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Understanding The Relation Between Gut Health and Autoimmune Conditions

Our immune system is crucial in defending us against potential threats from a variety of sources. However, the same immune system begins to damage our body due to malfunctioning occasionally, giving rise to autoimmune diseases. Hence, it is important to keep our gut health in check to minimize such instances and prevent the onset of autoimmune conditions.

If you are still wondering how is your digestive system related to your Immunity? Let us tell you that 80% of your immunity comes from the gut. Every time you consume something, you are either boosting your immune system or weakening it. More reasons for us to be mindful of what we eat. Not just the food but even the medicines we consume have an impact on our gut and can be a deciding factor in the development of diseases caused by a malfunction of our immune system. In this blog, we explore the relationship between our gut health and autoimmune diseases.

What is the Gut and How does it Function?

The gut, also known as the gastrointestinal system or digestive system, is the passage that begins from the mouth to the intestines. The function of this system is to break down the food we eat, digest it, absorb nutrients, and eliminate the waste products generated through the rectum. The intestines have a protective lining that separates them from the blood, called the intestinal barrier. This barrier is semipermeable, which means it allows only specific substances to pass, like nutrients, electrolytes, and water, while blocking other harmful or futile substances and eliminating them from the body. Something similar to a liquid strainer.

Understanding Immunity and Autoimmune Diseases

Our immune system is designed to protect us by sending out antibodies that fight infection-causing pathogens. This immune system, however, at times mistakenly attacks our own healthy cells, organs, and tissues instead of pathogens, leading to autoimmune diseases.
Some of the common autoimmune diseases include Lupus, Graves’ Disease, Psoriasis, Crohn's Disease, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, Arthritis, Asthma, etc. The symptoms of autoimmune diseases could be very common, from mild fatigue, cold intolerance, abdominal pain, or bloating to difficulty concentrating. Hence, many times, autoimmune diseases can go unnoticed or undiagnosed.

The Connection Between Gut and Autoimmunity

Numerous factors, including the environment, smoking, certain medicines, and others, can contribute to the development of autoimmune illnesses. Let's examine some of the different ways that the stomach is connected to the emergence of autoimmune diseases.

● Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity

Anything that we consume that is undigested is acted upon by the gut microbiome or passed in the stools. The intestinal barriers that act as doorkeepers are attached tightly to each other by strong bonds, allowing only selected items to go across into the bloodstream. When these bonds are broken, the gut barrier lining develops gaps in between, causing certain foreign particles like partially digested food, bacteria, pathogens, toxins, etc. to enter the bloodstream. This condition is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. Since these foreign materials do not belong in the bloodstream, they send out a signal that triggers an immune response, like in autoimmune diseases.

● Gut Microbiota and Autoimmunity

Dysbiosis: The human body is a host to trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live inside or on us. Bacteria are present everywhere in the body, but the largest colony of bacteria is present in our gut. The microorganisms, particularly in our gut, known as the gut microbiome, have an essential function to perform. Our gut system balances the good and bad bacteria that work together to keep us healthy. From helping with digestion to regulating the immune system, the gut microbiome does it all. These gut bacteria influence the intactness, strength, and permeability of the intestinal barrier, thereby influencing the immune response. Thus, an imbalance in the proportion of these good and bad bacteria can lead to autoimmune diseases like colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatic arthritis, etc.

● Diet and Autoimmunity

Environmental factors, such as the type of food that we expose ourselves to, also have an impact on our immunity. Most of your fast food or junk food is either rich in sodium, sugar, fat, or all of them. Such diets and processed food items promote inflammation in the body, resulting in the development of autoimmune diseases.

● Food Allergy and Autoimmunity

Food allergies may trigger autoimmune reactions, which can vary from mild to severe, life-threatening conditions. Food allergies happen when the immune system identifies a food-based protein as an invader. During such allergies, the immune system tends to overreact to the harmless allergen, causing tissue destruction. The most common food allergens include peanuts, eggs, milk, soy, gluten, fish, sesame, etc. Celiac disease is one such autoimmune disease triggered by the consumption of gluten in foods.

● Stress, Gut, and Autoimmunity

Ever experienced those stomach cramps when stressed out or felt those butterflies when nervous? That is a result of the connection between your brain and gut. Researchers have also found that psychological stress causes a change in the intestinal bacteria, thus influencing the immune cells to counterattack your own body cells, leading to the onset of autoimmune disease. The severity and type of autoimmune disease may vary and present themselves in the form of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, scleroderma, juvenile diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, etc.

Improving Your Gut is the First Step to Reversing Autoimmune Diseases

Preventing or reversing autoimmune diseases would involve two factors: Eliminating the causing factor and improving gut health, thereby improving immune function.

● Probiotics & Prebiotics

Restoring the gut microbiome's balance can help suppress autoimmune conditions. This restoration can be obtained by including probiotics (healthy microbes) containing foods and prebiotics (the fiber that serves as food for the probiotics) that help the good microbes grow and multiply, thereby helping to improve gut health.

● Avoid toxins

Exposure to toxins such as mercury, silica, pesticides, trichloroethane, aluminum, asbestos, smoking, etc. is also responsible for the onset of autoimmune diseases by disrupting certain hormones and leading to immune dysfunction. These toxins also lead to autoimmune diseases through various mechanisms like damaging the intestinal barrier, blood-brain barrier, and pulmonary epithelial barriers, depleting antioxidants, bringing about DNA mutations, etc. Opt for BPA-free products. Start with small steps, use hygiene and cosmetic products free of chemicals. Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before use.

● Include anti-inflammatory foods

Reduce processed food consumption. To reduce inflammation, eat an overall healthy, balanced diet. Focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats. Try to include certain food items that possess anti-inflammatory properties, such as tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, nuts like almonds and walnuts, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines, and citrus fruits like berries, guava, etc.

● Reduce stress

An important but underrated factor for healing an autoimmune disease is stress management. Try destressing activities such as practicing yoga and meditation, listening to soothing music, taking frequent breaks and walks in nature, getting sufficient sleep, and socializing with friends or family members.

● Avoid foodborne allergens

The most simple way to avoid any allergic reactions to food is to simply abstain from it. Read the labels carefully. Learn about the particular food allergen that triggers symptoms in you after its consumption. Eliminate the foods that may contain the particular allergen. Make informed decisions about your food choices to avoid those unnecessary immune flare-ups.

● Limit antibiotics

Antibiotics are great at fighting infection-causing microbes. However, along with fighting the bad ones, antibiotics also tend to destroy the good microbes in our gut. Thus, frequent consumption of antibiotics can backfire by creating an imbalance in the gut microflora (a colony of bacteria in the gut), thereby leading to the development of autoimmune conditions.

● Use gut supplements

Although this doesn't have a direct role in reversing autoimmune diseases, supplements can help promote gut health, which will indirectly help you with better immune functioning. These supplements are available as effervescent tablets, gummies, etc. Some of them, which are also available as capsules, are made to be gentle on your digestive system. They release nutrients gradually over the course of eight hours and contain the ideal quantity of probiotics and prebiotics. Another interesting form of the supplement is oral strips, which use advanced molecular science to compile all the essential nutrients in a thin film that is not just fast-acting but also provides better absorption of nutrients.

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