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Leaky Gut Syndrome and Autoimmune Diseases

As hippocrates proclaimed, “all disease begins in the gut” and autoimmune diseases are no exception. One of the most well-known doctors in the field of autoimmune disease, Alessio Fasano MD believes that there is no autoimmune disease without a ‘leaky gut’ and that healing the gut is the first step to reversing autoimmune disease. This article looks at the importance of addressing a ‘leaky gut’ in the case of any autoimmune condition.

The conundrum of autoimmune diseases and the immune system

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system begins to attack the body's own tissues, often resulting in loss of organ function. Many people are unaware that when they are struggling with debilitating symptoms (pain, swelling, loss of organ function), these may be the result of an immune response and the body's way of communicating that something is going on in the body which the immune system is trying to address. Whilst the immune system is responding, it is usually best that the body is allowed to respond as it must (no matter how uncomfortable it may feel). In the meantime, the best way to assist it is with rest, sleep, nutritious food and lots of water.

The problem with the way autoimmune diseases are often treated lies in the belief that the immune system is causing the disease, having gone rogue and attacking its own tissue. Mainstream treatment believes that the immune system must therefore be suppressed. Treatment is symptomatic and ignores the underlying root causes. By suppressing the immune system, although a patient may feel better, the disease is now continuing silently, with the risk that, over time, it will completely destroy a person’s health. In addition, with a suppressed immune system, a person becomes at risk of succumbing to numerous other illnesses.

The link between autoimmune disease and the gut

Over 90% of the immune system resides in the digestive system with about 85% located in the gut wall. The GI tract, which runs from the mouth to the anal canal, has a protective lining which separates what's inside the GI tract from the ‘outside world’. There are tight junctions along the GI tract which remain closed and only open a certain amount and at certain times to allow for the absorption into the bloodstream and movement of digested food molecules into the cells where they are needed. An altered expression of these tight junctions can start to allow undigested food particles, pathogens, and other toxins to start ‘leaking’ into the bloodstream, resulting in an immune response. These undigested proteins and toxins from the gut contaminate tissues in the body, looking for specific proteins to dock onto, thereby contaminating that protein. The immune system tries to clean these tissues and remove the contaminants using inflammation, antibodies, and other tools. This immune activity creates symptoms to let you know it is busy doing a vital function. Decontamination can be going on in more than one organ in the body, resulting in symptoms manifesting in several places at the same time.

To understand better the causes and symptoms associated with a ‘leaky gut’, this article on my website goes into more depth. As long as a gut wall remains permeable and ‘leaky,’ toxins, pathogens and undigested food particles keep making their way into the bloodstream. However, no sooner than the immune system has cleansed and decontaminated affected tissue cells, more contamination occurs. Over time pathogens, toxins and undigested proteins accumulate in tissue so the disease becomes chronic and long-term. Different toxins accumulate in different tissues, producing symptoms in particular organs that correspond to different diagnoses (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis etc.)

Addressing autoimmune disease always starts in the gut

Another attributed cause of autoimmune disease is ‘molecular mimicry’. Again, certain molecules escape the gut into the bloodstream. The immune system identifies these as foreign particles and builds antibodies to fight them. However, in the case of autoimmune disease, the immune system has become hypervigilant and builds antibodies to similar molecular structures, despite these being its own organ tissue structures. A typical example is the gliadin molecule in gluten. Gliadin looks like transglutaminase, an enzyme specifically abundant in the thyroid. In many instances when the body builds antibodies to gliadin, it also does so to transglutaminase. The thyroid gland is under attack whenever gliadin is in the bloodstream. The obvious therapy is to abstain from grains with gluten. Overtime the body will stop making antibodies to gluten and the attack on the thyroid will slow down and hopefully stop altogether.

Giving hope where once there was none

If you are a person suffering from one or more autoimmune diseases, you will most likely have seen a specialist and have a diagnosis. You will also most likely have been prescribed immunosuppressant drugs, steroids, painkillers, and other symptom managing drugs. However, if you consult a Functional Medicine practitioner, they will start to dig a little deeper. When clients with known or suspected autoimmune disease consult me, I always do the tests to identify which foods, bacteria, viruses, chemical toxins, heavy metals etc have triggered an immune response, looking for the antibodies associated with one or more of these. If for example, I have a client diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I would be checking for antibodies to gliadin. If found I would then check to see if there are antibodies to transglutaminase. The bacteria Klebsiella is often implicated in Ankylosing Spondylitis. Cytomegalovirus has been associated with Increased risk of type 1 diabetes, arthritis, lupus, and neurological disorders.

An autoimmune protocol will start by removing the trigger. This article discusses autoimmune protocols in more detail. A person’s diet will be cleaned up, removing inflammatory foods, and increasing nutrient dense foods, healthy fats, phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory foods etc. Addressing ‘leaky gut’ is always an important part of an autoimmune protocol. Read the articles I have already published on my website if you have been diagnosed with, or suspect you have, an autoimmune disease.

Think you might have an Autoimmune condition?

If you are worried that you might have an undiagnosed autoimmune condition and aren't sure about your next step, you can always get in touch to arrange a consultation or a free 30-minute discovery call where we can chat about your concerns and explore your options.

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