The prevalence of both auto-immune diseases and allergies are increasing worldwide. In fact an estimated 50 million adults are currently diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. The increasing prevalence of these conditions suggests that immune systems are not as healthy as they once were.
What factors play a role in reduced immune function?
- Alcohol consumption
- •Pain medications
- Antibiotic use
- Stress levels
- Birth history
(C-section vs. vaginal birth)People are now beginning to recognize that many conditions, especially allergies and autoimmune diseases, may begin with the bacteria colonized in the gut, which is affected by the environment and a person’s lifestyle. The Western diet is often cited as a main contributor to the rising prevalence of these conditions because it disrupts the balance of healthy gut bacteria.
Although gut health can play a role in both autoimmune diseases and allergies, they are two different types of reactions.
1| Autoimmune diseases: The body recognizes itself as an invader and attacks healthy tissue. The specific cause of autoimmune diseases is
often unclear – in some cases, genetics may play an important role, but environmental exposures, like diet and lifestyle, play a crucial role as well. Symptoms of an autoimmune response vary based on the condition but can include pain, aching, fatigue, and disrupted musculoskeletal health.
- Celiac disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
2| Allergies: The body has an abnormally elevated immune response
toward a particular substance that is considered harmless to most people. Allergies may be toward food, dust, pets, insects, or even plants. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include skin rashes, headache, sinus pressure, gastrointestinal distress, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Food allergies, in particular, are on the rise.
The top eight food allergens are:
Allergies and autoimmune diseases may manifest differently, but they are essentially an inappropriate reaction from the immune system and lead to inflammation. Simply put, inflammation refers to the body reacting to something it recognizes as foreign or from an injury it’s sustained. Inflammation is often a crucial part of the healing process, but if inflammation becomes chronic (lasting for an extended period), it makes us more susceptible to illness or disease.
The classic signs of inflammation include:
What you may not realize is that nearly 70% of the immune system is located in your gut – referred to as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) – which is why the bacteria present in the gut are so important to our health.
Approximately 2,000 different strains of bacteria live inside or on us. In fact, it’s estimated that bacterial cells outnumber our own human cells. These bacteria serve a variety of functions, including breaking down food, metabolizing drugs, detoxifying, helping the immune system mature, and regulating the immune system over time.
Still, not all bacteria in the gut are beneficial – overpopulation of undesirable strains of bacteria can take a major toll on our immunity.
When the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good,” it is referred to as dysbiosis. Over time, this can lead to “leaky gut,” or increased intestinal permeability. This means the integrity of the intestinal lining has become compromised and no longer functions efficiently as a barrier. This may cause the immune system to constantly be on high alert and leads to inflammation.
According to Robin Berzin, MD, the remedy for leaky gut is to:
- Remove inflammatory foods
- Consider supplements like aloe, glutamine, licorice, and l-carnitine
• Add probiotics to help populate the gut with good bacteria
• Add prebiotics to feed the good bacteria
Improving gut health helps support long-term health. Remember, if you’re experiencing symptoms of frequent gastrointestinal discomfort or reactions, your body is trying to send you a message. You may want to experiment with removing inflammatory foods from your diet and working to support your gut health – keep in mind that this won’t happen overnight and may require the support of a skilled professional.