8 Autoimmune-Inflammation Systems We Need To Talk About More
It's no secret: America has an autoimmune health problem with an estimated 50 million people diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.
This level of autoimmune inflammation does not happen overnight. In fact, it's the end stage of the larger autoimmune inflammation spectrum.
Inflammation is an insidious problem, starting small and manifesting itself into "common" symptoms like weight gain and fatigue, before destroying enough of your body to warrant a full-blown diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, my focus is on recognizing the symptoms of chronic inflammation and addressing the causes before a patient reaches that late-stage level of destruction.
I believe that it's important for us to recognize the areas of our bodies where inflammation can manifest. And because everyone's biochemistry is different, you aren't always going to have inflammation in the same spot as someone else. In my book The Inflammation Spectrum, I dive deep into the autoimmune-inflammation spectrum, how you can identify inflammation in your body, and what you can do to win the battle against inflammation through food and other wellness tools. But for now, let's take a look at the areas that I recommend monitoring for inflammation and possible autoimmunity:
The brain and nervous system.
If you are struggling with brain fog, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, depression, and memory issues, inflammation could be to blame. Long-term brain inflammation may be a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia1 as well as autoimmune disease or other neurological conditions like Parkinson's2. The culprit? A leaky blood-brain barrier.
This condition is often linked to leaky gut syndrome, where the tight junctions that seal off both your digestive system and brain have become compromised. This can let bacterial endotoxins into places they shouldn't be, triggering an autoimmune-inflammatory response in your brain.
The digestive system.
I find that almost everyone experiencing chronic health issues has some degree of gut inflammation, resulting in digestive dysfunction. The most common issues I see are constipation, diarrhea, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), bloating, and acid reflux.
Digestive issues that go on for too long can lead to leaky gut syndrome that further perpetuates inflammation that triggers problems like Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)3, or autoimmune gastritis.
The detoxification system.
Your liver, lymphatic system, kidneys, and gallbladder are largely responsible for detoxification as well as processing and removing toxins like alcohol, pesticides, mold mycotoxins, and the waste products of your own metabolism. If your detoxification system is impaired by inflammation, toxins can build up in your body further perpetuating inflammation and causing swelling, rashes, pain, and damage to your organs.
Blood sugar and the insulin system.
Your blood sugar and insulin system are governed by your liver and pancreas, as well as your cellular insulin receptor sites. When inflammation hits this system, you can experience unstable blood sugar4 and an excess of insulin, which can eventually lead to metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, or Type 2 diabetes5.
Uncontrolled hunger and thirst, sudden weight gain, weight loss resistance, and high fasting blood sugar numbers are all symptoms of out-of-control inflammation in this area.
The endocrine system.
This system consists of the brain's communication with the glands that produce hormones. Inflammation can hit anywhere in this system, affecting the hormones of the thyroid, adrenal glands, and sex glands (testes or ovaries), causing a wide range of diverse symptoms. Hormones control so many aspects of your health, so inflammation in this area can contribute to anything from thinning hair to dry skin, weak nails, anxiety, mood swings, irregular menstruation, or low sex drive.
The musculoskeletal system.
Your musculoskeletal system is made up of your muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Inflammation in this system can cause joint pain, muscle pain, joint stiffness, fibromyalgia (a condition related to autoimmunity), achiness, and more.
The immune system.
Your immune system is the governing system over inflammation. Autoimmunity happens when your immune system overreacts, causing a cascade of inflammation that attacks the organs, tissues, and structures of the body. Every one of these above systems can be affected by autoimmunity with your symptoms being the first signs of that autoimmune-inflammation spectrum at play.
Rarely does inflammation occur in just one area of your body. Oftentimes, inflammation spreads to multiple systems of your body and can result in symptoms in various areas or even autoimmune conditions.
Needless to say, inflammation is something we need to stay on top of for the sake of our health. If left unchecked for too long, it can manifest in uncomfortable symptoms and lead us down a path to autoimmunity. Once you identify inflammation in the body, you can begin to take steps to manage it.
If you suspect that inflammation is a problem for you, check out The Inflammation Spectrum quiz to determine where inflammation might be affecting your wellness. If you are ready to overcome inflammation once and for all but don't know where to start, my telehealth functional medicine clinic can help you determine the best tools for your individual health case so you can reclaim the vibrant health that you deserve. By utilizing the most advanced diagnostic testing, we can uncover the root cause of your health problems and customize care plans that help you overcome autoimmune problems, naturally.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian,The Inflammation Spectrum, and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.