Introduction to Autoimmune Disease
Nearly eight percent of the American population suffers from an autoimmune condition; if you don’t count allergic disease as “part of the auto-immune pie.” Allergies are the immune system “gone haywire,” and many functional practitioners do indeed consider allergies and asthma as autoimmune diseases. Twenty-four million Americans—maybe you or a loved one—have diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Psoriasis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and so on. Let’s focus on those 24 million Americans and see if there is a cure, a way to stop the “biologics” or anything that looks promising to call a cure for autoimmune disease.
After reading this article, you’ll have a good understanding of what you need to do to “quiet things down” regarding your autoimmune disease and will know how to handle an autoimmune flare up as well. First, let’s discuss the concept of “cure.”
What is a cure?
If you are asking to eat whatever you want, not exercise or supplement, and live an unhealthy lifestyle, then no, we cannot cure your autoimmune disorder. However, if you are willing to put in the work for a lifetime of relief, then yes. We know how to epigenetically alter your genes which have expressed whatever autoimmune disease you have to suppress them back into silence. We can indeed cure your distressing symptoms.
I’d like to pose a philosophical point of view regarding the concept of a cure for any disease. We know cancer, for instance, is deemed to be cured when someone has not had a recurrence of said cancer for 5 years. However, we know the physiological environment for a repeat cancer or a cancer recurrence is lowered when we eat an anti-inflammatory diet, achieve a normal blood sugar, eliminate oxidative stress and inflammation, achieve a normal weight, have a well-functioning gut and immune system and so on.
Is someone who eats a standard American diet, doesn’t exercise and has chronic inflammation ever really cured of cancer? What about the cancer cells that are made and gobbled up by our immune system daily? We want that “gobbling” to continue, right? Or is it just a matter of time until cancer #2 and then #3 appear? That is my argument about how the traditional medical community treats all diseases. It’s a matter of “diagnose and treat.”
Little thought is given to the root cause of the disease, and it’s a rare traditional practitioner who considers prevention of disease once disease #1 is cured. With that in mind, let me tell you how you can put your autoimmune disease into permanent remission while avoiding “getting” other autoimmune diseases, cancer, and heart disease.
Some diagnostic tests
If you are wondering if you have an autoimmune disease, are in the first stages of a “work-up,” think your doctor is “missing something” or know enough about diagnostic lab services to order your own labs, here is what you need to know. All “work-ups” require basic lab testing such as a complete blood count and complete chemistries. Most autoimmune disorders will elevate the “sed rate” (ESR) and the C-reactive protein (CRP). If you want to “get fancy” (as I like to), check for an IL-6 (Interleukin-6) and a TNF-alpha (Tumor Necrosis Factor- alpha). One or both of these biomarkers are generally up if you have an active AID (autoimmune disorder). This information will help you (or your doctor) decide if these need to be suppressed.
Consider finding out what food sensitivities you have with IgG food-specific testing; done in specialty laboratories. I always tell patients to “hold up” on the potential myriad of dietary triggers that we have identified as being “self” mimickers for autoimmune activity. In other words, contrary to traditional thought, those with autoimmune disease are not making antibodies to “self”; they are making antibodies to food which is mistaken to be “self.” I have you eliminate the most common “bad foods” first, so hold off on this test at the outset. If this article doesn’t help you, and you’re “doing everything right,” it’s usually a food sensitivity so then, re-consider testing. In addition, I recommend testing for celiac disease even if you don’t have gastrointestinal symptoms. A good screening test for this is anti-tTg (IGA) antibodies.
Toxins, Allergens, and Infections
We also have to think about toxins, allergens, and infections. This is where you just might need medical guidance. As you have undoubtedly read in my blog, and blogs ranging from AID experts such as Dr. Myers, Dr. Hyman, Dr. Perlmutter and Dr. Mercola, leaky gut is the root cause of all autoimmune disorders. We can talk about toxins such as mold toxins, dust mites, and heavy metals, but all of these toxins damage the gut.
The same is likely true for allergens and infections such as yeast, helicobacter, and small-bowel bacterial overgrowth. If infections, toxins, and allergens are an issue, then testing is necessary. If you think they are not an issue, then try what I’m suggesting. Please inform your doctor of what you are doing if you are under medical supervision. If she/he hasn’t heard of my methods, show him/her the references. Do not abruptly stop anything. If you’re on a “biologic,” these drugs need to be weaned.
Change your Diet
You need to eliminate the majority of food that causes leaky gut from your diet. If you are eating the standard American diet, quite a few modifications will be necessary. The first thing is to clean out your pantry and make a list of “allowed foods.” If you’re going to follow a nutritional ketosis diet, here is the list. If you are going to follow my anti-inflammatory diet, we need to modify it slightly.
The following items are food you need to avoid. Remove processed and fast foods as well as the foods containing sugar.
Know that gluten (the junk we have in the U.S. at least) is responsible for a lot of bio-mimicry in autoimmune disease. As a result, gluten needs to go.
Avoid “lectins”—foods which have potentially gut-damaging effects. Get rid of grains, beans and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers).
Since dairy and even egg products are the cause of many food sensitivities, hold the dairy and eggs. While you are healing your gut, hold the alcohol and caffeine as well. Wean off the caffeine, so you don’t have a withdrawal headache; Wean by 1/2 cup per day.
If you eat a fair amount of citrus fruit, believe it or not, citrus is a common food sensitivity. Unless testing is an option, avoid the citrus.
If this is too restrictive, do the food testing. I know these are drastic changes but having an autoimmune disease is a drastic change too, isn’t it? Which is worse? I’ll take the diet plan any day—It’s healthier for you and will safeguard you against other diseases while you are putting your autoimmune disease into a permanent remission.
Heal your Gut
Remember, AID starts with a leaky gut. Changing your diet as above is the first step in healing your leaky gut. About 50% of those with leaky gut won’t have GI symptoms, so don’t think that you’re “immune” because you’re not. As someone dealing with this issue (due to mycotoxins and dust mites), followed by Crohn’s disease, I’ll tell you that I’ll eat “keto” and avoid all unhealthy foods forever if it keeps me pain and symptom-free. The real question is: how miserable are you or how much would you like to get off of toxic medications? Motivation is key. I was highly motivated, and now I can share what is proven, what worked for me, my patients and what I believe will work for you, too.
If you would like to know the exact supplements for leaky gut, here is the routine. You’ll have a morning “leaky gut drink,” and take the right probiotics, prebiotics and other supplements outlined for you in the above article. If you follow your diet and this routine, you should expect to have a decently healed gut and therefore see a diminution in your AID symptoms in 8 weeks.
Clear up Infections
If you have had chronic vaginal yeast infections, you may have a cross-over infection in your gut. This might also occur if you have been on birth-control pills or you eat a diet full of sugar. SIBO (small-intestinal-bacterial-overgrowth) occurs when colonic bacteria “backwash” into the usually sterile jejunum. It causes GI symptoms, as does yeast infections, helicobacter infections, and parasites. When in doubt, test, and treat.
Clear out Toxins
Common toxins that routinely “hit the gut” are mycotoxins (from mold) and heavy metals such as mercury.
Having a few amalgam-based fillings isn’t usually “enough” to cause leaky gut. However, a steady diet of canned tuna-fish is actually enough to cause mercury build-up.
Toxins play a critical role if you have difficulty in your sulfation or methylation pathways; something your doctor can test. A high homocysteine, for example, means your methylation pathways need a closer look.
A “new toxin” found to cause leaky gut is the ubiquitous dust mite so make sure to keep your home as dust-free as possible. Please refer to the dust mite articles on this blog for all sorts of neat and natural tricks.
Some practitioners tell patients to remove all amalgam fillings. Yes, all amalgam fillings leech some mercury when you chew or brush your teeth. It would be best to have never gotten the fillings in the first place. However, if you are sick, it’s not the time to start “messing with fillings.” You need to get as symptom-free as possible, make sure your detoxification pathways (methylation and sulfation) are working well, and then find a biological dentist to (very slowly and carefully) remove the fillings.
Control Stress and Lower Cortisol
It’s true that stress is horrible for your health. When we’re talking about autoimmune diseases, we’re looking at the effect a high cortisol can have in the gut and the immune system. A sustained high cortisol can be the principal or even sole reason for having a leaky gut. This is the mechanism of action thought to be why so many bodybuilders (who all have high corts) have leaky gut syndrome.
A sustained high cortisol will also depress your immune system’s function in general. Correcting an over-stimulated immune system due to auto-immune disease is a lot more difficult in the face of an elevated cortisol. If you are “not in the place” where you can consider things like meditation or yoga (which are both great), start with some aromatherapy in the bedroom and “vagal breathing.”
Breathing to stimulate your vagus nerve is easy enough so that all of us Type A’s can do it. Take a deep breath and poof out your belly with the breath. Put your hand on your belly to make sure you’re “poofing.” Hold it for 5 seconds then, exhale. Do it five times. Repeat this five times per day. Review: 5 seconds, 5 breaths, 5 times per day. Easy, right?
TNF-alpha–A Cure for Autoimmune Disease?
Conventional medicine offers us “biologics,” which come with a host of fatal side effects. I’m not saying they don’t work, and I certainly don’t suggest abruptly stopping them if you’re taking Enbrel, Humira or one of the many others which work principally by inhibiting TNF-alpha. Some also inhibit what is called IL-6 but since TNF-alpha is the mainstay of treatment, let’s focus on that now.
If you implement all of the above steps, you will notice your symptoms significantly diminish or even disappear. Unfortunately, you’re not cured; you’re in remission. If you’re on a “biologic” and your doctor is aware of what you’re doing, now is when to ask if you can be weaned.
I’m going to mention a few things here regarding TNF-alpha which prove to be therapeutic but are not implemented in clinical practice (to my knowledge). We know that ketosis will inhibit TNF-alpha. We know that curcumin, resveratrol, PQQ, vitamin D and melatonin will all inhibit TNF-alpha. I eat a nutritional ketosis diet and take all of these supplements and more to keep my Crohn’s in a functional remission. If I were to have an autoimmune flare up I’d recommend what most experts recommend; a 2-3 day “bone broth only” diet. I would then add back really safe foods such as cooked fibrous vegetables and would recommend this regimen plus well-cooked meats for others. However, if I personally have an autoimmune flare up, I will double up on the supplements and even activities (FIR sauna, cold showers, and baths) which prove to be TNF-alpha suppressors.
When there are clinical studies or if I gather enough patients to initiate one on my own; I’ll have data regarding whether or not this is something all functional practitioners should implement for treatment and recurrent symptoms. Let me just say these supplements and activities will not “do the job” if you haven’t done all of the above steps. However, in my opinion, they (and this includes ECGC, DHEA, inositol and Licorice extract) will help you stay in remission.
2018 blog update: There is enough evidence supporting low-dose naltrexone such that I now recommend this as a treatment addition. I’ll do an article about this topic soon.
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