When heart disease is autoimmune

324 heart autoimmunity

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting about 11 percent of the population. For the majority of people, heart disease is driven by diet and lifestyle factors, however research shows an increasing number of heart disease cases can also have an autoimmune component. This means the immune system is mistakenly attacking and destroying heart tissue, causing symptoms and weakening the heart.

Typically heart disease is linked with a diet high in processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates, lack of activity, and obesity. The good news is that means people who make the effort can ameliorate or reverse their condition through a whole foods diet and exercise.

However, when an autoimmune reaction is part of the picture, the approach is more complicated. If the autoimmunity has destroyed enough tissue, it can be too late to reverse the condition and its symptoms. With autoimmune rates exploding in recent years, hopefully more doctors will screen for autoimmunity so an autoimmune heart condition can be caught in time to manage it.

Heart autoimmunity

The symptoms of an autoimmune reaction against the heart mimic heart disease symptoms. They include cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), fluid retention, tiring easily, chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, edema with exercise, and difficulty breathing. An unmanaged autoimmune reaction to the heart can cause inflammation, scarring, and, in rare cases, sudden death. Also, poor heart function affects the lungs, liver, and other organs and systems in the body.

Typically, doctors in the standard health care model do not screen for autoimmunity until the end stages of disease when symptoms are severe. Fortunately, you can identify an autoimmune reaction before it’s too late with a blood serum antibody panel.

This panel screens for autoimmunity against heart tissue by checking for myocardial (a protein the heart releases in response to stress) or alpha-myosin (cardiac tissue) antibodies. If these come back positive it’s an indication the immune system is attacking heart tissue. If the condition is more advanced, you may be given a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle.

If you know you have an autoimmune condition, you can take the steps to potentially slow or halt its progression through proven diet, lifestyle, and nutritional therapy strategies. You should also regularly monitor your heart health.

Gluten sensitivity affects heart autoimmunity

Sometimes gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are associated with cardiomyopathy and a gluten-free diet can improve the condition, sometimes profoundly. For some it even reverses the condition. Cardiomyopathy has also been shown to worsen in those with celiac disease who continue to eat gluten. People with cardiomyopathy or a history of heart inflammation should always screen for gluten sensitivity using newer, more advanced testing since a gluten-free diet may significantly improve the condition.

Other strategies for heart autoimmunity

When a person tests positive for autoimmunity, a gluten-free diet should be adopted given the links between gluten and autoimmune disease, including heart autoimmunity. A more intensive autoimmune diet may be necessary to repair the gut, dampen overall inflammation, and help balance the immune system.

Ask about my office about nutritional therapy strategies to manage heart autoimmunity.

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Could your chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms be autoimmune?

do you have autoimmunity

Do you have chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other mysterious symptoms that make you miserable? But does your doctor say your lab tests are fine and you’re perfectly healthy? It could be you have an autoimmune reaction and don’t know it.

People can develop an autoimmune reaction to virtually any tissue, enzyme, or protein in their body. Autoimmunity means the immune system has failed to distinguish between foreign invaders, which it was designed to attack, and body tissue, which it was designed to protect. As a result, the immune system attacks and destroys specific parts of the body.

Symptoms of autoimmunity vary depending on which part of the body is being attacked, but they often include chronic pain, chronic fatigue, brain fog, poor neurological function, chronic inflammation, digestive problems, or poor mood.

A primary characteristic of undiagnosed autoimmunity is chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms that seem irresolvable, despite “normal” lab tests and scans. Perhaps you even have been told your health symptoms are due to depression and you need to take antidepressants—this is not uncommon.

Autoimmunity may not be diagnosed as disease

What may be happening is that you have an autoimmune reaction to one or more parts of your body that is causing chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms, but the condition is not advanced enough to be diagnosed through conventional testing and qualified as a “disease.” As Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MNeuroSci, author of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? and Why Isn’t My Brain Working? explains, people can have symptoms years or even decades before being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

For instance, a person may have trouble controlling blood sugar despite a good diet because of an autoimmune reaction in the pancreas. However, not enough tissue has been destroyed for a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Or a person can have symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but not enough tissue has been destroyed for it to show up on an MRI. Or persistent and severe adrenal fatigue could be the result of autoimmunity in the adrenal glands that is not advanced enough to be diagnosed as Addison’s disease.

This is not to say you should assume a health problem is autoimmune in nature, but when it is persistent and stubborn, it is a possibility to consider.

You can test for autoimmunity before it progresses to disease

Fortunately, we have autoimmunity testing today that can screen for antibodies against multiple tissues to determine whether an autoimmune reaction is causing chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms. Antibodies are proteins that tag a foreign compound for the immune system to destroy and remove. When you produce higher than normal levels of antibodies to certain parts of the body (it’s normal for old and dying cells to be tagged for removal), this means you are having an autoimmune reaction against that tissue or enzyme.

When a person presents with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other persistent symptoms, screening for an autoimmune reaction can help us determine whether that plays a role in symptoms. If so, we then know we can work on balancing an overzealous and improperly functioning immune system. Also, if your test shows an autoimmune reaction but you have no symptoms, you now know that proper diet and lifestyle choices will help prevent the progression of autoimmunity.

Today we have many scientifically proven strategies to tame autoimmunity, improve function, and increase your well being. These include an autoimmune diet and nutritional compounds to balance the immune system and quench inflammation.

Ask my office how we can help you get to the bottom of mysterious conditions, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and other symptoms. Despite what your doctor may have told you, you are not making up your chronic symptoms or simply in need of antidepressants.

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Mother’s inflammation raises risk of child’s autism, asthma, and allergies

mother s autoimmunity autism

While practitioners of functional medicine have long understood the link between the health of a mother’s immune system and the risk of giving birth to a child with autism, asthma, allergies, and other disorders, it is validating to see this information in the New York Times: An Immune Disorder at the Root of Autism.

In this article, the author reports one-third of autism cases are the result of an inflammatory disease that began in the womb, thanks to the mother’s imbalanced immune system. Looking back through 20 years of data, researchers discovered that infections during pregnancy increase the risk of autism. Hospitalization for a viral infection (i.e., the flu) during the first trimester tripled the odds for autism, while a bacterial infection (including urinary tract infections) during the second trimester increased the risk by 40 percent.

Maternal autoimmunity increases risk of autism in children

While viral and bacterial infections have declined over the last 60 years, autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disorders are steadily climbing. Autoimmune disease dwarfs cancer and heart disease combined, now affecting about 50 million people, or 20 percent of the population.

Investigation revealed it isn’t the infections themselves that cause autism, but instead the reaction of the mother’s immune system to infection (her inflammatory response), as well as the overall health of her immune system.

One study of 700,000 births found that a mother’s rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, or Type 1 diabetes more than doubles the risk of autism in her child. Other research has connected additional autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, with an increased risk of giving birth to a child who develops autism.

In an autoimmune response, the immune system mistakenly creates antibodies to the body’s own tissue, thereby tagging the tissue for destruction. Researchers have found that some mothers of autistic children create antibodies to the brain tissue of their fetus, meaning the child is a born with a brain already developmentally imbalanced by immune destruction. In fact, research indicates that mothers of children with autism are five times more likely to have anti-brain antibodies in their systems.

Chronic inflammation in pregnancy raises risk of childhood disorders

Other risk factors for autism include maternal asthma, allergies, insulin resistance, obesity, and chronic low-grade inflammation. In other words, when a mom’s immune system is in constant overdrive—never getting the opportunity to rest—the development of the fetal brain is adversely affected and the overall risk for disorders is increased.

Western diet and lifestyle behind inflammation and autoimmunity

Unfortunately, the story An Immune Disorder at the Root of Autism veers into the promise of using whip worms—yes, worms—to tame the out-of-control immune system. The theory is that autoimmune disease has skyrocketed in developed nations because we are too clean.

The article fails to mention those other hallmarks of Western civilization besides good hygiene: overabundant diets laden with sweet, starchy, processed foods; chronic stress; a sedentary lifestyle; and daily bombardment of environmental toxins.

Thankfully, practitioners of functional medicine have measures other than the whip-worm therapy to manage autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation, all backed by peer-reviewed science. These include an autoimmune diet and the use of targeted, customized nutritional therapies.

Ask my office how we can assist you in balancing your immune system and, in so doing, help you to lower the risk of giving birth to a child with asthma, allergies, autism, or other brain and immune disorders.

Autism is often an autoimmune brain disorder

autism-autoimmune-disease

The rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has increased 78 percent in the last decade, with autism now affecting a staggering 1 in 88 children. While parents scramble for answers, researchers increasingly find a common denominator: inflammation affecting brain function.

While some children withstand the assaults of modern life relatively unscathed, the child with autism has neurologically-based reactions to foods, vaccines, viruses, environmental chemicals, or other immune triggers. Some studies show this imbalance in immune function can begin in the womb, often influenced by the mother’s health. The question, of course, is why.

Children born to moms with autoimmune disease more likely to develop autism

For starters, recent studies show that autoimmune diseases run in families, and children born to mothers with autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis, are three times more likely to be born with autism. Researchers say the mother’s circulating autoimmune antibodies may create an abnormal immune environment that can affect the developing fetus.

Maternal obesity and diabetes raise autism risk

An autoimmune disease isn’t the only risk. Any kind of maternal immune imbalance can affect the immune health of the fetus. For instance, women who are obese are 67 percent more likely to have a child with autism. Women with diabetes are also more likely to give birth to a child with autism. Both obesity and diabetes keep the body in a state of chronic inflammation, which can affect the immune health of the developing fetus.

Leaky gut and fetal immune health

Another risk factor that can pass to the fetus is intestinal permeability, commonly referred to as leaky gut. Excess sugars and starches in the diet (i.e., gluten and junk foods) along with chronic stress can inflame the gut and cause the intestinal lining to become porous, or leaky. Because some 80 percent of the body’s immune system resides in the gut, a leaky gut triggers a cascade of inflammation that extends beyond the gut and into the brain and body, including the placenta of a pregnant woman.

Damaged gut walls will allow undigested foods, bacteria, and other pathogens to escape from the intestines into the bloodstream. These circulating pathogens affect the fetus by stimulating an immune response that may affect the development of the fetal brain.

Immune health affects the developing brain

Since we know the immune system affects the developing brain of the fetus, it’s important to approach conception and pregnancy with immune health in mind. This will not only reduce the risk of autism but also make the child less susceptible to other immune disorders, including asthma, eczema, food intolerances, allergies, and other brain developmental disorders (e.g., Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, ADD/ADHD, etc.)

You don’t HAVE an immune system; you ARE an immune system

Regulating immune health requires a whole-body approach that addresses diet, adrenal health, hormone health, gut health, food intolerances, and the autoimmunity of both parents—though the mother in particular. An anti-inflammatory diet is foundational to a healthy immune system. Studies have shown the effectiveness of a gluten-free and dairy-free diet or, more ideally, the immune balancing autoimmune diet. Not surprisingly, many children see symptoms of autism resolve through a similar whole-body approach.

Of course, most children born to a parent with an autoimmune disease do not get autism, however properly managing an autoimmune disease not only reduces the risk of autism, but also makes the pregnancy and postpartum period easier and more enjoyable.

When a gluten-free diet is not enough

gluten-free grain-free autoimmune

For many people, a gluten-free diet erases all their chronic health problems like a magic wand. For others, it doesn’t make a dent, despite a proven gluten intolerance. What gives? A diet that also eliminates dairy, grains, and other foods may be necessary, along with nutritional compounds to restore gut health.

Gluten damages the small intestines and causes chronic inflammation. This inflammation extends to other parts of the body and helps explain why gluten triggers so many disorders, including joint pain, skin disorders (eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, etc.), fatigue, depression, or mood disorders from inflammation in the brain. It even increases the risk of death for people with celiac disease.

A gluten-free diet reduces inflammation and allows the gut to recover, which often alleviates symptoms elsewhere in the body.

However, newer research showed that the small intestines of up to 60 percent of adults in one study never completely healed on a gluten-free diet, especially in those who didn’t adhere to the diet fully.

In another study, only 8 percent of subjects fully recovered gut health on a gluten-free diet for 16 months, and only 34 percent recovered after a gluten-free diet for two years in yet another study.

These are pretty grim numbers for a diet that has taken the natural health world by storm. Does this mean a gluten-free diet is not worth the effort?

Absolutely not.

Going beyond a gluten-free diet for gut healing

These studies shed light on the fact that a gluten-free diet often is not enough to recover gut health. One may still suffer from gut inflammation, poor absorption of nutrients due to damage of the intestinal lining, and leaky gut (leaky gut allows undigested food and pathogens to escape into the bloodstream, where they cause more inflammation).

This explains why some continue to suffer from chronic inflammatory disorders and autoimmune disease despite a gluten-free diet.

So what’s the solution? One is to look for other food intolerances. Because gluten causes leaky gut, undigested food escapes into the bloodstream and provoke an immune reaction. This leads to allergies and sensitivities to many other foods. Ferreting out these foods with a strict anti-inflammatory elimination diet is an important first step. Many people find they feel and function better eliminating all grains, as well as dairy and even legumes.

Using nutritional therapy to unwind gut inflammation

In functional medicine we have also identified nutritional and botanical compounds that can help unwind the chronic inflammation in the gut and, thus, elsewhere in the body. These include nutrients to support glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant, as well as nutrients that dampen inflammation through nitric oxide modulation. Glutathione in particular is essential to repairing and protecting intestinal health.

The botanical compounds resveratrol and curcumin have also been shown to dampen inflammation. Resveratrol is a compound derived from Japanese knotweed, and curcumin is derived from the popular curry spice turmeric. Both are well known for their antioxidant qualities.

Research shows that taking them together creates a synergistic effect, making them potent tools for quenching the inflammation and damage in the small intestines and elsewhere in the body.

Enhancing the gluten-free diet goes the distance

Although a gluten-free diet is vital to restoring health for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, it might not go the whole distance. Removing other foods and using nutritional therapy to quench inflammation are also important steps to restoring gut health.

Fight inflammation with glutathione recycling

glutathone autoimmune hashimoto's hypothryoidism leaky gut

The term “antioxidant” has become popular in a multitude of products from acai to dark chocolate, but the most important antioxidant is the one made by your body: glutathione. Sufficient glutathione is vital for good health.

Glutathione is a molecule that protects the body in many ways. It shields cells from damage caused by oxidation and inflammation, it aids in detoxification, and it helps the immune system function at its best.

When glutathione production drops, you are more vulnerable to:

  • autoimmune disease
  • chemical sensitivities
  • heavy metal sensitivities
  • inflammatory disorders
  • intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  • other immune issues

Chronic stress depletes glutathione

When we are healthy, our bodies make enough glutathione to protect us. However, chronic stress, whether it is from toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, smoking, excess sugar, or other stressors, eventually exhausts glutathione levels. Glutathione levels also decrease gradually as a result of aging.

A glutathione supplement is not effective taken orally. Instead, people can boost glutathione levels through a liposomal cream, nebulizer, suppository, or IV drip. These methods will help raise glutathione levels and your general antioxidant status, which can reduce inflammation and improve health. However, they do not raise glutathione inside the cells.

Glutathione recycling raises levels inside cells

To raise glutathione levels inside the cells, where it can protect the cells’ energy-producing factories called “mitochondria,” you must enhance your body’s ability to recycle glutathione. Recycling glutathione means taking glutathione that has already been used to protect the cells, and rebuilding it so it’s ready for action again.

Studies show a correlation between the inability to recycle glutathione and increased autoimmune disease. Glutathione recycling helps balance the immune system, protect body tissue from damage caused by inflammation, and also helps repair damage. Good glutathione recycling is an important tool in managing autoimmune disease.

Glutathione recycling helps repair leaky gut

Glutathione recycling also helps protect and repair the gut. It’s common for people with autoimmune disease and inflammatory disorders to have leaky gut, which exacerbates their immune condition. Poor glutathione recycling weakens gut integrity, making a person more prone to multiple food sensitivities and chronic gut issues. Good glutathione recycling is a vital part of restoring and protecting gut health.

Boosting glutathione recycling

One of the most important steps to enhance glutathione recycling is to remove stressors depleting glutathione levels. These may include lack of sleep, smoking, food intolerances, diets high in sugars and processed foods, excess alcohol intake, and metabolic imbalances, such as with the hormones or immune system.

Beyond that, a variety of nutritional and botanical compounds have been shown to support glutathione recycling. They include:

  • N-acetyl-cysteine
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • L-glutamine
  • Selenium
  • Cordyceps
  • Gotu kola
  • Milk thistle

Booting your glutathione levels with a glutathione liposomal cream and then supporting glutathione recycling can profoundly enhance the management of autoimmune disease, inflammatory disorders, chemical sensitivities, food sensitivities, and more.

Contact my office for advice on how you can support your glutathione recycling system.

Combined resveratrol and curcumin for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders

resveratrol curcumin autoimmune inflammatory

Thanks to exciting new research, we can more effectively manage autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory disorders that plague so many people today. This new approach involves the use of two natural compounds, resveratrol and curcumin, which have been found to work better when taken together than separately.

Synergy between resveratrol and curcumin

Resveratrol is a compound derived from Japanese knotweed, and curcumin is derived from the popular curry spice turmeric. Both are well known for their antioxidant qualities.

However, newer research shows that taking them together creates a synergistic effect, making them potent tools for quenching the inflammation and damage associated with autoimmune flare-ups and chronic inflammation.

Successful for many autoimmune, inflammatory disorders

Examples of these disorders include autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s), arthritis, brain fog, gut pain and inflammation, multiple food and chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, asthma, eczema and psoriasis, and other conditions related to inflammation or autoimmune disease.

Going beyond TH-1 and TH-2

When we manage an autoimmune disease in functional medicine, we identify why the immune system is imbalanced, and work to restore that balance.

In simplest terms, the immune system can be divided into two parts. The pro-inflammatory side of the immune system (also called “TH-1”) responds immediately to an invader in the body, such as by surrounding a splinter with pus.

The anti-inflammatory side of the immune system (“TH-2”) has a delayed response and produces antibodies to an invader. These antibodies tag the invader so that if it shows up again, the immune system can respond more quickly.

In a healthy person, these two systems work in balance. However, in the person with an autoimmune disease, one of these systems has become overly dominant.

This polarity between TH-1 and TH-2 underlies autoimmune conditions, and we use nutritional therapies to help restore balance. This helps tame inflammation and autoimmune disease.

TH-17: The new immune player

Studies have increasingly spotlighted another important player in the immune system called TH-17. While appropriate expression of TH-17 is important for immune defense, overactivation of TH-17 plays a key role in autoimmune disease and chronic inflammatory disease. When it comes to quenching flare-ups, TH-17 is our newest target.

This is where the synergy between resveratrol and curcumin come in. Working together, resveratrol and curcumin have been shown to dampen the pathways that activate TH-17, thus protecting tissue from inflammation and damage.

Inflammation and excess body fat

An interesting study on the anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol and curcumin also looked at obesity. One of the most unfortunate aspects of excess body fat is that it creates low-level, chronic inflammation.

This chronic inflammation feeds autoimmune disease or chronic inflammatory disorders. This is a double whammy for the person struggling with weight gain due to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, an autoimmune thyroid disease. This study found that working together, resveratrol and curcumin significantly reduced inflammation caused by excess fat tissue.

As a side note, the resveratrol curcumin combination is also being studied for its effectiveness in fighting hair loss, psoriasis, joint disease, and other inflammatory disorders.

Immune regulation

Resveratrol and curcumin also work by supporting “regulatory T cells.” These cells do what they say—they regulate the activity of TH-17, TH-1, and TH-2, keeping all the facets of the immune system in check. When they don’t work efficiently, the immune system can tip out of balance, thus promoting inflammation and autoimmunity.

Other compounds that successfully support this regulation system include vitamin D3, vitamin A, fish oil or krill oil, specific probioitic strains, nutrients that boost activity of glutathione, our master antioxidant, and nutrients that act on nitric oxide pathways.

Resveratrol curcumin combo is exciting breakthrough

The exciting new research on TH-17 gives functional medicine practitioners new tools with which to approach autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory disorders. By unwinding vicious cycles of inflammation, they help protect the body, whether it is your knees or your brain, from the damage and degeneration caused by inflammation.