Autoimmune conditions have exploded to epidemic proportions over the last few decades, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans. To put that in perspective , there are around 14 million living Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. What was once a rarity is now commonplace.
Autoimmune conditions are showing no signs of stopping. People with one autoimmune condition are also at a greater risk of acquiring another. I see many people with what's called poly-autoimmunity, which means they have multiple autoimmune conditions at the same time.
Today there are close to 100 recognized autoimmune diseases, and an additional 40 disease processes that have an autoimmune component. Autoimmune conditions can effect every system in the body, but two that I see most frequently are:
This condition is very difficult to diagnose, and many people don't know why they are sick. This disease is known for its horrendous gastrointestinal symptoms, but did you know that around 80% of celiacs don't have classic gastrointestinal symptoms? Many celiacs suffer from depression, largely due to a blunting of their serotonin receptors. Ninety-five percent of serotonin is made and stored in the gut, which is also known as the "second brain."
Autoimmune thyroid disease
Research shows that about 90% of thyroid cases are autoimmune in nature, with Hashimoto's disease the most common. Sadly, all low thyroid patients are treated the same, regardless of whether they have true primary hypothyroidism or an autoimmune disease. Everyone is given synthroid or levothyroxin, even if symptoms persist. Your labs will look more normal but if the immunological factors in the majority of thyroid patients are not addressed, it will be a short-lived success at best.
The Autoimmune Perfect Storm
Hopefully by now you realize that these are not just diseases of bad genes. So why is this all happening now? The multifaceted autoimmune puzzle may start with a genetic susceptibility, but we also have to look at three important epigenetic, or environmental factors:
1. Food intolerance
Our food supply has changed drastically in a relatively short period of time. Our genetics haven't adapted to the onslaught of food changes. Our bodies function because of unique, complex biochemistry. The mismatch between our foods' biochemistry and our own has greatly contributed to the rise of the autoimmune disease.
We eat far too many grains, and there's a very strong link between grain and autoimmune conditions. Getting the proper food intolerance diagnostic labs done can be the first step for many to regain their health.
The increase in environmental pollution, vaccinations, fluoridation, food additives, heavy metals, cosmetics and other toxic chemicals have had a negative impact on our collective health, especially with autoimmune conditions. A comprehensive health history and diagnostic testing from a functional medicine practitioner can uncover this often overlooked at factor in autoimmunity.
3. Gut stress
Your gut is home to around 80% of your immune system. It's no surprise that just about every autoimmune condition has a gastrointestinal component. When there's chronic stress or unresolved infections of the gastrointestinal system, it leaves the body susceptible to an autoimmune response. Increased permeability of the gut lining, commonly called leaky gut syndrome, allows undigested food particles and bacteria to circulate throughout the body. This breach of your body's protective system causes your immune system to go in hyperdrive: the autoimmune response. Knowing the level and details of your gut health is a key insight to understanding autoimmune disease.
Making Sense Of It All
In summary, our health and our genetics are being compromised by this onslaught of these epigenetic triggers. The great news is that we are living in the age when the understanding of these diseases is at an all-time high. We can arrest the development of the damage. So what can be done? Stay tuned, because in my next article I'll give you specific tools to reverse autoimmune conditions and regain your health.