Debunking the Inflammation Myth
If there is inflammation, there is something causing it. It’s time to let go of the myth that the immune system creates inflammation for no reason. It is not the result of a “misguided” or “weakened” immune system. These are Santa-Claus-like explanations that have no basis in logic or science. Diseases of inflammation, including most autoimmune disease, always have a root cause that triggers the immune system to act. Suppressing inflammation with herbal or conventional medicine without treating the cause is like clipping the wires to the “Check Engine” light on your car’s dashboard without investigating the cause.
The Link Between All Autoimmune Disorders
Autoimmune disorders tend to start in one area of the body and then proliferate. Conventional medicine views each of these disorders as a separate disease. However, if you look closely, they are almost always caused by the same immune and inflammatory signals. The only difference is that they occur in different tissues which produces different symptoms. It is extremely common for someone diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma to have a history of thyroid disease, Crohn’s disease or even eczema.
Most autoimmune disorders start when there has been a breach of the immune system in other parts of the body like the skin, gums and, most commonly, the digestive system. Over time the inflammatory triggers from this breach spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels similar to the circulatory system of our blood. As children, we have all experienced the mysterious, clear fluid that oozes from a skinned knee or elbow. This is lymph fluid. It moves through its own circulatory system that is separate from the blood. As our blood is filtered through our capillaries, red blood cells are retained. Almost everything else in the blood moves into the lymphatic system where nutrients are delivered to cells, old debris and cellular waste products are broken down, and bacteria and viruses are battled. This is the major site in the body for immune function. If it becomes stagnant or overwhelmed, the immune system cannot function properly. Unlike our circulatory system, the lymphatic system lacks a pump. It only moves when we move. Think about it. Do you feel better and more rested if you lie around all day or if you exercise? Letting the lymphatic system stagnate is like not changing the water in a vase of flowers. In autoimmune disorders, immune activities in the lymphatic vessels cause them become stagnate or blocked. If the body is unable to resolve this, the inflammation from the immune activity backs up into the tissues surrounding the lymph vessels. Sometimes it is so severe that the lymph nodes at the end of that vessel are swollen. Lymphatic stagnation provides one piece of the puzzle for the causes of autoimmune conditions but it is rarely the only factor.
In order to successfully treat these conditions, the area of the original breach must be healed. After that, the affected tissues must be cleared out and rehabilitated. The longer the condition has existed, the longer it takes to clear. Some tissues like muscles and glands have the ability to fully recover. Some tissues, like cartilage and bone, sustain more permanent damage which, as of yet, cannot be reversed. However, hope is not lost. There is a worldwide movement for research in stem cell therapy. With the advances being made I predict that we will have the ability to regenerate most tissues within five years.
The Immune Gut Connection
From over a decade of experience and collaborating with other health care practitioners, I estimate that 80-90% of autoimmune diseases start in the digestive system. The complexity of the digestive system is truly mind-boggling. It contains its own nervous system, its own immune system, its own microbiome and an array of glands and organs. It is the primary site for production and storage of neurotransmitters and is our first line of defense against a constant influx of bacteria, viruses and things that simply don’t belong in a human being. Cumulatively it is referred to as the gut. It allows the Earth to become our body. If the gut isn’t happy and thriving then the body isn’t happy and thriving.
Most autoimmune disorders appear when there is a fairly significant breach of the gut’s immune system. This can happen for two reasons. First, the amount of inflammation generated by the immune system of the gut can begin to spill over into other systems that cannot eliminate it. As a result, inflammatory chemicals overload the lymph system and deposit in area like the thyroid, skin and joints. When hormone levels rise they compete with our body’s detoxification pathways especially the liver. Interestingly, “bad” bacteria in the gut can reverse the detoxification processes of the liver leading to an overload of the entire system.
Another common breach occurs in the immune system of the gut known as the gut associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. The GALT is a part of a larger system that is interconnected through the lymphatic system called the mucosa associated lymphoid tissue (MALT). It is responsible for protecting the body from the constant and enormous influx of antigens (proteins that are recognized as invaders). The GALT initiates immune responses and inflammation against anything that the body deems an invader. Undesirable bacteria, yeast, viruses and many food proteins like lectins from lentils and gliadin from wheat can all act as immune targets that can eventually overwhelm the GALT. As this happens, the inflammatory chemicals and sometimes the antigens themselves begin to overflow or “leak” into other parts of the body. Once there is an overload of inflammation, it often causes more and more inflammation and damage to create a vicious cycle.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
The simplified theory of Leaky Gut Syndrome is that damage occurs to the tight junctions between the cells that line the small and/or large intestines. Normally, these cells act as a filter so that only fully digested nutrients can fit through these junctions. If the tight junctions sustain damage, they can leak fragments of undigested proteins into the blood and lymph where the immune system recognizes them as invaders and then launches an immune attack. In most cases, the immune system attacks these proteins the same way it attacks bacteria. When the immune system launches an attack, cells produce various inflammatory chemicals that help it do its job. As a result, symptoms can be similar to a low-grade bacterial infection. For years, this theory was discounted by conventional medicine as quackery. However, in 2008 a gastroenterologist named Dr. Alessio Fasano was studying the undeniable connection between autoimmune disease and Celiac disease. His research confirmed the existence of “Leaky Gut Syndrome” and demonstrated the penetration of incompletely digested protein fragments into the body’s tissues.
Previous studies dating back over three decades demonstrated that radiolabeled protein fragments from foods like wheat and milk could escape from the gut lumen and be deposited throughout the tissues of the body and even penetrate into the brain.
From over a decade of experience in treating autoimmune disorders and the conditions that cause them, I estimate that Leaky Gut Syndrome causes 80-90% of these cases. Truly healing this condition is complicated and can require several months for complete resolution. However, once the key causes are identified symptoms begin to resolve within weeks. The key factors for treating this condition include the following steps: Identifying and eliminating the original cause of the leakiness, clearing the inflammatory chemicals, repairing the leakiness and clearing any triggers that are still causing immune reactions in the body.
Over the past ten years I have worked with physicians to understand and develop effective ways of treating and reversing leaky gut syndrome. I’ve discovered that it is a very complex condition with multiple possible causes including lack of beneficial bacteria, insufficient production of digestive enzymes, poor circulation to the digestive tissues, food allergies and sensitivities and bacterial and yeast overgrowth.
Autoimmune Disorders and Hormones
It is not unusual for women to develop autoimmune conditions after pregnancy or at the onset of menopause. This is not a coincidence. Hormones are part of a larger family of chemicals known collectively as steroids. Whether they are natural or synthetic, all steroid-based chemicals suppress inflammation. Some are stronger than others. Similar to discontinuing prescription steroids, when our hormone levels drop inflammatory conditions that were already there become noticeable. Remember, inflammation is merely a result of the immune system doing its job. When it has been suppressed and then comes back online, the rebound effect is often profound and overwhelming.
Diet as a Tool
As you can already see, treating autoimmune conditions can be complex and take time. BUT, a huge amount of progress can be achieved simply with dietary changes.
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we relentlessly pursue some magical power outside of ourselves that can finally grant us our wish of exuberant health and longevity. That magic power is already with us. 2.1 billion years of evolution has equipped us with a biochemical pathway that has the power to literally stop excessive inflammation, stop damage to tissues, restore healthy immune functioning, detoxify your tissues and promote healing. This pathway is called the PPAR pathway and it can be finessed back to life using variations of a medical diet known as the ketogenic diet. This diet was originally used to treat epilepsy but has many benefits for autoimmune conditions by helping to change inflammatory signaling in our cells. Although this diet does not generally cure autoimmune disorders, it is a valuable tool in managing the inflammation. There are several books available on this subject to help you get started. Before starting any medical diet, consult your doctor or a qualified medical professional.