When it comes to Autoimmune Disease, understanding leaky gut – and nutrient deficiencies – is very important.
One reason why there are so many different symptoms of autoimmune disease, is that once you have leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, damaged cells in your intestines don’t produce the enzymes needed for proper digestion, and your body can’t absorb essential nutrients, which can often lead to hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system.
In many cases, leaky gut is caused by your diet, but leaky gut can also be caused by medications, including antibiotics, antacids, steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and acetaminophen, which can irritate the intestinal lining (the cheesecloth) and damage protective mucus layers. This irritation can start an autoimmune mechanism, or fuel an already existing problem.
To explain further, intestinal permeability is the space between two cells which allows certain molecules such as water and nutrients to pass through. This space closes to prevent toxic molecules from entering.
This can become a problem when the permeability increases, which is often seen in people with autoimmune diseases. When the permeability increases, the openings increase, allowing undigested food to filter through. The immune system then attacks these food particles which can lead to symptoms in the form of autoimmune diseases.
Getting the right nutrients can make a huge difference.
Perhaps one of the most important factors in controlling our health comes down to having the right ingredients. Just like you need to have the right ingredients when making a cake, our bodies need the proper ingredients to heal and be healthy. Our bodies come equipped with an innate capacity to heal. If you scrape your knee or get a paper cut, your body innately knows how to heal the wound, and eventually, it will disappear. Our bodies are very intelligent in healing but need the right tools to do so.
Nutrient deficiencies can come from simply not eating enough nutrient-rich foods, which is why a proper diet is extremely important. But they can also come from poor digestion. If you are not able to digest and absorb the nutrients from your food, it doesn’t matter how well you are eating. In order to have a good nutrient status, you need to not only consume the right foods but ensure that your gut is healthy and processing things appropriately.
Vitamin D is arguably the most important vitamin (also considered a prohormone) for immune system balance. Most people are deficient and do not get enough vitamin D from their diet or lifestyle to help support the very important role it plays when it comes to health.
Nutrient Therapy for General Support (Multivitamin/Multimineral)
In a perfect world, a multivitamin would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, in today’s modern society the majority of us are lacking sufficient intake of various necessary nutrients. Taking a good-quality multivitamin ensures that you are satisfying your vitamin and mineral requirements daily. It is crucially important when you have lupus or any disease process to ensure that your body has everything it needs to function optimally. Two important factors to consider are Vitamin D and Fish Oil.
It is recommended that lupus patients, especially, avoid sunlight, as many tend to have photosensitivity, and sunlight can flare up symptoms. This is a problem though, because our greatest source of D3 is from the sun, and D3 is potentially one of the most important nutrients for regulating your immune system. Most people with chronic conditions and inflammation, especially autoimmune patients, are low in vitamin D, probably because the body demands more during times of inflammation and immune upregulation. Supplementing with vitamin D is necessary for autoimmune patients and specifically in lupus as many people are forced to avoid the sun. (And remember, vitamin D needs vitamin K for absorption.)
Fish oil contains essential fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3 fatty acids are fundamental to help reduce inflammation in our bodies and have also been shown to dampen autoimmune disease. It is estimated up to 80 percent of the United States population is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. A vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids includes algal oil. You can learn more about recommended supplements on our website: https://caplanhealthinstitute.com.
Balancing Th1 and Th2
It’s a delicate balancing act between Th1 and Th2. For simplicity’s sake, let’s picture the immune system like a balancing scale where both sides are supposed to balance out equally. The two sides of the scale represent the different types of immune cells being produced by the body. Although many, many more cells are involved, for the sake of this book, we are going to keep it simple by using Th1 (T helper 1) and Th2 (T helper 2) and Treg (T regulatory cell) to represent the cells of the immune system.
When something inflammatory happens in the body, the immune system is called into action and will temporarily shift focus toward one side of the scale. Your immune system has two parts that each work in different ways: your innate immune system and your acquired immune system. Your innate immune system is built to quickly handle and fight off any potentially harmful foreign invaders or substances, whereas your acquired immune system creates “memory cells” to aid in remembering those harmful substances it comes across to better fight them off next time. For example, if you get chickenpox, your innate immune system will recognize that virus as something that is not supposed to be there and cause an attack against it. At the same time, your acquired immune system starts to create antibodies to remember this virus so if it ever encounters it again, if you get exposed to it in the future, your immune system will remember how to fight it off so you don’t end up with chickenpox or shingles. Vaccines work to simulate or stimulate an acquired immunity for the same reason.
Chronic inflammation and stress on the body create a situation where the Th1 side of the immune system is suppressed, allowing for the Th2 side to be more overactive (as pictured in the graphic). One of the important jobs of Th1 is to suppress Th17 cells, which play a major role in the tissue destruction aspect of autoimmunity. This imbalance with the immune system is not only the perfect opportunity for autoimmunity to be triggered but also the more tissue destruction and inflammation that comes as a result of the autoimmune process, the further autoimmunity itself perpetuates. Therefore, by controlling and dampening inflammation and stress, we can better modulate and support the proper balance of the immune system. This is why properly identifying and addressing sources of inflammation and stress in the body is so important in halting autoimmunity and achieving remission
Phytonutrients: Plant foods offer some of the best “medicine” on earth: phytonutrients. Besides giving us necessary macronutrients in terms of fiber, carbs, and proteins and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, plants offer substances called phytonutrients that help our bodies to heal. These powerful substances are things like sulforaphane from cruciferous veggies like broccoli, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Other foods rich in Phytonutrients include red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits like carrots, tomatoes, squash, peppers, sweet potatoes, melons, peaches, citrus fruits, mangos, and berries. Dark green leafy vegetables include kale, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, broccoli, and romaine lettuce. And lastly, onions, garlic, chives, and leeks. To get the most health benefits from your food, give serious consideration to the importance of getting enough variety of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients. Using healthy cooking methods further helps to preserve the nutritional health benefits of the food you are cooking.
Nutrient Therapy for Hormone Balance
Nutrient therapy is also vital for proper hormone balance.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease are common companions with lupus. Having suboptimal thyroid hormone levels doesn’t just affect the thyroid or endocrine system. Low levels of the active thyroid hormone, T3, or inefficiencies in getting that hormone into the cells to use it affects every cell in the body. A lack of thyroid hormone leads to the foundational issue of your cells not having what they need to function, and if your cells don’t work, how can anything else work?
But remember, it’s not enough to simply replace the missing hormones because that doesn’t address the reason why they were suboptimal, to begin with, therefore, your treatment may only be a temporary band-aid. In order to effectively reverse this issue to avoid the complications and symptoms of having low thyroid, you need to address the why. Your thyroid levels could be suboptimal for a number of reasons:
- You could have an issue in the making of your thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s disease, the autoimmune process that causes the destruction of your thyroid gland, makes it more difficult for your gland to produce the necessary hormones.
- You could have an issue blocking the conversion of hormone into the active form of T3 from the inactive form of T4. This can occur in places such as the liver or gut where a lot of this conversion is happening. Gut issues, liver issues, or nutrient deficiencies can inhibit this process and need to be addressed in order to fix it.
- You could be stressed. We know that the stress hormone cortisol can block thyroid hormone production, conversion, and uptake.
The Importance of Variety in Your Diet
Eating a wide variety of foods in your diet gives you the benefit of getting a more diverse supply of nutrients, while at the same time helping you to minimize the negative effects of eating the same things over and over again. Eating the same foods day after day can lead to the development of reactions to those foods, so it is best to rotate your favorite foods so you are not eating the same things every day.
Explore! Expand! Choose new foods that you haven’t tried before and try them in different ways – cooked, raw, mixed with other ingredients, etc. And don’t be afraid to mix and match ingredients in your favorite recipes to create some variety for yourself and your palate. Create a new take on an old favorite recipe. Be creative! Many people have an issue with gluten, such as wheat because they’re over-exposed to it through the many common foods we consume for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.