Autoimmune diseases are rampant today. The conventional medical paradigm is to diagnose each different set of symptoms as a unique and separate condition and to treat these symptoms with powerful drugs. This never gets to the actual root cause of the disease.
Alternatively, the holistic model is to seek out and treat the actual cause of illness. There is much research suggesting that chronic inflammation is at the bottom of a great many diseases that plague us today.
That begs the question, where does this inflammation come from? Generally, the answer to that is toxic environmental exposures such as in food, water, drugs, air, etc. Heredity can also predispose one towards inflammation.
But the real question is what is autoimmunity and how does inflammation contribute to or even trigger it?
Most people do not realize that 80% of the immune system resides in the intestinal tract. That’s right. In the gut. That is why is it so important to have a healthy microbiome of gut bacteria (see more about gut bacteria here).
Cutting edge practitioners and researchers are starting to understand that the autoimmune epidemic is really arising from one cause: gut dysbiosis. Every single autoimmune disease can be traced to gut dysbiosis or leaky gut. (See Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride).
Conventional medicine is still not informed about the critical importance of good gut flora and a healthy mucosal lining. Even if they were, medical doctors are trained by the pharmaceutical companies and given perks for prescribing medications. Probiotic supplements are rarely recommended and special diets even less. (See information about the GAPS diet and how it is used to heal and seal the gut).
Let me back up and explain a little bit about the immune system. It is composed of a variety of white blood cells. One of those groups is called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are made up of two types: B-cells and T-cells.
Another white blood cell called a macrophage (sort of like an undercover officer or surveillance camera, looking for trouble) will detect an antigen (invader) and activate the immune system by sending a signal to T-cells ( patrol officers calling for backup). The T-cells alarm the whole defense system and initiate a two-tiered response.
The TH1 response (also known as cell mediated because it is activated when pathogens get inside the cell) is an immediate immune system defense that deals with acute infections like colds, flu or infected wounds. The T-helper cells (the National Guard) notify the immune system about the invader such as bacteria or any other foreign molecule. This stimulates the cytotoxic T-cells and natural killer cells to attack the invader (the Army and the Navy). The regulatory T-cells (the generals, who give the orders to cease fire) monitor the process. If the defense was successful and the bacteria was eliminated then the attack is stopped and everyone goes about their business.
The TH2 response is a delayed B-cell response. These cells are involved when the T-cells cannot eradicate a powerful antigen or even identify the invader. This is the part of the immune system that produces antibodies against the antigen to allow the body to overcome an infection.
The TH2 side of the immune system is also know as the humoral or antibody-mediated immunity. This side of the immune system attacks extracellular pathogens or invaders that are found outside the cells in blood and other body fluids.
When the immune system becomes damaged, one of the two arms (TH1 and TH2) becomes dominant. This causes the development of chronic allergies, autoimmune diseases and recurrent infections. The more unbalanced the relationship between Th1 and Th2, the more damage to the healthy tissue occurs and the more advanced the autoimmune disease may become.
Overactive TH2 (and suppressed TH1) is implicated in a wide variety of chronic illnesses and the majority of autoimmune diseases. Some examples are systemic autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities, and asthma.
TH1 dominant immune responses manifest as organ specific autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease.
In healthy individuals, TH1 and TH2 responses are balanced and able to switch back and forth according to the body’s requirements. These responses will activate when appropriate to eradicate a threat and then it will calm down appropriately until the next time an invader appears.
What does all this have to do with inflammation? Every time an immune response is activated, chemicals called cytokines are released. These cytokines are purveyors of inflammation. Therefore, each time an immune response is initiated, inflammation occurs under the radar. If the person’s immune response is unbalanced in the two arms (Th1 and TH2) the response may be inappropriate and will create inflammation.
Inflammation is destructive and chronic inflammation is the basis of all kinds of degenerative diseases. I have already talked about the effects of gluten on susceptible individuals. But there are many other triggers because we are all individuals biochemically.
What is the solution? Take control of your health and learn all you can about what alternative medicine and healing diets have to offer. The real food movement is partially made up of many people recovering from “incurable” diseases. There are many online classes that offer the most applicable information and personal stories of success.
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