top of page

The Toxic Load Theory and Autoimmune Disease (Why Nutrition is Important)

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

In order to support the body's path back to wellness, it is essential to reduce the overall burden on the immune system.

Figure 1

My last blog post was all about the Functional Medicine Approach to autoimmune disease; this approach uses the Functional Medicine Matrix to weave together seemingly random and unrelated events and symptoms, into a complete story to help gain a comprehensive perspective of your history and subsequently your chronic disease. In other words, we map out the "foot prints in the sand" that have lead to where you are today.

Largely, these foot prints are factors that are adding to something called your Toxic Load. Consider this: the body has a threshold, above which symptoms occur. This threshold is not fixed, can differ person to person based on genetics, and can be lowered by stress, infection and general factors such as lack of sleep.

It may take months or years to reach the threshold, and the effects are cumulative as the body interacts with these factors. Once the threshold is reached, health declines and symptoms are produced, and this is what we call the Toxic Load Theory.

Figure 2

The Toxic Load Theory can be likened to a scale as in Figure 1, or a bucket as in Figure 2, where the ‘load’ of external and internal factors impact upon a person’s threshold of well-being.

The greater the toxic load, the lower the threshold of a person’s immune system and the greater the likelihood of chronic and acute reactions. There’s is no ‘normal’ threshold, as everybody reacts differently, and we are all under a different range of environmental, physiological, emotional and spiritual stresses.

Examples of loads include:

  • Chronic stress

  • Poor nutrition

  • Food sensitivities

  • Pesticides

  • Surgeries

  • Drug use and medications

  • Indoor and outdoor air pollution

  • Environmental toxins

  • Mold

  • Chemicals in perfume and beauty/skincare

  • Pathogens, infections, and dysbiosis

To put this into perspective, if a highly stressed person, who has dysbiosis, food sensitivities, and compromised liver function, experiences factors like pesticides, chemicals, and regular NSAID use, then the threshold is swiftly reached and symptoms produced.

However if (together with reducing their overall toxic load) a person learns how to manage stress, rebalances their gut microbiome, supports liver function, and engages with healthy lifestyle behaviours, despite encountering occasional toxic items, their threshold may not be reached.

The quality of your diet is one of the most important factors in supporting your body's ability to cope with it's overall toxic load; through digestion and assimilation, the food we eat become nutrients that support essential bodily processes such as detoxification and immune function.

For more information on how we can support the body's ability to cope with it's toxic load, read my blog post The Detoxification Myth.

Next Steps

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.

Or if you feel ready to get started on your journey back to health, you can book your free call to find out if Nutritional Therapy is the right step for you:


bottom of page