autoimmune disordersTag Archives

The Coming Paradigm of Pursuing Biological Balance

I am currently reading An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases by Moises Velasquez-Manoff.  In a nutshell, it is about how the decreasing biodiversity of our environment is creating more disease.  It is about how our agricultural methods, sanitation methods, and compulsive cleaning have in very short order eliminated many of the microorganisms and parasites that we evolved to deal with.  We for the most part no longer live with farm animals.  We seldom come in contact with excrement where in our not so distant past, it was all around us.  Our agricultural growing and distribution methods result in near-sterile produce.  Now that our immune systems have little to contend with, they turn on ourselves.  We are seeing increasing asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases with each new generation living in an environment devoid of the organisms our immune systems are familiar with.

The book begins in a bizarre way.  The author is seeking to infect himself with hookworms in a desperate hope to improve allergy and autoimmune conditions.  The very idea of it is so counter to the paradigm of eradication that we have been living in for the past century or two.  We think we are doing a good thing when we eliminate parasites; and yet when one practitioner dewormed pregnant women, she discovered that their offspring suffered from allergies at a greatly increased rate.  In contrast, some who have purposefully infected themselves with worms have seen reductions in allergic and autoimmune symptoms.  Lest anyone think to do the same, it must be remembered that the science of balancing one’s internal biology is still in its infancy.  We are a long way off from having dependable protocols for balancing the immune system in our modern world.

This book points to a new health specialty coming maybe ten or twenty years in our future, I would guess.  Practitioners of this specialty will use genetic testing, culture testing, and multigenerational environmental history to develop custom protocols for balancing internal biology and preventing allergies and autoimmune diseases.  The genetics of our immune systems are highly complex.  They were shaped over time by the prevailing biological environment in any given locale.  Since there is vast variation in environments, there is likewise vast variation in the immune strategies developed in our genetics.  What will stimulate one individual toward health could cause in another an immune system meltdown.  For this reason, protocols will ideally be custom-made for each patient.

So what does all of this have to do with diet?  Early attempts at achieving biological balance have included probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, and cultured vegetables, as promoted in The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz.  This may not be entirely without risk.  For instance, Moises Velasquez-Manoff says in his book that overabundance of even a generally friendly organism such as Lactobacillus acidophilus in the small intestine can cause problems for some, resulting in a condition called Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO.  Chris Kresser addressed this topic with Steve Wright in a recent interview.  In this interview, Chris Kresser mentions that he has found the use of soil-based organisms to be helpful in the treatment of SIBO.  Indeed, my understanding of what I have read of the topic so far would indicate that a diversity of organisms is needed for best results.  I look forward to the day when the science of balancing internal biology reaches its maturity.

Leaky gut syndrome

Leaky gut could be a cause for the multiple allergies and sensitivities that could in turn result in an autoimmune disease. So what is leaky gut?

Leaky gut is a condition in which the intestine is allowing passage into the bloodstream of incompletely digested food. The immune system then reacts to those food particles, resulting in a cascade of allergies and sensitivities. These multiple allergies and sensitivities are the hallmark of a leaky gut. If you have multiple food allergies and sensitivities, it’s a good bet that your gut is leaky. Way back in the 80s, I did an IgE test for food allergies, and the only thing that came back negative was walnuts. In other words, the only item in the test that I wasn’t allergic to was walnuts.  The doctor said that I probably had not been eating them. Can you imagine the elimination diet required to treat that? Trust me, you don’t want to. The doctor put me on some obscure formula that was something like hot wheat cereal (but of course it wasn’t wheat), and that was all I could eat while I healed. Yes, been there, done that.

There are two causes of leaky gut that I know of. The first and the easiest to correct is a gluten problem. I’ve seen varying descriptions of the mechanism for how it works, but the upshot is the same. To correct the problem, you must eliminate all sources of gluten from the diet. This is principally wheat, rye, and barley, but your practitioner may suggest elimination of all grains.

The other cause is overgrowth of harmful microbes in the gut that can cause damage to the intestine. Antibiotic use or poor diet can set this in motion. To rebalance your intestinal flora, you need to starve the bad little critters. This requires elimination of all sugar, fruit, grains, and other starches. Since those buggers can also thrive on artificial sweeteners, that means completely forgoing sweets. The resulting diet is composed mainly of meat and non-starchy vegetables. Along with that, you need to encourage the increase of beneficial gut microbes. This can be done by consuming probiotic supplements, yogurt, and fermented vegetable products such as kimchee and fermented sauerkraut. The fermenting process should eliminate the goitrogens, so one need not be so concerned about consuming the cabbage products.

Serious solutions for serious problems. This is an issue best solved with the help of your health practitioner.

References:
Andrew Weil, M.D. What is Leaky Gut?
PubMed

Testing for food sensitivities

In many cases, a malfunctioning thyroid is the result of an autoimmune reaction. In other words, your immune system could be attacking your thyroid. Such a situation could have been set in motion by a leaky gut and the cascade of food allergies and sensitivities that follows. Allergists will check for food allergies by checking IgE reactions. This won’t find sensitivities, though, since they are reactions of IgA, IgG, or IgM. It used to be that the only way to test for these was through elimination diets. They would begin with an extremely limited diet of least likely suspects and gradually add back in new foods to see what caused a reaction. In the last year or two, Cyrex Laboratories came out with blood tests that will check for sensitivity reactions. You can pass that on to your doctor, and he can order the tests for you. If you are allergic and/or sensitive to any foods and they are eliminated, in time you may heal from thyroid issues or any of a number of other autoimmune disorders.