Aging and Inflammation: The Top 5 Things You Need to Know about Autoimmune Disease
Have you ever had the check-engine symbol light up on your car’s dashboard? We’ve all had it happen. It’s an early warning sign that something isn’t right, and we need to check in with our local mechanic. In the same way, your lab results and body’s symptoms are like that lit-up, check-engine indicator: they are the early warning signs that it’s time to check in with your doctor. I can’t tell you how often I have consulted with patients who were told they have autoimmune markers such as thyroid antibodies or ANA antibodies, and their doctor simply told them, “there’s nothing to do for this, especially because you don’t have any symptoms. We’ll just monitor it.” That’s a bit like your mechanic telling you, “we’ll just wait for smoke to start pouring out from under your hood, and then we’ll check your engine to see what is wrong.” This is downstream medicine, i.e., waiting until the proverbial horse is out of the barn, and then trying to catch it.
Autoimmune disease can be detected with various biomarkers, four to five years before you actually have clinical symptoms, so the key is to catch the process early before the damage is done. The aging process in the body is inevitable, unhealthy aging is not inevitable. A big part of the aging process is inflammation. In fact, there’s now a term for unhealthy aging: inflammaging.
Autoimmunity is the process whereby the body attacks itself. This is a complex and not completely understood process, but we do know a lot about what can trigger autoimmune disease. Certain viruses such as the Epstein Barr Virus1, particular gut bacteria, metals such as aluminum and mercury, and foods such as grains that contain gluten proteins all can be players in triggering autoimmune disease.
Recently, I led a six-hour seminar to integrative doctors from around the world about autoimmune disease. In preparation for that event, I spent six months researching deep into the medical literature to pull together the most up-to-date, key points for preventing and treating autoimmune disease. One of the biggest culprits in many autoimmune conditions is immune sensitivity to gluten by genetically susceptible individuals. This has been well documented by the work of Dr. Alessio Fasano 2
Another recent finding shows that salt strongly activates Th17 immune cells in the body, and can fan the flames of autoimmune symptoms. This is another reason, in addition to helping blood pressure, to watch your salt intake.
Lastly, most of the body’s immune system is located within the gut. A variety of bacteria have been associated with autoimmune disease, including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, a recently published paper shows a strong correlation with a certain bacteria called Prevotella copri 2. in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
To get proactive about your health and not wait for a full-blown autoimmune disease, follow these 5 simple steps:
Top 5 Steps to Reverse the Process of “Inflammaging”
- Get checked for gluten sensitivity.
- Get checked for increased intestinal permeability if you have gluten sensitivity.
- Decrease your salt intake.
- Get a specialized stool analysis to check for bacterial/yeast imbalances in the gut.
- Consider getting screened for autoimmune biomarkers as part of a proactive approach to maximize healthy aging.
Just recently a friend of mine told me he had been experiencing a variety of health woes, and was seeing his personal physician and various specialists for ten years with no progress. I invited him to come see me for a functional medicine consultation. After talking to him for more than an hour, then ordering a variety of directed testing, we discovered that his immune system was reacting significantly to gluten. And, as a result of this, he had a variety of nutritional imbalances. He was in fact having signs of “inflammaging.” After he eliminated gluten from his diet and we corrected the other imbalances in his body, he said he felt the best he has felt in 15 years! He was so happy to finally get relief from his fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and joint pains after years of seeing specialist after specialist who told him he was just getting old and would have to live with it.
Todd R. LePine, MD