Autoimmune disease and the gut

08/07/2019

Over the last several months I have attempted to make a case for the urgency of shifting to a plant-based diet because of the immense impacts animal agriculture has on our planet. I hoped to show how our cultural attitudes shape our way of eating, and how eating a plant-based diet saved me from a lifetime of high-blood pressure pills and the side effects of prostate radiation and surgery. I have explained how dairy products contain casomorphins whose opioid effect tricks us into consuming them, and how a plant-based diet gives you all of the essential nutrients, including protein and calcium. Most importantly, I have tried to show how making this shift has an immediate impact on our health, on our planet and on animals.

I will now address how our diets, our approach to medicine, and the toxins that surround us are causing autoimmune disease for a growing number of people. According to a 2012 article published by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, “There is a disturbing trend in autoimmune disease diagnosis; many are on the upswing. Recent reports show that type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease not related to obesity), celiac disease and lupus, among other autoimmune diseases, are all being diagnosed at rapid rates.”

What is responsible for this trend? In their book, “The Good Gut,” Justin and Erica Sonnenburg argue that our digestive system is our key to health. How many of us have gone out to dinner and had a nice piece of prime rib, a baked potato topped with sour cream, bacon and chives, a cup of chocolate mousse for dessert and a couple of glasses of wine, and felt miserable all evening and into the next day? Did you make it hard for your digestive system to operate properly by eating such a meal? Perhaps our lifestyle, our medications and the environment are depleting our gut biome, the totality of bacteria and microbes in our gut.

The authors write: “Our digestive system is much more than a collection of cells that surround our last few meals—it also contains a dense consortium of bacteria and other microbes… Nurturing our gut bacteria so that they produce the compounds that our bodies need is one of the most important choices we can make for our health.” 

We live in a more sterile environment than our ancestors did, take antibiotics that destroy our gut flora, eat processed foods and animal products that are lacking in fiber and nutrition, consume herbicides and pesticides in our foods, live with continual stress, and exercise less and less. These factors contribute to a weakened immune system, which is crucial to our good health. 

When our digestive system is weakened by these factors, one or more of the many autoimmune diseases can occur. 

One of the primary causes that is being implicated in the occurrence of autoimmune disease is leaky gut syndrome: a weakening of the intestine walls that allows undigested food, toxins and contaminants to enter our blood stream unfiltered by our gut biome. Dr. Anna O’Malley, in her community medicine circle on the digestive system, reminded us that the “interior” of our digestive tract, from our mouth to our anus, is actually “outside” our body. Whatever we put in our mouths remains outside until, as if miraculously, it is allowed to enter the interior of our body after being thoroughly vetted by the millions of processes occurring along our digestive tract. Leaky gut syndrome, which circumvents this process and allows undigested foods to enter our blood stream, leads to the contamination of our insides and forces our immune system to work overtime, causing many serious health issues.

Although the cause of autoimmune disease is not known, most signs point to it originating in the digestive system. A healthy lifestyle filled with lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts will build healthy gut flora and protect you from developing health issues—and maybe even reverse them. Your transition to a more fiber-rich, nutrient-rich and antioxidant-rich diet can and will clear up many of your ailments. 

 

Dave Osborn is a semi-retired contractor and moisture and mold consultant. He has lived in Point Reyes Station for 31 years.