How Not To Have An Autoimmune Condition

Autoimmune conditions are becoming increasingly common. Estimates vary, but it appears that at least 8-9% of the population in North America and Western Europe have one of these conditions, with The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association estimating that it’s even higher at 14% of the population.

The 200 or so autoimmune diseases that afflict modern people are conditions that involve an abnormal immune response directed against one or more organs of the body. If the misguided attack is against the thyroid gland, it can result in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. If it is directed against pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin, it can result in type 1 diabetes or latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA). If it involves tissue encasing joints (synovium) like the fingers or wrists, it can result in rheumatoid arthritis. It if involves the liver, it can result in autoimmune hepatitis, and so on. Nearly every organ of the body can be the target of such a misguided immune response.

While it requires a genetic predisposition towards autoimmunity that we have no control over (e.g., the HLA-B27 gene for ankylosing spondylitis), there are numerous environmental triggers of these diseases that we can do something about. Identifying and correcting these factors stacks the odds in your favor of reducing autoimmune inflammation, swelling, pain, organ dysfunction, and can even reverse an autoimmune condition altogether.

Among the most important factors to correct in order to minimize or reverse autoimmunity are:

Wheat and grain elimination

If you are reading this, you likely already know that the gliadin protein of wheat and related proteins in other grains (especially the secalin of rye, the hordein of barley, zein of corn, perhaps the avenin of oats) initiate the intestinal “leakiness” that begins the autoimmune process, an effect that occurs in over 90% of people who consume wheat and grains. The flood of foreign peptides/proteins, bacterial lipopolysaccharide, and grain proteins themselves cause immune responses to be launched against these foreign factors. If, for instance, an autoimmune response is triggered against wheat gliadin, the same antibodies can be aimed at the synapsin protein of the central nervous system/brain, resulting in dementia or cerebellar ataxia (destruction of the cerebellum resulting in incoordination and loss of bladder and bowel control). Wheat and grain elimination is by far the most important item on this list to reverse autoimmunity.

Correct vitamin D deficiency

It is clear that, across a spectrum of autoimmune diseases, vitamin D deficiency serves a permissive, not necessarily causative, role in allowing an autoimmune process to proceed. It is clear, for instance, that autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes in children, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are more common in those with low vitamin D status, much less common in those with higher vitamin D levels. For this and other reasons, I aim to achieve a blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml, a level that usually requires around 4000-8000 units per day of D3 (cholecalciferol) in gelcap or liquid form (never tablet due to poor or erratic absorption). In view of the serious nature of autoimmune diseases, it is well worth tracking occasional blood levels.

Supplement omega-3 fatty acids

While omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, from fish oil have proven only modestly helpful by themselves, when cast onto the background of wheat/grain elimination and vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids compound anti-inflammatory benefits, such as those exerted via cyclooxygenase-2. This requires a daily EPA + DHA dose of around 3600 mg per day, divided in two. Don’t confuse EPA and DHA omega-3s with linolenic acid, another form of omega-3 obtained from meats, flaxseed, chia, and walnuts that does not not yield the same benefits. Nor can you use krill oil with its relatively trivial content of omega-3s.

Eliminate dairy

This is true in North America and most of Western Europe, less true in New Zealand and Australia. Autoimmunity can be triggered by the casein beta A1 form of casein widely expressed in dairy products, but not by casein beta A2 and other forms. Because it is so prevalent in North America and Western Europe, the most confident way to avoid this immunogenic form of casein is to avoid dairy altogether. You might be able to consume cheese, given the fermentation process that alters proteins and sugar, but that has not been fully explored.

Cultivate healthy bowel flora

People with autoimmune conditions have massively screwed up bowel flora with reduced species diversity and dominance of unhealthy species. We restore a healthier anti-inflammatory panel of bacterial species by “seeding” the colon with high-potency probiotics, then nourishing them with prebiotic fibers/resistant starches, a collection of strategies summarized in the Cureality Digestive Health discussions. People sometimes view bowel flora management as optional, just “fluff”–it is anything but. Properly managing bowel flora can be a make-it-or-break-it advantage; don’t neglect it.

There you go: a basic list to get started on if your interest is to begin a process of unraveling the processes of autoimmunity. In some conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and polymyalgia rheumatica, full recovery is possible. In other conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and the pancreatic beta cell destruction leading to type 1 diabetes, reversing the autoimmune inflammation does not restore organ function: hypothyroidism results after thyroiditis quiets down and type 1 diabetes and need for insulin persists after pancreatic beta cell damage. But note that the most powerful risk factor for an autoimmune disease is another autoimmune disease–this is why so many people have more than one autoimmune condition. People with Hashimoto’s, for instance, can develop rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis. So the above menu is still worth following even if you cannot hope for full organ recovery

Drowning in a Sea of "Endocrine Disrupter Toxins"

In my previous post I spoke about the close connection between gut health and thyroid health. Of course, as someone who lives with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis I have a keen interest in anything related to the thyroid.

Just today, I came across an article revealing the 100 most-prescribed drugs in America and was stunned at what drug topped the list with more than 23 million prescriptions in 2013 – levothyroxine – the most commonly prescribed drug for treating hypothyroidism (but not necessarily the best in my opinion).

Some observers have warned about a pending epidemic of thyroid disorders. I believe the revelation of a thyroid drug as the most prescribed drug in America suggests that this epidemic is already a “fait accompli” (that’s French for the more colloquial expression “it’s a done deal!”).

I also believe it is due, in part, to the grim observations of experts like Dr. Davis who warn that we are literally “swimming in a sea” of endocrine disruptors, toxins that disrupt our hormonal glands such as the thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries, and testes. I would go farther to say we are drowning in that sea. Here are just a few examples of how ubiquitous and pervasive these toxins are.

Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic containers has gotten a lot of bad press recently yet it still considered by the FDA to be safe in certain applications even though it has been shown to disrupt the sex glands and bind to thyroid receptors.

Triclosan is commonly used in hand-sanitizers and similar applications. Triclosan is known to decrease circulating levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4).

Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) is common used to make flame retardant clothing. PBDEs have been shown to disrupt both estrogen and thyroid hormones. The effects of PBDE exposure both in utero and shortly after birth can persist into adulthood.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in Teflon coated pots and pans and even microwave popcorn bags has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population. PFOA has implicated as both a carcinogen as well as an endocrine disruptor associated with thyroid disruption.

With all these “thyro-toxins” floating about it might not seem you like have a fighting chance to achieve thyroid health. But, the first step is to educate yourself - then take action. It is the essential sequence in what I call “Informed, Self-directed, Healthcare” (ISH).

Now that you have a better understanding of how to navigate the “thryo-toxin minefield” there are also positive steps you can take to stack the odds in favor of a healthy thyroid. If you participate in the Cureality program make certain to check out the Thyroid Health Track for a powerful list of proactive steps you can take.

Chris K. (aka HeartHawk)
Cureality Member Advocate

Source: IMS National Prescription Audit, IMS Health.

Thyroid and the gut: Hidden health partners

Though I have personally dealt with both auto-immune thyroiditis (Hashomoto’s) and several gut issues (wheat sensitivity, gastritis, etc.), it was not until recently that I discovered how close the thyroid and gut work together to keep you healthy – and how problems with one can affect the other along with your overall health.
Most of us understand that the primary function of the gut, that 25 to 30 feet of “tubing” that includes everything from your stomach to your large intestines, is to process the food we eat and allow the “good stuff” (essential nutrients) to pass into our blood stream while keeping the “bad stuff” (harmful proteins) out. However, it may surprise some that the gut also holds as much as 70% of all the immune tissue in the body.
Now, imagine all the health havoc that could ensue if, suddenly, the gut stopped doing its job – particularly if it failed to stop toxic proteins from entering the blood stream and then mounted an overzealous immune response against them.  Sometimes, those overzealous immune responses reach beyond their intended targets to attack otherwise healthy tissues and organs – like the thyroid gland.
Recent studies indicate that thyroid hormones play a significant role in maintaining gut integrity, preventing leaky gut that can, in some cases, lead to auto-immune attacks against the thyroid.  A properly functioning gut also aids the production of thyroid hormones by converting some of the inactive “T4” thyroid hormone into the functional “T3” hormone.  Failure to simultaneously maintain both a healthy gut and a healthy thyroid can create a vicious cycle leading to chronic health problems and declining vitality.
What it all means is that to enjoy optimal health, you must promote good thyroid health to promote good gut health and vice versa.  Unfortunately, traditional medicine tends to focus on one issue to the exclusion of others.  A typical endocrinologist may treat your under active thyroid without spending a moment to address underlying gut issues.  A gastroenterologist will work alleviate a gut problem but will rarely address a potential thyroid problem.
This illustrates, once again, how our bodies work as a system and why it is necessary to bridge the “healthcare gaps” in traditional medicine by becoming personally responsible for your health.  I encourage everyone to consult the Cureality Program Guide and online Cureality Diet and Thyroid Health Tracks to learn more about how to optimize both your gut and thyroid health on your journey to realizing complete, whole-body health.