now?
Take good care!
P.S. Want my personal help? If you live the U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom. I collaborate with skilled naturopathic doctors (NDs) who are expert in resolving root causes like hormonal imbalances, gut disorders, chronic infections and toxic burdens which are almost always part of the autoimmune puzzle. Together we provide comprehensive, customized treatment plans, and collaborative, caring support. If you are ready to beat autoimmune and reclaim your best life please book a 30–minute consultation with me to gain clarity, confidence, and explore the possibility of working together. You can do it. We can help.