Autoimmunity is on the rise in the United States. Collectively, autoimmune disorders are one of the most prevalent diseases in the US and affect up to 10% of the US population, or an estimated 24 million people. Autoimmune diseases are a pathophysiological state wherein immune responses are directed against and damage the body’s own tissue. Your immune system can no longer tell the difference between healthy cells and microorganisms. Disease defenses that once protected them are instead attacking their own tissue and organs. Regulatory T cells (T Lymphocytes) regulate or suppress other cells in the immune system. In autoimmune diseases, these T cells fail to control the immune system and can exaggerate immune responses. Researchers have found a 44% increase in ANA, the autoantibody (antibodies that target self) in lupus, in the last 25 years, with 41 million people affected. Inflammation is closely associated with autoimmune diseases along with other symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, skin issues (rash, hives etc.) and gastrointestinal issues. 

The top 3 mechanisms leading to autoimmunity are genetic susceptibility, environmental stimuli, and defective regulation. Getting a correct diagnosis can be complicated because symptoms can flare on and off and vary from one person to another. In addition, autoimmune diseases can affect multiple organs and systems, making symptoms misleading. Some of the most commonly know autoimmune diseases are:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lupus

The Link Between Immune Health and Gut Health

Your immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs and signaling molecules that all work together to defend against perceived threats. Increasing research is finding that your gut and immune system are more intricately connected than we had previously thought. Some of the ways your gut supports your immune system include:

  • Housing immune cells: Your digestive tract houses a large number of immune cells in what’s known as gut-associated lymphoid tissue. 70-80% of your immune system is found in these special gut tissues.
  • Forming a barrier: The epithelial cells that line your intestines are linked together. This forms a barrier that blocks harmful pathogens from entering the rest of your body causing damage.
  • Trapping bacteria: The cells that line your digestive tract are coated with mucins and glycoproteins that trap harmful bacteria so they can be neutralized and excreted. 
  • Sounding the alarm: Your intestinal cells act as sensors – sounding the alarm and recruiting immune cells to destroy foreign invaders. 
  • Communicating with your immune system: Your immune system and the millions of beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut are able to “cross-talk”. This means they can communicate crucial information to keep you healthy.
  • Producing metabolic compounds: The beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut produces short chain fatty acids and a number of other compounds that boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and play important roles in other metabolic functions.
  • Crowding out “bad” bacteria: A healthy population of beneficial bacteria doesn’t leave room for potentially harmful bacteria to make themselves at home and start replicating. 

In conclusion, supporting a healthy immune system and gut plays a key role in the prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases. This can be done by eating a nutrient-rich diet, minimizing stress levels, and avoiding common environmental triggers. Need assistance navigating this terrain? Book a free discovery call here to see how Pursue Wellness can help improve your health by formulating a wellness plan unique to your body.

Blog by: Logan Williams, Pursue Wellness Team Assistant


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