Autoimmune Diseases

What do asthma, food allergies, eczema, psoriasis, lupus, arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis have in common?

They are all auto immune diseases.

Auto immune diseases have at least two main causes:

  • Changes in the individual’s protein, which is then seen as foreign by the immune system.
  • A hyperactive or hypervigilant immune system that attacks the person’s own protein as if it were foreign. One reason for this is poor adrenal function. Adrenal steroids modulate (slow down, placate) the immune system. When there is not enough of these steroids the immune system goes berserk.
    We diagnose these conditions with Antinuclear Antibody, Food Allergy Tests (blood), sed rate, saliva adrenal stress tests, as well as various other blood tests if and when necessary.

Our treatment for autoimmune diseases is individualized and normally avoids prescription medicines.

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the body’s immune responses being directed against its own tissues, resulting in inflammation and destruction. A wide range of degenerative diseases are caused as a result. Immune dysfunction can cause immune responsive cells to attack the linings of the joints, resulting in rheumatoid arthritis, or prompt defectively functioning immune cells to attack the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas, resulting in insulin-dependent diabetes. A healthy immune system first recognizes bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells that are not normally present in the body and then attacks and destroys the foreign agents using a variety of mechanisms, such as engulfing. A defective immune system, on the other hand, wreaks havoc throughout the body.

There is a whole class of degenerative diseases that are caused by changes in the immune system that result in the immune system attacking normal cells in the body. Any disease is considered autoimmune if antibodies of cytotoxic cells are directed against self-antigens in the body’s own tissues. Diseases such as lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hepatitis, diabetes, pancreatitis, and rheumatoid arthritis can develop and become dangerous diseases requiring drastic measures to control and correct. Allergy is also the result of disordered immune function. Additionally, there are other diseases that may be the result of autoimmune dysfunction, such as multiple sclerosis.

Age is an important factor in the appearance of autoimmune diseases. However, some people experience these types of diseases very early in life. The immune system may also be suppressed or weakened as a result of factors not associated with a degenerative disease but due to the intake of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs, sugar, and of course poor diet and lack of sleep. These lifestyle factors can have a substantial effect on the trends of autoimmune diseases.

As we age, our autoimmune system declines in its effectiveness due in large part to oxidative damage caused by the recurrent presence of significant amounts of free radicals. This kind of oxidative damage has been implicated in such autoimmune diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune hepatitis, and lupus.

Basic Pathways of Autoimmune Dysfunction
Autoimmune diseases tend to be viewed as separate entities. A broader perspective, however, may reveal shared mechanisms that are the cause of disease, rather than just its by-product. If this perspective were applied, patients would benefit from improved therapies and early intervention, before the development of irreversible tissue damage. As reported in the journal Hospital Practice, Dr. Majid Ali has long considered that there must be a single initial common pathway to all disease, including immune dysfunction.

Of concern is the fact that our environment- our air, water and food in particular-is full of toxic substances. There is no doubt that these toxins play a role in immune dysfunction. Even substances considered by most people as safe to eat actually impair immune function. Glucose, fructose, and sucrose are all forms of sugar. Eating 100 grams will impair the ability of white cells to destroy biological agents. The effect begins within a half hour and lasts for 5 hours. After 2 hours, there is a 50% reduction in immune function. Other factors that decrease immune function are obesity, eating excess fats and alcohol, and stress and fatigue.

The Effect of Natural Supplements on the Autoimmune System
The autoimmune system needs a good nutritional foundation over a long period of time to alleviate or reverse lifestyle autoimmune dysfunction and to assist with combating fully developed autoimmune diseases. The fundamental causal basis for autoimmune system boosting was shown in a study that was designed to measure the serum concentrations of vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin A in patients prior to developing rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus. Two to fifteen years after the volunteer patients had originally donated their blood to the serum bank (1974), the serum samples were assayed for vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin A. Those patients who developed rheumatoid arthritis or lupus showed lower serum concentrations of vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin A in their serum from 1974. Those who had the lowest serum level of beta-carotene in 1974 were the most likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis later in life. This indicates the long-term importance of maintaining adequate vitamin status for the prevention of autoimmune diseases.

Vitamin C also plays an important role in immune function; intravenous administration of large doses of vitamin C can stimulate healthy immune function in patients.

In a study conducted at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center (Lipids, 1994), it was found that fish oil containing vitamin E delayed the onset of autoimmune diseases in autoimmune-prone mice. Another study on the effects of vitamin E deficiency was conducted in the United Kingdom and published in Inflammation Research (1995). It was found that dietary components that alter the antioxidant/oxidant status may contribute to the treatment of inflammatory/autoimmune diseases.

Supplementation with omega-3 essential fatty acids from fish, flax, or perilla oils-along with borage oil, evening primrose oil, or black currant seed oil, which contain the essential omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linoleic acid (GLA)-can alleviate many symptoms of autoimmune disease through their anti-inflammatory activity.

One protocol used with a great deal of success involves daily supplementation with 4 capsules a day of a concentrated fish oil encapsulated supplement called Mega EPA, along with 5 capsules a day of a borage oil preparation called Mega GLA. These two oils provide the essential fatty acids that have been shown to favorably modulate immune function and help correct autoimmune disease. For those who don’t like fish oil supplements, flax or perilla oils can be substituted. When consuming supplemental oils, it is especially important to protect the body from excessive oxidation that would normally occur in response to ingestion of these fatty acids. Most members of The Life Extension Foundation take 3 tablets, 3 times a day of an antioxidant preparation called Life Extension Mix that provides ideal doses of free-radical-suppressing nutrients, including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium. In general, a good ratio for essential fatty acid supplementation is two parts of an omega-3 rich essential fatty acid supplement to one part of a supplement rich in omega-6 essential fatty acid. Omega-6 essential fatty acid taken alone can follow a pro-inflammatory pathway that is blocked by the omega-3 essential fatty acids by inhibiting the delta-5 desaturation enzyme system.

L-carnitine has been shown to reduce the impairment of immune function caused by the dangerous fats found in the typical American diet. This is probably due to L-carnitine’s ability to lower serum lipids (fats) by enhancing the transport of fatty acids into the cell’s mitochondria, where they are used to produce energy. Acetyl-L-carnitine is the most effective form of L- carnitine.

The trace element selenium showed promise according to a study conducted in Würzburg, Germany, and cited in Medizinische Klinik (Germany), 1997. Selenoproteins (such as selenomethionine) were shown to block cell damage caused by environmental peroxides, and these selenium compounds were found to aid in the “prevention and therapy of metabolic bone disease as well as chronic (autoimmune) inflammation.”

Those with existing autoimmune diseases may need more than essential fatty acids and antioxidant supplements to gain control over their disease. The hormone DHEA can suppress certain unwanted immune-system reactions in patients with autoimmune diseases by blocking the action of a cytokine called interleukin-6.

Intestinal dysbiosis, or leaky gut syndrome with increased intestinal permeability, is thought to play a role in some autoimmune diseases (by allowing bacterial and other antigens similar to self-antigens in some tissues to penetrate and simulate an autoimmune response). Eating a healthy diet, the use of a probiotic such as Life Flora, and nutritional support for friendly bacteria such as NutraFlora are desirable, as is avoidance of excessive exposure to antibiotics, alcohol, aspirin, non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and other agents which may alter intestinal-wall permeability and the normal ecology of the bowel bacterial flora.

Other Considerations
To prevent and treat immune dysfunction it is important to get regular exercise; even walking will do. Sleep is also very important. One of the major contributors to immune dysfunction is stress. The mechanism is simple. Prolonged, even low-level stress stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which in excess impairs immune function. Depression and emotional distress are also contributors to immune dysfunction. There is a connection between the limbic system and the part of the brain from which emotions arise. Limbic function affects immune function. One of the ways to deal with stress and directly with immune function is guided imagery and biofeedback. Therefore, stress reduction is a must for treating immune dysfunction. Poor thyroid function can also contribute to impaired immune function since many autoimmune processes are involved in many thyroid diseases.

Autoimmune diseases may be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle, a nutritional diet, and by boosting the strength of the autoimmune system with supplements. Those with developed autoimmune diseases such as lupus, pancreatitis, and rheumatoid arthritis-or those whose autoimmune systems are degraded because of toxic substances such as tobacco and alcohol-can also use supplements to suppress autoimmune diseases. The protocols needed may include the supplements listed below as well as prescription drugs.

  • To decrease oxidative damage associated with autoimmune dysfunction, dietary supplements of vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene should be taken daily.
  • Life Extension Mix containing the above vitamins along with the trace element selenium should help favorably modulate immune function.
  • Mega EPA (4 capsules daily) and Mega GLA (5 capsules daily), which contain the essential fatty acids, will alleviate symptoms of immune dysfunction.
  • DHEA, 25 to 50 mg a day (refer to DHEA Replacement Therapy protocol for precautions).
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