Stools and Tacks
Stools and Tacks?
Autoimmune diseases are the most prevalent form of chronic illness in this country, now affecting almost 50 million Americans. There are around 145 diseases now classified as autoimmune. Autoimmune diseases are reversible and curable if caught early before they progress and cause severe pain, disability, and even death. Reversing a chronic disease takes time, effort and commitment and it can be done. So what do stools and tacks have to do with autoimmune illnesses?
Gluten and Celiac
Individuals with celiac disease require on average five doctors and 11 years of symptoms before receiving a correct diagnosis. Undiagnosed celiac can lead to thyroid disruption and is a common trigger of polyautoimmune syndrome (more than one autoimmune diagnoses). When the microvilli are worn down in the intestines, individuals end up unknowingly malnourished and with intestinal permeability - which creates an environment for other autoimmune diseases to appear.
Even Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), a gluten sensitivity without positive blood work, can be a trigger for autoimmune diseases at least as frequently and some cases more frequently than celiac disease. Wheat sensitivity is the initiator to many systemic autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune diseases happen because genes are turned to the “on-switch” by factors in our environment. There are a “spectrum” of autoimmune disease responses by your body. The spectrum refers to a scale of related and increasingly severe responses. A "diagnosis" simply describes where in the body the autoimmune condition is occurring and what tissues are being affected.
There is science that shows that if three specific triggers are met, autoimmunity occurs. These three triggers include:
- genetic propensity
- environmental (toxins/virus/bacteria, stressors, food sensitivities)
- intestinal permeability (food sensitivities, digestion and absorption issues leading to nutrient loss.
Think of these as three legs of a stool.
Three Legged Stool
Think of these three triggers as legs of a stool. There are many ill people who often times do not even see their storms or stressors until we dig deep enough to find them. It can be any combination of stressors which causes the storm. For example, mercury from amalgam fillings, toxins from a moldy home, a bacterial, viral or Lyme infection, and/or a pesticide exposure from a nearby farm. Even everyday personal care products produce a toxic load.
You could have one or two of these stressors occurring in your life and then you are hit with an unexpected emotional stress (job loss) or physical stress (automobile crash). The combination of stressors becomes the perfect storm in which your illness is triggered.
If these stressors are not removed, the gene expression will never change for the better (first leg of the stool). It is these stressors that turn on the gene for illness in the first place. Therefore, if even one of the stressors remains, the efforts as described in leg one to turn off the gene that was turned on for autoimmune or any condition will be futile. Remember, it is a three-legged stool that only stands when all the legs are present and functional. (Credit to Dr. Fasano)
Three Part Healing
Healing from autoimmune requires the following:
- Focus on the digestive system - Because the immune system lives in the digestive system, the focus is on prioritizing whole foods, identifying and removing food sensitivities, healing the gut, maximizing digestion and absorption of nutrients; assuring proper levels of three key digestive components including stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and bile. Proteins in genetically modified foods, or in foods our bodies were never designed to eat, cause immune reactions in our digestive tract.
- Calming our bodies through mind/body work - The body is highly responsive to stress and adapts to a survival mode (rather than an optimal) mode during times of emotional, physiological and psychological stress. The body focused on survival rather than optimization. Stress can often change digestive processes, hormone levels, and overall biochemistry.
- Environmental factors - We live in a toxic world, surrounded by chemicals - in everything from fluoride to glyphosate to pesticides to candles to makeup. Healing requires identifying things we can remove from our lives to reduce the toxic load on our bodies. We don't live in a bubble and can't control everything so the focus is on what we can control.
Sitting on a Tack
Sidney Baker, M.D. is one of the founding physicians of applying a functional medicine approach to chronic illness. He is known for this saying: "If you are sitting on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make it feel good! If you’re sitting on two tacks, removing one does not make it feel 50% better." Functional medicine encourages medical professional to not simply attempt to suppress symptoms of illness (i.e., immunosuppressants) but to work towards learning the root cause(s) of illness (i.e., microbes > low stomach acid > nutrient deficiency > thyroid disease).
This functional medicine movement aimed to encourage other doctors to view chronic illnesses in a different perspective. Our medical system is built very well to respond to and protect lives in the event of acute illnesses and injuries. Chronic illness (including autoimmunity) deserve to be treated in a different manner before they turn into acute, life-threatening situations, and to preserve the opportunity to have optimal health and wellness throughout our lives.