by Sean Croxton
I love living in downtown San Diego.
I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
I’ve been here for almost three years. The people are nice, crime is low, and Padres season never fails to liven things up during the spring and summer months.
But if there is one thing I haven’t gotten used to in all my time here it’s the one-way streets. Those things come out of nowhere! There have been plenty of days when I’d come to my senses at just the last moment before going against traffic down 7th Avenue.
I prefer walking to driving anyway. At least once a week I catch myself waving my arms frantically from the sidewalk in an attempt to get an errant driver’s attention.
No one wants to see an accident.
But imagine a place where no one called out to that driver, a place where oncoming traffic preferred not to flash their lights and slow down, where bystanders just stopped, watched, and waited for a head-on collision.
That would be crazy.
Such is the state of conventional medicine’s approach to autoimmunity. Allow me to explain.
Right now, approximately 50 million Americans, or one in five people reading this blog right now, suffer from autoimmune disease. According to our good friend-in-gluten Dr. Tom O’Bryan, autoimmunity is the number three cause of morbidity (sickness) and mortality (death) in the industrialized world. Unfortunately, many people with autoimmune conditions are either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
Autoimmunity is what happens when your body’s immune system goes haywire and confuses your own tissues as foreign invaders. The immune system produces antibodies against these tissues, causing their progressive destruction.
The keyword here is progressive. It doesn’t happen overnight.
For example, your immune system may be currently producing antibodies to your thyroid. You may not feel any effects today, however five years from now you may experience symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Your doc may ignore the antibodies (they usually never test for them anyway) and prescribe some form of thyroid medication. Yet the problem does not reside in the thyroid itself. Rather, the root cause is the autoimmune reaction being perpetrated by the thyroid antibodies produced by your immune system! Medication won’t stop these antibodies from flaring up and chewing away at your thyroid tissue. The destruction continues.
So you’re in and out of the doc’s office for years with the same recurring symptoms that only seem to be getting worse. Eventually, you are diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition for which severe conditions are commonly treated with steroid medications. Not good.
Here’s my beef. In order for an autoimmune condition to be officially diagnosed, there must be severe tissue destruction. But again, this destruction does not happen overnight. It is progressive. What absolutely boggles my mind is that the current medical approach to autoimmunity is to be the bystander watching the car drive against traffic without warning until an accident happens!
Maybe it’s just me, but I would assume that early detection of these antibodies (we’ll discuss this tomorrow) as well as addressing the faulty immune system would be a much more effective approach in controlling autoimmunity.
Notice that I used the phrase “controlling autoimmunity”. Once the autoimmune genes have flipped on, they stay on. The best we can do is contain them. This may be discouraging for some, but containment is certainly preferable to severe tissue destruction.
Think of it this way. You can turn your car around and drive with traffic instead of against it.
Understanding the cast of characters playing a role in autoimmunity is paramount to containing it. The key players we will discuss today are the mucosal/intestinal barrier, the TH-1 and TH-2 immune systems, the regulatory T-cells, and TH-17 system.
You’re Letting the Flies In!
A healthy mucosal barrier acts like the screens that cover your windows, letting the good guys in and keeping the bad guys out. This protective mucosal layer lines your airways, lungs, intestines, and reproductive tract.
Your intestines are where 80% of your immune system resides. When the intestinal barrier is compromised, it is like a kid coming around and poking holes in your window screens on a hot day with no air conditioning. Next thing you know, you’ve got a house full of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. Ugh!
When your intestinal barrier is compromised due to inflammation, bacterial and/or fungal overgrowth, parasites, stress, medications, and/or food sensitivities, you’re in the same predicament as you were with the holey window screens. But this time undigested food particles and various gut bugs can cross over into your bloodstream where they’re not welcome. When this happens, your immune system recognizes these antigens as invaders and mounts an immune response to fight them off. In other words, it acts just like you when you have a room full of flies. Your immune system grabs a magazine and starts whacking away!
Of course, you can’t spend your whole summer swatting flies. If you’re smart, you’ll go to the hardware store and buy yourself some new window screens. And maybe give that crazy kid a spanking. We’ll get back to this. The new screens. Not the kid.
Playing Seesaw with the Fat Kid
The design of your immune system is something to behold. It makes nerds like me get all excited and stuff!
The two pathways of primary importance to those with autoimmune reactions (antibodies only, no diagnosis) and autoimmune disease (severe tissue destruction, diagnosed) are the TH-1 and TH-2 systems.
The TH-1 system goes on the attack when it encounters an invader (antigen). You can think of it as the FBI chasing after the bad guys.
The only problem with this FBI squad is that they got hit hard by federal budget cuts and lost their vision coverage, making them dependent on the TH-2 system to properly identify intruders for them in the case of future antigenic invasions. The TH-2 system does this by tagging intruders and entering them into a criminal database. That way, the next time the intruders attack, the TH-1 system will be ready to pounce all over them.
An imbalance between these two systems is where the immune system goes wrong and autoimmunity begins. If the two sat on opposite sides of a seesaw, they should both have their feet off the ground. However, when the systems become polarized with one side of the seesaw on the ground and the other way up in the air, you should start looking for oncoming traffic.
An overactive TH-1 system is an immune system in “shock and awe” attack mode just looking for something to go after, including your own harmless tissues, glands, and organs.
An overactive TH-2 system is one that gets tag-happy, sticking tags on everything it can, including innocent bystanders like perfectly healthy foods you consume every day. Consequently, mistaken identity goes on the rise with your immune system committing frequent acts of friendly fire.
Autoimmune conditions tend to be TH-1 or TH-2 dominant. While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, TH-1 dominant conditions include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, and Type 1 diabetes. TH-2 dominant conditions include lupus and dermatitis.
Regulators! Mount up.
If the dominance of one side of the immune system is keeping the seesaw from moving, you need the help of the T-regulatory (T-3) cells to even them out. Think of them as seesaw-balancing specialists. When these cells are asleep on the job, imbalance occurs and one side of the seesaw hits the dirt.
Quite interestingly, opioids stimulate T-regulatory cell activity. This is why many autoimmune conditions go into remission while spending time laughing with loved ones.
There’s Always a Villain
The final character in this immunological movie is TH-17. He’s all about drama. The severity of autoimmune flare-ups depends on the activity of TH-17. When activity is high due to increased stress, lack of sleep, or depleted glutathione, bad things happen.
Did someone say “glutathione”?
(((the crowd goes wild)))
Sorry, guys! I’m out of time. Gotta wait until tomorrow when you’ll learn how raising your glutathione levels repairs the intestinal barrier, balances TH-1 and TH-2 via activation of T-regulatory cells, turns down that big meanie TH-17, and much more!
Same underground time! Same underground channel!