Managing Autoimmune Disease


Check out this excerpt from an article written by Jodi Friedland, M.S. and Ed Bauman, M.Ed., PhD and take look at what causes autoimmune disease and how diet can affect it.

Conventional medicine tends to view autoimmune illness as the result of an over-stimulated immune system that attacks organs and tissues as if they were foreign invaders. “Immune suppression, the mainstream medical treatment of choice for auto-immune disorders, completely overlooks the upstream cause, toxic overload, and the downstream detoxification deficiency that leads to the immune system’s confusion in distinguishing self from invader,” write Jodi Friedlander, M.S. and Ed Bauman, M.Ed., PhD. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type I diabetes, SLE, Addison’s disease, and Crohn’s disease affect five to eight percent of the U.S. population. It is the third most prevalent type of illness after heart disease and cancer. According to the molecular mimicry hypothesis, amino acid sequencing (peptides) in pathogens and some body tissues are similar enough so that lymphocytes (particularly Th-1 cells from the thymus) attack invader and self. Normally, the body has regulating mechanisms that keep Th-1 and Th-2, which produces an allergic response, in balance. In autoimmune diseases, Th-1 dominate. Th-1 cells emit cytokines that produce inflammation.

While molecular mimicry appears to have a role in disease progression, it does not explain why the immune response becomes so imbalanced in the first place. Genetic variations that affect detoxification processes, sensitivity to specific antigens (e.g., the protein gluten), and/or immune reactivity make some people more prone to autoimmune diseases than others. As with many other diseases, genetics alone do not determine the presence and/or severity of autoimmune disease.

Friedlander and Bauman state that when a body becomes overwhelmed and is unable to eliminate foreign molecules (antigens), the antigens “can form complexes with antibodies and becomes part of our joints nerves, and endocrine tissue.” Agricultural and household chemicals, heavy metals, petrochemicals, prescription drugs, organic solvents, and silica have triggered autoimmune disease in genetically-susceptible people. Stress is another trigger. “High levels of [the stress hormone] cortisol suppress the immune system, “Friedlander and Bauman explain, “by reducing the amount of secretory IgA, the main mucosal antibody responsible for eliminating pathogens from the intestinal tract and in other mucus membranes [e.g., lungs].” With prolonged stress, the adrenals eventually produce less cortisol. Without cortisol to keep IgA in check, IgA reactions will produce inflammation in the GI lining and the lungs. Over time, inflammation will damage the mucosa, producing leaky gut. This increased permeability allows more foreign antigens into the bloodstream, perpetuating the inflammation response. Increased gut permeability is a common factor in autoimmunity. Bacterial imbalance in the GI tract can also promote inflammation that contributes to autoimmune disease, according to research by Tlaskalová-Hogenová et al (Immunology Letters.  May 15, 2004;93(2-3):97-108).

A multi-faceted treatment approach that addresses the many contributors to autoimmune disease is more likely to reduce damage and symptoms than a conventional drug approach. Friedlander and Bauman offer supportive dietary and supplement suggestions in their article “Self Destructive Tendencies: Natural Strategies for Managing Autoimmunity. Avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugar (especially fructose and high fructose corn syrup) is, perhaps, one of the best dietary measures a person can take to stem the inflammatory-autoimmunity cycle. Processed, sugary foods disturb gut bacteria balance and contribute to inflammation. Friedlander and Bauman suggest numerous supplements, herbs, and foods that have anti-inflammatory effects including olive oil (extra virgin), sesame oil, green tea (epigallocatechin), spices and herbs (ginger, turmeric/curcumin, rosemary, oregano). Short fasts using fresh vegetable and fruit juices, vegetable broths, and herbal teas also calm inflammation. People with an autoimmune diagnosis should be supervised by a knowledgeable practitioner during fasting.

Excerpt from, Friedlander J, Bauman E. Self Destructive Tendencies: Natural Strategies for Managing Autoimmunity. Bauman College Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. 2008.