When We Turn Our Bodies Against Us

In recent years, especially after the COVID pandemic, we have all heard the words “immune system”. The immune system is responsible for protecting our body against invaders. The immune system has mechanisms that work like lock-and-key sets. This means that when something invades our bodies (for example, bacteria, viruses, or toxins), the immune system checks if it has the keys to fight that invader. If it doesn’t yet have the right key, it can try to generate one. Over time, our immune system looks like a prison guard with a large key holder. Thus, every time an invader tries to attack us, the immune system has the key to lock it away (aka: fight it), keeping us healthy and protected.But, sometimes, things get messy. Errors occur. The prison guard gets confused and may even lock up innocent bystanders. In other words, we have our immune system fighting against us.

When Things Go Wrong

We call this autoimmunity. This phenomenon is characterized by the immune system of an organism attacking its own healthy cells or tissues.[1] This means that our immune system has wrongfully recognized its own healthy cells as invaders.

Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? You would not hurt yourself on purpose. Why would your body do that? Interestingly, it took many years for scientists to agree with the idea that our immune system could indeed attack us.[2]

Autoimmunity is considered an exacerbated environment of inflammation, which leads the body to react against itself. For example, having inflammation is natural and, in fact, beneficial for wound healing.[3]

But what is inflammation?

Inflammation is the process that occurs in our bodies as a response to trying to recover and heal from something harmful.[4] Unlike autoimmunity, inflammation is something that we can easily identify. Remember that feeling of pain, warmth, swelling, and redness when you accidentally bump into something or cut yourself? This is an example of inflammation taking place. Although it seems simple, inflammation is in fact a quite complex biological process. This is where our bodies try to clean or remove the source of the aggression and the dead cells from the original insult.[5] Therefore, you might be thinking: “Ok, I understand that the immune system is part of the inflammation process. But what causes inflammation?

Well, besides getting injured, inflammation can start with physical “triggers of immune response”. The most common triggers that you probably already heard about are[1]:

  • Stress [2]
  • Environmental pollutants, especially air pollution [3] and microplastics [4],[5]
  • Medication
  • Processed foods [6]

Fortunately we have natural barriers against physical agents, such as the skin  and our gut. Nonetheless, breaches in these barriers can happen. We are more familiar with skin wounds, but we should also not forget that similar “cuts” can happen in our gut. We are not talking about intestine rupture/perforation, we are talking about leaky gut.

Leaky Gut

Leaky gut, as the name indicates, is a condition (not recognized by most traditional doctors) where the gut is “leaking”.

But leaking what and to where?

Well, as you probably already know, we have little organisms living in our gut (aka: intestinal flora[1]) that help us to maintain a barrier against harmful bacteria. In perfect conditions, the bacteria present in our gut does not cause us harm. Instead, they protect us and help us.[2] However, certain foods (gluten, for example) and toxins we consume can damage the gut. And when there is an increased fragility of the walls of our intestines (specifically the epithelial lining), this natural barrier becomes compromised. At this stage, there is a breach in our defenses and this allows bacteria, and toxins, to enter the bloodstream.[3]  This is a serious complication that in normal conditions should not happen. For example, if you tried to inject food particles into your blood with a syringe, you would cause an inflammatory response. And basically, the same thing is happening when you have a leaky gut. Food and toxins enter the bloodstream and then cause serious complications. Indeed, this can cause repercussions for the whole body.

Close attention must be given to this condition (since it is likely that it will persist , and it could be the start of a complex autoimmune disease).

Common symptoms associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome that you should be alert of are fatigue, headaches, food sensitivities, and bloating. Have experienced any of those lately?

Over-activation of the immune system

Leaky gut will then contribute toward developing chronic (or prolonged) inflammation. And, this state can cause the immune system to over-activate. What does this mean? It means that our immune cells that are fighting a particular agent (for example, gluten) begin to attack other components that look like gluten, but are not gluten. Returning to the previous analogy—have you ever tried opening a door with the wrong key, and claimed it was the right one? Basically, this is our immune system getting confused, and attacking anything that looks alike. As you can imagine, this is a positive loop that can get worse and worse if not addressed. What is happening in our immune system is that the white blood cells are doing what is called cross-reactivity.[1]  For example, do you have sensitivity to gluten? And now you are also getting sick after eating peanuts and/or dairy products? Oddly enough, cross-reactivity was also identified between gluten and instant coffee. But not with espresso coffee.[2]

Ultimately, continuous inflammation and cross-reactivity may lead to the development of autoimmune diseases. At this stage, our body is no longer fighting against invaders, it is also fighting itself.

Some of the most well-known autoimmune diseases are[3]:

  • Diabetes (type I);
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis;
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD);
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE);
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS);
  • Rheumatoid arthritis;

Resolving The Issue

What can we do to solve this?

Let’s start with the basics. Eat well and Exercise. These two things alone have a tremendous impact on most health conditions. In this case in particular, it is suggested that only 20 minutes of moderate exercise (moderate-paced walking), can have huge health benefits for individuals suffering from autoimmune conditions.20  As for diet, eating fresh whole foods promotes a healthy gut microbiota which helps tame the exacerbated immune response.[4]

Obviously, this is just the basics. There is a lot more to consider depending on where you are in your health journey. Talk to your physician and do some blood work to understand the levels of inflammation in your body. And even consider getting Autoimmune Reactivity and Permeability Screens, and Cross-Reactivity Tests[1].

With that data, a specialized professional can help you come up with a game plan to eliminate the aggressors causing your symptoms. In addition to providing your body with what it needs to heal and thrive.

If you need some help, contact us so one of our team members can guide you in your health optimization journey

If you want to learn more about this topic, please check this week’s video lecture. Click the button below to watch it.
[1] https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2022/06/understanding-autoimmune-diseases
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123849298000022
[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation
[4] https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16369558/
[6] https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29948328/
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34634403/
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31733547/
[10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33183327/
[11] https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/gastrointestinal-articles/what-foods-cause-or-reduce-inflammation
[12], and it could be the start of a complex autoimmune disease).[5]
[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24394457/
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34886561/
[15] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28588585/
[16] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34509978/
[17] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28588585/
[18] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36433849/
[19] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1568997217301271?via%3Dihub
[20] https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/autoimmune-diseases
[21] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24394457/
[22] https://www.cyrexlabs.com/CyrexTestsArrays
If you need some help, contact us so one of our team members can guide you in your health optimization journey.


Marcos de Andrade MD, MBA
Chief Executive Officer

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