Autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks or mistakes healthy organs and tissue in the body. In other words, the immune system can no longer tell the difference between healthy tissue and harmful substances such as bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. But why does this happen? To understand, we must take a closer look at the primary drivers of autoimmune illness.
First and most importantly we have to understand that chronic inflammation and autoimmune processes activate each other.
This means that any driver of inflammation is going to have the added affect of potentially igniting a flare in the autoimmune process.
What Drives Chronic Inflammation?
There are three main factors:
3. Changes in immune function
Inflammation and stress drive each other:
Prolonged stress leads to high levels of cortisol. This alters cortisol's effectiveness to regulate inflammation, because our body tissues become less sensitive to cortisol, and so there becomes an imbalance between inflammation and anti-inflammation.
However, inflammation also activates stress hormone production, which perpetuates this cycle.
Dysbiosis and chronic inflammation also drive each other:
Dysbiosis is a driver of chronic inflammation - when the balance of friendly and unfriendly bacteria in the gut microbiome is off, the cells that line the gut produce NF-κB (a pro-inflammatory immune mediator).
However, inflammation creates a dysregulation of the immune response that allows dysbiosis to flourish.
Changes In Immune Function
As stated above, inflammation and autoimmune processes drive each other:
Their co-activation is driven by several factors, but at the centre of this is NF-κB that drives inflammation processes, and STAT-3 (controls inflammation and immunity) that drives tissue destruction of the autoimmune process, which are closely linked to each other as co-activators.
So in clinic, as we assess the client's immunological mechanisms, we may see a set of cascades from:
...Fundamental immunological dysfunctions...
The Last Piece of the Puzzle
The last piece of the puzzle is the way that a variety of other factors can drive inflammatory activation, and in so doing, drive the resonance between inflammation and autoimmunity:
Blood sugar dysregulation
Food and environmental sensitivities
And a variety of other factors
These can all drive inflammation activation and in doing so, drive the autoimmune process. This is why all these factors are part of the questioning process of the Comprehensive Health Assessment consultation in Nutritional Therapy, so we can find out what is driving flares in your autoimmune process.
So now you have an understanding of what drives autoimmunity, what can you do to prevent the cascade and improve your health? Each person is individual, so recommendations will vary, but here are some ideas:
Consume an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean style diet with lots of lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, herbs, spices, wholegrains, and fruits.
Manage stress levels - take breaks during your day to move, get in nature, practice mindfulness.
Optimise sleep - this includes improving both quality of sleep and quantity.
Targeted supplementation of nutraceuticals e.g. adaptogens, curcumin, resveratrol, sulforapane, vitamin D, A and E, EPA and DHA.
Saunas and cold water therapy
Trauma work, EMDR, psychotherapy
Hi I'm Molly, I'm a UK-based Nutritional Therapist (DipION, mBANT, CNHC) and Self-Compassion Coach (MSc) serving my community in Harpenden and online. Here in my little online home, you'll discover the benefits of nutritional therapy and complementary therapies for autoimmune disease and chronic illness.
Want to understand more about nutrition for autoimmune diseases? Download my free recipe book and discover 12 Nutritionist-Certified Recipes to Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Autoimmunity & Chronic Illness.
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