Your immune system is pretty powerful.
It’s your body’s main defence against everything you face in daily life:
- and many more harmful organisms.
No matter where you are, your immune system must be on guard at all times. It also has to distinguish the good from the bad.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes get this wrong.
And when that happens, your immune system can attack your own cells.
This can spell the beginning of a huge range of autoimmune diseases, from coeliac disease to rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers still aren’t completely clear on why your immune system makes these errors. However, numerous studies have suggested that it could be to do with the trillions of microbes in your gut.
Your gut and your immune system
One of the most interesting findings in recent years is the link between autoimmunity and gut health. Research has shown that autoimmune diseases may have several causes, and many of these are to do with what’s going on in your gut.
As I’ve explained before, your gut microbiota is a complex community of microbes that affect many aspects of your health. The lining of your gut works like a defence barrier; it allows the “good stuff” (vitamins, minerals and other nutrients) into your bloodstream while keeping out the bad stuff (toxins, pathogens).
But if the gut lining is faulty – as in the case of Leaky Gut Syndrome – all sorts of microbes and other harmful substances can get into your bloodstream. This causes your immune system to panic and mistakenly attack your own tissues. That’s often the ‘trigger point’ for autoimmune disease.
Gut bacteria and autoimmune disease
Many people who have already been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease also have other autoimmune diseases. This appears to be linked to the type of bacteria in their gut.
An imbalance of bad bacteria in your gut could predispose you to autoimmune diseases.
This is because your gut microbiota can influence or interfere with the way your immune cells detect what is foreign (and therefore harmful) and what isn’t.
People with autoimmune diseases are often found to have poorly-functioning gut barriers, such as Leaky Gut. This can result in your immune system being exposed to certain harmful gut bacteria. This can lead to “overreactions” of your immune system toward the gut microbiota, which further contributes to the severity of their condition.
The type of bacteria in your gut is also linked to autoimmune disease. Patients with Crohn’s disease are found to have excess numbers of a bacteria called adherent-invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC). This bacteria causes an inflammatory reaction in the intestine.
More research has even found that a certain protein produced by common gut bacteria may trigger the onset of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. This protein – produced by a bacterial strain called Bacteroides fragilis – is found in higher amounts in patients with autoimmune disorders. The problem with this specific microbe is that it produces molecules that look like a human protein, “tricking” the immune system into attacking its own cells.
Any time your body attacks itself, an autoimmune disease can develop.
Autoimmune disease and zonulin
As well as gut bacteria, certain proteins in the gut lining can affect your susceptibility to immune-related disorders. Both human and animal studies show that higher amounts of zonulin are integrally involved in the development of autoimmune diseases.
Zonulin is a protein made by the liver cells and it’s thought to be a big part of the lead-up to an autoimmune disease. Zonulin works by closing the spaces or “junctions” between cells in the lining of the digestive tract, so it plays a major role in tolerance and immune response.
Zonulin is actually designed to protect you from harmful bacteria. If you eat something that gives you salmonella, it’s zonulin that will trigger diarrhoea and flush the bad bugs out of your body.
But it’s also been found that levels of zonulin are much higher in people who are gluten-sensitive. Gluten contains gliadin, which is a major trigger of zonulin release.
Zonulin is also higher in those with other autoimmune conditions associated with tight junction dysfunction, including type 1 diabetes.
Reduce your risk of developing an autoimmune disease
Looking after your gut health is a priority for any age and stage of life. The earlier we can identify a condition such as Leaky Gut or gut dysbiosis, the earlier we can treat it. That’s why a comprehensive consultation with a natural health practitioner – like me – is a crucial step in managing your lifelong health.
There is good evidence to suggest that treating the gut with probiotics and gut-healing nutrients can manage or even reverse some autoimmune conditions. But prevention is even better!
If you’ve been struggling with digestive issues or inflammatory reactions, it’s time to get in touch with me!