When diagnosed with an autoimmune condition we get information about “what” disease we have. We don’t often get a lot of information or insight into “why” it developed in the first place.
I struggled with this for many years after a diagnosis of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and then Adult-Onset Still’s Disease. I was given the answer to what I had, but no one seemed to be asking the right questions at the time to understand why the heck this was happening in the first place!
When investigating why our immune system isn’t functioning how it’s supposed to we can begin to look at different root causes in the body for answers. While there are many root cause issues that can ultimately lead to immune system dysfunction, the health of our digestive system or “gut” is one of the most important ones to consider!
We hear the term “gut health” thrown around a lot more because research and mainstream media are now reconnecting the the important role our gut play not just in our digestion, but also in our overall health! So why is this?
What does the health of our gut have to do with our autoimmune disease?
Firstly, 70% of our immune system lies in our gut. This makes sense because the gut is the main route of contact with the external environment in the way of our food or things we ingest. The gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) lies in close proximity to our gut and represents almost 70% of the entire immune system in this tissue . It’s highly concentrated in this area because it’s there to protect us against bacteria, parasites, and toxins that can come in from the food we eat. Anytime there is dysfunction going on with the immune system, in the case of autoimmunity or inflammation, we want to look to the gut.
The bacteria in our gut impact our overall health.
We’ve heard a lot about gut bacteria or the microbiome recently as research in this area is exploding! Although there is still a lot we don’t know, we do know that the bacteria in our gut have been linked to autoimmunity, cancer, mental illness, heart disease, obesity and metabolic disorders .
We can think of our gut as a little ecosystem with all different types of bacteria. There are trillions of bacteria living in our gut that can weigh anywhere from 1-6lbs! Researchers at the Human Microbiome Project now calculate that more than 10,000 microbial species occupy the human ecosystem .
We want this ecosystem to be in good balance for everything to functional properly. Most of the time these bacteria live in harmony and provide us with essential functions for survival. For example, genes carried by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract allow humans to digest foods and absorb nutrients that otherwise would be unavailable.
Just like in nature though, when you disrupt the ecosystem it can begin to cause problems.
Things like antibiotics, medications, diet, and stress can affect our microbiome and cause imbalances that can lead to overgrowth of bacteria or yeast and lack of microbial diversity. This can lead to localized inflammation in our gut.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system. What I learned in nursing school back in the day are the four characteristics of the inflammatory response which are redness, heat, swelling, and pain. When your body senses foreign invaders a specific cascade of events is set off in which your white blood cells and chemicals called cytokines mobilize to protect you.
This normal type of inflammation is a good thing as it helps your body to protect and heal itself. Inflammation is a beneficial immune response, but we want it to turn off when it’s done doing its job. A chronic, ongoing inflammatory response has been shown to influence every one of the major chronic diseases of aging like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and more .
Chronic inflammation in the gut can also lead to intestinal permeability or what known as “leaky gut.”
The lining of the gut is a single cell layer that covers both the small and large intestine. This single cell layer might sound tiny but it has a BIG important function. It’s there to absorb substances into the body from the food we eat, and also to restrict the entry of harmful substances and microbes from our gut into our bloodstream.
A strong gut barrier is critical to a healthy gut and body . Remember that our intestinal tract is the most intimate contact we have with the outside world because it directly interacts with the food we eat and the things we consume. Your entire immune system is protected from the environment in your gut (and what comes in from the outside world) by a lining that is only one cell-thick layer.
The cells in the lining of your small intestine are designed to be extremely close to one another. This is what allows only the smallest of particles and microscopic nutrients to cross the intestinal barrier and move into your bloodstream. The slight space between those cells is called a tight gap junction. When the cells surrounding the tight gap junction become inflamed they begin to expand and create a gap between the cells. This is the phenomenon known as “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability.
In the presence of leaky gut, portions of broken down food molecules leak through these fissures in the gut and into the bloodstream. As a result, the immune cells in the bloodstream are now activated by the food molecules that didn’t properly get broken down into micronutrients and are flagged as pathogenic invaders. This sets the stage for many immune and detoxification challenges.
As the inflammation in the intestine advances, the immune cells located right within the walls of the intestine can become further compromised. When the white blood cells in your immune system become confused by all they have to contend with simultaneously, your immune system can become compromised and leave you more prone to all sorts of illness.
Plus, with these surrounding conditions you are more susceptible to the overgrowth of opportunistic pathogens such as candida or other bacterial overgrowth. Increased intestinal permeability has been found to be an instigating factor for many health conditions, particularly autoimmunity, allergy, asthma, and eczema .
So, what do we do about this?
It really comes down to supporting the internal environment in the digestive system to bring things back into balance. You may have experimented with removing certain inflammatory foods like sugar or gluten which can be a great place to start. Supporting the gut not only involves thinking about what food we are eating, but also how our body is digesting and breaking down that food into nutrients we can use. Truly supporting a healthy digestive system involves more than taking a probiotic and cutting out gluten and is a process I’m really passionate about guiding people through!
In my own 15 year long journey with autoimmune disease supporting the health of my gut has been the #1 thing that has helped me. I’ve dealt with SIBO, SIFO, Dysbiosis, impaired fat and protein digestion and absorption, bloating, heartburn, constipation and more! Working with hundreds of women in my 1:1 coaching program as well I’ve seen time and time again the great impact that supporting a healthy digestive system has on immune health and overall vitality.
I’m super excited because I’ve created my online Love Your Gut Program to help guide you through this process in a simple, sustainable and transformative way! As a RN and Functional Nutrition Coach I’ve worked with hundreds of clients to achieve these outcomes. I’ve taken my teachings and put them together in this online program for you so you have all of that knowledge and guidance.
Love Your Gut is an online, self-paced, 5-step program designed to give you all of the tools you need to support a healthy digestive system so you can experience:
- More regular bowel movements
- Less bloating
- Improved digestion
- More energy!
- Improved immune health
- Better skin
- Improved hormone balance and detoxification
- Support with what’s going on in your body at a root cause level
You will also receive:
- Digestion 101 training
- Food and symptom journaling guidance to bring clarity to your specific issues
- Complete elimination diet guide + 7-day meal plan + handouts
- Coaching trainings on how to successfully avoid sugar and beat cravings!
- The Love Your Gut Recipe Book
- Guidance through the “5 Rs” of digestive health and how to apply them to your life
- Guest expert interviews from brilliant practitioners to add even more tools to your toolkit!
If you’ve worked with me or follow me you know that I’m not only going to give you a quick fix or a one size fits all template because, well, that simply doesn’t work when it comes to chronic health issues. Trust me, I’ve tried all of that in my 15-year journey with autoimmune disease!
This program gives you all of the knowledge and tools you need to start supporting your gut TODAY in a way that works for you. My goal is to empower you to take control of your health, cut through all of the overwhelm and conflicting information, and make some easy shifts to start feeling better right now.
Enroll here and get a $50 holiday discount until January 1st because I really do love your guts! I hope you enjoy this valuable resource to help take your healing to the next level. See you on the inside!
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- Zhang YJ, Li S, Gan RY, Zhou T, Xu DP, Li HB. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2015;16(4):7493–7519. doi:10.3390/ijms16047493
- Rastelli M, Knauf C, Cani PD. Gut Microbes and Health: A Focus on the Mechanisms Linking Microbes, Obesity, and Related Disorders. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018;26(5):792–800. doi:10.1002/oby.22175
- Rup L. The human microbiome project. Indian J Microbiol. 2012;52(3):315. doi:10.1007/s12088-012-0304-9
- Hunter, P. 2012 The inflammation theory of disease. EMBO Rep 2012;13:968-970 doi:10.1038/embor.2012.142
- Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017;8:598. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598
- Sturgeon C, Fasano A. Zonulin, a regulator of epithelial and endothelial barrier functions, and its involvement in chronic inflammatory diseases. Tissue Barriers. 2016;4(4):e1251384. doi:10.1080/21688370.2016.1251384