Your gut is the foundation of your whole body’s health because 80% of your immune system is located there. Without a healthy gut, you can’t have a healthy immune system. Without a healthy immune system, you’re open to infections, inflammation, and autoimmune disease. It’s the place in your body that interacts with the outside world more than any other, taking in nutrients from food and keeping out bacteria, pathogens, and undigested food. When your gut loses the ability to discriminate between the good and the bad, you have a “leaky gut.”
What is a Leaky Gut?
The gut is naturally permeable to very small molecules in order to absorb nutrients in your food. In fact, regulating intestinal permeability is one of the basic functions of the cells that line the intestinal wall. Diet, toxins, medications, infections, and stress can cause these tight junctions to break apart. Once these tight junctions get broken apart, you have a leaky gut. When your gut is leaky, things like toxins, microbes, undigested food particles, and more can escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream. Your immune system marks these “foreign invaders” as pathogens and attacks them. The constant onslaught of inflammation from your immune system causes a widespread immune response throughout your body.
From Gut Health to Total Health
With our 5 Stage Holistic Appropach to Optimum Health we look at the many ways that seemingly unrelated factors come together to create a state of health, or a state of disease. Even when your symptoms seem like they have nothing to do with your gut because they manifest in other parts of your body, remember that your gut health affects your total health. Healing your gut is an absolute necessary step toward regaining your health. The 5 Stage Holistic Approach to Optimum Health is a plan to prevent and reverse the full spectrum of inflammatory symptoms and diseases.This plan is a step-by-step approach that restores the body to its natural healthy state by eliminating toxic foods, introducing restorative ingredients, repairing the gut and identifying environmental toxins.
Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes
What is Gluten? Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, semolina, spelt, rye, kamut, and barley. It’s what gives bread its sticky, doughy texture, but that’s not the only place you’ll encounter it: gluten is used as a food additive in practically every processed food, from salad dressing to ketchup.You may be wondering how something so mainstream could be harmful to your gut. Wouldn’t we all be sick? Well, unfortunately, it has become mainstream to have a chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, or an autoimmune disease–and the rates are rising. Gluten has been linked to more than 55 diseases, and an estimated 99% of people who have either celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity are never diagnosed.
How does gluten cause leaky gut?
Gluten contributes to a leaky gut which then leads you down the path to autoimmune disease. It prompts your immune system to attack your own tissues, it’s not easily digested, and it contributes to gut imbalances like Candida overgrowth and SIBO. But even more damaging is gluten’s ability to trigger the body to produce zonulin, a protein that can signal the tight junctions between the cells in your intestines to open and stay open.
The problem with grains and legumes
Wheat is not unique. Other grains, pseudograins (like quinoa), and legumes contain similar proteins that contribute to leaky gut in several ways:
The edible portion of these plants is the seed, which contains the embryo. In order to pass on its genes, a plant produces its own chemicals to repel pests and prevent digestion. These chemicals can be very damaging to someone with an autoimmune disease. Lectins are plant proteins that bind to carbohydrates. The two types of lectins in particular that are known to cause a problem in humans are agglutinins and prolamins.
Agglutinins function as a natural insecticide and can be an aggravating factor in autoimmune disease. The effects of lectins within our bodies can be subtle and hard to recognize, but some agglutinins are incredibly dangerous. Ricin, a lectin in castor beans, is fatally toxic, even in very small amounts. This is why genetically modified organism (GMO) grains are especially harmful to those with autoimmunity. They have been engineered to produce more of their natural insecticides–the very chemicals that are so inflammatory! Because of this, if you do choose to include grains in your diet, I’d recommend going for non-GMO , organic, soaked and sprouted.
Prolamins are necessary proteins for seed growth, and therefore they are not easily digested. Gluten is a prolamin, and most grains contain a prolamin similar in structure to gluten. In a process called cross-reactivity, those prolamins can cause a similar immune response in those who are sensitive to gluten. Phytates and phytic acid inhibit digestion and binds to certain minerals (specifically zinc, iron, and calcium) which are vital for our immune system to function properly, preventing their absorption. GMO grains contain an even greater concentration of phytic acid. Saponins called “glycoalkaloids,” found in very high levels in pseudograins and legumes, are also a natural insecticide produced by these plants. Once they escape your gut lining (which is easy to do if you have a leaky gut!), they enter the bloodstream and destroy red blood cells.
Other foods to Eliminate
I also recommend that those with autoimmune diseases avoid vegetables in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. These plants are very high in lectins that damage the gut lining, easily enter the bloodstream, and do not break down in cooking. Just as a seed (plant embryo) protects itself naturally with chemical defenses, so do other embryos, like eggs. Just like a seed, eggs contain a protective enzyme. The enzyme, called lysozyme, is inflammatory to people with autoimmune conditions. While you’re going through the 30-day program , there will be many foods you will avoid temporarily and then add back in. Grains, pseudograins, legumes, and a few other foods will probably need to stay out of your diet for good, as so many people with autoimmunity are extremely sensitive to them. Gluten is an absolute “no no,” I don’t recommend that anyone add gluten back into their diet.
Tame the Toxins
For many people, 80% of healing occurs while simultaneously addressing stage 1 and stage 2. If you haven’t seen full reversal of your symptoms, we need to dig deeper. Stage 3 is all about addressing and reducing your exposure to toxins. Toxins are a serious issue for all of us and especially those with autoimmunity and other chronic illnesses.
What is a “toxin”?
A toxin is a poison–any substance that’s dangerous to the human body. That includes things you know are a problem such as heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium, industrial chemicals and pollutants, and pesticides. But it can also include common products you may not think of as being toxic, such as home cleaning products, body products, and even makeup. Then there is a category many have never even heard of –mycotoxins (the volatile-organic compounds released by certain types of mold).
How do toxins get into your body?
You might be thinking you aren’t exposed to many toxins because you live a very “clean” lifestyle. In reality, you are exposed to thousands of toxins every day, even if you don’t live in a polluted area or work in an industrial job. They’re found in the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, and in the cosmetics, cleaning products, and cookware you use every day–and in fact our government has approved them and said they are safe. As of right now, about 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the US, and every year about 1,700 more are quickly approved in less than a month and with little to no testing. Government leaves it up to the company itself to do the testing and tell us it’s safe. And if a product is made up of five ingredients they test each one separately for safety–not all five together. And yes, these chemicals do wind up inside your body. So how do these toxins end up in our bodies? We breathe them in through the air, we eat and drink them, and our skin absorbs them.
1) We breathe them in: People spend an estimated 90% of their time indoors. Considering that indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, it’s no surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top 5 environmental risks to public health. Of course, there’s pollution outside your home too, and toxins can easily build up in your body when you are constantly breathing them in.
2) We eat and drink them: A conventional diet is full of pesticide-treated produce and animals who have been given artificial growth hormones and antibiotics. The National Research Council claims that, in children especially, dietary intake of pesticides accounts for most pesticide exposure. Since more than half of your body is comprised of water, the quality of your water is tied directly to your health. Heavy metals, chemicals from plastic, and other pollutants can get into your body through your drinking water, or through your skin when you bathe. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) discovered in a 3-year study that 85% of the population in the US consumes water with about 316 contaminants, most of which are completely unregulated.
3) We absorb them through our skin: Your skin is your largest organ and your main barrier to the outside world. Substances ranging from the beneficial to the bad come into contact with your skin and can be absorbed into your bloodstream. That includes the chemicals in soap, makeup, lotions, and cleaning products, and even heavy metals and pollutants in water. The average person uses 10-15 personal care products per day, each with 125 different ingredients, and many of these chemicals are approved for use by the FDA with little or no safety testing. It may seem like just a little exposure here–to pesticides when you eat conventionally grown produce–or a little exposure there–to mercury in your dental fillings. But each exposure adds to your body’s toxic burden. Think of your body like a cup, and toxins like drops of water: if your cup is already full because you have a leaky gut, a poor diet, infections, and stress, those small, cumulative toxic exposures cause that cup to overflow. When it does, you’re pushed down the autoimmune spectrum into full-fledged autoimmune disease.
Toxic Triggers: How Toxins Cause Autoimmunity
The effects of toxins on our bodies is complex. After all, there are thousands of chemicals out there, and we’re just beginning to understand how they work on the body–not to mention, how they work in conjunction with one another. What we do know is that a heavy toxic burden puts you at greater risk for developing an autoimmune disease, and there are a few theories as to why. One thought is that certain toxins, especially heavy metals, physically damage your tissues. Your immune system no longer recognizes these damaged cells as part of your own body, and attacks them, thinking they’re foreign invaders.
Another theory is that the damage inflicted by toxins elicits an inflammatory response from the immune system. The constant assault of chronic exposure puts the immune system on high alert. It begins attacking everything–including your own tissues. All of this may seem overwhelming, but there is a solution. My goal is to give you enough information so you are informed and want to take action. I don’t want you to feel hopeless and paralyzed, because there’s so much you can do. Yes, you will always be exposed to toxins in your environment, but you can use these prevention and detoxification strategies to lighten your toxic burden, and help get your immune system back on track.
The best thing you can do to lighten your toxic burden is to prevent the toxins from getting into your system in the first place. You may not have control over everything, but you do have control over your own home. I myself focus my efforts on keeping my own home environment as clean as possible: I eat only organic food , use only organic skin care and organic cleaning products and I use nontoxic cookware and storage containers.
If your home is toxin-free, you’ll have a little bit more leeway when you go out into the environment. Here are four ways to make your home as toxin-free as possible:
1) Clean Your Air : Mercury can be found in the air near coal burning plants, so to avoid breathing in mercury and increasing your risk for thyroid disease, I recommend using products such as organic inddoor plants (Aloe Vera & Ivy), HEPA filter and salt lamps in your home and office.
2) Clean Your Water: Thanks to pollution and runoff, mercury, perchlorate, and nitrates can all be found in the water supply, and the EPA’s regulated levels for each are either unreasonably high or, in the case of perchlorate, nonexistent. To protect your water I recommend installing a 6 Stage Reverse osmosis water filters on all of your taps and chlorine filters on all showerheads. Remember, chemicals are absorbed through the skin much faster and at a much higher level.
3) Eat Organic: Eating organic food will significantly reduce your risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, you can never 100% eliminate your risk of mercury and perchlorate contamination because even certified organic farming practices don’t account for public water sources being contaminated through runoff. But, if you use all of these strategies in conjunction, then the trace amounts that might get passed on through your organic food is not likely to have a large effect on you. To further reduce your risk of mercury exposure, it is best to avoid eating fish that are particularly high in mercury, such as tuna, and instead stick with fish with lower levels of mercury, such as salmon. To reduce your nitrate exposure, purchases nitrate-free cured and processed meat products, or avoid them altogether.
4) Use organic Cosmetics: Some foreign-produced skin lightening cosmetics, including products that claim to lighten age spots and freckles, were found to have dangerous levels of mercury by the Food and Drug Administration. Although American-made products have more stringent regulations, they can still be full of harmful chemicals, many of which mimic hormones in your body and disrupt the endocrine system. The Environmental Working Group put together a helpful Dirty Dozen list of chemicals that impact the endocrine system, as well as Skin Deep®, a tool that ranks the risk level of cosmetic products and each of their component ingredients.
5) Know Your SNP Status: SNPs, pronounced “snips” and short for single-nucleotide polymorphisms, are genetic mutations that can affect all sorts of processes in your body. Three of these mutations in particular, two in the MTHFR gene and one in the GSTM1 gene, reduce your ability to detox heavy metals like mercury, so you need to take extra care to avoid exposure and use supplements to support your body’s detoxification process. You can test for these mutations through a regular lab or a 23andMe at-home test kit.
6) Examine Your Mouth: Most dentists use amalgam fillings, which contain mercury and emit mercury vapor that can leach into your bloodstream. If you have amalgam fillings I recommend seeing a biological holistic dentist to discuss the impact it might be having on your health and your options for having them replaced.
7) Support Your Detox Pathways: To reduce your existing toxic burden it is important to support your liver, where most of your body’s detoxification takes place. Eating a diet rich in nutrients will support your liver, as well as drinking liver supportive and nurturing herbal tonics and teas such as dandelion root, licorice root , medicinal mushrooms and milk thistle. You can also use supplements for additional detox support, such as glutathione (your body’s natural detoxifier), or a methylation support supplement to aid in heavy metal detoxification if you have an MTHFR mutation.
Prevention is key, because once you do have toxins in your body, you need to get them out. Your body is constantly working to excrete toxins on its own, and those of us with autoimmune diseases often have a harder time detoxing than others. A key part of our 5 Step Approach is supporting your body’s own natural detoxification. Drink lots of water, and do something that will make you sweat. One of my favorite strategies is to use an infrared sauna to help detoxify. Infrared saunas are especially useful for those who are limited in their ability to exercise.
Most of your detoxing is done through your liver, so the goal is to support your liver during this process. The nutrients you’ll be eating while on The 5 Step Approach will help your liver mobilize the toxins that are in your tissues. Your body’s biggest detoxifier is glutathione. For comprehensive detox support, I highly recommend Consuming sulfur-rich foods, The main ones in the diet are garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc). Sulfer rich foods are a rich diet source of Glutathione, you can also supplimemnt with N-Acetyl-Cysteine (the precursor to glutathione), Vitamin C (including bioflavonoids), and Liver Support to strengthen your liver’s detoxification mechanisms. Using this supplement regiment in conjunction with drinking plenty of water and using exercise or an infrared sauna to help sweat out the toxins, will allow you to clear your body of toxins without causing further damage.
Heal Your Infections and Relieve Your Stress
Autoimmunity and Infections
Herpes simplex (HSV): This is the virus that gives you cold sores and/or genital herpes. It’s very common: about 90% of Americans have one or both types of HSV, although they might not show symptoms.
Epstein-Barr (EBV): EBV is the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis. 95% of all US adults contract this virus by age 40. You’ve likely had mono at some point, even if you don’t remember, because it’s often misdiagnosed as the flu or strep throat.
EBV is the infection that has been studied the most extensively in connection with autoimmune disease, and it has been strongly correlated with multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), lupus, fibromyalgia, Graves’ disease, and Sjögren’s syndrome. 70% of healthy children test positive for EBV–in children with lupus, the rate of EBV infection is closer to 99%. 100% of people with MS test positive for EBV.
Whether or not you have an autoimmune disease, it’s very likely you’ll test positive for one or both of these infections. What’s more is that if you have an autoimmune disease, you will have a higher “viral load,” or a higher level of the virus in your blood, making it more likely that the infection will be retriggered. Several bacterial infections are also associated with autoimmunity. Yersinia is associated with autoimmune thyroid conditions, and Klebsiella infections have been implicated in rheumatoid arthritis.
How Do Infections Cause Autoimmunity?
Viruses like EBV and HSV don’t leave your system. When your immune system is healthy, it keeps the viruses in check, but when it is suppressed by stress or illness, the infection can become active once again. Once the virus is active, the inflammatory immune response damages tissue, which then causes more inflammation and a bigger response from the immune system. Autoimmune disease develops from that chronic state of inflammation.
The Stress Connection
Stress can be emotional, mental, or physical; it can come from physical injury, sleep deprivation, exposure to toxins, leaky gut, or eating a diet full of inflammatory foods. The relationship between stress and infections is complex. I want to highlight a few points here to help you understand the effect of stress on the body.
How the Body Responds to Stress
Stress isn’t just a feeling. It’s an actual release of hormones that your body produces when it’s met with a challenge. The number one stress hormone is cortisol. Think of the hormone cortisol like a chemical messenger. When you’re in a stressful situation, cortisol tells your immune system to gear up for a challenge. Your immune system responds by producing inflammation, and then cortisol signals your immune system to calm down when the danger has passed. This system works really well when you encounter acute stress that happens suddenly and then passes. But too many of us are dealing with chronic stress: constant sleep deprivation, poor diets, long hours at work, problems in our relationships, the list goes on and on. When you have constant stressors in your life, your immune system never really gets to turn off. Your inflammatory immune response is activated for too long and eventually goes rogue, attacking your own bodily tissues. Pretty soon, your stress hormones try to suppress the response but go overboard, leaving you with a weakened immune system. Simultaneously, your body is inflamed and you are vulnerable to infections, including latent infections like EBV and HSV that never left your body in the first place. Each time these viruses are activated–when you have symptoms of mono or an outbreak of HSV–they replicate and damage more of your cells. This begins a vicious cycle where the infection becomes active, it destroys tissue and provokes an even greater immune response, your body releases cortisol to calm it down, which triggers more infection, and so on.
Heal Your Infections, and Relieve Your Stress
Addressing your infections and relieving your stress are necessary steps to get your immune system back to proper functioning:
Support your immune system with our 5 Step Holistic Approach to Optimum Health. A healthy immune system is your best defense against a reactivation of latent infections. Decrease your viral load. Although infections like EBV and HSV don’t leave your body, you can take certain supplements to decrease your body’s viral load. This will make reactivation less likely. The two supplements I recommend are monolaurin and humic acid. Before supplimentation I always suggest the natural way first, Pure coconut oil contains about 50 percent lauric acid, and is the most abundant natural source of lauric acid available. When lauric acid is present in the body, it is converted into monolaurin, a monoglyceride compound which exhibits antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal and antifungal properties.
Adopt daily stress-relieving strategies. Our bodies were designed to handle acute stress. It may stress you out to sit in a long meeting, or to have an unpleasant phone call with an ex-spouse, but try to leave that behind you once you’ve left the situation. Let go of the stress once the challenge has been overcome, and allow your immune system to calm down. It does take practice, but it makes a big difference!
Addressing your stress is just as big a part of your recovery from autoimmune disease as the first three pillars. For many, it’s the missing piece of the puzzle when they’ve done everything else right, but still aren’t seeing full resolution of their symptoms.
3 Reasons to Eat Organic If You Have an Autoimmune Disease
Do you know how many toxins are lurking in your fruits, on your veggies, and in that chicken breast? If they aren’t 100% Certified organic, then you really have no idea. The reality is that toxic chemicals are virtually unavoidable in non-organic food. Modern conventional farming practices are now built around the widespread use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and the liberal use of antibiotics and growth hormones, the majority of which have not been adequately tested for safety. In fact, a Pew Research Center report found that 80% of the chemical additives found in food lack the research needed to determine how much a person can safely ingest without negative consequences.
The cumulative impact of daily exposure to these toxins increases your risk of developing an autoimmune disease, and can cause your condition to progress if you’ve already been diagnosed. Here we’ll look at three reasons organic food is healthier for you, particularly if you have an autoimmune disease or inflammatory condition.
Although exposure to any toxins should be minimized in order to reduce your risk of developing an autoimmune disease, pesticides are especially risky because they have been directly linked with autoimmune disease.
In one 2007 study, 300,000 death certificates over a 14-year period showed that farmers who were exposed to pesticides while working with crops were more likely to die from a systemic autoimmune disease. Recent research has even linked household pesticides with an increased risk for developing autoimmune diseases, including Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus. It’s important to note that many of the pesticides used in conventional farming are systemic, meaning they become an integral part of the plant and its products, and cannot be washed off. An apple that has been grown in a pesticide-filled orchard, for example, has integrated the pesticides into that sweet white part that tastes so good, so washing it won’t wash off the pesticides.
American livestock is regularly injected with engineered growth hormones, designed to increase animal size, get animals large enough for slaughter faster, and ramp up milk production. These growth hormones may increase insulin-like growth factor, elevated levels of which have been associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate, and other cancers. Besides growth hormones, cows, chicken, and pigs are also routinely give courses of antibiotics, both because they are highly susceptible to infection from living in such crowded and dirty conditions, and because regular doses of antibiotics cause animals to grow faster. The frequent use of antibiotics in livestock helps breed antibiotic-resistant “supergerms” that our immune systems have a very difficult time fighting. These super bugs can be particularly dangerous in those who are immunosuppressed, as many people taking medications for autoimmune disease are.
A recent study proved that organic foods are richer in nutrients and antioxidants and lower in heavy metals, especially cadmium, and pesticides. Other studies suggest that good soil nutrition increases the production of cancer-fighting compounds, called flavonoids, and that conventional farming practices like pesticide and herbicide use disturb their production.
Nutritional support during the leaky gut diet
The emphasis of the leaky gut diet is on reducing intestinal inflammation and repairing the intestinal membranes. The literature shows a variety of botanicals and nutritional compounds restore and maintain the intestinal lining. They support tissue during intestinal inflammation or discomfort, help regulate the enteric nervous system and motility, and support the secretion of digestive enzymes. These nutrients can be taken therapeutically for anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the severity of the gut permeability. The time each person should be on a gut-repair diet and protocol depends on the individual and his or her circumstances. There isn’t a time period set in stone; it depends on when you start to see symptoms diminish and disappear. A person with severe issues may need to adapt it for months or longer.
How to Prevent Autoimmune Thyroid Caused by Leaky Gut and Molecular Mimicry
Although a gluten-heavy diet and leaky gut can set you on a dangerous path towards autoimmune thyroid disease, their negative effects can be diminished and even reversed by implementing the first two steps in our Optimum Health Plan at Life Change Health Institute. In Step I, I recommend a simple approach to repairing the gut that allows the junctions of your small intestine to close back up, replenishes your good gut bacteria, and strengthens your gut’s immune system. During this stage I recommend taking an L-glutamine supplement to strengthen your mucosal cells and heal your leaky gut. Your can also support your gut with a wide range of fermented foods and probiotics , which heals the digestive tract and reduces inflammation. In Step 2, you will remove gluten to prevent further intestinal damage, inflammation, and cross-reactivity with your thyroid, but you will also remove grains and legumes, which are cross-reactive with gluten and can pose many of the same health risks.
The Infection- Leaky Gut Connection
Viral and Bacterial Infections Trigger Autoimmune Disease, No one knows exactly how infections trigger autoimmune diseases, but because our immune systems are so complicated and each infection is unique, it’s likely that there are multiple factors involved. Recent research has identified three leading theories that, when combined, explain the various links between infections and autoimmune disease.
Molecular Mimicry: We covered this above in relation to gluten and the thyroid, and the same principal applies to infections. Essentially, the infection is so structurally similar to your thyroid tissues that your immune system goes to attack the infection and accidentally attacks your thyroid–this is basically a case of mistaken identity.
Bystander Activation: In this situation, a bacteria or virus invades your thyroid gland, and your immune system kicks in and sends immune cells to your thyroid to kill the infection. While these cells are attacking the bacteria or virus, it accidentally injures some of the surrounding thyroid tissue, creating inflammation. The inflammation signals more immune cells to the thyroid where they attack the thyroid gland.
Cryptic Antigens : You can think of this as the “hijacking theory” where an infection (usually a virus) hijacks your thyroid cells’ DNA to hide from your immune system. Your immune system is smart enough to detect the virus anyway, and attacks the virus and the thyroid cells it’s hiding in.
Five Infections Linked to Autoimmune Disease & Leaky Gut
The whole herpes family is believed to be linked to autoimmune disease, but the herpes simplex type 1 and type 2 viruses (the ones that cause oral and genital herpes) have been studied most thoroughly in relation to autoimmunity. Like the rest of the viruses in the herpes family, the simplex viruses remain in your body for life once you’ve been infected. They’re not always active, but when they are it is theorized that they can trigger an autoimmune response in your thyroid via the hijacking effect or bystander activation. Stress can actually trigger the viruses’ transition from latent to active because your stress hormones suppress your immune system and viruses have evolved to activate in response to them (we will cover the connection between stress and the thyroid next week).
Epstein-Barr is the virus that causes mononucleosis and is part of the herpes family. Even if you weren’t teased in school for coming down with “the kissing disease,” you were very likely infected with it, since 95% of U.S. adults have picked it up by age 40, and it can present without any symptoms. Epstein-Barr has been linked to both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease (I had mono as a teenager and it, along with my diet, toxin exposure, and stress likely contributed to my development of Graves’ disease). It has also been linked to other autoimmune diseases, most notably multiple sclerosis and lupus, but also chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Sjögren’s.
Yersinia enterocolitica is a bacterium that is typically transmitted via undercooked pork, contaminated water, meat, or milk and causes symptoms similar to food poisoning. Most people overcome Yersinia infections on their own, but in some cases the bacteria takes up residence in the gut lining, continuing to multiply. Yersinia’s amino acid sequence is so similar to that of your thyroid receptors that your antibodies for it attack the thyroid as well, due to the molecular mimicry phenomenon. By measuring Yersinia antibodies in thyroid patients, researchers have linked the bacteria to both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease.
Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver and affects nearly three million Americans, many of whom do not know they are infected because 70-80% of people with Hepatitis C don’t experience any symptoms. Studies have found higher rates of autoimmune thyroid disease in chronic untreated Hepatitis C patients, indicating that the active form of the virus can cause an autoimmune reaction in the thyroid. Unfortunately, rates are also elevated among Hepatitis C patients who have received treatment because the primary treatment for Hepatitis C is a type of interferon (interferons are antivirals and immune regulators) that research has shown is an environmental trigger for autoimmune thyroid disease.
Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is a bacteria that causes ulcers by attacking the stomach lining, allowing your stomach acid to seep in and eat away at your gut lining. Like many of the infections on this list, H. pylori is very common, but most people are asymptomatic and never realize they’ve been infected. In a study comparing H. pylori infection rates among groups of autoimmune and thyroid patients, 86% of autoimmune thyroid patients tested positive for H. pylori, compared to 40% of non-autoimmune thyroid patients, and 45% of non-thyroid autoimmune patients.
How to Treat Your Infections to Prevent Autoimmune Disease
The first step in preventing one of these infections from triggering autoimmune thyroid disease is to know your risk factors, so if you suspect you have one of the infections listed above, you should get tested. Herpes, Epstein-Barr, and Hepatitis C can all be found in blood tests through a regular lab, Yersinia is detected in a stool test, and H. pylori is identified using a breath test, stool test, or blood test (although the blood test will only tell you if you’ve had H. Pylori, not if it’s still active). If you test positive for any of the infections, you’ll want to treat the underlying bacterial or viral infection while also supporting your immune system using our 5 Step Holistic Approach to Optimum Health.
Treating Viral Infections
If you have one of the viral infections associated with thyroid disease (herpes, Epstein-Barr, or Hepatitis C), I recommend treating it with coconut oil and humic acid. Coconut oil is high in medium chain fatty acids and has been shown to act as a natural antiviral by enveloping infected cells and destroying their cell walls. Humic acid is very helpful for latent infections because once the virus reactivates it prevents the newly created viruses from entering your cells and reproducing, reducing your viral load over time.
Weakened Gut Barrier
As part of suppressing your immune system, cortisol weakens your immune system’s primary barriers – the blood-brain barrier, lungs, and gut barrier. A weakened gut barrier leads to leaky gut, which sets you on the path toward autoimmune disease and releases gluten and dairy (among other things) into your bloodstream, both of which can trigger attacks on your thyroid via molecular mimicry.
How to Best Test for Adrenal Fatigue
As you can see, your adrenal function plays a huge role in the effectiveness of your thyroid hormones, and it is very important to determine if adrenal stress is an underlying cause of your thyroid problems so that you can treat them side by side. In fact, many patients with adrenal-related thyroid problems who are put on thyroid medication without adrenal support initially get worse, experiencing a racing heart or shaking hands as their body is forced into overdrive from the sudden rush of thyroid hormones. Conventional doctors typically rely on a blood test to measure cortisol levels, but since your stress hormone levels fluctuate significantly throughout the day, the one-time test does not provide very nuanced results. Instead, I prefer an at-home saliva test, or, for a basic gauge of your adrenal stress, you can use our Nutrition & Lifestyle Test.
How to Reduce Stress and Support Your Adrenals
The best way to support your adrenals and accompanying thyroid problems long-term is to learn to manage your stress. Realistically speaking, there will probably always be stress in your life, but learning the tools and routines to leave a stressful situation behind you after it’s over instead of carrying it around with you will dramatically reduce the physical effects of chronic stress.
Here are a few of my favorite tools for reducing stress:
There are also a number of supplements that I’ve found very helpful for healing the adrenals and reducing stress.
Adaptogenic Herbs: These are incredibly helpful in treating adrenal fatigue because they help boost stress hormones when they are low and lower them when they are high. Herbs such as Licorice root, medicinal mushrroms, ginseng, rhiodiola and other chinese tonic herbs are a fantastic support.
DHEA: Dehydroepiandrosteron (DHEA) is one of the most abundant hormones produced by the adrenal glands, and is converted to androgens and estrogens that affect multiple metabolic processes. Your body’s natural DHEA production peaks around age 25 and then steadily declines. It is tested for in the stress hormone saliva test, and in people whose levels are low, it has been shown to increase emotional well-being and immune function.
5-HTP: L-5-hydroxytryptophan is a natural alternative to tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that regulates mood, well-being, sleep, and appetite.
Zen: This supplement contains a blend of seven nutrients (including 5-HTP) that promote the activity of serotonin and GABA, an important neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining calm in your brain and nervous system. Zen works to improve mood and support feelings of calm, satiety, and satisfaction.
Happy gut, happy brain
How does it work? The brain and the gut communicate via gut-brain axis, a mode of bidirectional signaling between the digestive tract and the nervous system. There are several central mechanisms by which gut bacteria can communicate with the brain. First, imbalances in gut bacteria can trigger inflammation by increasing the permeability of the intestinal lining, which allows toxins to seep into the bloodstream. Research has linked pro-inflammatory markers (cytokines) and increased intestinal permeability with anxiety and depression. Secondly, bacteria can produce neurotransmitters, which are carried through the blood to the brain. Bacteria can also stimulate specific nerves in the gut that then transmit information to the brain, Bercik said. Fortunately, you can support gut health (and therefore mental health) by eating a diet that’s rich in probiotics — the “friendly” gut bacteria that support digestion and a balanced microbiome, and are known to boost immune and neurological function.
Further Reading on Gut Health & Immunity