30% Genetic / 70% Environment

1 August 2010

This is the ration for developing an autoimmune disease as stated in a 2005 report, reporting on the progress into autoimmune disease research. So what are autoimmune diseases? Some common autoimmune disease include conditions like:

1. Lupus
2. Multiple Sclerosis
3. Type 1 Diabetes
4. Crohn’s Disease
5. Graves Disease
6. Hashimotos Disease
7. Rheumatoid Arthritis
8. Just to name a few

What I want to focus on is how modifying the 70% Environmental factors that lead to and worsen autoimmune disease may improve your health and vitality and may even improve your condition. The first thing I need to mention to tie all this together is a little antigen called HLA (Human Leukocyte antigen) which is a key component to the body’s immune system. Now this antigen actually protects us from disease, which is a complicated job in anyone’s book. Even more complicated is the half a million genes that have to code for the antigen so it can keep up to date with all the potential disease we may face as a human beings. Now I wont go into the specifics of how this antigen specifically works in the body as we will be here for ages, but what you do need to know is that certain environmental triggers (I’ll list these in a moment) effect the way the HLA activates the immune system. In a healthy person the immune system is activated correctly, so if you are exposed to the flu virus your immune system is stimulated to defend against it. But in some people who have had excessive exposure to specific environmental triggers the HLA becomes dysfunctional and can stimulate inappropriate responses, one of which is autoimmunity. Now what are these environmental triggers that I have talking about? Well here is a list:

1. Infections like Epstein Barr Virus (Glandular fever)
2. Living in higher latitudes i.e. away from the equator due to lack of sunlight
3. (Vitamin D)
4. Physical traumas like surgery
5. Stress
6. Smoking
7. Vaccines
8. Dietary factors including Dairy and Wheat that destroy the gastro intestinal lining

These triggers affect the immune systems ability to function optimally in one-way or another. I have already spoken about vitamin D’s role in the immune system in a previous blog, and I would hope that most of you know that stress has a detrimental effect on health including the immune system. What I want to focus on is the role of diet and the immune system, as what you put in your mouth is the easiest thing to change. The major focus of diet therapy in autoimmune disease is to minimise substances that evoke inappropriate immune function. In essence what we are doing is removing all foods that destroy the lining of the gastro intestinal tract. Why? Well let me paint a picture for you:

1. Eat foods like wheat, dairy, refined sugars, potatoes chips, soft drinks, coffee
2. These foods punch holes in the gastro intestinal lining due to their irritant nature on the delicate mucus membranes of the gut
3. These foods then pass into the blood stream early, before they have been digested
4. The immune system see’s these substances in the blood, recognises them as a threat and mounts an attack by forming antigens to them
5. Now every time you eat that food your immune system attacks
6. Your immune system starts to feel as if it is under constant attack (as most of these foods make up the majority of the western diet)
7. Autoimmunity forms (as the HLA antigen that I spoke about before is incorrectly activating the immune response.

Of course this is a simplified version, and I’ve tried to make it as easy to understand as possible. So now onto the solution…. What on Earth can I eat? Well the best answer I have for that and what I prescribe all my autoimmune clients to follow is a Palaeolithic diet. What on Earth is a Palaeolithic diet? The Palaeolithic diet is also know as the cave man diet. It is what our DNA is designed to eat. By following it principles you avoid foods that would normally invoke an immune response. The basic principles of the Paleo diet are as follows:

1. Eat lots of fresh vegetables (avoiding potatoes)
2. Eat fresh fruit 2 -3 serve a day
3. Eat good quality organic meat including chicken, turkey, red meat and fish
4. Snack on nuts and seeds
5. Eggs are ok too
6. Honey to sweeten things
7. Healthy oils like coconut milk and olive oil

So what should I avoid?
1. Dairy (remember my argument Milk is for baby cows… not for humans!)
2. Grains (Grains came in the agricultural age and were not around in cave man times, grains for people with autoimmune diseases are pro-inflammatory)
3. Soy, including tofu, soy milk, temphe
4. Lentils and legumes like peanuts, soybeans, kidney beans etc
5. Refined and processed foods like pizza, fries and hamburgers
6. Sweets, lollies, cakes and all the good stuff
7. Coffee and soft drinks

Yeah I know it’s not the diet with the greatest variety and of course all the stuff that makes your taste buds sing are gone. But when faced between the choice of a debilitating autoimmune disease and being healthy and vital I know which one I would choose. For more information on Paleo diets Google Dr Loren Cordain, we has written several books on the topic and has some amazing research to back it all up. Happy and Healthy eating!