Updated: Sep 11
The immune system is a constant balancing act that is influenced by stress, environmental factors, and various infections. It can be simply described as a seesaw that functions best when it is in balance. When things such as allergies or heavy metals drive this out of balance, you become more susceptible to infections. Chronic infection or exposure to toxins leads to the release of immune cells called antibodies that function to attack specific substances as they enter the body. When this happens, there can be accidental attacks on the body itself, leading to what we call autoimmunity. There are many conditions that are driven by autoimmunity including Crohn’s disease, lupus, Sjorgren's, Grave's Disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The list goes on, but they all have a common driver. In this article, we will discuss how to fix autoimmunity.
Immune Balancing Act
The “seesaw” that is the immune system that I mentioned previously has two sides to it. There is the Th1 side and the Th2 side. Th1 immune cells tend to be pro-inflammatory and is necessary to fight off viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. Th2 immune cells tend to be anti-inflammatory and induce antibody production against a wide variety of substances such as allergens, parasites, heavy metals, and pesticides. When one side of this seesaw goes up, the other goes down, which is why some people seem to have weak or sensitive immune systems. If Th2s are high, viruses and bacteria are more likely to cause an infection instead of being killed before they become an issue.
Chronic Th2s & An Autoimmune Disorder
When dealing with autoimmune disorders, they are often caused by a chronic Th2 immune response. This leads to long-term antibody production that can eventually lead to these antibodies attacking normal cells and tissues. This can lead to a shift into production of Th17 immune cells, which are heavily responsible for autoimmunity. To put it simply, decreasing Th2s can allow the immune system to resume balance, which can decrease production of Th17 cells and autoimmune symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners will often run food sensitivity tests, heavy metal tests, and other various allergy or toxic exposure tests to see what triggers may be contributing to elevated Th2s. This can provide an excellent look into what the body is reacting to, but it also gives you a long list of things that you’d need to stay away from that might not be necessary.
There Can Only Be One (Usually…)
A food sensitivity test can have upward of 75 different foods on it. In somebody who has severe Crohn’s disease, their food sensitivity test might light up like a Christmas tree. It might show sensitivities to well over half of the foods included on the test. How can a patient be expected to eat such a reduced diet? Some people are able to make these changes and see great results. Sometimes, there is a single driver that might be taxing the immune system and causing it to be hyperactive. If you can identify this and eliminate it, then the system can calm down. Dairy or gluten are great examples of foods that can trigger hypersensitivity to many things beyond just foods. To make a long story short, fixing the few immune drivers that are contributing to a hypervigilant immune response can do wonders to calm autoimmune symptoms.