The Connection Between Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease
In functional medicine we have a saying, “when in doubt, treat the gut.”
Autoimmune disease is on the rise all over the world. Many have symptoms but are not yet diagnosed.
Autoimmune disease can take up to 5 years to diagnose.
So logically, if you have symptoms that you’re struggling with, why not get a head start and reverse the symptoms before they become a full fledged disease?
There are many precursors to getting an autoimmune disease, but we know that environment, genetic disposition, and our gut permeability are the three essential elements in developing an autoimmune disease.
Today I want to go a bit deeper to discuss why addressing our leaky gut is a wise first line of treatment for essentially every autoimmune patient.
Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are large molecules found in some bacteria.
They are what’s considered an endotoxin, which elicits a strong immune response when absorbed into the body.
Our bodies create antibodies against LPS when LPS enters through our gut barrier into our systemic circulation.
Gut permeability can then result in systemic inflammation through translocation, or movement, of LPS in our digestive system.
The image on the right are lipid portions of the lipopolysaccharides that are part of the outer layer of the cell. The endotoxins are released when the bacteria dies and the cell wall breaks apart.
Why is this important?
In humans, the presence of LPS triggers an innate immune response, activating our immune system and producing cytokines, which are inflammatory biomarkers.
Inflammation is initiated due to the reaction of those cytokines.
LPS is a common trigger of insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes.
Causes of Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)
- Poor dietary choices
- Stress and negative emotions
- Lectins (found in grains)
- Systemic disease
- Low stomach acid
- Toxic exposure
- Food allergy
- Toxic overload
These all collectively result in elevated total toxic & antigenic burden which ultimately leads to systemic disease.
What is Metabolic Toxemia?
- It affects 1/3 of the western population
- Occurs when LPS levels surge up during the first 5 hours after a meal
- Meals that are high in fat and dense in calories cause greater increase
- Elevated inflammatory markers are measurably high: IL 6, IL 1 α, triglycerides, and insulin
This is important because chronic metabolic toxemia can increase the risk of developing various chronic diseases.
Such disease include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disease, and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
What Happens When Our Body is Flooded with Toxins?
- Our immune system is activated
- The cells of our immune system recognize the patterns of the bacteria
- These immune cells are further bound with transfer proteins in our body to cause an immune inflammatory cascade
- The pro inflammatory markers are released and spread to all parts of our body, including our brain
Toxemia is increased during fed state and decreases during fasting state. This is why we are big advocates of intermittent fasting.
Additionally, metabolic toxemia is proven to increase weight gain by increasing:
- Inflammatory markers in our body
- Triglyceride production in our liver
- Resistance to insulin
So ultimately, lowering LPS in our body is key in controlling our immune related metabolic disease.
Yet, most meds prescribed for Lupus or other autoimmune disease further add to this toxic phenomenon.
Remember, a healthy microbiome is essential to:
- Neutralize LPS
- Improve our gut barrier
- Increase regeneration of our cells
And our immune system is triggered by:
- Abnormal microbiota
- Intestinal Permeability
- Lifestyle induced
- Results in toxemia
- Immune system activated
- Inflammation ensues
Why Treating Leaky Gut Makes Most Sense
We know there’s a direct correlation between our genes and the environment. The connection between gut permeability and autoimmune disease is clear.
Three conditions must be present for autoimmune disease to develop:
- Environmental trigger
- Leaky gut
Two major irritants that increase gut permeability are
- Translocation (movement) of colon bacteria into small intestines
The microbial toxins induce a phenomenon known as a molecular mimicry. We think that this is the cause of autoimmunity.
Many microbes produce structures that resemble or “mimic” the structures found in human tissues.
Specific microbial proteins are similar to human proteins.
So when our immune system fights against these microbes, our antibodies and T cells begin to cross react with tissues of the human host, which is us, causing an autoimmune reaction.
The autoimmune process can be stopped if the environmental triggers can be prevented. This can be done by re-establishing intestinal barrier function.
Which patients does this affect?
- Autoimmune (Crohn’s, RA, Hashimoto’s, Lupus, MS)
- Intestinal permeability
- Hypersensitivites (Allergies, Eczema, Rashes, Chemical and Food Sensitivities)
All the meds that are commonly prescribed for autoimmune disease have a negative side effect of worsening gut permeability.
This is because immunosuppressive therapies for inflammatory disease allow pathogens driving these processes to spread with greater ease.
Why go gluten free if you have an autoimmune disease? It’s because of zonulin.
Zonulin, a protein in the body that is released when gluten and bacteria are ingested, causes leaky gut.
Zonulin, toxins, LPS, and inflammatory cytokines enter circulation. This triggers an immune response and inflammation.
Zonulin levels are increased in those with the following conditions:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
There is high index of suspicion for toxemia in all these patients.
So if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease and want to address your leaky gut issues, decrease inflammation, and get to the root problem, follow what we consider the foundational nutrient support for autoimmunity.
Supplements for Gut Permeability and Dysbiosis
- Multi-strain Probiotics: 100 billion CFU/day for 30-90 days
- L-glutamine: 4 g/day for 30-90 days
- IgG: 2 g/day for 30-90 days
Supplements for Mitochondrial and Metabolic Health
- N-Acetyl Cysteine: 600 mg/day
- Αlpha Lipoic Acid: 200 mg/day
- Acetyl L-Carnitine: 500 mg/day
- Multivitamin: As recommended
- Vitamin D: 10,000 IU/day until levels reach 50- 70 ng/mL
Supplements for Inflammation
- Omega 3 fatty acids: 3-5 g/day
- Curcuminoid: 850 mg/day
- CBD oil: As recommended
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Thanks so much for joining us, I hope you found this helpful.
About the Author
Dr. Connie has suffered from Lupus for the last 16 years. As a result, she discovered that a holistic minded approach to health was most beneficial for herself in battling Lupus and for her patients, who battle everything from Autoimmune Disease to Weight Loss. Dr. Connie holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and a Masters in Public Health (Nutrition) from the renowned Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions. She is also a Registered and Licensed Dietitian in the State of Georgia. Additionally, Dr. Connie is a Functional Medicine Practitioner (Certification Pending 2017), a Registered RYT-200 Yoga Teacher & School (Yoga Alliance) and Certified Pilates Teacher (Pilates Method Alliance).