Increase in autoimmunity rates linked to leaky gut

735 leaky gut autoimmunityAutoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, is one of the most prevalent diseases today, affecting predominantly women. Traditionally, autoimmune disease was thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but research increasingly shows that while genetics play a role, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is also an important factor. This means your diet can determine whether you develop autoimmunity.

Examples of common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitiligo

Leaky gut triggers autoimmunity

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines become damaged and overly porous, allowing bacteria, yeast, undigested foods, and other pathogens into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation. Leaky gut keeps the immune system in a hyper zealous state. This eventually makes the immune system more likely to start attacking the body tissue it was designed to protect, causing an autoimmune condition.

People can develop leaky gut for a variety of reasons, but the most common is linked to inflammatory foods in the diet. These can include too much sugar, processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods. Also, many people have undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as to gluten, dairy, egg, or other foods. These can damage the gut lining if you have an inflammatory reaction to them.

Gluten, in particular, is notorious for its ability to cause leaky gut and trigger autoimmunity. In people who have a gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body every time they eat it. In gluten sensitive individuals, gluten also acts on messenger compounds in the intestinal wall to make it more permeable. This allows more inflammatory factors into the bloodstream, including more gluten, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

For some people, simply going gluten-free can repair a leaky gut and dampen autoimmunity.

Other causes of leaky gut that trigger autoimmunity

Knowing why you have leaky gut is an important strategy in not only in repairing it, but also in dampening autoimmunity. Below are some known causes of leaky gut that can, in turn, trigger autoimmunity:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Inflammatory foods (sugars, junk foods, fast foods, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Medications (corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, some arthritis medications)
  • Infections (poor gut bacteria balance, H. pylori, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, yeast, parasites, and viruses)
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Processed foods, artificial food additives, thickening gums
  • Environmental toxins
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Autoimmunity (although leaky gut triggers autoimmunity, autoimmunity can also cause leaky gut, especially if the immune attack is against tissues of the gut)

Repairing leaky gut can help dampen autoimmunity

Repairing leaky gut has been shown to help many people dampen autoimmunity and even put it into remission. This involves briefly following an anti-inflammatory diet to figure out which foods are triggering inflammation in you, following guidelines to restore or maintain oral tolerance, and including some nutritional compounds to support the healing of your gut lining.

How do you know if you have leaky gut?

Many people aren’t aware they have leaky gut. The condition has only recently been accepted as valid by conventional medicine, and many doctors may still not know about it. However, some symptoms to look out for include bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, food sensitivities, and inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, or brain (brain fog, depression, slow thinking, fatigue, etc.)

When autoimmunity causes leaky gut

Sometimes autoimmunity itself causes leaky gut as it creates chronic inflammation that can damage the gut wall. This is particularly true in the case of autoimmunity to gut tissue, which may cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.


Functional blood tests provide more useful information

734 func vs lab rangesHave you ever had obvious health symptoms but your lab tests come back normal? Many such patients, the majority of them women, are told it’s simply stress, aging, or depression. The problem is most doctors use lab ranges on blood tests when functional ranges provide more clues that explain the symptoms.

The lab ranges on a blood test look for diseases while functional medicine ranges look for patterns and markers that spot trends toward disease that can still be reversed or halted. For instance, the lab ranges for diabetes are quite high, but a functional range can let you know your blood sugar is in the danger zone well before you need pharmaceutical treatment and have caused considerable inflammatory damage to your body.

In another example, many people with clear and obvious symptoms of low thyroid function are told they are fine for years while autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland continues unchecked and untreated, worsening symptoms all the while.

Functional blood ranges can help you stop the progression toward disease

Functional medicine addresses the underlying physiological mechanisms causing symptoms. In conventional medicine, a condition must have progressed far enough to diagnose and treat with drugs or surgery.

In other words, functional ranges define the parameters of good health while lab ranges define the parameters of disease.

Additionally, lab ranges are determined by a bell-curve analysis of patients who had their blood drawn at that center, many of whom are likely quite sick. As the health of Americans continues to decline, so do the ranges for what qualifies as healthy. For some markers, we don’t know what qualifies as healthy, just average.

Functional ranges look for patterns in the markers

Functional medicine doesn’t just look at individual markers, but also for patterns among various different blood markers. All systems in the body are inter-related and a problem in one area of the body can show up as an out-of-range marker in another area.

This can help identify different types of anemia, whether your high blood sugar is raising your risk of heart disease, or whether a hormone imbalance might be affecting your thyroid.

Another example involves looking at markers to determine whether activated or depressed immunity is related to a virus, bacterial infection, allergies, or even parasites.

A functional blood test includes many more markers

Another difference between functional and conventional blood tests isn’t just the ranges used, but also the markers ordered. A conventional blood test will typically include far fewer markers than a functional one.

We can especially see this in testing for hypothyroidism. Standard tests only look at thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) even though about 90 percent of cases of hypothyroidism are caused by an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. This is because knowing whether a person has Hashimoto’s does not change the standard of care in conventional medicine.

However, a functional test will include markers to identify autoimmune Hashimoto’s and other causes of low thyroid function. Knowing what is causing the thyroid to under function determines the best way to manage it and improve thyroid health.

A blood panel is an important tool in the functional medicine evaluation. Ask my office for more information.

Balancing chronic autoimmune illness with raising children

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Because women make up about 75 percent of autoimmune disease diagnoses, this means many sufferers of chronic illness are also raising children. It’s common for women to feel disappointed or inferior because they are not the kind of mom they had envisioned. But the perfect mom is an unattainable myth, and it’s possible your illness is even cultivating good qualities in your children. In fact, some of the world’s greatest functional medicine researchers and innovators who have helped countless numbers of people discovered their passion because of their mother’s autoimmune illnesses.

A chronic autoimmune illness means days when energy is low or non-existent, or when brain fog, pain, anxiety, or depression rule. Regular life may include long treks to other cities or states to see a doctor who understands your condition and can help. Your diet is restricted and the house is void of junk food and sodas. Weekends may be devoted to batch cooking meals for the week and your autoimmune disease may require you to delegate chores to your kids. But none of this has to stand in the way of loving your kids and it may even make them better people.

A recent New York Times article explored the ways in which having a chronic autoimmune illness can benefit your children:

Patience. Everything moves more slowly when you’re chronically ill. Gratifications are delayed and trips to the doctor’s office long. When your kids are in tow, this can teach them patience, something most kids struggle with.

Flexibility. Having an autoimmune disease sometimes means canceling well laid plans because you are having a flare. Though disappointing, this prepares children for the inevitable snafus of life.

Self-sufficiency. Children who have everything done for them suffer when they strike out on their own. The child of an autoimmune mom has long been learning how to do their laundry, make their meals, walk the dog, clean the house, and so on. Adulthood won’t seem like such an ugly shock as a result. Though they may complain, this self-sufficiency is also a wonderful confidence builder.

Consideration. Children are egocentric by design. Having a mom with a chronic illness teaches them about the universality of human suffering and that sometimes we are all weaker than we’d like to be and need help.

Self-care. Autoimmunity means seizing the day when you feel good and retreating and resting when you feel bad. This teaches children the importance of a healthy diet, sleep, and other often ignored facets of good health. If you have a partner who helps and supports you, they also benefit from seeing that partnership in action.

Compassion. By seeing someone they love suffer, your children learn compassion for suffering in all people, including themselves. They may also be more likely to see grumpiness or impatience in others as symptoms of a possible illness.

Emotions. Living with a chronic illness is hard work. Sometimes the fatigue, pain, or disappointment can send us into an emotional tailspin, making it impossible to put on a happy face. Seeing a parent express their emotions around suffering can help children be more ok with their own bouts of emotional turmoil.

Cannabinoid receptors: How to activate them without cannabis

726 cannabinoid receptors

If medical marijuana has done anything, it has been to educate us about our own endocannibinoid system (ECS) — a system of receptors on cells that play a role in inflammation, appetite, pain, mood, memory, and even cancer prevention. These receptors have come to light because they respond to compounds in cannabis, or marijuana.

A functioning ECS, which is vital to good health, produces its own cannibinoids and doesn’t need them from cannabis. For instance, the cannabinoid anandamide is so powerful researchers call it the “bliss molecule” because of its role in happiness and higher thought processes.

However, researchers have discovered some people have a endocannibinoid deficiency in compounds such as anandamide. This can lead to chronic pain disorders, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and more serious disorders. Some suggest this deficiency may be genetic.

It’s believed an ECS deficiency explains why cannabis is medicinal for some people. Cannabis contains more than 100 different cannabinoids, including THC, which produces the psychoactive effect cannabis is most known for. Cannabis also contains cannibidiol (CBD) and terpenes. These compounds are not psychoactive.

CBD has come to be recognized as the compound responsible for many of the medicinal effects of cannabis. Terpenes are the compounds that give cannabis its distinctive aroma are also medicinal.

Controversy exists around whether CBD and terpenes are therapeutic individually, or whether these compounds work better synergistically in a whole plant form. There is also controversy over whether CBD from industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive form of cannabis, is as effective as CBD from marijuana, which has higher THC levels.

Boosting your endocannibinoid system naturally

Psychoactive cannabis and its constituents, such as CBD, is legal in only about half of the states in the US. CBD from industrial help is more widely available. Outside of the US it is legal in a few countries, decriminalized in a number, and strictly illegal in others.

Because the ECS produces its own cannibinoids, it is possible to boost the activity of this system without using cannabis. Following are some suggestions on how to do this:

  • Avoid alcohol. The stress and inflammation caused by regularly drinking alcohol can exhaust the ECS. Preserve its integrity by avoiding this health-sapping spirit.
  • Get bodywork. Research shows that bodywork such as a chiropractic adjustment, massage, or acupuncture can more than double anandamide, the “bliss” cannabinoid.
  • Eat lots of leafy greens. Leafy greens contain a terpene that activate cannabinoid receptors and can help combat inflammation and autoimmunity.
  • Eat more omega-3 essential fatty acids. Some researchers say an omega-3 deficiency will cause the ECS to not function properly. Make sure you get plenty of omega 3 in your diet (and not too much omega 6), or supplement with fish, algae, emu, or hemp oils.
  • Exercise. Some researchers believe the “high” from exercise is caused by increased ECS activity. Just be careful not to overdo it or make it stressful, which can deplete the ECS.

Counting carbs? Carbohydrate density matters most

725 carbohydrate density

If you are counting carbs to stabilize your blood sugar, lower inflammation, balance hormones, or lose weight, experts say looking at carbohydrate density is a more important strategy. Carbohydrate density measures how many carbohydrates are present per 100 grams of food. Low carb density foods don’t raise your risk of chronic disease.

Research shows eliminating dense carbohydrates from your diet improves health, prevents disease, and can even improve periodontal disease.

While many diets focus on how many calories or how many grams of carbohydrates you should eat per day, the carb density diet instead focuses on how many grams of carbohydrates are in a food once you subtract the fiber.

Ideally, you only want to eat foods under 23 percent carb density. More importantly, avoid carb dense foods.

Foods with low carb density include meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole nuts.

High density carbs include flours, sugars, breads, chips, rice cakes, granola bars, French fries, popcorn, and other fast and processed foods.

In a nutshell, if it has been processed, it’s going to be more carb dense.

Carb density in foods

Foods with low carb density contain the carbohydrates within cell walls. In these foods, carb density won’t go much beyond 23 percent.

In foods that are carb dense, however, such as flours, sugars, and processed grains, modern processing breaks apart cell walls so that carbs are much more concentrated, abundant, and hit the bloodstream more quickly.

Why high carb dense foods make us sick and fat

The human body was not designed to eat processed foods in which carbs and sugars have been busted out of their cells, concentrated, and able to quickly raise blood sugar.

Carb dense foods overwhelm the body’s cells with too much glucose. This causes cells to become resistant to the hormones insulin and leptin, both of which play a role in blood sugar regulation.

Insulin and leptin resistance in turn promote obesity, inflammation, accelerated brain degeneration, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmunity, and hormonal imbalances — in essence, the foundation to the many chronic diseases of western civilization.

Why regular diets don’t work and the kinds of food you eat matters most

These days, plenty of research has demonstrated why diets don’t work in the long run for so many people. Calorie counting, exercising more but going hungry, extreme diets — these approaches may work in the short term but they pit the individual against primal survival mechanisms and can be metabolically and psychologically damaging.

Although opting for a diet that is made up of healthy meats, fats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts may seem severe initially, it quickly adjusts hormonal responses to food. This reduces cravings, boosts energy, and reverses inflammation — the diet makes you feel so good you no longer feel deprived. You may also find processed foods make you feel terrible, so they lose their appeal.

Ask my office for more advice on how you can manage and even reverse chronic health conditions through diet, lifestyle, and functional medicine protocols.

Anemia is a deal breaker to managing autoimmune disease

723 anemia is a dealbreaker

When people are working to manage an autoimmune or chronic condition, they typically focus on an anti-inflammatory diet and protocol. However, one often overlooked dealbreaker to getting better is anemia. Anemia as is a deal breaker to recovery because it means your cells are not getting enough oxygen. Without oxygen, recovery and repair can’t happen.

Anemia typically causes fatigue, weakness, brain fog, depression, lightheadedness, dizziness, irregular heart beat, cold hands and feet, chest pain, headache, and pale skin.

There are several different causes and types of anemia. Not all anemia is iron-deficiency anemia. It’s important to know this because you don’t want to supplement with iron if you don’t need it. In excess, iron is more toxic than mercury, lead, or other heavy metals.

Types of anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia. This is the most common form of anemia and is caused by insufficient iron. What is less well known is that gluten intolerance and celiac disease can cause iron deficiency anemia. This is because these conditions damage the gut so that it can’t absorb iron. It is also caused by internal bleeding, such as from ulcers. This shows up on a blood test as low iron and low ferritin.

B-12 anemia. Like it sounds, this is caused by insufficient B-12. This could be due to a diet low in B-12. You can screen for B-12 deficiency with a urinary methylmalonic acid and serum homocysteine test.

Pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks a compound in the stomach called intrinsic factor, which is necessary to absorb B-12. Many people with autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s also have pernicious anemia. This appears as B-12 anemia. Screening for intrinsic factor and parietal cell antibodies can identify pernicious anemia.

Anemia of inflammation or chronic disease. This type of anemia results from the breakdown of red blood cells. You may have symptoms of anemia but serum levels are normal. However, serum ferritin levels are typically high, indicating iron is not being used correctly by the body. Sources of inflammation that can cause this type of anemia are disease, toxicity, infections, gut damage, over training, and more. It’s important to rule this out because taking iron with this kind of anemia can exacerbate the inflammation.

Other types of less common types of anemia include aplastic anemia, anemia associated with bone marrow disease, hemolytic anemia, and sickle cell anemia.

Too much iron in the bloodstream

On the other end of the spectrum from anemia, some people have a genetic disorder that leads them to absorb too much iron. It’s a relatively common condition, affecting about one million people in the United States. Symptoms include joint pain, chronic fatigue, heart flutters, and abdominal pain. If left untreated, it can increase the risk of diabetes, arthritis, liver inflammation (cirrhosis), sexual dysfunction, and other diseases.

Hemochromatosis is managed through regular blood draws and a diet that minimizes iron intake.

Ask my office about getting tested if you have symptoms of anemia.

Are you a sedentary athlete? Small movements all day add up

722 sedentary athlete

A weekly workout routine including high intensity intervals, spin classes, running, weight training and other sports offers us many health benefits. However, recent studiesshow that even if you get a solid hour or two of exercise daily, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of sitting for hours at a time. The good news is you can do something about it — right now — by simply standing up and moving.

Exercise doesn’t compensate for too much sitting

With our convenience-centered, computer-based lifestyle, today’s recreational athlete gets less daily exercise than non-athletes of the past. The average person — even athletes — spends a whopping 7 to 9 hours every day either sitting at work, watching TV, or driving.

Sitting this much puts us at significant risk for health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, increased risk of dementia, and early death, and the risk increases the more you sit.

Sitting too much also promotes joint stiffness, back pain and disk damage, digestive issues, insulin resistance, flabby muscles, and poor circulation.

Simple lifestyle changes create big strides

Studies show sitting for more than 2 hours at a stretch is unhealthy, and researchers recommend getting up to stand and move every 30 minutes for maximum benefits.

Low-intensity “non-exercise” activities such as standing and walking are more important than most people realize. They play a crucial metabolic role, account for more of our daily energy expenditure than moderate-to-high intensity activities, and offer unexpected benefits.

By getting up and about frequently and standing more you will boost metabolism, improve circulation, regulate blood pressure, keep the muscles toned, keep chronic pain at bay, improve bone health, and increase your energy and vitality.

Following are some ways you can stand up against the sedentary habits many of our jobs require.

Create daily habits to reduce sitting risks

At work

  • Stand while on the phone, at breaks, or lunch.
  • Walk to communicate with coworkers instead of messaging.
  • Invite coworkers to walking meetings.
  • Use an exercise ball as a chair.
  • Try a standing desk, treadmill-ready desk, or a high table or countertop.
  • Move around for one to three minutes every half hour at work.
  • Use an app or quiet alarm to remind you to take movement breaks.
  • Do a few jumping jacks or pushups during breaks (great for mental clarity too).
  • Walk or bike to work.
  • Walk to the next bus stop.

At home

  • Stand to do chores.
  • Get up and move every 30 minutes.
  • Do stretching or easy yoga 10 minutes a day.
  • Limit your TV/computer sitting time.
  • If you watch a screen, stand periodically, and move during commercials.

Out and about

  • Take the long way around.
  • Walk your dog more often.
  • Don’t park so close.
  • Walk or bike instead of driving.
  • Take the stairs.
  • Plan active meetups with friends instead of sitting to socialize.
  • Do chores and yard work manually.
  • Drive less, walk and bike more.
  • Join a club or meetup focused on physical hobbies like frisbee, birding, or dog-walking.

To help you figure out if you’re actually increasing your daily metabolic output, try using this handy online metabolic calculator.