Friday, November 05, 2010

How the Immune System Gets Confused in Autoimmune Disease


I must confess, I’m a bit obsessed with autoimmune disease.  As the third leading cause of death it is well represented in our population. Besides celiac disease, we are told that most autoimmune diseases “have no cure” and the trigger remains unknown as well.

But that’s not entirely accurate.  We do know many of the triggers and we do know that the health of the gut goes a long way in increasing or decreasing our predisposition to autoimmune disease. Getting back to triggers, there are some pathogenic organisms (mostly bacteria according to research) that when contracted can then lead to autoimmune disease through a molecular mimicry process.

Let me explain. Ankylosing spondylitis is a condition where the joints of the spine fuse leaving young bodies looking and feeling more like centenarians.  It is known to be associated with a Klebsiella infection.
Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with a Citrobacter infection.  Thyroiditis is associated with Yersinia,  and autoimmune diseases as a general category are associated both with E. coli and Proteus infections. All organisms mentioned are bacteria.

The immune system is clever.  When it comes in contact with something it considers dangerous it makes something called an antibody to destroy it. Therefore after the initial exposure, whenever it should encounter it, it has a ready-made tool to destroy it.  Recall that 80% of the immune system is housed in the intestine so much of this activity is happening there. Unfortunately when the immune system is a bit overstimulated, which can occur as a side effect of a leaky gut, it becomes overly vigilant, less discriminating and molecular mimicry can occur.
 
Molecular mimicry is a process whereby the immune system mistakenly identifies a body part for a pathogenic organism.  This usually comes about due to similar protein structures within both the organism and the human body itself.  Therefore bony joints are mistaken for Klebsiella bacteria and the thyroid is mistaken for Yersinia bacteria. The immune system attacks the body part when it thinks it’s attacking the bacteria and autoimmune disease ensues.

Can we prevent everyone from ever getting an infection? No, that’s not possible.  What we want to work on is optimizing the function of the immune system such that it clearly knows friend from foe. One of the major ways to achieve this is to optimize the health of the small intestine.
 
Does achieving optimal health always come back to the intestine?  Frequently that is the case and it’s not just my opinion – the research is strong in this area.  Is our health determined by what we put in our mouths? Yes, again.  Do you think it’s time to stop getting lured in by the fast food commercials and junk food? You’re right!

Please realize that autoimmune diseases are on a dramatic rise.  Research tells us this is from environmental causes, not genetics.  The good news there is that we have a lot of control of our environment.  Does it take some effort and discipline? Sure! Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Let me know how I can assist you and yours. Here at HealthNOW we are a destination clinic and treat patients from across the country and internationally. If you'd like to see if we can help to improve your health, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Co-author of the bestseller “The Gluten Effect”