What causes autoimmune disease? - Shelley Cavezza, PhD

What causes autoimmune disease?

If you have an autoimmune disease, you may have been told that you just have to live with it.

But many autoimmune diseases can be successfully treated with Functional Medicine so that you can regain your health.

Here are some of the root causes of autoimmune diseases, something affecting more than 1 in 20 Australians.

LEAKY GUT, where the tight junctions, holding the cells together lining the gut wall, loosen. This allows larger molecules such as non-digested food proteins, viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, toxins, or chemicals to pass through. The immune system becomes alarmed and mounts a response.  Leaky gut can also lead to multiple food sensitivities.

STRESS, PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL, activates the sympathetic or “flight or fight” nervous system response. Ongoing, chronic stress results in a “hypervigilant” nervous system always in survival mode, resulting in increased cortisol, epinephrine, and immune activation. With prolonged high levels of cortisol, cortisol receptors stop working as effectively and cortisol loses its anti-inflammatory power. Studies have shown a correlation between early childhood mental and emotional traumas and increased risk for autoimmunity and other chronic health conditions later in life. High stress and high cortisol also lead to an unhealthy microbiome, leaky gut, food sensitivities, as well as blood sugar/insulin issues, and poor sleep. All these different mechanisms can contribute to the autoimmune process.

DYSBIOSIS or overgrowth of bad bacteria, fungus, parasites, or not enough good bacteria in the gut can cause chronic health issues such as inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune disorders. SIBO (small intestinal bacterial growth) is where bacteria move from the large bowel to the small bowel.  This is common in autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, scleroderma, celiac disease, and Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS can stimulate the immune response and can result in chronic inflammation and a mistaken autoimmune attack on your tissues.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES AND INTOLERANCES occur in response to inflammatory foods. The most recognised inflammatory foods include grains, dairy, sugar, corn, eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants). Food sensitivities are different from allergies in that the reaction may not occur until hours, or even days, after eating the food. Allergic reactions usually occur on exposure and can be severe and life-threatening.  Food intolerances are not an immune reaction, but an enzymatic deficiency. For example, lactose intolerance occurs when a person lacks the digestive enzymes to break down the sugar in milk. Other food intolerances include the inability to metabolise histamines, preservatives (such as sulfites), and lectins. Food intolerances result in inflammation and discomfort and pain.

NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES/INSUFFICIENCIES can lead to a sluggish dysfunctional immune system. Whole foods are the best way to obtain essential nutrients, but supplements can be used to help balance an overactive immune response. Nutrients to consider include Vitamin D, antioxidants such as glutathione, and essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These all have a range of benefits for many different immune cells in our body including regulating the production and secretion of cytokines, anti-inflammatory properties, and modulating T cell activation.

SEX HORMONE IMBALANCES can contribute to autoimmunity. Excess estrogen is pro-inflammatory. Progesterone, needed to help balance the effects of estrogen, is also a precursor to cortisol. During chronic stress when cortisol levels are high, progesterone can be depleted.


For more information on your specific health condition and how Functional Medicine can improve your health, book a FREE 20-minute appointment with Dr. Shelley Cavezza, PhD by clicking here.