1 in 5 of us in the US or UK have one. From psoriasis in the skin to multiple sclerosis in the nerves, there is no part of the body exempt from autoimmune conditions.
These conditions are treated under different specialities by doctors. However they all have one thing in common: they are not caused by a contagious infection. They are type of Non-Communicable Disease (‘NCD’) which means that they can’t be transferred from one person to another.
They are something that we develop one day that gradually gets worse, and that we may have to live with for the rest of our lives.
But there’s another thing autoimmune conditions have in common: they all originate in the gut!
This is all relatively new science and it hasn’t yet filtered through to the medical mainstream. As things stand, if you develop an autoimmune condition, you’ll be sent to a specialist who will look at the specific, isolated, part of your body.
Your doctor may describe the condition with clever and detailed medical jargon while not actually getting to the root of the problem.
The principle strategy for treating autoimmune conditions in mainstream medicine is to use drugs to dampen down the immune system. These drugs come with unpleasant side effects and further weaken your resilience to illness. This makes it more likely you’ll need antibiotics in the future, which will further damage your friendly bacteria.
However there are other safer and more effective strategies for tackling these conditions, which we dive into in Four Powerful Steps to Reverse Autoimmune
Friendly bacteria are the heroes of this tale.
As our knowledge of human biology has advanced since the turn of the century, we have made a huge discovery: the bacteria inside are not just along for the ride but are actually doing vital work for us.
Without enough of these friendly microbes our body breaks down, we get sick and we feel like crap.
The community of bacteria that lives inside us is called our microbiome. It’s sometimes called our forgotten organ, because it does so much important stuff for us but gets little recognition!
Confused Immune System
If you imagine our immune system like central heating with a thermostat, it needs to be set at just the right level. If it’s set too high or too low we feel uncomfortable.
When our immune system is set too ‘hot’ it will react to harmless stuff like pollen or peanuts as if they were threats.
This leads to flu-like symptoms in the middle of the summer or extreme allergic reactions that can kill us.
If the immune system is set too ‘cold’, it won’t react properly to a real threat, like a dangerous bacterial pathogen.
In the case of autoimmune conditions the thermostat is clearly set too high. Our immune system is attacking the organs of our own body.
What’s really strange is that our immune system needs help in finding the best level for the thermostat and this where the friendly bacteria come in. Certain species of bacteria are in communication with the cells of our immune system, guiding our cells on when to react and when not to.
Without those friendly bacteria our immune system tends to overheat. What happens then? We develop, in increasing order of severity:
- food intolerances
- allergies to foods or other substances like pollen
- autoimmune conditions
Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity
There’s another important part to this equation: leaky gut.
Sometimes our gut wall springs a leak. This can happen with bad diet, too much stress, alcohol or drugs for example.
This leads to tiny undigested food particles passing into the body where they don’t belong. Our immune system then has too much work to do. It becomes overloaded and confused, and eventually starts attacking the organs of our body.
If you’d like to find out your probability of having leaky gut, take our quiz.
Bacteria Are Not The Enemy
How could this have come about? Why didn’t we humans just evolve to have an immune system that works nicely without help from outsiders.
We don’t yet have answers to all these questions but using bacteria as a kind of ‘plug-in’ probably gave us more flexibility and an evolutionary advantage.
Anyway it’s kinda confusing! We’ve been told all our lives that bacteria are most definitely NOT our friends and that we should wipe them out whenever possible with antibiotics and antibacterial cleaning products.
Now it’s like: oh sorry bacteria, you were doing all this important work for me and I never knew! Come back, all is forgiven!
This is why children raised with pets or on farms – exposed to a much greater amount of bacteria – have fewer immune system problems. These children have a richer, more diverse microbiome with hundreds of different strains of bacteria living together in harmony, like a coral reef or a rainforest.
These bacteria help our immune system to calibrate itself to the ‘goldilocks zone’: not too hot, not cold.
This means fewer allergies, fewer coughs and colds, fewer courses of antibiotics and lower risk of obesity (yes, those friendly bacteria are heavily involved in our metabolism too).
For those of us raised with less exposure to bacteria, particularly the RIGHT bacteria, we end up taking more antibiotics, thereby destroying more of our friends and setting ourselves up for a life of obesity and autoimmune conditions – urgh!
This is why it’s very common to have more than one autoimmune condition. Once the body gets in this state, our immune system attacks one organ after another.
Supercharge Your Body and Immune System
What we need is to supercharge our body and immune system. To supercharge in this sense means to boost up the health of our microbiome so it’s full of friendly bacteria talking to and guiding our immune system.
This enables us to tune our immune reaction to exactly the right level, so it focuses its formidable energy on the right targets.
This means that our immune system will be humming along exactly as it should: kicking out any deadly pathogens while being all aloof and cool when pollen and peanuts come by.
They aren’t always an option but two powerful ways of giving our children the right bacteria are through:
- Vaginal rather than Caesarean birth
- Breastfeeding rather than bottle feeding
Another huge way we can supercharge our immune system is through diet. For our recommendations of gut-friendly foods check out:
If you think you’ve already done a lot of damage to your gut bugs, don’t despair! The good news is that our microbiome is very responsive to positive changes with the right food, supplements and lifestyle. Whatever our age, there are ways of rebuilding our community of fabulous friends.
Even if we’ve had one or more autoimmune conditions for years, we can reverse them, even completely cure them!