“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 you now have enough information to help yourself reverse and prevent autoimmune conditions.
Here are the top 5 advances that continue to help me keep MS and other potential autoimmune disorders at bay:
1. Environmental Factors Are The Lion’s Share of the Equation
There is now consensus that only a fraction of the risk for developing an autoimmune disorder is genetic, whereas the lion’s share — maybe 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 certain vaccines can trigger autoimmune disease 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 6 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 environmental triggers
The “gold standard” amongst holistic and functional medicine practitioners is the 30-day elimination-provocation diet, I call a 30-Day Food Vacation. Remove the top allergens: gluten, grains, sugar, dairy, eggs, legumes (beans, soy, and peanuts are legumes), tree nuts, coffee, alcohol, and, if you have aches and pains, nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplants, peppers, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder) for 30 days, or until your symptoms disappear, which might be 60 or 90 days. For help dialing in your ideal foods, download the free Optimal Food Guide ebook.
b. Remove your triggers
Reduce your toxic load. 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 our Manifesto for Healing Autoimmune Conditions for a wholistic approach to nourishing your mind-body-spirit. You might want to print it out and put it on your fridge or bathroom mirror for beautiful daily reminders.
2. Epigenetics Puts You in the Driver’s Seat
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. The implications for your life and offspring are profound. Change your thoughts, your food and your lifestyle and you chart a new course, whether or not you have the genes for autoimmune or any other disease.
What Can You Do?
c. Be intentional about your daily habits. What you eat, drink, think and do are highly consequential. Even one nights of poor sleep 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 and his team published their breakthrough research findings, 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 co-exist to bring on most autoimmune disorders:
- A genetic predisposition to autoimmunity
- Exposure to inflammatory environmental 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. If you’d rather get the data consider getting Diagnostic Solutions’ GI MAP™ comprehensive stool test which includes pathogens, potential autoimmune triggering microbes, and a zonulin add-on, a marker of leaky gut and a potentially leaky brain.
b. Follow a “5R” gut repair program: 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. 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.
c. Follow the autoimmune reversal equation which can be summarized by the simple and effective mantra: Detect. Remove. Repair.
4. Cyrex Laboratories Focuses on Autoimmune Prevention
In 2011, Cyrex Laboratories opened its doors to a world eager for early autoimmune detection. They offer several useful “arrays” of antibody testing to evaluate gluten and cross-reactive food sensitivities, common environmental toxins, leaky gut and autoimmune susceptibility.
Elevated numbers of antibodies, known as “predictive antibodies,” are measurable up to ten years before clinical onset of autoimmune disease. Note that testing positive for antibodies associated with autoimmune disorders on Cyrex Array #5 does not equal a diagnosis or even likelihood that you will necessarily develop that disease in the future. Getting the data on your environmental triggers and the health of your gut empowers you to take the right action to prevent and reverse autoimmune conditions as early as possible.
What Can You Do?
a. Consider Functional Medicine testing to get the data on your personal root causes. Modern lab testing includes comprehensive stool tests, tick-borne infections, mold and mycotoxins, and delayed food sensitivities.
b. Work with a root cause practitioner As a Functional Medicine Health Coach I collaborate with a skilled Naturopath to serve clients as efficiently and effectively as possible with the right testing and custom treatment protocols. If you’re ready to reclaim your health and you want my personal help, the starting point is a 30-min Discovery & Strategy Session. During this session, we will discuss your health situation and your goals. By the end of the call, you will have more clarity for best next steps. If we agree that my 1:1 support is a fit, I will apply the cost of this session towards one of my Functional Medicine Autoimmune Reversal coaching packages. If you’re ready to take control of your health and your life, I’d love to work with you!
5. Your Microbiome May Matter Most
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 our gastrointestinal tracts. The microbiome is central to immune function and gut barrier integrity, and is the star of recent health news. 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 to your “inner garden.” Do a comprehensive stool test to screen for yeast overgrowth, parasites, or dysbiosis (imbalance of gut bacteria), and use herbal antimicrobials as needed. Eat a variety of greens and emphasize “prebiotic” (food that feeds “probiotics”) veggies: garlic, onions, artichokes and asparagus. Take high quality probiotics. Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and coconut kefir; add collagen powder to beverages; and make and sip meat or bone broth which contains amino acids, collagen, gelatin and trace minerals.
b. Follow the Human Food Project, a collaborative quest to understand modern disease relative to our ancestral microbes.
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
Here’s hoping you now have greater awareness and actions you can take to put autoimmune in reverse — or ideally prevent it altogether.
Want more help? I wrote Beat Autoimmune, The 6 Keys to Reverse Your Condition and Reclaim Your Health to help people just like you, who are seeking complete healing and optimal health. I am honored that Mark Hyman, MD, Functional Medicine pioneer and thirteen-time New York Times Bestselling author, wrote the foreword.
Take good care!