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  • Writer's pictureVennessa McConkey

Autoimmune Diseases and Inflammation

Autoimmune diseases are a HUGE health burden. Some of the most "common" ones include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, and thyroid disease. They often include awkward, hard-to-classify symptoms like inflammation, pain, swelling, and just plain misery.

Let's take a step back.... what are autoimmune diseases? Well, our immune system is our defense against invaders. Imagine your immune system as this massive army that must identify friend from foe. Autoimmunity occurs when our immune system goes "hey - what am I supposed to be attacking?" and our own tissues get caught in friendly crossfire. Our body is fighting something, whether that’s infections, toxins, allergens, or stress.

So what suffers? Our joints, brains, skin, and sometimes our whole body become casualties. Here's the problem myself and so many others have found: Conventional medicine accepts this problem, AND they stop there. They don’t actually look for what might create the problem - the root cause. They don’t dig to find out which molecules our cells are mimicking. As I've heard before - "if you are standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make it feel better".

Too many people are using anti-inflammatories like Advil, or steroids, or immune suppressants such as methotrexate, or the new TNF-alpha blockers, and using those can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle loss, and diabetes, not to mention overwhelming infection and even cancer.

So before you start to get upset and attack ME, these drugs can be lifesaving and help people get their life back, but they miss the point. There is another way to deal with these autoimmune issues.

Inflammation is an omnipresent issue and it affects almost EVERY function of our human body, from gut health to aging to allergies and more. And many of us in this community, deal with the autoimmune factors of inflammation. So I want to go over a couple of things as the basis of inflammation so we can better understand how to take care of it when we have our flareups.

First, acute inflammation is a short-term inflammatory process that comes to an end once the damaged tissue is repaired, for example you cut your finger. Five signs of acute inflammation include:

  • redness

  • heat

  • swelling

  • pain

  • loss of function

Second, we have chronic inflammation which can last years or even a lifetime as a lot of us know. Some examples of chronic inflammatory diseases are:

  • rheumatoid arthritis

  • allergies

  • obesity

  • asthma

  • psoriasis

  • Crohn’s disease

  • ulcerative colitis

In these diseases, the activation and mobilization of inflammatory agents, occur over long periods of time causing the long-term damage of tissue. And most chronic inflammatory conditions result in excess oxidative damage, which affects all of our organs and tissues which intern, negatively impacts immune and organ health including our brain.

What are the symptoms of inflammation?

1. Muscle aches and joint pain Muscle aches and joint pain are commonly caused by increased systemic inflammation. When inflammatory cytokines are elevated in the body, they can attack muscle and joint issue resulting in redness, swelling, and pain.

2. Skin rashes Both eczema and psoriasis are linked to hyper-sensitivity of the immune system and people with these conditions are more likely to have a greater number of inflammatory mast cells which when activated, trigger the skin rashes to surface.

3. Excessive mucus production Always needing to clear your throat or blow your nose? You are probably inflamed! When inflamed, mucous membranes produce thick phlegm in an attempt to protect specific cells in the lining of the respiratory system which results in coughing, sneezing, and a runny-nose.

4. Low energy So many of us with autoimmune conditions are constantly feeling fatigued despite getting adequate nightly sleep. This is yet another clue your body is fighting off chronic inflammation. Just like you feel run-down when you’re sick, when you are chronically inflamed, your immune system remains active and works overtime. And do you know what happens? Chronic inflammation increases the requirement of energy to ensure rapid regeneration of immune cells and further depletes you of the fuel you need to feel fully energized. Ah!

5. Poor digestion Chronic inflammation throughout the body can contribute to leaky gut syndrome, or intestinal permeability, which can cause bacteria and toxins to “leak” through the intestinal wall into the rest of the body. And 70% of our immune system is in our gut!

So how do you even measure for this?!

Well, I recommend checking for common markers that can be checked via simple lab work. One is C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and these levels in the blood increase when there is a condition causing inflammation somewhere in the body. Basically we want to detect inflammation due to acute conditions or to monitor the severity of disease in chronic conditions.

Another marker to look at is Omega-6 fatty acids (AA) which if at high levels, show there is inflammation in your body (typically from our terrible Standard American Diet (SAD). Omega-3 fatty acid (EPA) generate anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, and are measured against levels of AA to determine levels of inflammation in your organs. The goal is to have a ratio of AA (which is Omega-6), to EPA (which is omega-3) of as close to 4:1 as possible (most of our American diet puts people at between 10:1 and 20:1!)

There are also test for ferritin, CBC which is complete blood count, liver function test, fasting blood sugar, HbA1C (measures your diabetes risk), and low HDL.

Now, those tests are fairly easy and cost-effective to run.

We also have to consider the increasing epidemic of obesity, that we all tend to put to the side. Obesity creates a low-grade chronic inflammation where fat cells in the belly secrete inflammatory signals similar to how your immune system sends out immune signals. Obesity involves many aspects of inflammations such as elevated levels of CRP, mobilization of white blood cells to damage tissue, fibrosis which is the formation of excess fibrous connective tissue in an organ. Then in relationship to obesity there’s heart disease. What many people DON'T know is that inflammation rather than cholesterol is the true culprit of heart disease. Staten drugs used to lower cholesterol also significantly reduce inflammation which is great, but you also get the same benefits by following an anti-inflammatory eating plan. Then there’s high blood pressure which is also known as hypertension. As well as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

So crazy right? You wouldn’t think of some of those things as information diseases right?

What are some causes of chronic inflammation?

Nearly everything is an irritant to our system, from the air pollution to the types of cleaners we use and toiletry products, (over 80,000 chemicals we are exposed to in our environment) and all have the potential to produce some level of inflammation in our bodies.

But here are the major causes:

  • While many of us use some sort of medication to help alleviate a cute information and can alleviate symptoms of chronic information, they don’t fully resolve and can actually be toxic, keeping you chronically inflamed and further contributing to tissue damage.

  • Various infections can lead to many forms of inflammation, affecting the heart, organs, brain and central nervous system. I have had chronic infections this past year and can totally relate!

  • Environmental toxin exposure results in changes to our endocrine system and these endocrine disrupting chemicals can be in plastics, lotions, make up and sunblock. Rates of asthma and allergies increase with exposure to these and toxins in cigarette smoke have immune disrupting affects. And here’s the thing this is crazy, only 2% of chemicals have been tested for safety and humans so we’re basically running a population wide experiment!

This all sounds hard, doesn't it? So what CAN we do?

Here are the steps I recommend to reduce your inflammation and get you on a path to recovery:

  1. Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing and focus on an elimination diet to allow your body to heal

  2. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity— mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity

  3. Fix your gut. Imbalances in your gut flora have been linked to a whole host of diseases including autoimmune disease. One of the best ways to get your gut back in balance is to give the bugs good food in the form of prebiotics. This food can come in many forms, including inulin (not insulin) from chicory or Jerusalem artichokes.

  4. Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics to help calm your immune response naturally (but not without guidance from a medical professional).

  5. Exercise regularly—it’s a natural anti-inflammatory

  6. Practice deep relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, or massage because stress worsens the immune response.

These 6 things are all things we can take charge of ourselves. The more you learn about your body, the better you can heal it! Inflammation is an amazing unifier of most chronic diseases, so if you want to optimize your current and future health, you can do so by minimizing inflammation. Take note if you have symptoms that seem consistent with inflammation, check for it with blood tests and the guidance of a physician, and do your best to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.


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