Gut Health and Autoimmune Disease

As you learned in my post about what triggers autoimmune disease, diet and lifestyle is at least a third of the equation! This is largely because of how diet, stress, and nutrient deficiencies impact the health of our gut and our immune system’s ability to regulate itself. Poor gut health is basically a prerequisite for developing an autoimmune disease.

There are three areas of gut health that we need to take into consideration: the physical integrity of the gut barrier, gut infections, and the microbiome. Imbalances in all three areas can lead to nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, and cause your immune system to go haywire! Since 70-80% of our immune systems live in our gut, this is incredibly important for those of us with autoimmune diseases!!

Gut health is foundational to all health – as Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut”. This has been proven again and again by science! Our diet is either helping or hurting our gut. We may be eating foods that are inflammatory or feed bad bacteria in our guts, or are simply devoid of nutrition.

If you think about it, the digestive tract is one long tube, from your mouth to your anus, that keeps your food on the outside of your body. That’s right, the outside. You might think, wait, Michelle, that avocado toast I had for breakfast is DEFINITELY on the inside of my body, and you might be right about parts of it, depending on how long ago you had breakfast! But the gut barrier, that is, the layer of cells that make up the lining of your digestive tract, is designed to keep certain things out and let other things through – it’s what we call “selective permeability”. This is super important to your health and immune system, as you might imagine!

In every single case where an autoimmune disease has been studied and tested for correlation with “leaky gut”, or “increased intestinal permeability”, researchers have found it.  

There are certain foods that increase intestinal permeability, but specifically HOW you eat may have even more to do with this than WHAT you eat. If you are eating too fast, while standing up, in your car, or generally in a stressed-out state, your body won’t get the signals that it needs to digest your food properly. Food that doesn’t get adequately broken down can pass through the intestinal walls and damage them in the process. Worse than that (and I know that sounds pretty bad!), these large complexes of undigested foods often get flagged by the immune system as invaders. This causes your immune system to mount an attack! At best this is a waste of resources, but these immune complexes (food + antibody cells) can also cause food intolerances or allergies, or, at worst – because of something called molecular mimicry – this can lead to autoimmunity.

Molecular mimicry:

“Molecular mimicry is defined as similar structures shared by molecules from dissimilar genes or by their protein products” (NCBI). There are only so many amino acids that make up peptide chains, that make up proteins. Proteins make up our bodies, as well as much of the food that we eat. It’s not surprising that some of them look like others!!

When food becomes an enemy of the state – I mean immune system – and our bodies start producing antibodies to fight it; sometimes because of this molecular mimicry, those antibodies get confused and start attacking our own body’s tissues.

This has been hypothesized regarding the connections between dairy and type 1 diabetes, dairy and Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s and gluten, and some viruses and Multiple Sclerosis.

The big takeaway here is that gut health plays a major role in Autoimmune Disease, and you can do SO MUCH with diet to reduce inflammation, heal your gut lining, and support your immune system, it’s definitely worth focusing on.

Have you tried a gut-healing protocol? Has it helped your symptoms? Let me know in the comments!