Our approach to helping people with autoimmunity
Over the past 50 years, there has been a significant increase in the incidence and rates of autoimmune diseases. This rise cannot be solely attributed to improved diagnostic capabilities but rather indicates a genuine increase in affected individuals.
Approximately 10% of the global population is impacted by autoimmune diseases, which is a substantial number. It is highly likely that you personally know someone who is affected by some form of autoimmune disease.
While autoimmunity is often considered to have a genetic component, research suggests that genetics only account for approximately 30% of cases. This indicates that the majority of autoimmune diseases are influenced by other factors such as environmental factors, dietary choices, infections, and imbalances in the gut.
What does that tell you?
- If your diet or environment is contributing to your illness, it implies that there are actionable steps you can take to address it.
The human body is not adequately equipped to handle the increasingly toxic environment we live in. While our world rapidly evolves, our genes do not evolve at the same pace. When a genetic predisposition to autoimmunity is combined with factors such as poor gut health due to excessive antibiotic use, inadequate nutrition, and a lack of plant-based foods, it creates an ideal environment for the development of autoimmune diseases.
Recognizing the impact of diet and environment on our health provides an opportunity for intervention. By making conscious choices to improve our diet, minimize exposure to toxins, and prioritize gut health, we can potentially mitigate the risk of autoimmune diseases and support overall well-being.
WHAT IS AUTOIMMUNITY?
- Autoimmunity is a condition characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells in the body.
Our immune system's primary role is to protect us against pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites that pose a threat to our health. Additionally, it helps clear unhealthy cells and aids in repairing damage caused to the body during injuries.
However, when our immune system malfunctions, it begins to attack our own cells and tissues, leading to damage. As this damage accumulates, symptoms develop, and the affected body functions may be compromised.
There are more than 80 different conditions identified as falling under the umbrella of autoimmunity. Moreover, numerous other conditions are believed to have a chronic inflammatory component, indicating the wide range of disorders associated with immune system dysfunction.
Inflammatory conditions include:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
Chronic pain syndromes
Some examples of autoimmune conditions include:
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
System Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis
Pernicious Anaemia (B12 deficiency)
Type 1 Diabetes
Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)
Mixed connective tissue disease
WHAT CAUSES AUTOIMMUNITY?
We now know that multiple factors are involved in the development of autoimmune disease. Most cases will share the following 3 factors:
Autoimmunity or immune dysfunction often runs in families, indicating a genetic component to the malfunctioning of the immune system. While you may not necessarily develop the exact same autoimmune conditions as your parents, aunts, or uncles, there is a hereditary influence on the tendency for your immune system to become dysregulated.
A condition known as "leaky gut" or intestinal permeability can contribute to autoimmunity. However, it is important to note that not everyone with autoimmunity has leaky gut. Some individuals may experience a compromised blood-brain barrier, referred to as a "leaky brain," or a compromised lung barrier, known as "leaky lungs."
One (or More) Triggers
Addressing the triggers and underlying factors of autoimmune conditions is crucial for effective management. Factors such as viral infections, inflammatory food proteins, trauma, stress, and sleep deprivation can contribute to the development or worsening of autoimmune conditions. Tailored treatment plans that address these specific triggers and individual circumstances are essential for managing autoimmune conditions effectively.
WHAT IS LEAKY GUT?
Leaky gut refers to a condition where the intestinal barrier becomes compromised, allowing substances to leak into the bloodstream that would normally be restricted. This can trigger immune responses and potentially contribute to autoimmune reactions.
In certain cases, similar disruptions in barrier function can occur in other parts of the body, such as the blood-brain barrier or lung barrier. These disruptions can lead to the passage of substances that may trigger immune reactions and contribute to the development or exacerbation of autoimmune conditions.
It's important to recognise that while leaky gut is commonly associated with autoimmunity, other types of barrier dysfunction may also play a role in specific cases.
A FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE APPROACH
Whilst conventional treatments for autoimmune diseases often focus on managing symptoms or suppressing the immune system, functional medicine offers a holistic approach that aims to address the underlying causes and restore balance to the body.
Although there is no one set protocol for autoimmunity, our key strategies for supporting our clients with an autoimmune disease and their overall well-being include or more of the following:
IDENTIFYING TRIGGER(S) AND ROOT CAUSE(S)
We aim to uncover the root causes and triggers of autoimmune diseases, which can vary from person to person. This may involve a comprehensive evaluation of factors such as genetic predisposition, environmental toxins, chronic infections, dietary factors, stress, and gut health. Identifying and addressing these underlying triggers is essential for long-term management.
IMPROVING GUT HEALTH
The health of the gut plays a critical role in autoimmune diseases. Our approach emphasises on restoring gut health by addressing dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiome), intestinal permeability (leaky gut), and optimising digestion and nutrient absorption. This may involve dietary modifications, targeted supplementation, and lifestyle changes to support a healthy gut environment.
BALANCING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The immune system is at the core of autoimmune diseases, so restoring balance is crucial. We aim to modulate and regulate the immune response rather than suppress it completely. This may involve targeted interventions, such as dietary modifications, specific supplements, stress management techniques, and lifestyle modifications tailored to individual needs.
ADDRESSING NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES AND IMBALANCES
Autoimmune diseases can be associated with nutrient deficiencies and imbalances. We may assess individual nutrient status and optimise nutritional intake through personalised dietary recommendations and targeted supplementation. This includes key nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and micronutrients necessary for immune regulation and overall health.
Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of autoimmune diseases. We aim to to reduce inflammation by identifying and addressing its sources. This may involve dietary modifications to reduce pro-inflammatory foods, lifestyle changes to manage stress and improve sleep, and the use of targeted anti-inflammatory nutrients or botanicals.
Toxic burden and impaired detoxification pathways can contribute to autoimmune diseases. We may focus on supporting the body's detoxification processes through dietary interventions, targeted supplementation, and lifestyle modifications. This helps reduce the toxic load on the body and supports overall immune function.