Did you know that inflammation lies at the heart of autoimmune diseases, acting as both a cause and effect of a cascade of physiological responses that contribute to tissue damage and systemic dysfunction? If you are experiencing chronic inflammation, or have an autoimmune condition, understanding the intricate relationship between inflammation and autoimmune conditions is essential for developing an effective treatment strategy.

In this blog, we delve into the science behind inflammation and autoimmune diseases, exploring evidence-based functional medicine approaches that provide relief and improve quality of life for individuals grappling with autoimmune conditions. Unlock the power of nutrition and lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation and manage your autoimmune symptoms with personalised therapy, anti-inflammatory diets, stress management, and functional testing.

A recent study involving a sample group of 22 million people in the UK found that autoimmune disorders now affect 1 in 10 individuals, with women being slightly more affected than men.

What Is Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune disease is a condition where the body’s immune system, which is meant to protect against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses, mistakenly attacks its own cells, tissues, and organs. This causes a production of autoantibodies and activation of immune cells against the body’s own tissues leading to inflammation, tissue damage, and dysfunction of the affected organs. This process can occur in various organs and systems throughout the body, resulting in a wide range of symptoms and complications depending on the specific autoimmune disease.

What Are The Main Contributors To Autoimmune Disorders?

Autoimmune disorders result from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, lifestyle, and immunological factors. Understanding these contributors is essential for developing strategies for prevention, early detection, and management of these complex and often chronic conditions.

Chronic Stress & Inadequate Sleep

Persistent stress elevates cortisol levels, fostering chronic inflammation and gut imbalance, which may trigger autoimmune reactions. Unhealthy coping mechanisms like poor dietary choices and lack of physical activity can further weaken the immune system and exacerbate inflammation, increasing susceptibility to autoimmune disorders.

Food Sensitivities

Regular consumption of foods you’re sensitive to can cause inflammation, gut flora imbalance, and symptoms like digestive issues and fatigue that can exacerbate autoimmune conditions. Common triggers include gluten, dairy, sugar, and certain nuts or seeds.

Genetic Predisposition

A family history of autoimmune diseases increases the likelihood of developing similar conditions. Certain genes, such as those related to immune system regulation, play a role in predisposing individuals to autoimmune disorders.

Gut Health, Dysbiosis & Infections

70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut.An inflammatory diet, toxin exposure and stress can all disrupt your gut flora (dysbiosis), leading to inflammation, weakened immunity, and “leaky gut” syndrome – a potential precursor to autoimmunity – that allows harmful substances to enter the bloodstream, triggering immune responses and potentially leading to autoimmune reactions.

Infections like Epstein Bar Virus, E. coli, and Herpes Simplex type I and II can also trigger autoimmune responses.

Nutrient Deficiencies

An inflammatory diet lacking in essential nutrients can increase the risk of inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Common deficiencies associated with autoimmunity include magnesium, vitamin D, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, glutathione, and selenium.

Toxin Exposure

From pollutants to pesticides, toxins overload the immune system and contribute to autoimmune responses. Examples include mycotoxins (naturally occurring toxins produced by certain moulds that grow on a variety of foods), heavy metals (like mercury), and pesticides found in non-organic foods.

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What Types Of Autoimmune Disease Are There?

Autoimmune diseases are complex and can affect virtually any part of the body, including the skin, joints, muscles, connective tissues, endocrine glands, and organs like the kidneys, liver, and brain. Although there are more than 100 identified autoimmune diseases, some of the most common include:

  • Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causes slow thyroid hormone production, while Graves’ disease results in excessive thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s symptoms may include weight gain, fatigue, cold, and hair loss, while Graves’ disease presents with weight loss, heat intolerance, anxiety, and rapid heartbeat.
  • Coeliac Disease: Connected to gluten consumption, coeliac disease triggers an autoimmune reaction and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms like digestion issues, fatigue, and skin reactions.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): The two main types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine and rectum, while Crohn’s disease can affect the entire GI tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, fatigue, and weight loss.
  • Lupus: Affects various organs, including the skin, joints, brain, heart, and kidneys. It is characterised by fatigue, pain, and rashes, among other symptoms.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Damages the protective myelin sheath around nerve cells, resulting in weakness, numbness, balance issues, and mobility problems.
  • Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis: Psoriasis accelerates skin cell multiplication, leading to dry, red patches and scales. Due to the shared autoimmune mechanisms that cause inflammation in both the skin and joints, over 25% of psoriasis patients develop associated arthritis symptoms.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Affects joint health, causing symptoms such as pain, soreness, stiffness, warmth, and redness.
  • Type 1 Diabetes: Targets the pancreas and insulin-producing cells and disrupts blood sugar regulation, causing symptoms such as thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurry vision, and hunger.

How Does A Functional Medicine Approach Reduce Inflammation & Manage Autoimmune Disease?

A functional medicine approach aims to reduce inflammation and manage autoimmune disease by addressing the underlying root causes of inflammation and immune system dysregulation. Here’s how it works:

Personalised Treatment Plans Focused On Anti-Inflammation

Functional medicine practitioners tailor therapy to address the underlying imbalances and triggers contributing to your specific inflammation and autoimmune symptoms:

  • Personalised dietary interventions are recommended such as adopting an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods, and identifying and eliminating potential trigger foods such as gluten, dairy, and processed foods, which can exacerbate inflammation and contribute to autoimmune symptoms.
  • Lifestyle modifications that reduce inflammation and support immune balance are also recommended, such as reducing stress through mindfulness practices and stress management techniques that prioritise quality sleep, and engaging in regular physical activity.

 Optimise Your Gut Health

  • Gut health is a cornerstone of functional medicine as the gut plays such a crucial role in immune regulation and inflammation. Strategies to optimise gut health may start with a stool test to assess your gut health. According to the findings, a personalised strategy can be put in place to repair the gut lining, restore microbial balance, and address dysbiosis.
  • Probiotics, prebiotics, fermented foods, and gut-healing nutrients like glutamine and zinc may be recommended to support gut integrity and reduce inflammation in autoimmune conditions.

 Balance Your Immune System

  • Modulating immune responses and reducing inflammation is at the centre of the functional medicine approach. This may involve supporting regulatory T cells (Tregs) to dampen excessive immune activation and promote immune tolerance.
  • Targeted supplementation with nutrients and anti-inflammatory herbs can help modulate immune function and reduce inflammation in autoimmune diseases.

 Consider Functional Testing

Since autoimmune diseases and chronic conditions tend to have similar root causes, there are several comprehensive functional medicine tests that can help early detection:

  • Anti-Nuclear Antibodies (ANA): a commonly employed blood test used to detect the presence of autoantibodies targeting the cell nuclei.
  • Comprehensive Stool Test + Zonulin: Evaluates gastrointestinal health, including pathogens, gut bacteria balance, inflammation markers, and intestinal permeability, specifically assessing zonulin levels as an indicator of gut barrier function relevant to autoimmune conditions.
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP): Measures levels of a protein in the blood associated with inflammation, aiding in the diagnosis and monitoring of inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune diseases.
  • Diabetes Panel: Evaluates blood markers like glucose levels, HbA1c, insulin, and lipids to diagnose, manage, and monitor diabetes and related metabolic conditions.
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) Test: Measures the rate at which red blood cells settle in a tube of blood, providing a nonspecific indicator of inflammation in the body.
  • Extractable Nuclear Antibodies (ENA): Detects specific antibodies that target proteins found in the cell nucleus and cytoplasm, assisting in the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), systemic sclerosis, and Sjögren’s syndrome.
  • Food Sensitivity Testing: Identifies specific antibodies produced by the immune system in response to certain foods, aiding in the identification of food intolerances and sensitivities which may contribute to digestive problems, skin conditions, and autoimmune disorders.
  • Thyroid Panel (with TPO and Tg antibodies): Assesses thyroid function by measuring levels of thyroid hormones (such as T3 and T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), as well as detecting antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroglobulin (Tg). This panel aids in diagnosing and monitoring thyroid disorders, including autoimmune thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease.

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At Nutrition Diets, we approach autoimmune diseases from a personalised and holistic perspective, considering your unique genetic makeup, environmental exposures, lifestyle factors, and health history:

1) Expert one-to-one therapy
2) Personalised nutrition and lifestyle plans
3) Easy, at-home functional testing

We work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as GPs, rheumatologists and immunologists to give our clients with autoimmune conditions the most comprehensive care possible. This teamwork approach may include using both traditional treatments and proven functional medicine methods to detect and manage autoimmune conditions, ensuring the best possible outcomes.

We offer thorough clinical assessment and therapy via convenient online consultations. Getting started is simple and free so why not take charge of your health today with our evidence-based strategies to address autoimmune disease and inflammation at their source?

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