The study of immunology has progressed a lot over the past 30 years. We have a better understanding of how things interact and affect each other than we did years ago. Over the past several decades there has been a significant rise in autoimmune disorders like Hahimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s Disease , Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, etc. Autoimmune disorders are significant because the same immune system that is supposed to protect you has now turned on you and is attacking your body rather than protect it from attack.
In Dr. Datis Kharrazian’s new thyroid book, he gives a great explanation of the immune system by correlating it to a crime scene:
“Let’s say you are a house. Like a house you have barriers that protect you from the outside world, the way windows , walls, a roof and doors protect the inside of a house. Except your windows and walls are your skin and the lining of your intestines, lungs and brain. You can imagine what it’s like to live in a house where the roof leaks, the windows have holes in them, and wind can blow through the slats of the walls. The same thing can happen to your body when holes develop in its protective barriers. A cut in the skin is an obvious example. Less obvious are leaks that develop in the lining of the gut, the lungs and brain due to stress and an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. After these barriers become leaky, it’s not wind or rain that gets in, but instead “antigens”- that is, undigested particles of food, bacteria, parasites, molds, or happens, environmental toxins. This intrusion triggers a wonderfully orchestrated immune response. The first units on the scene or macrophages, a Greek word meaning “big eaters.” These cells are stationed in body tissue and constantly on the lookout for intruders poised to attack and sound the alarm whenever one enters. I like to think of them as overweight security guards carrying clubs, but no guns. Although they are the first on the scene, they need help to overcome the antigen.
The macrophage envelops the intruder, creating an antigen presenting cell (ACP) that acts like a burglar alarm, summoning the rest of the immune system to come help. The first to respond to the alarm are T-helper cells, dispatchers who organize the attack. The T-helper cells send messengers to bring elite police force – natural killer cells and cytotoxic T-cells to swarm the intruder and destroy it. Back at central headquarters, police sergeants, T-regulator cells monitor the scene to ensure there are enough T-helper cells and T-suppressor cells, cells that stop the immune reaction once an intruder is disarmed, and that they are doing their job.
The immune system takes no chances at another attack, and assumes the intruder is a member of organized crime. T-helper cells fetch the detectives, B-cell antibodies, which attach to the intruder and put all his information into a memory bank. This identification process makes the natural killer and cytotoxic T-cells more efficient at recognizing and destroying the intruder if he comes around again. Although the natural killer and cytotoxic T-cells are like an elite S.W.A.T. team, they nevertheless also have poor vision and rely on the B-cells to spot intruders.
The Autoimmune Crime Scene
Like a movie that involves the Mafia, bad cops and double-crossers, matters at a typical crime scene can go awry when any of the players deviates from his job. This is what happens in the case of autoimmune disease, when some cells of the immune system start destroying the body they were designed to protect. Here are a few possible scenarios:
Although Hasimoto’s is the most common autoimmune disease it’s possible to develop an autoimmune reaction to anything in the body, including organs, joints, hormones, the brain, nerves, muscles, etc. Proper care is based not on the tissue being attacked, but on how the immune system is behaving. Autoimmune diseases are on a precipitous rise in industrialized counties, sending researchers scrambling for explanations and cures. (One Example is a whipworm infestation for Crohn’s Disease!) According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, In., approximately 50 million American, 20 percent of the population, one in five people suffer from autoimmune disease. Woman are more likely than men to suffer from these disorders. Some experts estimate that 75 percent of some 30 million people affected are woman.
It’s not always possible to pinpoint what exactly triggers a person’s genes to turn on an autoimmune disease. However numerous risk factors exist. I suspect the weakening of the immune barriers, such as the lining of the digestive tract, respiratory tract, and the blood-brain barrier is a big factor. When these barriers are healthy and strong, intruders cannot pass through, so only the occasional emergency and maintenance work such as clearing out dead and dying cells musters the immune system. But as health weakens due to poor diet, unstable blood sugar, gut infections, chronic stress and adrenal malfunction, these barriers weaken and become porous. The result is intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, not to mention leaky lungs and leaky brain. Over time the immune system is working around the clock to battle invaders penetrating the barriers from every direction. These stealthy culprits may be in the foods you eat or the air you breathe, and with the immune system so overworked you have no backup fighters and little relief. An Army pushed too far for too long is at risk for mutiny, attacking the very thing it is designed to protect, the human body.”
(Kharrazian, D.: Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal; pg 43-47 Morgan James 2010) (www.Thyroid360.comto order the book)
There are over 80 different types of autoimmune diseases and they attack many different tissues in the body like brain, eyes, nerves, muscles, skin, etc. Once your body starts attacking one tissue, it many times spreads to other tissues as well. That is why people with undiagnosed autoimmune conditions just keep getting sicker over time. Hashimoto’s may start out as an attack on your thyroid but soon it will move to your stomach lining, brain, nerves, muscles, etc.
Control Not Cure
The goal of treatment is to try and balance out your immune system and stop the attack on your body. The standard medical treatment is to use steroids or immune-suppressant drugs. WE try to figure out which part of your immune system is overactive and then support the opposite side to bring balance to your immune system. Once you have the attack started we are never going to cure the problem but we are trying to control the flare-ups. Common triggers to autoimmune conditions are food allergies like glutens, dairy and soy which I have written about in earlier newsletters. We can help you sort out which immune support you need and which foods to avoid so as to minimize the damage to your body and make you feel a ton better!
Happy 4th of July! We will be closed Monday the 4th for the holiday. I will also be out of the office Friday July 29th and Monday morning Aug 1st for a trip back to the Midwest to see family. I will be in the office at 2PM August 1st (unless my flight has problems). Hope you all are having a great summer!