The complicated relationship between food, the gut, and auto-immune diseases


It is highly likely that you or someone you know suffers from an autoimmune disease. The National Institutes of Health revealed that an estimated 23.5 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease, characterized by “tissue damage and loss of function due to an immune response that is directed against specific organs.”

Some of the most common autoimmune illnesses include Hashimoto’s, Grave’s disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, and Fibromyalgia. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 78 percent of autoimmune conditions affect women. Although the prevalence in women is unclear, “women are known to respond to infection, vaccination, and trauma with increased antibody production and a more T helper (Th)2-predominant immune response.”

A 2014 study published at the National Center for Biotechnology Information indicated that the presence of autoimmune diseases has increased rapidly since the 1940s. The researchers hypothesize that much of this increase is due to the heightened use of chemicals, preservatives and pesticides in agricultural and food manufacturing settings. Other factors that have influenced the development of these diseases include genetic predisposition and the gut.

“All autoimmune diseases are rooted in the gut.”

What does the gut have to do with autoimmune diseases?
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published the study “Emerging Concepts on the Gut Microbiome and Multiple Sclerosis,” which explored the complex relationship between gut bacteria and certain autoimmune disorders. The researchers wrote that when the good and bad gut flora get out of balance it leads to increased intestinal permeability, known as leaky gut syndrome.

This occurs when the  cells of the gut wall are damaged and weakened, allowing proteins and bacteria to “leak” through into the blood stream.  This triggers an immune response and subsequent inflammation.  Some of these undigested proteins mimic our body’s own proteins/tissues, and the immune system mistakenly starts attacking the body’s healthy cells, leading to autoimmunity and systemic inflammation.

While leaky gut syndrome is more popularly linked to gut-related illnesses such as colitis and inflammatory bowel disease, more research is supporting the health of the gut is also related to asthma, psoriasis, eczema, autism, depression, and autoimmune diseases.

The complicated relationship between food, the gut and autoimmune diseases
Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician and “father of modern medicine” famously stated “All disease begins in the gut.”  Genetic predisposition, chronic stress (emotional and physical), a poor diet high in refined sugars and highly processed foods, antibiotics, alcohol, drugs, etc. impact the bacterial environment within the gut as well as the gut wall and the immune system. 

According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, has stated that when there is a deficiency in beneficial bacteria in the gut, it directly impacts the efficiency of the immune cells doing their jobs. For example, bifidobacteria plays an important role in the synthesis of the immune cells called lymphocytes, which are responsible for protecting the body from foreign invaders.

Limiting or temporarily eliminating certain foods known to increase intestinal permeability and substituting with nutrient-dense whole foods provides the gut lining with necessary nutrients to heal and seal while also giving the digestive system a break. Zonulin is an inflammatory protein identified to increase intestinal permeability. Gliadin, a protein found in gluten and wheat, has been shown to increase zonulin production.

The protein casein found in cow’s milk has also been linked to harming the gut and exacerbating autoimmune symptoms. A diet high in refined sugar negatively impacts the digestive system, causes systemic inflammation, and alters the delicate bacterial balance along the GI tract, feeding opportunistic bacteria such as candida as well as pathogenic microbes.

The GAPS diet avoids processed foods, refined sugars and oils, thickeners, grains and certain kinds of legumes. By avoiding specific carbohydrates, known as disaccharides and polysaccharides, the cells lining the gut wall known as enterocytes, have a chance to heal. Dr. Campbell-McBride also recommends adding supplements and foods rich in probiotics to correct gut flora, which may help ease symptoms of harmful autoimmune disorders.

For additional information about the GAPS Diet and how to get started, you can consult with a Certified GAPS Practitioner and visit our website today!

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