Recent studies show that autoimmune diseases are on the rise in the United States.1,2 So first we need to answer the questions, what is an autoimmune disease, why are these conditions on the rise, and what can we do to prevent or manage them?
An important function of the immune system is to respond to invading microorganisms (viruses, bacteria) by producing antibodies. This is how the immune system protects the body. Under normal conditions, the immune system would not trigger an attack against your own cells. However, in some cases the immune system makes a mistake and invades the cells they are meant to protect. This leads to “autoimmune” diseases, which include more than 100 different conditions in which a person’s immune system attacks his or her own tissue. Here are some examples of autoimmune diseases:
- Allopecia areata
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Dermatitis herpatiformis
- Food sensitivities & allergies
- Grave’s disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Interstitial cystitis
- Meniere’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Restless leg syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
The breakdown or failure of immune tolerance can be a consequence of an unfavorable lifestyle and result not only in autoimmune conditions, but also reactions to food. According to recent research, autoimmunity is on the rise. Here are some possible reasons why.
The Hygiene Hypothesis. This is a theory that suggests that a lack of immune system stimulation in childhood results in health problems such as allergy and asthma. If the environment is “too clean” to immune system may not mature properly or react appropriately when the child’s immune system encounters germs or other environmental substances (pollen, animal dander) later in life. For example, growing up on a farm with exposure to the farm microorganisms can protect such individuals from allergies, hay fever, and asthma. Basically, the hygiene hypothesis suggests that children may be “too protected” from other children and the environment (indoor and outdoor). When this happens they do not develop a normal immune system, leading to autoimmune conditions. Be careful about excessively sanitized environments.
Gut Microbiota Imbalance. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has altered the gut microbiome, communities of beneficial bacteria that support immune health. These diet-induced changes are now suspected to contribute to growing epidemics of chronic illness including obesity and autoimmunity.3 Environmental triggers such as viral infections that alter the microbiome may also play a role in autoimmunity. Reducing processed foods high in fat, salt, and food additives may be a good start to balancing the gut microbiota.
Chemical Residues in Food. When insecticides on plants, fruits, and vegetables get into our bodies, they bind with proteins in a process called “haptenation.” When haptens, such as pesticides, are bound in human tissue, it can trigger the immune system to attack those tissue-bound chemicals, and set the stage for autoimmunity.4
Genetically Modified Foods. Most genetically modified (GM) crops have genes inserted into their DNA, which can add toxins and allergens to food. For example, most GM corn produces a toxin that is linked with allergies and gut damage, leading to immune dysfunction.5 The most common GM crops include soy, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, and alfalfa. These crops, which are used as food for both humans and animals, also contain high residues of glyphosate (weed killer). Glyphosate is classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization6 and can also lead to autoimmunity.7
Other reasons for the increase in autoimmunity include food hybridization (wheat), food additives and colorants, processed salt, emulsifiers, solvents, sugars, and food glue. What is food glue? A substance called microbial transglutaminase is used in a wide variety of food products to hold pieces of food together and improve appearance. When used to glue pieces of meat together, it is called “meat glue.” If a person has intestinal permeability (leaky gut), this substance can create an immune response and produce antibodies. These antibodies can react with human transglutaminases that play a role in some autoimmune diseases.
For prevention and improvement of autoimmune diseases, Sanoviv recommends a whole-food diet that eliminates common immune triggers: gluten, dairy, sugar, and GM foods (foods that cause gut inflammation). Eating organic is important to avoid chemical residues on fruits and vegetables. Radically changing your diet and engaging in moderate exercise can improve the gut microbiome and help manage symptoms. Your Sanoviv stay provides an ideal environment and educational opportunity to help prevent and manage of autoimmune conditions. The treatment you receive at Sanoviv depends on the autoimmune condition you have and we offer many different immune-modulating therapies. Contact the Sanoviv Admissions department to learn how we might treat your specific condition.