Want To Prevent Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease? Here's Where To Start
In the last four years of my private practice as an integrative medicine doctor, I have personally witnessed the rise of autoimmune conditions. It perplexed me to see so many young people being diagnosed with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, psoriasis, celiac disease, and more! How is it possible that this younger generation has more of these problems than my older patients? I asked myself that question frequently, and it wasn’t until I started digging in deeper that I learned how closely connected gut health is to autoimmunity.
Autoimmune disease is on the rise in a major way.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 23.5 million Americans suffer from a form of autoimmune disease, but some think that number is actually closer to 50 million. There are at least 80 to 100 different diagnosable autoimmune diseases worldwide, and more are being studied and diagnosed every single day.
What's causing this steep rise? The rise of autoimmune-related diseases can be attributed to a lot of factors, including the use of pesticides, toxins in our air and water, overuse of medications, chronic viral infections, mold exposure, chronic stress, and genetics—but the most important factor in the standard American diet (SAD). High in fast foods, carbohydrates, and genetically modified ingredients and low in fiber, vegetables, and antioxidants, the SAD isn't doing us any favors when it comes to our weight, inflammation levels, or the health of our gut. And according to ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, inflammation always starts in the gut. In turn, autoimmune diseases start with inflammation.
The gut is also known as our second brain, comprised of numerous microbiota regulating and protecting the mucosal lining. When there is an imbalance, also known as dysbiosis, studies show1 this increases inflammation in the body and predisposes2 the body to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis3, celiac disease, lupus, type 2 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis—just to name a few. When the permeability of the gut lining has been altered, this allows toxins, bacteria, and foreign substances like food and antigens to enter the blood stream, causing something called "leaky gut."
When this repeatedly occurs over time, excessive toxin overload triggers an initiation of autoimmune disease. The ratio of microbiota is important as well as the type of bacteria residing in the gut, as some are beneficial and others are harmful. Beneficial gut bacteria act as a protective lining to the gut mucosa that keeps foreign substances from entering4 when they shouldn't. When there is a change in the composition of the amount of good bacteria versus pathogenic bad bacteria, this affects the immune regulation of the gut, making it harder2 to fight off infections and easier to develop5 an autoimmune condition.
How to deal with your gut to prevent inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Knowing all this, it won't come as a surprise to learn it's important to start with a healthy diet that will help heal the gut when dealing with an autoimmune disease or chronic inflammation. Eliminating foods that cause inflammation or trigger allergies or food sensitivities is also of the utmost importance. Ensure you're getting adequate levels of prebiotic foods and the probiotics found in miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and yogurts. Another great way to support gut health is to incorporate bone broth into your diet; the lysine, glycine, and collagen in bone broth all help repair the gut lining, which will improve the immune system over time.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.